Filipinos need to learn how to think. It is imperative that they do because many things about the 21st Century demand an uplift in thinking. We can see how important this is in the recent events that have plunged Western-style democracy into crisis. It had become evident that men working with machines could turn human intuition against humanity.
Social media has put even more power in the hands of people who are skillful in the art and science of persuasion. Whereas, in the past, people in the business of persuasion (advertisers, marketers, public relations consultants, propagandists, etc.) only had TV, radio, and print as tools of their trade, today social media provides an unprecedented feedback mechanism that enables these professionals to progressively hone their message and more precisely target these messages. As a result, people who perceive themselves as “victims” of this new and insidious (these victims claim) form of persuasion are on a warpath.
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What is dominating the discourse surrounding the “weaponisation” of social media is whether or not governments should step in to regulate it. Considering the increasingly evident addictiveness of social media, it won’t be surprising if efforts to regulate it will take the form of measures similar to the control of addictive substances like narcotics, alcohol, and tobacco. If so, then we should also consider the education that goes hand-in-hand with the regulation of addictive substances. In most schools today kids are taught about cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs and are educated on the consequences of the abuse of these substances. The policy and educational infrastructure applied to the mitigation of the effects on society of conventional substance abuse is such that many of the tenets of these initiatives have become household slogans — “Don’t drink and drive”, “No hope in dope”, and “Be smart, don’t start”.
The 21st Century, however, is the information age. As such, many of society’s deadly opiates today come in the form of addictive information. Much like the way drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes dull the senses, information opiates dull the mind. This truism is specially relevant in the Philippines as there seems to be an increasingly compelling correlation between national intellect and the sorts of topics that “trend” amongst its Netizens. Recently it had come to the attention of some that average IQ in the Philippines ranks below that of other southeast Asian countries. And when we look at “trending topics” on, say, Twitter, we find that topics on showbiz overwhelmingly dominate the Philippine list compared, say, to Singapore’s and Malaysia’s which have more diverse lists.It’s a chicken-and-egg question. Do trending showbiz topics make Filipinos dumb or do dumb Filipinos make showbiz topics trend? To be fair, correlation does not necessarily indicate causation. So, how strong the causal link between dumb Filipinos and tending showbiz topics (and vice versa) is will have to be determined in a more scientific study. Nonetheless, there is enough anecdotal evidence to warrant enough pause to consider the serious educational and cognitive deficits in Philippine society.
The degree to which the political discourse is polarised in the Philippines is a disturbing indicator of how much Filipinos remain beholden to beliefs and personal loyalties at the expense of sound reasoning on the basis of facts and logic. Most issues of national consequence are not as cut-and-dry as Filipinos’ loyalties. Reproductive health, for example, is an issue politicians and partisans in both camps share many common positions on. The same can be said about many other important concerns like economic development, education, poverty alleviation, modernisation of the armed forces, and even crime and control of drug abuse and trafficking. As such, there is more opportunity to work together than work against one another. Yet, Filipinos’ primitive approach to the practice of democracy is not consistent with this reality.
An important thing to consider is the participation of the Philippines’ Roman Catholic Church in partisan politics. Whereas ordinary lay Filipinos, regardless of their individual political affiliations, have much in common with one another in their views on national issues, the Catholic Church takes unequivocal and non-negotiable positions on many of these that clearly cause divisions in society. The Church is categorically opposed to birth control, gender equality, diversity in sexual orientation, and freedom of expression. Worse, the Catholic Church provides disproportionate backing to a single political clique — the Liberal Party, a.k.a. the Yellowtards as evident in the disproportionate number of Yellowtard events that feature Catholic masses and other Catholic rituals and are graced by Roman Catholic officials.What is the common denominator amongst the Church, personality-based politics, and showbiz? That’s easy — it is the way of thinking at work. These three opiates of Philippine society don’t require thinking based on sound and complete information. People whose minds are occupied by the Church, political personalities, and showbiz habitually and, as a matter of routine, take the ultimate cognitive shortcut — belief and faith. Belief and faith do not require much information input. They only require minds that are comfortable with skipping thinking altogether. The Church, in fact, teaches the most dangerous dogma of all — that one must believe unconditionally.
Thus the only really baffling thing today is why we continue to be baffled by the spread of “fake news”. The reason for this is really quite obvious. Filipinos do not know how to think and, as a result, often skip that step altogether when forming opinions and conclusions. Indeed, the latter is an oxymoron in that context. Conclusions formed in the absence of an input of reliable information and sound thinking are actually not conclusions but mere beliefs.
The first step to re-educating Filipinos is an obvious one. Filipinos need to be taught how to think and not simply to believe. Then Filipinos need to be trained to think habitually and as a matter of routine. There’s yet another obvious solution right there. As with most problems that the Philippines face in its aspirations to develop into a modern and prosperous society, much of the solutions are obvious.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.