Does the West really care if other countries think and act like them?
The Philippines is a country whose people, particularly its Intelligentsia, love to proclaim to the world as being the most Westernized country in terms of local culture in Asia. Unfortunately, this “Western-ness” has not translated into Western standards of living, and instead, the Philippines has – for a long time – been viewed as a near-failed state or a near-anarchic farce that has been totally unable to get its act together and as a result has forced much more than 10 million of its citizens to find gainful employment abroad, sometimes in jobs that are way beneath the jobseekers’ qualifications.
One of the things that actually “wimpified” the Philippines and turned it into an almost failed state where crime, anarchy, and an inability for most people to improve their economic lot in life was the extreme infatuation of the Philippine Intelligentsia and its so-called elites with the West and its ideological biases. Even when certain difficult decisions had to be taken, even when some draconian measures had to be done in order to drastically reduce crime and set up a more stable environment more conducive to business and productivity, we didn’t do what had to be done because we were too “wimpified” by our prissy and out-of-touch elites’ Western biases and notions of “Democracy & Human Rights.”
Other East Asian countries more steeped in the Classical Chinese political philosophy of Legalism (法家) which is almost identical to the West’s Hobbesian and Machievellian philosophical frameworks had no qualms about doing what needed to be done in order to succeed in fulfilling the basic needs of society: peace and order, pro-business policies, and finally prosperity & well-being for the majority.
Quite often, the West – particularly the Western Press – kept openly criticizing and ridiculing these non-Western societies and their leaders, forgetting that the West actually went through similar stages in their own history in order to get to where they currently are, and finally, several of these East Asian (and Southeast Asian) countries have in fact finally achieved success – in particular, economic success.
All our elites felt we had to do was to follow whatever the West said was based on the Western “Liberal Democratic” ideals they professed, never mind that we never achieved results from paying homage to such ideals, and we just kept getting heaped with verbal praise regarding our being “Asia’s Bastion of Western Democracy.”
Sadly, verbal praise is all we got.
We Filipinos, whose society acted like the West’s pet poodle, were so delighted to be on the receiving end of little scraps and leftovers. In fact most of what we got was useless lip-service! Dubbing us as “Asia’s Bastion of Western Democracy” was just like a poodle getting a pat on the head and a little dog biscuit for acting the way the poodle’s owner wanted it to.
“Stand on both hind-legs!”
But did we really get anything from that verbal praise, that useless title and all the meaningless gestures that did nothing to help our society in real terms? Did the fact that we did whatever Westerners said we should do to think and act like them cause us to actually end up with living standards and levels of prosperity coming close to theirs? No.
We even emulated the West – particularly the USA – when it came to Freedom of the Press. And in the end, what did we get?
We got ourselves into a major mess with way too many distractions.
The late Lee Kuan Yew described the Philippine situation vis-a-vis the Press really well:
A wildly partisan Press helped Filipino politicians to flood the marketplace of ideas with junk, and confused and befuddled the people so that they could not see what their vital interests were in a developing country…”
We mistakenly thought that all these Western-style freedoms would help us to become more like the West, but instead, it caused us to go all over the place and forget about the need to focus on economic development and job creation. In the meantime, many East Asian countries that had been steeped in very non-Western ways of doing things (never mind that the West went through the same stages and they too have produced parallel identical philosophies that are indistinguishable from what Ancient China produced) even repeatedly got ridiculed and criticized by the Western Press because of their incompatible-with-“Western Democracy” and incompatible-with-“Liberalism” ways of doing what they did later prospered tremendously so that their standards of living have improved to achieve levels similar to or better than those found in many Western societies.
The Philippines, in contrast, stagnated and got stuck in miserable mediocrity due to the ineffectual nature of sticking to unrealistic and impractically idealistic ways of doing things in a supposedly “modern” first world-compliant Western way while having a third world bank account in a tropical Southeast Asian setting. We constrained ourselves too much with idealistic thinking based on how we thought the West expected us to act, so if some criminals with deep pockets from the drug trade were caught and made to go through “due process”, their money was more than enough to ensure that the low-paid functionaries who handled their “due process” would turn a blind eye and in the end, they’d go scot-free. Our systems in the Philippines broke down because we wrongly assumed that Western-oriented idealism would be enough to produce the results we were told by the West we would reap. Whatever we tried to do according to that “Modern Western Way” didn’t work well – if it worked at all. What was touted as “due process” was in reality a sham.
So, who actually did the liberal, democratic, and human rights-conscious West prefer?
Let’s try using a proven “litmus-test.” Which fellow Far East or Asian countries’ passports are allowed to get into most Western countries without any hassle?
Answer: The passports of the Japanese, Singaporeans, South Koreans, Taiwanese – whose majority traditions are modelled on a mixture of Ancient Chinese Legalistic core with a seemingly dominant veneer of Confucianism, and the Bruneians and to a lesser extent Malaysians whose majority’s traditions are based on Islam, are generally able to travel freely into most Western countries. (Malaysian passport holders still need visas to the USA, but visa-free entry into Western Europe is fine. And ironically, Malaysians can visit many more Ibero-American countries despite the common Iberian influences Filipinos share with the people of Ibero-America.
What happened to the supposedly Western-oriented pro-Liberal Democracy and Christian-Catholic majority Filipinos?
Well, our passports get us nowhere except within ASEAN, a few selected Hispano-American countries too far away for many of us to visit (who granted us visa-free status due to our cultural brotherhood with them as fellow ex-colonies of “Mother Spain” — but the richer ones have elected to keep us out), The State of Israel (in gratitude for our tie-breaking UN vote which allowed them to legally exist) and Morocco, Brazil, and a few others who believe in reciprocal visa-free arrangements: “if you don’t require visas for our citizens, we will allow you to fly into our countries without visas too…”
So, why does the West make it hard for us Filipino passport holders who are supposed to be special because we hail from “Asia’s Bastion of Western Democracy” but easier for passport holders of certain other countries in Asia whom they had oftentimes derided in the past for their non-Western, sometimes authoritarian, and non-democratic ideals?
Weren’t we supposed to be “Asia’s Bastion of Western Democracy?”
The answer, Folks, is that The WEST DOESN’T REALLY GIVE A RAT’S ASS about anyone’s adherence to Western Ideals. They simply care more about how rich and prosperous the people in a country are and how “well-ordered” that society is, never mind that in the early stages of turning that society into a well-ordered one, it was necessary to rule with an iron first and use non-liberal methods of punishing criminals (such as caning in the case of Malaysia and Singapore — which they still do, by the way), discouraging trouble-makers, and focusing everyone’s attention – sometimes forcibly – on economic progress as opposed to political liberalism.
Since all those Asian countries mentioned are now considered rich and orderly enough and people there are generally prosperous or at least comfortable in contrast to how the supposedly Westernized and majority Christian-Catholic Philippines has been a largely chaotic and undisciplined mess with way too many of its people being way too poor, they don’t give a Scheisse about how Western-oriented our Intelligentsia and how liberal our Press is… They still keep us Filipinos out by requiring all of us to get visas, and we even need to prove we are rich enough by providing bank records or that we have stable employment before they ever grant us visas.
In the end, it is clear how the West judges other societies.
It’s all about having a well-run, orderly, peaceful-enough, and prosperous-enough society. That is what they truly care about.
Why then should we make that big a fuss about these Western liberal values which the West doesn’t really care about anyway, as evidenced by their policies on which countries’ passport holders are able to get visa-free status? It’s high time Filipinos went with a more realistic and pragmatic approach as opposed to an idealistic one if we are truly interested in seeing our country succeed.
Fixing the the flaws of Philippine society and its systems – political and economic – in order for the country to improve and one day reach a level in which the West will truly respect it as an equal requires a whole lot of hard work. It will require a lot of reforms and political will. It will require that seemingly insurmountable problems that cannot be solved through normal and conventional methods be solved through unconventional and unorthodox means – means which the prissy and out-of-touch elitists, oligarchs, and foreign Western observers will find incompatible with their values and preferences. Ultimately, what matters is that the problems that need to be solved do get solved.
The sooner Filipinos – particularly the prissy and out-of-touch Filipino elitists – realize that sucking up to the West by trying to show them that we adhere to their Western liberal-democratic deals and notions of “human rights” is not what will cause the West to learn to respect us and treat us as equals but instead, (1) solidly and pragmatically developing our society so that we decisively solve our peace-and-order problems, (2) setting up a strict, disciplined, and law-abiding society, (3) setting up a stable and meritocratic system of government that allows the most competent leaders to emerge on top and govern society efficiently, and (4) setting up an open economic system that readily allows both local and foreign investors to easily set up job-creating companies to hire our people and drastically reduce (and hopefully eliminate) our unemployment problem, the sooner we will succeed economically, build a credible defense force, and gain the respect of the West, other first world countries, and ward off invasion from any would-be aggressors.
We have this last chance to fix the Philippines with President Rodrigo Roa Duterte.