Sona in a world out of kilter

President Rodrigo R. Duterte delivers his message before to the management of Green Earth Enersource Corporation, government officials of Maguindanao, and the people of Buluan town during the inspection of the 5MW Biomass Power Plant. SIMEON CELI/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTOGRAPHERS DIVISION

As we go through the motions of another State of the Nation Address (Sona), it is important to remind ourselves that, although we live in a country bounded by the sea, everything that we do or fail to do takes place in the context of a bigger and more troubled world.  No elected government directs the affairs of that world, certainly not the United Nations.  But, somehow, there is order in it, which we have the duty to uphold.

It would be foolish to think we can ignore the imperatives of this global order just because there is no agency vested with the legitimate power to enforce its agreements and tacit understandings. That kind of thinking reflects the legalistic illusions of the insular state.

The theory of modernity says that as human affairs—such as trade and investment, science and technology, education and mass communications, travel and tourism, etc.—become specialized and autonomous, they also become global in scope.  Each domain develops its own order in response to its particular exigencies.

The key to understanding this is the differentiation of human activities according to function, rather than according to the social status or identity of their authors. By this process is the modern world society born.

National boundaries become obsolete.

Nation-states and their elites lose their ability to oversee and steer events occurring within their political and economic jurisdictions. Public consciousness becomes increasingly cosmopolitan; values and standards become universal.

No doubt, satellite communications and internet-based technologies have greatly hastened this process, compressing time and space, and creating realities that are no less consequential for being virtual. If we look outside of the domains of law and politics, which have remained basically nation-state-oriented, nearly everything that is happening in the world today seems to confirm this.

Economies and business ventures achieve their fullest potential when they find and develop their links to the outside world. The global economy is no longer a one-way street. It is a pleasant surprise to know, for instance, that Filipino-owned fast-food conglomerate Jollibee operates a network of 400 stores in China. According to a news report, the group plans to expand its China holdings by 5 to 10 percent annually, unruffled by the tensions generated by the Philippines’ and China’s conflicting territorial claims in the South China Sea. That is functional differentiation at work.

The sphere of science and technology has long defied the restrictions imposed by state elites and national cultures. Twitter, the social media platform, sparked a revolution that to this day continues to rage across the Arab world. A week ago, the Turkish ruler, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, narrowly averted being overthrown by a bloody military coup by using a FaceTime call initiated by a CNN reporter to rally and ask his civilian supporters to pour into the streets and save the government. The smartphone has clearly changed the template for successful coups.

In the United States, the camera that comes with every smartphone has permitted ordinary civilians to document some of the gruesome encounters between police officers and their victims in racially charged communities. Such devices have helped make the world more transparent and power wielders everywhere more accountable. At the same time, however, the easy access to sensitive video footage on YouTube has generated reactions that are difficult to contain.

Indeed, education and communications have turned global in ways never before imagined, breaking down barriers erected by state agencies. As the labor market becomes global, there is a corresponding demand to standardize employment qualifications. A minimum number of years of formal education and a corresponding set of skills are expected, for example, of Filipino seafarers abroad. This has prompted a major adjustment in the length of the country’s basic education program.

To be sure, we can bury our heads in the sand and insist on what we consider right or appropriate to our needs regardless of what the rest of the world might say. We can junk the K-to-12 program to please a segment of the Filipino public that regards it as an unnecessary and unjust imposition. But, we should not complain when international shipping companies treat our seafarers shabbily.

By the same token, we risk losing our right to protest against the destructive practices that have brought the world’s climate to where it is today if we repudiate our obligations under agreements signed in the country’s name. Indeed, we may as well forget the arbitral award we recently won under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. For we have no right to cite international norms when they favor us, and to ignore them when we find them burdensome.

But the world is out of kilter. Reacting to complexity, nations turn inward in a vain effort to insulate themselves from the problems created by the destabilization and exclusion of a huge segment of humanity from the blessings of development. For every Angela Merkel who bravely embraces the victims of war, poverty and displacement, there are ten other world leaders who, like Donald Trump, invoke fear to keep them out. For every Pope Francis who teaches the universality of mercy, there are a hundred others who seek redemption by preaching resentment.

“Becoming a citizen of the world is often a lonely business,” wrote Martha Nussbaum.  “It is … a kind of exile—from the comfort of local truths, from the warm nestling feeling of patriotism, from the absorbing drama of pride in oneself and one’s own.”

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