“The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather of that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections.”
— The History of Freedom in Antiquity, 1877
THE TYRANNY OF THE MAJORITY
Alexis de Tocqueville coined the term: “tyranny of the majority”, and Lord Acton, as he is quoted above, was among the first, who liked using the term. I like the term; the etymology of tyrant sounds like it came from the tying of rants, or the tying together of ants. If you have a majority of ant-sized brains ranting, the term is self-explanatory.
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A paleontologist likes the word too; he named one of his subjects Tyrannosaurus Rex, an apt description of a ferocious predator. That dinosaur must be complaining, it probably doesn’t want its terrible public image; but the dinosaur can’t complain, as elephants can’t complain when they are found in rooms, only when they are ignored. The tyranny of the majority is more ferocious than a dinosaur, an elephant in the room long ignored in the country.
In the US and elsewhere, they have long countered the problem by supermajority rules, constitutional limits on the powers of a legislative body, and the introduction of a Bill of Rights. Ayn Rand further wrote against such tyranny, saying that individual rights are not subject to a public vote, and that the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and that the smallest minority on earth is the individual). I suppose that is what it is when you have quality equally individuated. What happens when you don’t have quality, and yet, they have the numbers? Lee Kuan Yew solved that by seeking a position opposite Ayn Rand; he postponed individual rights when progress was in jeopardy. His unselfish vision was first.
THE TYRANNY OF MEDIOCRITY
GRP has a pretty good idea on how the majority thinks. It has one of the most open, the least moderated, space, through which anyone could express an opinion. It receives a steady stream of comments, so that we have here a good survey of the Filipino minds that could rival that of SWS or Pulse Asia, especially since the survey of GRP is unadulterated.
What we see is that Tyrannosaurus Rex didn’t go extinct in this archipelago. It didn’t survive as a dinosaur, but it thrives. Pinoys are pre-occupied with their showbiz idols and favorite love teams. They are not interested in their own excellence, but in the “excellence of a few”, by and through which they take their carefree ride. Much more, excellence is too much hard work, so they like the excellence achieved by accident or by fate, even if such excellence is just of form and not of substance. True excellence, which is a lifetime effort, is alien to Pinoys, as Lotto is not; thus, their happiness is not deep, it is in the surface — mababaw ang kaligayahan. However, it is happiness they pursue.
Maybe, it is because they don’t understand true happiness, as they don’t understand the term “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” enshrined in many Constitutions. Happiness is a feeling, as sadness is; they are the by-products of a situation or an activity. One can’t cry unless this is triggered by a sad situation. As one can’t pursue a feeling unless a triggering situation is first obtained, they pursue happiness without first creating the circumstances that allow for satisfying and uplifting happiness. No, that needs too much hard thinking, hard work, patience and courage.
What is the pursuit then? Obviously, a cart before the horse. A tropical country, Philippines compete with Russia and Korea, countries with bitter winters, as a top contender in the world in alcohol consumption. Pinoys are more Mexicans and Spanish than Mexicans and Spaniards when it comes to siestas and fiestas. They could go broke and indebted just to go ahead with their mini and grand fiestas, and to support other kinds of easy life, and to get ahead of the proverbial Joneses, even if just outwardly. No wonder, drama actors who convincingly shed tears at the drop of a hat are most admired. As such tears are artificial, the happiness of Pinoys is also artificial. Maybe, it borders on hypocrisy. But, illusions and fantasies have to be sustained, and priorities are a mess.
There is no inner conviction, thus a victim card is their best weapon. From within and without, they know deep down something is wrong, but they are scared of prying the deep, so they cover this with lots of entertainment. The culture is of blind faith and of music, and nothing beyond that. Still, they easily flaunt their Pinoy Pride; although, nobody knows exactly what that means since it is the emptiest of boasts. As pride is already empty by itself, nobody knows if Pinoys just enjoy flaunting, or they enjoy irritating others by such emptiness. But, they can’t know any better.
Attack any of their idols, and easily in a bandwagon of millions, the fans will bite back like a cobra aroused from stupor. The hissing sound alone could be scary for they are in the form of ad hominem ad nauseam. They hate intellectuals and will not even check if there is validity in the arguments, or the articles, thus, they will not even bother to offer a counter-argument. It is the sloth of the brain, a contagious virus, its spread unchecked, and they think that is what is supposed to be in vogue. They are like herds being led to a slaughter, but that is how they tyrannize. It is the passive-aggresiveness which is said to be the typical psychology of a Pinoy.
First time visitors of GRP say they are repulsed by the negative tone of the articles. But, that is only because they read things out of context, and the context is what we are talking about now. Regular visitors already know that truthful mirroring of a society should always result in well, what can we say, the true image. If it is negative, then the image is negative; if positive, then positive. No one can mirror what is the opposite unless one is in the business of government propaganda.
Abraham Lincoln insisted that public opinion is a formidable social and political force. Imagine that force in the Philippines. It is the tyranny of mediocrity.
THE TYRANNY OF APATHY
Anthills are anthills, even ahead of history. And in an anthill called the Philippines, the ants go about their lives oblivious to the over-all scheme of things. They will only bite when they are only directly adversely affected. The common good is beyond their parochial sight.
Maybe, there was a time when they cared. But, nobody knows now when that was. After independence, a semblance of independence and democracy, a martial law, two people power revolts, and many elections, the anthill is still the same depressing anthill. The ants are tired and have switched off to what are the common good and serious issues; individuals, families, being each ever more an island to themselves.
Historians are wont to divide history into stages, periods, or eras. Specifically, in the Philippines of late, they want to talk of the pre-martial law years, the martial law decades, and the present after EDSA1. This is hogwash for the anthill is still the same anthill; nothing has changed. In fact, it has gotten much worse lately; it has become the worst Asian anthill underneath the glowing government propaganda. China totally disrespects the anthill, for it knows the leaders of the anthill are an unabashed treasonous lot who are for sale to the next highest bidder at the slightest promptings. At least in the past, the corrupt tried to cover things with law; today, they simply disregard any law. Patriotism is a subjective term among Pinoys; it depends on who defines it.
So, what are the milestones and jump-off points that historians are talking about? They are just anniversaries to mark dates when the country each time has gotten worse, more than anything else. It is crazy why they still celebrate such anniversaries. But, it is this insistence of the self-proclaimed historians that has given every reason for the apathy of the majority.
The laws of the land have become ever more selective and subjective, and yellow. So, Filipinos, terribly frustrated, don’t even bother now to understand the power of the majority. Thus, as individuals and as a people, they don’t want to think now how it is utilized, much less how it is managed and how it is controlled.
On top of that, they no longer have a conception on what is supposed to be the job description of the CEO of the land. They think executives are supposed to be some kind of Angelina Jolie, Oprah, or Mother Theresa, who gives away freebies and charities. CEOs have been compared quite often to a captain of a ship, or a bus driver, so voters have actually been voting politicians who think and act like reckless bus and jeepney drivers on shabu or marijuana. This is not to insult the drivers for they are actually better than the politicians. At least, the drivers work to earn a living; the politicians earn not to work, they just steal the country blind. They are the real low lives in Armani suits and designer barongs.
The apathy of the majority is the real objective of the TraPo. Apathy is the only way these politicians and showbiz type personalities get elected. But, apathy is the very reason for the tyranny of the majority. And the society gropes in the dark as nobody knows now who tyrannizes who, adding to the myopic vision of all.
THE TUNNEL VISION?
As opposed to modern societies, the Philippine society is more of the traditional one. Its aspirations are modest; it just wants to be a decent society. But, even in this, it has failed miserably.
Obviously, the obtaining situation has been made possible because no vision has been made available to invigorate, inspire and unify the citizenry. Election campaign promises and slogans have all just turned out to be a grand cover-up for the sinister plots to only benefit the powerful few, and the people are now very suspicious of these things, especially, after uncovering the unscrupulous hypocrisy of Daang Tuwad, er Tuwid. Still, each administration had the gall to claim fantastic performance, because the society at large has a vague idea of standards against which performances could be measured. The typical standards are too technical for the ordinary man in the street.
Let us now borrow the methodology of the the think tank at Witherspoon Institute, and see if we could have a society standard that is more accessible.
* * *
A traditional society is in general the home to protecting every life, every liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. At the minimum, it strives to be a decent society. Home has three ingredients/ components: 1) the individual, 2) the family/ immediate community, and 3) the law/ the government. If this was a manufacturing process, rather than a home, the three are the raw materials, but they are also at the same time the machinery or the system, as well as the final products themselves.
To come out with quality products, if still not world class, one could consider tweaking, adjusting, or fine tuning, if necessary, any of the three at any given time, or all of the three at the same time, in order to improve the raw material, or upgrade the system. The product could not be tweaked that much, it could only be packaged well. And lately, that is all what they have been doing, packaging the product by propaganda to make things appear fine and dandy. They have not bothered to find the optimum balance between the three components, or to find improvement either raw-material-wise, or system-wise. The actual product, therefore, may not be what the package says, because the powers-that-be have their own hidden agenda, which has become lately very apparent. Government has nothing to do with uplifting the society, obviously. (We have known this, but let it be Point A.)
What and how to tweak? GRP regular commenter from Europe, Robert Haighton, and others say that the biggest problem of the Philippines is the emphasis of #2 above, the family, which results in the de-emphasis of #1, the individual. It is easy for him to say that, he comes from a Western culture. But Asian cultures have time immemorial been family-oriented. It is difficult for Asians to comprehend a society that is not as such, for family has always been the last defence against any form of tyranny that may come from within and without #3, the law/ the government.
Still, Robert has a very valid point. An over-emphasis on the family could breed irresponsible individuals, because of the protective mantle natural to the family. But, that also creates over-burdened individuals as well. Either way, the result is a weakened #1. A weakened #1 means a weakened #2 for both components are inter-dependent. It is really an interplay of the culture vis-a-vis the system. To be specific, there should be a comprehensive academic study on how the tax system could make utang na loob a strength rather a weakness. But, the outright rejection of the bill proposed by Sen. Angara and Cong. Miro Quimbo to reform the antiquated tax system is downright irresponsible, if not criminal. It cripples the responsible members of the society, thus, crippling the society as a whole, and it boggles the mind why leaders would do that. (This is Point B.)
Already, we have obtained two parameters for the society, and standards against which we could measure our leaders. Let us proceed.
Above obtains for the society a vicious cycle (Above #1 and #2 are in direct proportion to each other.) It is the vicious cycle of poverty in the Philippines. What becomes apparent is that we can’t sit by our lonesome selves, happy and contented as if individuals, or families, were each an island. This is the apathy we already discussed earlier. But here, what is made clear is that apathy not only tyrannizes, it gnaws at the stability of society in no uncertain terms. We could never tolerate ideas and individuals, leaders or not, that would want to perpetuate that situation for it affects us directly in palpable ways. (This is Point C) We just wish we had voters who have the critical mind to see through this and thus, could vote wisely. Those who are critically inclined in their thinking are almost obligated to inform others. (Point C-1)
Above should suggest that tweaking the three components could be a complicated endeavour, and it is not a one-time process, but a continuous one. In fact, they could prove to be delicate to handle. As shown by recent decades, an over-emphasis on #2, family, risks an intractable population size; a weakening of it, a demographic winter, a vacuum that massive influx of immigrants could exploit, as we are witnessing today in a surprised and overwhelmed Europe.
But, managing an optimum balance of the components could only be provided by foresight, a focus on planning, which, hopefully, could yield a vision that is not hazy. And if it is hazy, it has to be reformulated until it is clear to all. That requires dedicated leadership with goodwill and transparency. (That is Point D, and makes Point C even more critical. Apathy allows a leader with ill-intentions to utilize the tyranny of the majority to his advantage without the majority even knowing about it.)
If #1 and #2 are inter-dependent, #3, the law/ government, is also inter-dependent with #1 and #2. What has happened in the Philippines is that #3 has become, or is deliberately made to be, increasingly independent of the other components. (It is a most critical point, and it is Point E.) It is the most irresponsible direction that the Philippines has taken, almost with full cooperation of the entire citizenry (please refer again to Point C). It is insidious in character, no matter from what angle it is viewed.
Yes, Point E is that obvious and it is that simple, but often, common sense is normally not that common. Every legislation, every jurisprudence, or every government program that is not clearly directed at strengthening #1 and #2 in equal measure could not only be a waste of time and money, but more critically, does contribute to the further weakening of #3, the law/government itself.
Worse, what is obtained is an ever bigger vicious cycle as lost opportunities have multiplier effects. Thus, we should not be surprised about the present day stagnation of the society. The national psyche veering towards depressing hopelessness, that has given rise to the net sobriquet, Failippines. It will take momentous effort to wake-up a people that loves pretending to sleep — a reason why GRP writers write as they do.
Because #1 is relatively weak, mediocrity rules. Or, mediocrity rules, and that is why #1 is weak. Which is the cause; which is the effect? Another vicious cycle. (And, that should be Point F.) Very few individuals have been aiming high; the majority has been contented with scratching with the chicken than flying with the eagles. Anti-intellectualism has become pervasive in the society, and gone are the days when teachers are the most respected individuals of society.
* * *
But, Olympic archers always aim the arrow higher relative to the bull’s eye. Which means that if we aim low, we will always end up with something that is even lower. If such is the case, then we can’t just be interested in a thriving society, or just a decent one. We need a dynamic one.
If we are interested in a dynamic society, two more components have to be introduced: #4, the University and #5, the free market. A dynamic society promises additional opportunities for individual development and promotes intellectual, economic, and social progress. Because of the foregoing points enumerated above, the Philippines is way off the mark. It looks like it is not even in the game. It has set its sight quite low.
Distinguishing traditional societies that strive for decency and modern ones that strive for dynamism is of essence to this analysis. There are distinct characteristics between the pre-modern and the modern ones. It does not mean we have to make a drastic choice between the two, but we have to see what elements are constitutive and what are instrumental — what is the core and what is just for utility. That should allow the society a clearer perspective on what is needed to clean itself of corruption or to get its act together and what is needed to catalyze progress. The goods of tradition does not need to be sacrificed in the pursuit of progress, or the opportunities of modernity does not need to be lost in the preservation of morality. The aims of decency and dynamism could actually be successfully balanced. Each characteristic of the phases are inter-dependent.
Compassion and competition are intrinsic in individuals. Both have value, but also danger, if they are not in optimum balance. The majesty of law has to be regained, as laws can’t just be instrumental. What should be stressed is the importance of inner conviction and its regulative effect in both economic activity and moral cleansing. The operative words: inner conviction. While aiming for utopia will always be a folly, dignity of politics has to be an ever present aim.
Clearly, the health of a democracy depends on the education of its citizens. The added challenge is that the global village continues to shrink. Society today often has an international dimension. That means education has to include academic theories of political realism on the one hand and liberal internationalism on the other.
We now take up component #4, the university.
Some would say that there is one more component: religion. Even dynamic societies ensure religious liberty, but, let us not be bog down here by religious debates. To theists, may I suggest imagining #4 as already inclusive of said aspect, as atheists and agnostics might also want to imagine #4 as absent of the same. For now, it is a moot and academic discussion as the default is that three of the leading universities, Ateneo, La Salle and UST, are run by RCC. (This will require a separate cover in view of the neglect of state universities like UP.)
What is more relevant for our purposes here is whether the university is best understood dynamically, as an engine for research and the increase of knowledge, or traditionally, as a place for its transmission. It would be fantastic if that is the debate the society could have; such would indeed reflect a society interested in elevating the intellectual discourse. (Please consider this as Point G.) This should be a target in any event.
Unfortunately, we could not even proceed to that level of Point G, since #3 (as already mentioned in Point E), has been pre-occupied in being independent of all other components. “Real” education has been thrown under the bus and ran over many times.
The Constitution had the good intention of specifying that the biggest share of the National Budget should be to Education, but actual implementation have all just amounted to minimally complying with the law, rather than in advancing its spirit. Thus, while the budget may seem to have been increasing, it actually has not, when inflation is accounted in. With increasing student population, budget per student has actually been dramatically decreasing. (It is important to note this as Point H. If we need a dynamic society, then we need a government that will not compromise this sector. It will invest in the future with courageous conviction and unwavering persistence. We should vote accordingly.)
But, that is not the pernicious part. It is the philosophical foundation that now undergirds the approach of the Philippines to education. Schools no longer mold the culture. It is the culture, sick or not, that molds the schools. And in an age of media and social media, how could schools compete with those in the molding of youth? (That should definitely be Point I.) And with media only interested in their profits, any investment on education could be negated any time. The future looks very bleak. (It is good to recall here Points C and E, for they are the major contributing factors. We want to hear Point I in the presidential debate, for it has something to do with the life and death of the society. )
More to it, Education has yielded its position as the objective judge of utilitarianism, and other current philosophies in vogue, and instead given in to utilitarianism itself. Thus, curricula are adjusted to a moving target, the job market. But, what takes precedence, principles or practicality; abstract or material; substance or form; the long-term or the short-term; intellect or emotion; ideas or money; “to be” or “to have”? First things come first; what kind of education do we impart if they are contingent to fad? (Point J)
Need empirical evidence that we have been rapidly deteriorating? Our universities look like they are in a free fall in the rankings of universities in Asia. Gone are the days when many foreign students came, who all should have been welcomed for they contribute to the diversity in the campuses and to the fringe benefit of producing well-rounded graduates, which could only happen when there are cultural exchanges. It is therefore not hard to believe we are mass producing dumbed down graduates. And, there is nothing more disheartening than to see our teachers applying for DH jobs in Hong Kong or Singapore for they get more pay that way. (Recall in Point B that when we weakened component #1, we start weakening what constitute a decent society.)
We will not discuss component #5, the free market, at length not only because this is really such a big topic requiring a separate cover, but because what happens here is really the outcome of what actions are effected from Points A to J. Suffice to say that we don’t have a level playing field in the market is because of the wrong priorities as could now be seen point by point above.
* * *
We started by suggesting that our society is being tyrannized by various and unrecognised forces, defined and undefined. We tried to define some of them. This write-up does not claim that forces as enumerated above are the only tensions present, they are far from exhaustive. But, hopefully, above offered a simple, basic, way of looking at things from a helicopter point of view.
I don’t know if it offered a better understanding of what is tyrannizing the society, why they are obtaining, how they came to be possible, and who are contributing to the situation.
The side benefit, hopefully, is that we were able to see how the different elements of society are in tension even if they could only be covered by broad strokes, and how such tensions could possibly be eased. The writer has and will not attempt to offer any solution, but it is an attempt towards contributing a better way of judging our candidates for 2016.
In general terms, we have to get rid of apathy, emphasize education, and all other priorities follow. The priorities have been spelled out from Points A through K. Hopefully, they are not muddled.
[Photo courtesy Go Girl Cafe.]
GRP Featured Comment hall-of-famer. Former executive of the Far East Regional Office of a US-based multinational company living out of a suitcase covering the market from Tokyo to Mumbai to Melbourne, and all the countries within that triangle. Got tired after logging 300k air miles per year. Now, I just have a little trading biz on specialty chemicals.