Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Island mentality

 John Mangun

THE Philippines follows the show business/sports happenings in the US as if it were her own. Yet the average Filipino and the “above-average” media and press pundits virtually ignore what is going on in the backyard.
Are you aware of the unprecedented events transpiring on the political front in China? Read any commentary lately about Bo Xilai who was recently ousted as Chongqing party chief. Bo Xilai is the son of Bo Yibo, one of the Eight Elders of the Communist Party of China who overthrew the government in 1948.

Look around the newspapers today and see if there is any comment about North Korea yesterday calling for the assassination of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and threatening to launch a “Sacred War”?

We often hear of colonial mentality or crab mentality but I think the actual mentality is “island mentality.”

The classical definition of this type of thinking is a feeling of being “superior or exceptional to the rest of the world.” As someone who has lived in many island-countries (Bahamas, Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu, and Hawaii before PHL), I completely disagree.

I know what I am about to say are generalizations. You cannot apply a generalization to one person but you can often apply it to a group.

My experience has been that “island people” tend to be less concerned about trash and waste. Coming from a time and culture where improper disposal was a legal and moral crime, it took me some getting used to. But dump the trash down the road and by next week the jungle has covered it up. Or wait for the next big storm and it is gone entirely. There might be some generational logic to that.

Island mentality also might mean that time takes on a new meaning. Preparing for the annual Junkanoo celebration between Christmas and New Year’s takes months of preparation in the Bahamas and Jamaica. This is a highlight of the year and requires long planning, perhaps like Christmas in the Philippines.

And like the Philippines, on most of these islands I have lived, you can find fiesta after fiesta, all taking weeks to prepare.

There is another side to island time that is not as pleasant. There is a strong tendency to never have a sense of urgency. The fence does not really need to be fixed right now. And by the time someone gets to it, the brush has grown around, it creating a natural barricade to keep the goats in or out, as the case may be.

The shed for the animals or the house for the humans is started with the foundation laid and a wall or two put up. But some other project comes along and the completed construction is put aside until later.

This lack of a sense of urgency is not something that islanders always ignore. They understand that certain situations are urgent but rather than taking action, they move their “urgency” to some other point of focus. Or they deflect the urgency by concluding that the problem needs more consideration. But the most damaging situation is when the sense of urgency is rationalized away in the belief or hope that no immediate action is necessary.

Asia, primarily because of China, is in a tenuous situation right now. North Korea does not saber-rattle without China’s actual or tacit approval. Relations between Japan and China are not good because of some supposedly “disputed” islands. The Chinese economic situation is far from stable and will affect all the surrounding countries one way or another.

The territorial issues that the Philippines faces with China are monumentally important and critical.

Yet, it would seem that there is not enough urgency for this problem. While the trees of Baguio that SM Corp. is removing is important, perhaps right now that concern is a luxury not vital to the nation’s interest.

Regardless of the official and unofficial spin, the Philippines and China are in a state of war. That is what happens when one nation invades another’s territory. Either China has invaded PHL, or the President sent a Philippine warship and invaded Chinese territory.

While many are calling for diplomacy, there had better be a Plan B. The cyber attacks on the UP web site may seem juvenile and unimportant, but an attack on the communications system or the banks would not be trivial.

“Let’s be friends with everyone.” “Let’s be peacemakers.” Nice thoughts but even the Lord overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the temple and I would imagine those people did not think his actions very peaceful.

As much as we would prefer win-win situations, thinking adults know that sometimes we are presented with win-lose scenarios. This may be one of those, I fear.

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