Editorial: Turf war, Digong, and Bertrand Russell

IT'S funny how many are raising hell over President Rodrigo Duterte's statement that Mongolia and Turkey has asked about joining the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and that the president is amenable to this.

True, by definition, Southeast Asia is defined as geographically south of China, east of India, west of New Guinea and north of Australia, and Mongolia and Turkey are not part of this. But looking back, Asean was formed because of geopolitics, where nations recognize that by themselves they are nothing, but grow in proportion to the strengths of each of its neighbors and itself.

Geopolitics is a word that President Duterte speaks often of. That can be expected, especially for those who have known him and have a glimpse of his world views.

But first, let's define geopolitics so that we all understand what it is.

Geopolitics is an analysis of the geographic influences on power relationships in international relations. It focuses on political power in relation to geographic space. These spaces include the tangible spaces like territorial waters and land territory, it also includes diplomatic history. It's a mush of history, social science, and geography in relation to politics.

Geopolitics as it always rears its head in international relations focuses on obvious influences on history as established by the tangible -- like geography and territory. But sometimes, the obvious can be misleading, just as good intentions lead to hell.

While you chew on that, let's drag in Bertrand Russell, who was very good at formalizing the informal. Who is he? Russell is a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, writer, social critic, political activist and Nobel laureate who was a prominent anti-war activist. As wikipedia noted: he occasionally advocated preventive nuclear war, before the opportunity provided by the atomic monopoly had passed, and "welcomed with enthusiasm" world government.

What is Russell doing in this discussion? This: President Duterte as he himself once admitted is heavily influenced by this philosopher although he does not subscribe to Russell's agnostic views. Duterte is a prayerful man.

Russell was known to have deliberated much on formalizing what were at that time informal bodies of knowledge. The problem was, he mostly formalized the informal without explaining what he was doing. This is manifested in Russell and Alfred North Whitehead's Principia Mathematica that laid bare the logical foundations of mathematics while it did not mention anything about the order of discovery.

“It is not easy for the lay mind to realize the importance of symbolism in discussing the foundations of mathematics, and the explanation may perhaps seem strangely paradoxical. The fact is that symbolism is useful because it makes things difficult. (This is not true of the advanced parts of mathematics, but only of the beginnings.) What we wish to know is, what can be deduced from what. Now, in the beginnings, everything is self-evident; and it is very hard to see whether one self-evident proposition follows from another or not. Obviousness is always the enemy to correctness. Hence we invent some new and difficult symbolism, in which nothing seems obvious. Then we set up certain rules for operating on the symbols, and the whole thing becomes mechanical. In this way we find out what must be taken as premise and what can be demonstrated or defined,” Russell wrote on Mysticism and Logic in “Mathematics and the Metaphysicians”.

When applied to geopolitics and Asean, let us repeatedly remind ourselves that "Obviousness is always the enemy of correctness." Anyway, membership into the Asean will have to be approved by the association.

Whether they will be allowed to join will be for the group to decide. In the meantime, we have gained a few more friends by welcoming their willingness to join.