When you get to the core of it, the root problem of this whole “debate” over “Independence Day” is that nobody can really point out what it means to be truly independent. For that matter, even if some genius actually did, it would not really matter as the terms that populate conventional definitions of independence — self-reliance, original thought, and integrity and conviction in intent — seem to fly way above most people’s general collective sensibilities.
For that matter, the notion of being an “independent country” in today’s “globalised” world order is increasingly becoming an oxymoron, particularly in democratic free market societies where big corporations and less-than-informed voters set the agenda and “leaders” merely pander to that agenda. Indeed, in a world where politicians dance to the tune of uninformed voters and market forces determine which private entities wield real power, it would seem that the only truly independent states are those that are governed by authoritarian regimes.
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Step back and consider that in an authoritarian state, there is one clear accountable person upon whom the success or failure of said country is squarely hinged. Compare this to a “democracy” where accountability is far more nebulous — where leaders cannot account for their actions because they need to waste precious bandwidth pandering to a popular vote to get even the simplest things done and where so-called “checks and balances” hopelessly water-down clarity in strategic direction and intent. Add to this the “free market” where money and capital flows in a manner beyond any one governor’s controls and mainly on the basis of emergent collective properties of the market the workings of which can only be revealed (with marginally improved confidence) through the Vulcan calculations of quants and “data scientists”.
Recent years saw the advent of a new shaping force — the Internet — swooping in and breaking all known models used to shape political and business strategy and their execution. This, plus the effect of further breaking down traditional communication borders allowing agents on one side of the planet to influence political tides on the other further erodes the already frayed Western liberal notion of an “independent” state. Today’s Western democratic leaders are essentially powerless in the conventional sense compared to those of traditional hierarchical and autocratic regimes. The earlier merely surf on waves of public opinion and sentiment and spin rhetoric while the latter, in much the same way leaders have over the last several millennia, continue to truly lead, direct, and execute (in more ways than one) in a more tangible way.
It would seem, therefore, that, perhaps, relatively authoritarian regimes working within societies that are hierarchical in traditional ways may be better-equipped to behave as independent collectives in the 21st Century. One may argue that there is danger in this independence in the extremes of good and bad that a good or bad leader respectively can effect upon millions of people. But that’s not to say liberal democracies operating in free markets have fared any better either or, responding to the argument that free societies and markets remain the best development platforms, offer themselves as promising operating models for the potentially dehumanising technological future we are possibly facing.
It is worth noting that the free market and disruptive democracy will be increasingly inadequate as tools or platforms for solving much of humanity’s really big problems — climate change, the gaming of elections, and the possible inequality that may be caused by increased automation. The increasing encroachment of automation and artificial intelligence into once predominantly human endeavours, to cite that example, is an increasing concern. Capital will flow to businesses — and individuals — who are in a position to reap the benefits of increased automation and deployment of artificial intelligence. This, under current models, means reduced wages as demand for workers drop. It remains debatable whether overall consumption will drop as this situation could simply mean that purchasing power becomes more concentrated on a few even as it erodes over the broader base of consumers. Would the free market allow the state to put a stop to this trend by intervening, say, through a cap on how much efficiency an enterprise could gain at the expense of low-skilled workers who will increasingly find themselves competing with machines for jobs?
In a globalised world, private enterprise will always find a way around such local regulations which, again, highlights the reality of the progressive erosion of a state’s ability to govern and regulate capital flow and the manner with which private enterprise employ it. What then is the point of the nation state in its current form in such a world?
With the looming threat in conventional governance models comes opportunities to rethink in a fundamental way how we see ourselves stepping up to the challenge of getting on top of those big problems and retaking control of an ability to set intelligent rather than popular agendas for social development. This year’s elections have proven that popularity as a means to determine validity and authority is failing as a means to mobilise citizenry towards shared aspirations and has, instead, polarised and divided. It is high time new governance models and new approaches to leadership and public representation in government be explored.
Much of the rhetoric that frames the debate today are but mere legacies of past struggles against old bogeys like “imperialism” and “tyranny” kept alive in the self-serving narratives of oligarchs out to protect the status quo. Perhaps the “fight” for “independence” is no longer everyone’s fight but one relevant only to those out to protect their own family and class interests. Filipinos as a people need to find real goals and aspirations that, perhaps, may be incompatible with the interests of these oligarchs but vastly more relevant for the real common good.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.