Election buzz and ‘solutions’ around how to make the Vote work better for the country now dominates the national chatter so I thought I’d come out and lend a bit of clarity to the following activist buzzwords as only a writer of Get Real Post could.
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You’d think that the call for platforms is so new this year considering how much of the mainstream has now taken up the cudgels of beating this concept into the tiny skulls of the Filipino voters. Yet only just four years ago, the idea of demanding platforms from candidates making their pitch to voters was so exotic. So exotic it was that I wrote a piece back in mid-2009 outlining the basic how-to’s of developing a campaign platform. As evident in what I wrote there, “If we are to expect Filipinos to courageously rally around a serious effort to become a better country in the foreseeable future, it would help to see a leader who has it clear in his or her mind how to get us from A to B.” it is obvious that the concept back then was quite new.
The call for platforms rose to a crescendo as the presidential campaign leading to the 2010 elections marched on. But as it became more apparent that the then front-running candidate, Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III lacked one, had no inclination of producing one, and was happy enough to run entirely on the back of his family pedigree, many folk who had by then drank enough of BS Aquino’s Yellowist Kool Aid were loudly extolling the irrelevance of revealing clear governance platforms during an election campaign. Instead, what to them was BS Aquino’s qualification to lead the country was his perceived honesty, integrity, and lack of a track record of corrupt practices.
Funny how the most important lessons are learnt after the disaster had already wrought havoc. BS Aquino is now President of the Philippines and the very same bozos who thought platforms were not that important are now parroting what we had been saying back in 2009.
In the lead up to and then in the aftermath of the 1986 EDSA people power “revolution”, the idea that in “freedom” lies the singular key to Philippine prosperity became deeply-ingrained in the Filipino psyche. It was all about freedom, and a blanket of demagoguery built around this simpleton’s message descended upon and envoloped the Philippine National “Debate” in the subsequent 27 years. The Vote — the “freedom” to choose one’s leaders — guaranteed that the right ones would be elevated to office as the prevailing thinking went. This was, the activists insisted, the “power” that the Filipino people “regained” after the 1986 “revolution”. But then as one bozo after another got elected into office since 1986, it became quite clear that the erstwhile thought leaders of the time simply gave Filipino voters too much credit. It turns out they were really not that smart after all. Freedom in the hands of the Filipino voter was like a blowtorch in the hands of a two-year-old.
And so the idea of “educating” Filipino voters came about. The thing with “voter education” is that it is really not that complicated. It comes down to something most normal people learned in kindergarten — that we are ultimately all accountable to ourselves for the decisions we made in the past. In a society renowned for a collective faculty for thinking that is stunted by amnesia and voodoo logic, “voter education” should start with a re-visit of these kindergarten basics; that being accountable as a “voter” encompasses a system of three key acts of responsibility:
(a) Select the right leaders;
(b) Use the system to hold them accountable; and,
(c) Hold ourselves accountable for the quality of the leaders we choose using the system.
A lot of the focus of this year’s “voter education” activist fad is on just the first one, selecting the right leaders. The harder part of the equation — keeping politicians on their toes in between elections is where the real deal lies. Unfortunately Filipinos are simply not up to delivering their part of the deal in between fiestas.
And so politicians gravitate to the same old buffoonery…
The reason Filipino politicians are so at liberty to make big, lofty, colourful, noisy, but hollow promises during election campaigns is because the Filipino voter simply drops the ball once the fiesta is over. Because Filipino voters simply fail to use the system to hold them accountable as a matter of routine in between elections and utterly lack an ethic of holding themselves accountable for the quality of the leaders they choose during those fiestas, Philippine politics is a con man’s wet dream. You only need a lousy product and a million suckers to make a lot of money in business. And Philippine politics is, indeed, good business.
And so we come to…
The role of social media in Philippine politics
In a recently-concluded “convention” that saw one of the current crop of “thought leaders” after another pontificate about what such a kewwwlll thing social media is, we learned that social media is unprecedented in the way it…
– breaks traditional commuinication barriers;
– serves as a platform for unfiltered egalitarian “dialogue”;
– elevates “political discourse” by;
– providing a more “inclusive” discussion community; and,
– prompts — and demands — quick response from its participants.
Yadda, yadda, yadda.
In short (cutting through all the fad jargon), social media transmits and amplifies the “voice of the people” at an unprecedented scale and efficiency so that every schmoe and her dog has a crack at the proverbial bullhorn once wielded by only the most powerful and influential people. Sounds nice — on paper.
The thing with participating in social media chatter is that it is really a form of high-tech Chinese whispers. The Twitter “retweet” and the Facebook “share” functions are the 21st Century facilitators of this game — and it is now a game played on a vast scale. Communication engineers will point out that the principle of signal degradation as data is transmitted, relayed, and re-amplified a number of times as transmission distance increases over a channel is the same as the way hearsay information is perverted in a typical Chinese whispers game.
Human debate unfortunately remains analog, so the advent of social media — the digital intermediary in the propagation of this “debate” — merely served as a more efficient way to accurately spread low-quality information. With every digital factoid passing through Filipino brains in between retweets, the signal progressively degrades into noise.
We see this degradation in signal-to-noise ratios everyday — when we make photocopies of photocopies and make photocopies of those photocopies, the quality of the copy worsens as the number of copies increase. Enlarge one of these nth-generation copies and you will come up with a really bad image. In the same way, amplify and transmit a bad signal over several iterations and all you get for your trouble is a louder and even noisier signal. That is essentially what social media is doing for the Philippine National “Debate”.
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Indeed, everything essential to practicing democracy properly comprises stuff most well-bred people learned as little kids. Having a plan to get where one wants to go. Acquiring relevant information and applying it shrewdly. Regarding sales pitches with a critical mind. Being respectful and prudent when communicating with other people — regardless of the communication technology being used. You don’t really need a Masters Degree in political “science” to really get all that. When one understands fundamental problems using common sense, we tend to have a more practical regard for some of the silver-bullet “solutions” that the savviest spin-meisters around us build buzzes around.
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