No Island is an Island

Sagay10 sm 500

“Insular, Baby! Insular!”

One of my favorite online thinkers is “J”.

“J” is one of a set of good writers who have collected at the newly formed blog entitled “The Observers” which discusses international relations, primarily in Asia. A recent article looks at “apology” in diplomatic terms, comparing German and Japanese histories and development post World War II  and considering the central role apologizing and “moving on” played in Germany’s acceptance into the modern world. While Japan has never fully apologized for her offenses and is therefore still is not trusted by a number of Asian nations.

Well, apology also plays a part in the Taiwan-Philippine bruhaha over the accidental death of a Taiwanese fisherman. Taiwan wants apology because Taiwan believes one of its citizens was wronged. The Philippines does not want to apologize until her leaders understands thoroughly what happened, because to do so would be to demean the nation.

I posited on J’s blog that Germany apologized because she recognized she made a mistake, but Japan has not apologized because she does not believe she made mistakes. Everything in Japan is rationalized in the peculiar Japanese face-saving way, even the use of “comfort women”.

“Insular, Baby! Insular!”

As I was reading J’s blog, a word popped into my head: “insular”. I had worked directly with the Japanese principals when they owned my bank in the US in the 1990’s. They were insular, staying apart from the Americans, although they managed the company very well through various well-placed liaison officers. Here’s the definition of “insular” courtesy of

in·su·lar  [in-suh-ler, ins-yuh-]

1. of or pertaining to an island or islands: insular possessions.
2. dwelling or situated on an island.
3. forming an island: insular rocks.
4. detached; standing alone; isolated.
5. of, pertaining to, or characteristic of islanders.

Definition number 4 is the one I was driving at, but I also thought it ironic that Japan is, geographically, a group of islands. Much like the Philippines.

Before intercontinental shipping, island states were isolated from larger landed nations. The landed nations could intermix easily and wage war and conquer one another in due course. The island states were insulated (same root word) from such matters until ships, including warships, made the world a little smaller. So in the 1500’s, we saw active cross-population of island states occurring. Japan worked hard to prevent co-mingling, consigning Europeans to operate from and visit only designated areas of the nation. Japan succeeded in remaining racially pure, for the good and bad that emerged from this.

Insular is an attitude that comes with being an island, and that applies to the Philippines, too. Even today, foreigners are considered by many to be offensive, to be risks or threats. Keep them out of the business community.

Then, in the 1900’s, ships got bigger and meaner, airplanes shrank the globe a little more, and we had that horrific World War in which Japan intended to assert her insular rule over lesser states.

“Beam Me Over Skypie”

Well, today it is hard to be insular. Islands are a part of the mainstream of sea, air and internet traffic. People in America are as close to my house on Biliran Island as a click on the Skype icon. Call centers in Manila pretend they are in Peoria, USA.

Those nations that try to hold onto insularity struggle. They lose respect. Iran is insular. North Korea. Venezuela. Cuba.

And Taiwan played the insular card on the Philippines over the accidental death of a Taiwanese fisherman. Taiwan’s leaders railed and ranted, accused and blamed. Loudly. They played the patriotism card as blatantly and rudely and emotionally as it gets played. At another nation’s expense.

One problem. Complete insularity is hard to achieve these days. Facebook, cams, blogs, and electronic journalism break it down. The flow of cross-cultural discovery is like a river of knowledge. And like a mudball in a river, the attitude of separate superiority dissolves the faster the river flows.

And so the backlash against Taiwan began.

Her opinon makers realized that Taiwan would lose more than the Philippines if things got really ugly. And if innocent Filipino workers got hurt within Taiwan, the nation’s image would be crushed and other countries would happily kiss her off as a misbehaving province of China. Not worth dealing with or recognizing as a modern nation state.

So the President who raised the firestorm became the lead fireman trying to put out the storm.

The Philippine leadership, on the other hand, remained consistent and calm, a hallmark of the Aquino administration. Information first. Knowledge first. Then we will develop our actions. The Philippines behaved as a mature global citizen, not an insular, tantrum-throwing child.

I personally was impressed with President Aquino for having the discipline not to succumb to the emotionalism of the moment. As I was during the RH battle and the Sultan’s little soiree’ in Malaysia. Of course, President Aquino also has his critics for not apologizing immediately to Taiwan to cut the crisis off.

“All God’s president’s got critics . . .”

It’s a Small World After All

So the global flows of cross-cultural knowledge are running strong.

In that regard, the Philippines is a mudball. Hard-packed, for sure, but not immune to the currents of knowledge and awareness.

The nationalists, the racists, or the hyperpatriots may hold the Philippines up as insularly pure, a kind of untouchable communion of the “in crowd”, but the fact is, the insularity is eroding. It is eroding with each OFW who returns from Canada with a different idea of how people should relate to one another. It is eroding with each call center representative hired and asked to relate to Americans who have questions about a product. It is eroding with each new foreigner who decides this is a great place to retire. Or with each article or blog or book written that tests and stretches Filipino understandings of herself. James Fallows. Dan Brown. “J”.

If someone falls into a river, there are two common reactions by the victim. One is to fight it, to flail and swim and work like crazy to get out. One is to go with the flow, to relax, stretch back, and let the current do the work to find a calm and safe patch of water.

The NPA and Muslim extremists are fighting to preserve some kind of purity that exists only in their minds. Filipinos puffed with pride are doing much the same.

The tides of time and knowledge don’t accept that as legitimate. The people of the Philippines in 100 years will be very different than now. Racially more bland and mixed. No traditional look left as Asian and Western genes merge shapes of eye and ear and nose, and stir the color of skin to a mild paste of brown and yellow and white.

  • Will you feel lost without the typical brown look to hang onto?
  • Will you feel abandoned when Filipinos are following rules rather than breaking them?
  • Will you feel empty when America is just another piece of land with people that look a lot like you and are not considered a threat?
  • Will you feel left behind when others are busy competing for career advancement rather than living day by day?

Get used to it.

You can’t stop the river.

30 Responses to “No Island is an Island”
  1. cha says:

    When Spain ruled over our country, Spaniards born in the Philippines were referred to as “insulares”, and those born in Spain “peninsulares”. Then there were the mestizos (Spanish or Chinese). At the bottom of the food chain lie the “indios”, the native born brown Filipinos.

    We’ve said goodbye to the peninsulares and insulares long ago. But the “indio” somehow has not entirely been able to move all the way up. I, too, hope that the time has finally come.

  2. Lil says:

    The NPA’s are using Twitter apparently, How funny.
    Oh btw, Joe the Chicoms are slowly overruning your country.

    • Joe America says:

      The US? Not domestically. There are a lot of Chinese in country, though, for sure. But they are generally well-behaved, and even excel in schools. They aren’t a force in government. Globally, the US does not seem to be giving much “pushback” to China, as I call it. Possibly because the economy is still emerging from the near-collapse. The US needs to stop China from playing its games, the computer hacking and pushing of allies around.

      • The Mouse says:

        I think she was referring to the recent Chinese purchase of a US food supplier

        • Joe America says:

          Ah, well, shows I have not been following the homeland as close as the home. Foreign ownership is allowed. Is this the pig farm we are talking about? I did read that China will start to source pork from the US and bought a pig company to do it. I guess they got discouraged about their own ability to produce pork after all the pigs ended up dead and floating in the river in Shanghai.

  3. The Mouse says:

    The NPA and Muslim extremists are fighting to preserve some kind of purity that exists only in their minds. “

    Indeed and the NPA and Muslim insurgency areas are also the poorest areas in the Philippines. Low HDI, extreme poverty, low literacy rate, low life expectation. With insularity, fresh ideas do not come in. In a Filipino idiom “napanis na sa pancitan!”. I don’t think the NPA is a good alternative to the current imperfect government. How can the government bring in the necessary infrastructure and jobs if these guys just keep on blowing things up?

    RE: The reaction on Dan Brown was much lighter than the reaction to Clare Danes. The funny thing, I think it was Estrada who banned her movie; but now Estrada is like “it’s the truth”. LOL. At least the MMDA chairman was still diplomatic, and just had an “invitation letter” of sort. Unlike Kim Atienza(I think?) who declared Ms. Danes persona non grata. Hehe. I think that counts as an improvement? Hehe

    RE: Taiwan and Japan. I think culture of “saving face” in Asia plays a big part here — the refusal to accept that they were wrong and that they should always look good. Japan cannot fully apologize in the way Germany did because of the “socio-cultural” pressure to “look good” esp among their constituents. Same with Taiwan — the knee-jerk reaction was probably because they were not ready to accept that they could be wrong so the government saw itself in need to “pre condition” the minds of the people.

    RE: Taiwan: Some update though:

    Looks like the evidences are favoring the Philippines. I’ve mentioned that I find Taiwan objective in investigating the facts. The big difference, I believe, will be on the interpretation on facts.

    • Joe America says:

      My guess is that they looked at the video, said, wow, our boat was really aggressive. Now the Taiwanese politicians will likely paste their face-saving spin on it. And the Philippines will report the facts. Abaya as much as said the Coast Guard followed the rules. It is hard to punish people who are doing their job (the Coast Guard) when the people who were conducting the criminal acts (the Taiwanese fishermen) are given a nation’s sympathy and support. I’m reminded of how guilty people always start pointing fingers and shouting “frame-up”. It will be interesting to see what kind of character Taiwan has.

      • The Mouse says:

        I’ve been reading write ups and some Taiwanese poachers that had been arrested and fined claim that they were “kidnapped” and asked for “ransom”… in referring to detainment and penalty (which is usually high, around $25,000 – $50,000 — yes in US dollars)

  4. edgar lores says:

    1. My mind refuses to come up with anything. There is no sign of intelligence.
    2. The brain is quiescent but it’s alert, watchful.
    3. I just came from the outside. It’s an overcast day, but the sun is out.
    4. The eyesight is clear: the leaves glitter with sunlight as the branches sway in the breeze, and a couple of flies buzz around like old acrobatic biplanes. Sounds are heightened between spaced out moments of silence: the twittering of lorikeets, the swish of tyres in passing cars.
    5. I feel the touch of the breeze like a blessing. I am greatly amused.
    6. Is it something I ate? Or something I drank? Or – OMG! – have I attained the mystic state of ‘no mind’?
    7. I will let you know. Right now I have to wash the dishes.

  5. andrew lim says:

    Think global, act local (insular).

    One strategy I can think of in the China/Taiwan affair (boy, this is the first time they have a common adversary) is for our chattering classes to have conversations with the chattering classes of China/Taiwan. For instance, I am aware that Taiwanese youth (the educated, middle class ones) are not in agreement with their govt’s approach to the issue.

  6. Proud Pinoy says:

    “Well, apology also plays a part in the Taiwan-Philippine bruhaha over the accidental death of a Taiwanese fisherman.”

    You said the magic word Joe, “accidental”

    If it was “accidental” then nobody is at fault. Ergo, no apology needed.

    Simple logic. Taiwan is so emotional, they could learn a thing or two from Pinoy intellect and composure.

  7. Mariano Renato Pacifico says:

    I am returning patriot-nationalist challenged Filipino OFW. They accused me as traitor to the country I was born which I am not. After all it is just my Filipino bad cultural traits been watered down with good practical progressive cultural experiences abroad. My issue with the insulares (those who have not gone abroad or those Filipino-“American”s who have not rubbed elbows with real americans), is they cannot understand progressive American cultural thinking which I practice unconsciously. Neighbors expect me to buy them Tanduay Rum which I do not and will not ever, cross-my-heart. They think that I am different since my stint abroad. They totally celebrated when my electric Chevy Volt exploded when I plugged it in to 220v!!! I forgot it was 110v.

    Insular thinking is bad. Watching TFC Channel without complementing it with foreign channels promotes insular thinking. To this day, FILIPINO STILL THINK THEY ARE GREAT SPEAKERS OF ENGLISH AND SPELLERS. I do not know where they got that idea. They are so full of themselves because they only watch TFC Channel. They laugh at white American’s written English and spelling, SERIOUSLY!!! I’ve known plenty of them. They laugh at minorities because of atrocious diction and grammar. Who do these Filipinos think they are? Just last night the winner of Scripps National Spelling Bee was …. an INDIAN, as usual. Last year it was Chinese. Year before that was another Indian. WHERE ARE THE FILIPINO GREAT SPELLERS?

    I asked a Filipino-“American” if she watched last night Spelling Bee? She said she is afraid of Bee because it stings. WHATEVER !!!

    • Joe America says:

      Mariano, you been on vacation? Perhaps you have been undercover in Taipei, given your many identities. You could be a character pulled from a Ludlum book and hired by a Philippine spy service to do good deeds for your nation..

      You are one of the change agents breaking down Philippine insularity, even though change creates a lot of friction, especially from the unchangeables.

      • Mariano Renato Pacifico says:

        Been busy. My two drop-dead gorgeous sisters blew into town. Took them to three wineries in Santa Barbara. Stopped-over at Solvang for shots of espressos to drive away DUI-sniffing Highway Patrols. Glad to be back.

        • Joe America says:

          Damn, you’re making me homesick now. I remember wandering through the Santa Maria wine region with a girl friend a few (dozen) years ago. We were looking for Fess Parker’s winery (he played Davy Crockett on TV in the days of white and black, and was on the Board of my bank). We eventually found it, after several stops at watering holes along the way. We cruised up to Morro Bay and stayed at the Inn there. My GF stole a silverware knife from the dining room to add to her klepto collection of silver knives from around the world. I need to write about her I think, one of the richer characters in our world. Where’s the smiley button for a big sigh?

          • Mariano Renato Pacifico says:

            HA! HA! HA! She’s not klepto that is the way WE are. SOUVENIRS !!!! I did that, too, in Vegas, on airplanes and wherever I go mostly TOWELS !!!! 😦

  8. Thanks for the kind words, Joe!

    This got me thinking. Last week, I took a very important test, and one of the questions was about the implications of the “Guest Worker” trend in migration. Obviously, it’s a way for developed countries to take advantage of migration trends without sacrificing their (often xenophobic) “national identity.” But for the sending countries like the Philippines, it means their foreign workers would maintain an I-will-eventually-go-back-to-the-Philippines disposition, meaning they are not abroad to assimilate to their host cultures. This means those in the Diaspora would acquire some of the good things about their host culture and bring those new, fresh perspective back to the Philippines, thereby adding on– and hopefully improving– Filipino culture.

    This is very similar to the phenomenon of the Ilustrados sent to Europe to study in the 19th Century. We all know what effect those Ilustrados had on their nation. The effect of the current Diaspora on the molding of Philippine society and culture is an interesting subject for sociologists, to say the least.

    • Joe America says:

      Yep, if a tossed grain of sand can change the universe, what great power a returning OFW has . . . I trust you aced your test.

      • The Mouse says:

        This exposure benefit is not only via OFW but also those working in the BPO sector.

        Local companies can learn from these “customer service agents” that usually cater to people OUTSIDE the Philippines, mainly the US how to attend to customers. With a few exception, customer service in the Philippines suck big time.

  9. JM says:

    Interesting point of view. It is new to me but makes sense.

    • Joe America says:

      I’m glad you found it interesting, and I’m glad you are open-minded enough to consider it. That’s the main battle, isn’t it? When the world is changing fast and we are stuck in one place.

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