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Death, nationalism, China

THE death of a loved one or a friend—two friends Michael Marasigan and Roy Sinfuego passed away recently—always reminds one how fleeting life is.

Brief it is but life is a magical moment, a miracle in the universe’s14 billion years of existence in which a species called homo sapiens has evolved that it is now able to reflect on himself and on the world.

Most of us celebrate that brief span with our loved ones, making sure — usually simultaneous with satisfying our own needs — they have all the necessities to enjoy life, and not suffer it. Occasionally, we move out of that circle, with acts of kindness to those outside it: handing out coins to the ragamuffin who taps on your windshield; giving an unexpected end-year bonus to your gardener; donating money to help victims of floods or the Marawi crisis.

But with the realization that life is such a miracle, shouldn’t we devote at least a significant part of our lives, not just within our small circle, but to help our fellow homo sapiens enjoy it too, instead of living it in misery?

Many well-off people actually do, or think they do—believing that their companies give jobs to people who would otherwise be out of work or underpaid, giving scholarships to the poor, funding charitable organizations or working in NGOs, for communists, struggling to overthrow an exploitative state, and for many Catholics, praying for the poor.

In this age we live in, though, the most efficient way to help as many people in the shortest period of time is to help make the State under which one is a member of by birth or choice, as strong and efficient as possible, that it can supervise the nation it has the authority to control, so that its economic structure lifts the majority of its citizens from poverty.

Think about it. When a Filipino moves out of the country to migrate to the US, Canada, or any other developed country, he gets to live a much, much better life, and even develops his talents to the full.

US or Canada
That’s a cliché of course, but we forget that the US or Canada are that way because their citizens who have been buried long ago, had built, often at a high cost to themselves and their families, the political and economic structures that have made their nations such that anybody living there would have the necessities of life and the means to develop his talents.

After all, it is a nation’s government that is the apparatus of institutions and practices that order and regulate society, and appropriate and distribute the resources of a nation. It is in this age the most important organization that determines whether humans live in happiness or misery. That is why we revere or hate presidents so much, since they headed that organization, the state, that has had the most impact on our people’s lives.

It hasn’t always been the case. That supreme role of a nation-state over humans emerged only in the last 300 years or so of humankind’s million-year history. In the past, what determined people’s lives were the leadership of a tribe or band of tribes, later of kingdoms (and the character of their kings), of empires that conquered tribes, and even of the Catholic Church and the Islamic Caliphates.

The realization that the nation-state is the most important organization that determines whether a human being lives in happiness or misery is called nationalism.

The term or even the notion of it has been denigrated, even caricatured by the term “nativism” here and abroad, by the global capitalist elites, whose businesses have gone not just beyond their own nations, but depend on removing the boundaries of nations. They have even spread the lie that it is them – “foreign investments”—that is the biggest factor for a nation’s growth.

In our country, nationalism has been all but killed by the elites, who after all look at the Philippines not as their country—they see themselves are Spanish, Americans, or “globalists”—but only as a lucrative market or production site.

Contrast Japanese or Thai capitalists’ nationalism, and you will realize how bad our situation is. Our elites have dived into the idea of “globalization”: most of them have mansions in New York, California, and even London, which they consider as their real homes. The most famous executive in our country, much admired for his corporate successes, is Manuel V. Pangilinan. Yet he works for foreigners: the lucrative conglomerate he manages has given a billion dollars in profits to its main owners, the Indonesian Anthoni Salim and rich American investors.

All these points would be just theoretical if not for recent developments: the emergence as an economic powerhouse of China, one of the world’s most nationalist countries.

China’s 800 million
According to the World Bank, China lifted out of extreme poverty (those living on $1.90 per day, roughly P96 per day) 800 million of its citizens from 1988 to 2013.The most important factor for China’s growth is that it had a strong state that adopted whatever policy, absent the dogmas, that would grow the economy and lift its people out of poverty.

That 800 million lifted out of poverty is equivalent to the population of eight Philippines. How many poor Filipinos have managed to crawl out of poverty after the EDSA Revolution to today? Just 20 million, although the net increase, according to World Bank data, is just 2.5 million because of our population growth, that has bred more poor.

“China’s progress accounted for more than three-quarters of global poverty reduction and is the reason why the world reached the UN millennium development goal of halving extreme poverty,” a recent article in the UK-based newspaper The Guardian pointed out. China’s poverty reduction was even seen by several scholars as a “modern miracle’” as never in humankind’s history have so many people been lifted out of poverty in such a short span of time as three decades.

Indeed, humanity has been in such misery for most of its existence that it is a dogma for major religions. A Christian after-life heaven wouldn’t have had traction if most people were happy alive. Islam views life as so miserable that one should pass through it as fast as possible, which indeed jihadists do. Buddhism says there are ways to eject from the cycle of (miserable) life.

Isn’t it mind-boggling that 800 million Chinese souls in just 25 years – less than the time span between our EDSA revolution and today – were lifted out of poverty, so that they and their descendants will be able to celebrate life? Wouldn’t it have given those responsible for that feat all the meaning in life? Shouldn’t we emulate them?

Between collecting Porsches and helping get out of poverty 10 million Filipinos, which would include their hundreds of millions of descendants in the future, won’t the latter give you the bigger thrill?