Sat. May 21st, 2022

Contrarian Perspectives By Antonio Contreras

THERE are some people who think being hyperactive on social media will compensate for the guilt they bear for doing nothing as our country burns, or as Covid-19 spreads like wildfire, effectively taking down livelihoods and lives. The inconsistency and the emptiness of their rhetoric is simply damning.

Fortunately, they are not the majority. Unfortunately, they are a noisy minority.

This goes back to that adage in liberal representative democracy that while action is required, the only action that matters is the process of electing the leaders.

Thus, we have people who lay dormant and silent for the most part of their lives, suddenly becoming alive, bolder and for many, even more offensive as they express their politics on social media during election season.

We can only blame political theorists such as Joseph Schumpeter, who diminished the role of direct democracy and citizen participation and instead, emphasized the system of representation where the key role of citizens is to form a government by participating in the core process of electing their representatives.

This model of democratic governance, thus, forces the citizen to be either obedient or unhappy ‒ who would wait until the next election cycle to punish their elected representatives who failed in their duties.

Mobilization is, therefore, more engaged by anger and dissatisfaction and less by voluntarism and citizen action.

Despite the growth of civil society voluntarism, and of community-based models of local governance, the dominant mode is that most citizens engage the state at the backs of anger and dissatisfaction during elections, and not as forward-looking, active participants in the political process to provide solutions to problems they face in their immediate communities.

Thus, instead of being proactive, most would be reactive. When you juxtapose this with weak political institutions, and a system that is prone to corruption and inertia brought by structural impediments, then we have a recipe for political disaster.

Our social landscape, in reality, is equipped with the ability to survive weak and soft states. We have an organically rooted sense of community that replaces the formality of the state to maintain social and political order. When a crisis hits, we rely on our family, friends and neighbors.

We have been hit by the worst storms, but almost instantly, and while the state is unable to immediately recover from the shock, our creativity and innovativeness overlay with our sense of shared selves or “kapwa” to help each other and be conscious of our social obligations to a collective.

This is not a legislated virtue but is a deep reflection of who we are as a nation. We saw this in EDSA when despite the Marcos government collapsing and the Aquino government still unable to put things into order, there was no massive rioting and violence.

We felt this in Ondoy and in Yolanda, where amid death and destruction, and before the state could react, that people were already helping each other and, as Anderson Cooper brilliantly described it, were ready to teach the world how to live.

It is most unfortunate that this organic power is now being eroded by political partisanship that has been fanned by demagoguery and intense political vitriol, particularly on social media. And the feeling that drives this is when people begin building fences instead of gates and windows when they deal with others.

It is here that the Schumpeterian mode of democracy has taken its toll. Advised to take a rest during the post-election hiatus, many citizens hibernate not only from their civic duties but even from their own communities. These are the people who do not even care about their neighbors, or would not attend town hall meetings, or if they do, do not speak up.

They do not even bother to fight for the rights of their co-workers, and some of them even oppose the agenda of labor organizing to assert their rights towards management. They would not take action on the immediate problems that their communities face.

Some of them even become party to the oppressive relationships that deny women, workers and the marginalized their everyday rights.

And tragically, they found an outlet to rant, where they freely post their anger and frustration, alongside their selfies, groupies and foodies with friends and family. What we therefore had is an explosion of anger and discontent, and of division, juxtaposing with citizen inaction. Political activism has been digitized, where it is now easy to rail against a politician or public figure without the risk of sunstroke and physical assault from state authorities.

This only further fanned the division. Partisan narratives emerged, enabled by misinformation and disinformation. Political idolatry became so intense, where social media enablers acquired the status of celebrities while their patrons were deified and turned into demi-gods. A toxically divided political landscape was born, ready to explode in an election season.

And this is the existential threat we face now. Rampaging anger of the political opposition, honed and nurtured by social media vitriol, is now colliding with equally toxic pro-administration noise, crushing not only civility and decency, but effectively tearing apart personal relationships.

Robredo’s divisive politics

When Schumpeter thought of elections as important rituals, he also provided important assumptions where representative democracy would thrive. Key to its success is the high quality of the human material for politics, seen in mature citizens who can tolerate differences of opinion.

And this is where, when we match our current predicament with this ideal, we are confronted by the bitter reality that we do not have what it takes.

Right now, we see angry people demeaning and diminishing others just because they hold a different opinion or support a different candidate.

The most saddening image one could ever see is that meme of the UP Oblation, a symbol of tolerance and freedom, juxtaposed with an offensive twisting of the Cartesian adage.

“I think, therefore I’m pink” reeks of sheer arrogance, effectively telling us that if your color is different, you must be dumb.



Transparency, communication and trust : The role of public communication in responding to the wave of disinformation

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