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Fear of authoritarianism
13 Oct 2005



[Commented on the Sassy Lawyer's blog on the topic of the Anti Terrorism Bill]

Maybe we need to put this “fear” in perspective. We already experienced the alternative to authoritarianism—the unbridled freedom we enjoyed since 1986. Where did that get us and what have we achieved under that “freedom”?

My point is this. If we cannot achieve much under “freedom”, then how *relatively* worse off could we be under an authoritarian government?

We value so much the “freedom to speak out” that we have now. But what did we use this freedom for?

(1) If you check out the state of our media today, you will easily see the utter lack of substance, sensationalism, and manipulation that characterises the Philippine press today. More than half the articles on our papers were written under the guiding hand of politicans’ (and other influence groups’) publicists.

(2) We used this “freedom” to elect Erap to office back in the roaring 90’s.

(3) We used this freedom to elect politicians to Congress who have demonstrated that they do not actually represent the interests of their constituents.

So back to the original question: How *relatively* worse off *could* we be under authoritarianism? Let’s look at it from the bright side. Maybe Pinoys will have less politics in their minds (because there wouldn’t be any point due to their inability to participate in it). With less politics in their mind, maybe Pinoys can focus more on building a decent living.

Our idea of freedom is being a rowdy society. Investors are averse to rowdiness. And they proved this by flocking to and enriching more *controlled* societies like Singapore, Malaysia, Korea, and Taiwan all the while relegating their lower-added-value operations to societies like ours—good only at delivering warm bodies to low-brain-activity types of work.

Maybe that is the reason why street rallies are so popular in the Philippines—because not much brain activity is required to hit the streets and chant political slogans. And the fear so far expressed by many Pinoys of losing this “priviledge” to hit the streets at the drop of the hat speaks lots about the kind of activities that we hold dear.


Sassy's response:
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Re #18. benign0, is it freedom that makes us irresponsible or is it something else? i think that before you start attributing this “mess” to the inability to handle freedom, you have to make a clear connection between the two.

it is not freedom that put erap in malacañang. it is not freedom that put dumb and corrupt people in congress. rather, it is the LACK OF FREEDOM to make informed choices because of, among others, poverty and the ensuing lack of education, a media controlled by the oligarchy, and a form of government that perpetrates the continued existence of the oligarchy. Freedom is illusory if people do not have the tools to make informed choices and decisions.

ergo, authoritarianism will further strengthen the power of a few to the detriment of the many.
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To clarify. I do not assert that freedom makes us irresponsible. I assert that our society is inherently irresponsible (because of those factors you point out -- lack of education, poverty, etc.). You are right that it was these factors that put a character like Erap on the president's seat. I go further to say that it was PREMATURE democracy that facilitated this political disaster.

Therefore, to allow an irresponsible society to be "free" is like allowing a 10-year old to drive a car. People earn the *PRIVILIDGE* to drive a car. This privilidge is EARNED under some degree of authoritarianism in a household (you would probably know that a household with young kids is not quite a democracy *yet*).

The argument is not whether or not authoritarianism is inherently bad for the Philippines (because it does have a track record of success in countries like Singapore and Malaysia). The argument is more about WHO executes it or WHAT form and degree the authoritarianism will take. Unfortunately our current crop of politicians are no way near the exhibiting the vision nor the quality of the character of strongmen like Lee Kuan Yew or Mahathir. In a sense, we are arguing NOT against authoritarianism per se. We are arguing against THE CURRENT LEADERS imposing authoritarianism on us.

Therefore, you are right in saying that: "authoritarianism will further strengthen the power of a few to the detriment of the many". But as I said: That is not a statement that argues the efficacy of authoritarianism. It is an argument that questions the qualifications of our current crop of politicians to pull off an authoritarian government in Pinoy society.


Sassy's response:
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benigno0, “PREMATURE democracy”? Is that so. History says we had a form of government even before the Spaniards arrived. Way I see it, it is the INHERENT incompatibility of our culture with Western models of government that has brought on this mess. From the Spaniards onward.

The comparison with the 10-year-old child… oh, come on. A human child goes through a process of physical, emotional and mental maturity. And his capacity for responsible actions is based on ALL that. Society, on the other hand, does not go through any of that. It establishes systems and institutions to guard those systems based on its needs OR based on the needs of those who wield the power.

I used to think too that it has something to do with social maturity. But really, we’re equating social maturity with the ability to adapt to social, political and legal models that had been imposed on us rather than allowed to freely develop according to our peculiar needs based on our culture.

And that is our downfall. Always feeling short of everything because we can’t cope with western models and standards. The fundamental mistake is in believeing that these western models and standards are somehow universal. That it is the ability to adapt to them that is the true measure of social maturity and, ergo, progress. Well, that just isn’t true. And propaganda doesn’t make it true.
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Sassy (re#31), neither did I assert that "western models and standards" are "universal". Lee Kuan Yew, whilst applying a hybrid of British parliamentarianism to Singapore, BEGGED TO DIFFER on other principles in the application of government to his country. He in fact proved that "western models and standards" are not set in stone and are open to customised implementation. Yet, like Meiji Japan, Singapore RECOGNISED that the world order (in our era at least) was set by Western society and therefore RESOLVED to make it IN THAT WORLD ORDER by re-tooling themselves TO SOME DEGREE. Note the all-caps words I used. They represent milestones, crossroads, and decision points where Pinoy society took wrong turns.

We did not meet democracy halfway. We implemented it off-the-shelf on a society that did not (no COULD NOT) appreciate/grasp nor found the resolve to appreciate/grasp the disciplines required to implement it. The halfway point is where the CUSTOMISED IMPLEMENTATION and *some degree* of CULTURAL CHANGE intersect. There is no such intersection in Pinoys society today. our democracy is fully-Western in its guise, and our culture is fully-tribal (and pre-colonial) in its behaviour. In your statement where you advocate "allow[ing us] to freely develop according to our peculiar needs based on our culture" you implicitly assert that this culture of ours remains in a state that needs to evolve (or should have evolved) independent of the colonial ideas imposed on us by the usual suspects. Unfortunately the reality is vastly different from this "should have been" world. Colonialism and the Western/Confucian dominated world order IS OUR REALITY TODAY. Singapore and Malaysia DEALT with that reality instead of shrinking back to SHOULD HAVE BEEN land.

You are right in saying that "it is the INHERENT incompatibility of our culture with Western models of government that has brought on this mess". I agree 100%. Democracy is a Western model of government that evolved and developed in a Western setting and is therefore compatible with Western culture. so what is the alternative for us? All the alternatives being explored ARE Western models of government. Do we go back to the pre-colonial form of government we had (me being not quite an expert on Pinoy tribal history, maybe it would be worth you giving a brief heads-up on what this "pre-colonial form of government" was like).

And now, once again, the world order is changing. They say the 21st will be a Chinese century. And their form of government is vastly different from Western Models (yet it is a hybrid of the Western ideologies of socialism and capitalism). Many people died in China (and continue to suffer) in the course of evolving this form of government. Yet AS A SOCIETY (i.e. COLLECTIVELY), China is becoming STRONGER. Becoming stronger, is something that cannot be said of Pinoy society. Yet the proportion of Pinoys while not quite suffering to the degree that many chinese are now, is CATCHING UP with the Chinese proportion (which by all accounts is declining).

What is the common denominator in all this? One thing: us. We as a people can't seem to get it right, whether it is American democracy, Marcosian dictatorship or Cory democracy. What do we do? Take the easy way out. Blame our politicians. And who are these politicians who rule us today? The people we voted to office.

We lament that our downfall is "Always feeling short of everything because we can’t cope with western models and standards." Well isn't this a fact staring us in the face? We can't cope. Therefore we have to figure out the WHY before we think about the HOW. Why are we such dismal failures in the game of COPING with the WORLD ORDER?

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