Wednesday, June 27, 2007

America is in the mind

COULD “admiration” for America—given that most of the world hates it, according to a recent 18-nation survey—be a "rational" behavior? We think so, contrary to what many easily dismiss as a blatant show of slavish colonial mentality.

When asked how much do Filipinos trust the US to act responsibly in the world, 85 percent of Filipinos answered “a great deal/somewhat.” The Israelis practically answered the same. The rest of the world—specifically Argentina, Peru, Russia, France, Armenia, Indonesia, China and Thailand—has a negative view.

While most of the responding countries believe that the US is playing the role of the world policeman, 57 percent of Filipinos disagreed. While places like Argentina, Palestinian territory, France, China and Ukraine think Americans should have fewer bases, 60 percent of Filipinos think the US should have “about as many as now.”

In other words, we are the only ones—besides Israel—who admire the Americans while the rest of the world is suspicious of her motives.

Naturally, the country’s intellectual class is aghast (See discussions in Philippine Commentary, for instance). That only confirms Filipinos’ colonial mentality, says one. Says a blogger: “Filipinos’ faith in America is like their faith in the Catholic Church: unreasoning, uncritical, and unrequited.”

It’s purely an affair of the stomach, says another, referring to the fact that we receive billions of dollars of remittances from relatives in the US.

All these opinions have grains of truth. But we think there are deeper reasons. Well-informed, Filipinos are aware of the bumbling and fumbling that the Bush Administration had committed in the international scene and many Filipinos are critical of these actions. Yet, they generally have a positive idea about that country because they look at America more as an idea, as a model for an open and democratic society that we wish to emulate.

It’s a place where people complain about their corrupt and stupid politicians yet manage to achieve an economically and technologically advanced society through the exuberance of private initiative and individual freedom.

It’s a melting pot of all cultures, different creeds and colors, and different ways of doing things—yet Americans are always able to come together toward something with the simple idea that they are Americans.

It’s a place where citizens routinely complain about bad schools and universities and yet they always dominate the Nobel Prize in economics, medicine, physics and other fields. It’s a place of dropouts and iconoclasts who defy convention and yet are always able to produce new and exciting technologies that are transforming our lives for the better.

It’s a place where inequality is stark as manifested by the shocking view of the homeless in rags dragging carts, and yet it also has the most number of billionaires coughing up billions to save the world’s myriad problems, including malaria, HIV, tuberculosis, among many others.

It’s a nation of contradiction, but its contradiction doesn’t produce paralysis and stasis but change and progress. It’s topsy-turvy and chaotic but it’s a functioning and creative kind of chaos.

In other words, because of our own contradictions, we look at American society as a model for development.

In the last three decades, we have seen the rise of tiger and dragon economies in the Asia Pacific Region. Many are late industrializers guided by the authoritarian hand of the state. In the name of “Asian values,” many of these countries suppressed individual rights (freedom of the press and assembly, for instance) for the sake of social stability, economic growth and technological progress. Apparently, the approach worked for them and it seems that most of their citizens are happy. Many of these countries are now rich and prosperous, but Filipinos have rejected that model of development because it didn’t work for them.

Filipinos rejected the authoritarian model of development by toppling Marcos through “people power.” They rejected it by not supporting attempts by military adventurists like Gringo Honasan, and recently, the “version” of Antonio Trillanes IV, to grab power by the barrel of the gun.

Filipinos rejected that tendency when they denounced President Arroyo’s move to declare a “state of emergency” supposedly to foil military adventurists. And recently, Filipinos elected Honasan and Trillanes to the Senate when they turned to parliamentary struggle, knowing that by doing so they were sending these men the signal to fight their cause the “constitutional way” while spiting the dwellers in Malacañang whom they perceive as having lots of things to account for to the Filipino people.

Admittedly, the type of development path that Filipinos have taken is slow and frustrating compared to the frenetic pace of growth being achieved in China, Russia and Vietnam. But Filipinos know they are going to get there as well through a different mode knowing that progress—which should encompass economic, political and social choices and freedoms—is a doable project under democratic processes.

Filipinos are certain about that because others are already there and America is one of the best examples. This is a perfectly rational expectation.

Is the Filipino’s admiration for America uncritical? We don’t think so. When SWS asked Filipinos whether or not the US as a superpower should continue to be the preeminent world leader in solving international problems, 55 percent said, “The US should do its share in efforts to solve international problems together with other countries.”

It means Filipinos are critical of the unilateralist approach that President Bush and the neocons have taken so far and want reforms. That sentiment pretty much reflects global opinion about America’s role in international politics. We love America as an idea but we are not always comfortable vis-à-vis some of the nasty things that its leaders did. Now, that’s a very level-headed view.

(Note: Originally drafted as editorial for BusinessMirror, 28 June 2007).

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