One of the enlightenments of "crossing over" from one culture to another is awareness of the blindness culture imposes on its people. Outsiders have perspectives that insiders generally discount as irrelevant. There is a natural defensiveness, an insecurity, about outside views. I am not talking only about Filipinos here. This is as true for me defending being American. Or try telling the French about the deficiencies in their culture if you want to get slapped down good.
Because we are used to doing things the way we do them, we don't see any other way. And don't really WANT to see any other way. As much as we claim a superior brainpower over lesser animals, we prove daily how constrained our own thinking can be. And how fragile our sense of self can be, that we need to defend it so.
This sounds a little nebulous, I'm sure. Let me work on crystallizing it as much as I can.
First, let's start with the framework, our reason for being.
Now, it may be that our personal reason for being is to have fun, or it may be to accumulate wealth, or to achieve wide-ranging experiences, or enjoy the thrills of risk, or raise a robust family, or become more knowledgeable, or acquire power, or dedicate ourselves to our God. Maybe a mix of these.
Or maybe there is no real reason, and that is why we can concoct so many. Each an artificial excuse for being here.
Our delusional brains give us the power to rationalize anything. It gives honorable US Republicans the ability to rationalize that a very capable president is a "destructive force" for America, and the head of the Federal Reserve commits treasonous acts; never mind that those acts saved the global economy from ruin. It gives an NPA gangster the ability to justify blackmailing people for their "own protection", or a Muslim fanatic to blow up 50 innocent people, mothers and babies among them; for God. It gives killers authorization to murder and rapists approval to abuse women. It gives the religious confidence that their God is the right one.
Rationalizations justify the insecure us, the ignorant us, the delusional us.
Perhaps . . . just maybe . . . there is absolutely no reason for life. Perhaps we are no more than complex reeds, blowing in the wind. Here to occupy space and time, then gone.
For sure, we move from birth to death without pause. Like a plant. Relentlessly. Physically, we grow bigger and stronger and more aware, then we hit the prime of life and thrive in good health, then we start to decline. We grow smaller and weaker and, often, less aware. Then we become nothing. Or maybe a spiritual something, but we don't really know what that means. I tend to "worst case" it, and figure there is just a big black nothing at the end.
And along this path, we can only know what we know. What we experience and what we learn from reading and listening. We can't know what we don't know.
And what we don't know is a lot. Most likely, we don't know how to program a computer or splice a gene or compose a Shakespearian sonnet or play jazz on a saxophone. We don't know what the other gender feels during hormonal cycles, or what it is like being homosexual. We don't know what it is like to live in the International Space Station or in a cardboard box on 4th Street in Los Angeles. We don't know how to make a chocolate mousse or how to get a bill on the table in the Senate. We don't know the forces at play on the cables of the Golden Gate Bridge. We don't know what Lady Gaga had for breakfast or what Barak Obama does whilst sitting on the toilet. Does he hum or read or scratch? We don't know what Koreans eat or Mongolians wear. We don't know the definition of "panache".
We only know what we know; and it is virtually impossible to break out into a more expansive view of things. Our context defines who we are. We are molded. We are wax figures, really, or puppets that move within the confines of the context that surrounds us. Within the limits of what we know.
It is amazing, considering how little we know, how robust our personal arrogance is, how we delude ourselves into thinking we are all-knowing. I suppose our overbearing self-confidence exists to keep us from going insane, for if we were to become bluntly aware of all our shortcomings, we would shrivel up into an emotional fetal wad of helpless, hopelessness sobbing putty.
So we live our delusions:
- That there is a reason for living.
- That we are somehow whole and knowledgeable.
What is the purpose of nationhood?
I suggest it is a banding together of individuals within a geographical context to protect ourselves against the delusions of others, and of ourselves. It provides a very real reason for being, to band together to live safer, and live longer.
Let me repeat that. Banding together, as a nation, gives us a reason for being. And the reason for being is TO TAKE CARE OF THE COLLECTIVE, to take care of the nation. Survival of the fittest as a band of brothers.
What are laws?
They are rules of behavior that prevent us from harming one another. They force us to behave in a way that is "civilized". If we were whole, we wouldn't need laws. We would understand how wrong behavior hurts people. But we are not whole, and if we were left to our own devices, the human world would be quite animalistic. Survival of the ruthless.
Laws permit survival of the weak, and the fit.
Is the Philippines civilized?
Laws are written and ignored. People do what they will, regardless of the harm caused others. They pollute their neighbor's space with smoke and sound and trash, drive without license or consideration of what "right of way" means, allow their dogs to kill motorcyclists and defecate where children play, steal money from the public coffers or any gullible foreigner, shoot journalists or suspected drug dealers or political opponents. It is the Wild, Wild East.
What will it take to become more civilized?
A context that prizes taking care of others. That understands a nation is built on what its people give, not on what they take.
Civilized behavior requires a better understanding of the importance of courtesy, and compassion, and honesty. And achievement.
Acts that represent a reason for being.
Right now, the Philippines is just a plant, blowing in the wind. It is not a strong nation, in my sense of things, because so few give to the collective. People take what they can. They do undisciplined, lazy things. They don't comprehend why laws that constrain are actually beneficial. They don't comprehend that discipline is the second highest form of civilized behavior, and caretaking of others is the highest.
The Philippines might just as well volunteer to join the great Chinese Empire, where civilization is on the rise.
US civilization, I regret to report, is on the decline, so there is nothing there but torment. America is a nation that thrives on deceits, on manipulative sound bites, on spin. It cannot take care of its own when it is so busy tearing down rather than building up.
There is a third option for the Philippines, too.
Climb all over that baby, Option 3. That is to shape up. To start actively caring about other Filipinos. With a sense of passion, a sense of urgency, a sense of direction.
From that, productive acts will emerge.
It is a high-value context, this caring for the collective. It is civilized.