Bursting the bubble

At any given point in time, there are perhaps a dozen or so crises happening simultaneously around the world. The global spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the yet ongoing bushfires in Australia, and the protests in Hong Kong are just some of the world’s present troubles that beat down on everyone’s psyche, not to mention the number of local political fiascos also flaring up almost daily. Simply imagining the immense scale of these events is astoundingly mind-boggling, and oftentimes, it may be tempting to think that we can just sit out these crises in a secluded bubble and re-emerge unscathed. However, a cursory look through history indicates otherwise.

Let’s take the case of Japan. Although known as a preeminent power whose influence spans the globe today, the country had in the past tried to shut itself from the rest of the world. In the early 1600s, distrustful of the intent of the Europeans, Japan enacted sakoku or a “closed country” policy. For two centuries, the island nation’s contact with the rest of the world was limited to a few select ports under the strict supervision of authorities.

But this period of seclusion ended with a rude awakening. In 1853, United States (US) Navy Commodore Matthew Perry’s expedition arrived off the coast of Tokyo Bay. The Japanese, who by then had sparse contact with the rest of the world for over 200 years, were awestruck. Steamships of Perry’s fleet—technological marvels of the West at that time—billowed black smoke into the sky and eclipsed any kind of sailing ships that the Japanese had. So much had happened in the intervening years that the country was caught woefully unprepared for the world knocking on its doors.

While Japan may have had good reason for imposing seclusion in the first place, their decision to close off the country from the rest of the world did not impede the march of history. The reality remains that everything else runs its course outside of any self-imposed bubble.

Back to the present, many of us might very well be trying to live in a bubble, choosing not to care even as evidence points to the immense cost of inaction. For millions of other people, however, grappling with issues such as sexism, racism, wealth inequality, and environmental disasters is already a daily occurrence, yet many of these continually happening right under our noses. Being able to live in relative comfort, away from the direct fallout of the world’s troubles, is already a privilege in itself.

This is not to say that living in comfort is a bad thing. Everyone deserves to live with freedom from want and freedom from worry; but from this principle stems the realization that everyone else also deserves to enjoy the same privileges that the “civilized world” enjoys, and that mandates those with privilege to be part of the solution.

Believing that we can freely stay uninvolved presents a clear danger. What we are actually doing is setting ourselves to complacency, so much so that we end up in shock when we realize that we have already reached the brink. 

This rings true for what has transpired in the past four years. The bloody War on Drugs should have been the writing on the wall. The first victims were the marginalized members of society, but now we have reached the point where those under fire include big conglomerates and established media outlets. Every day, it seems, we are being pushed closer to the brink.

It’s not too late to get involved. As Japan showed before by blisteringly catching up to the West, anyone who is just getting involved now can still make a difference—more than ever even. The tools that help us keep up-to-date and foster societal development are already at our fingertips. Even the seemingly simple act of casting a vote in the elections, when done by enough people, is enough to produce a critical junction, an opportunity for history to change its course.

In recent months alone, we have already seen more consequences of decades of stalled action on climate, gender, and inequality. In the next few years, we will be seeing more pivotal moments in our own history. The tensions between ABS-CBN and the government still have to see a firm end as the company’s franchise nears expiry on May 4, which in turn will have ramifications on the fate of press freedom in the country. The country’s foreign policy is also at a crossroads as the administration has cut its ties with the United States while China’s economy reels from the effects outbreak of COVID-19. And even at this point in time, speculation for the 2022 Presidential elections has been ramping up, anticipating or perhaps dreading the type of leader the country will be seeing in the near future.

History will march on. It is clear that we cannot live sheltered in a secluded canopy and try to ride out the worst. Nothing will await us but a rude awakening. It’s time to burst the bubble.

By Gershon De La Cruz

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