Unity and the tribal Philippines
By Joe America
The Philippines has never been a whole nation because of its deep-rooted tribal ways. In its simplest terms, a tribe exists when a group of people welcome those who are the same and reject those who are different. The differences may be found in race, geographic location, religious belief, cultural style (warlike, peaceful, law abiding, corrupt/entitled), occupation (farmers, fishermen, unions, OFWs), income, education, gender, and other ways.
Philippine tribes are hard-nosed about things, refusing to accept or grant respect to those who have just one thing different about them. If you back Duterte, a Yellow cannot respect you. If you are a Yellow, Marcos supporters can’t respect you. If you support VP Robredo, you are Yellow. If you are Muslim, you endorse terrorism. If you are Catholic, you never hold yourself accountable. Tribalism leads to discrimination. It is the cause of many insults and much anger.
These rules of exclusivity affect our daily decisions. If you are Leftist, you don’t join the Yellow protest against the Marcos burial. If you are Yellow, you don’t join the Leftist protest against the Marcos burial.
With enough of that, it is hard to have one, united nation, or one effective protest against the Marcos burial. The tribal pushes and pulls are too intense to foster unity, even if one large unified protest with both Leftists and Yellows would more likely achieve the goal than two smaller ones. So our tribal tendencies mean we are forever divided, argumentative, and weak.
This is a fertile field for the rise of autocrats.
I often write about diversity and inclusion as ideals to strive for. They are exactly the opposite of tribalism. We strive to see differences as enriching. Diversity grants respect to all races, religions, genders, and political stands. We are somehow bigger people when we reach for respect rather than bow to fear, mistrust, or dislike.
Well, inclusion also has its limits, I suppose. It is hard for law abiding people to accept criminals as people who earn their respect. But the wisdom and compassion that attaches to inclusion at least allows us to look for causes of crime and solutions that address the root problem. Shooting druggies is tribal. Ending poverty and lack of hope that forms the bed for drug use is inclusion. We join with those who use drugs by properly caring for (respecting) them. After all, they are caught in the trap of OUR (not just THEIR) social circumstance. Inclusion makes other people’s problems our problems and from that we can find ways to help. Yes, we have to guard against the tribal character of elitist thinking. It can be done if we listen hard enough.
To break down the divisions promoted by tribal behavior, we need to develop special skills. One is to be able to place ourselves in the shoes of others to recognize that individuals got to where they are through a unique path, and one that is not entirely of their making. A poor Muslim black inner city child is not the maker of his bed. A rich white man’s son, gifted with education and material well-being, is not a superior being for having those blessings.
Another important skill is the ability to negotiate. In it’s simplest sense, Leftist and Yellow leaders could easily say, “Look, let’s put aside our political differences and historical enmity to achieve something we both want. Blocking the Marcos burial. Who knows, maybe this one step of unification for a specific purpose will open our eyes to other ways we can help one another.” That’s hard because there is a lot of poisoned history between the two groups.
I think it is within our disciplined ability as inclusive people to be able to put those incidents aside, or recognize they had their own context, and it is not our context right now. Compartmentalize them, as Japan’s Prime Minister is doing by visiting Pearl Harbor. His visit is a first. It is a huge step to build unity between the US and Japan.
Such strength this is, the ability to free ourselves from the traps of the past. To free ourselves from automatic tribal judgments that are weak, often wrong, and damaging.
Unity is found in such strength.
Strength is found in unity.
The Philippines will never be strong until the nation finds a way to master its tribal divisions with a compelling reason to unify. War often does the trick. I’d like to think there are other ways, too. Better ways.
Perhaps we should put forward a great effort to find them.