Commentary

2022 elections: Reasons—why we are where we are

The reasons we’re here, at the eve of a contentious election, won’t disappear

National Artist BenCab 2015 print could very well portray the Filipino and the motherland.

Democracy as a system of governance is fundamentally flawed. Democracy is what we have, and we constitutionally chose it over the opposite alternative, dictatorship. Maybe we accept democracy, but equally, we might not have thought through why it is flawed. I would argue that the flaws of democracy are the following:

1. People are individually and collectively incapable of self-governance, because they do not follow rules and laws unless it suits them, and they will not even tend to act (rationally or otherwise) in their own self-interest.

If people acted rationally in their own self-interest, they would not vote for convicted criminals, particularly plunderers and tax evaders, any more than they would run across Commonwealth Avenue at the risk of their lives, instead of taking a pedestrian overpass, or get addicted to shabu [meth] or gambling, or risk their lives for small sums of money in petty crime, or, on a more prosaic level, spend more than they can afford on useless crap from online merchants.

As a culture, it seems to be a characteristic that we will do what we think we can get away with, even if the risk far outweighs the benefit. This is something you do not see in many other countries, particularly in our Asean neighbors, who tend to be more obedient, orderly and regimented.

2. Filipino elections now favor candidates who are least qualified to govern, particularly on a moral basis. The Filipino electorate tends to vote for candidates who lie, cheat, attack others, and have negative integrity and adverse histories, simply because these candidates are more willing to tell them a lie they want to hear, rather than the truth. Those who would likely be the best leaders are less likely to get elected than those who (as demonstrated by history) make terrible leaders.

In a perfectly rational world, people would act in their own long-term self-interest and elect the candidates who would serve as the best leaders. But people don’t act or make decisions perfectly rationally. We never have, and we never will, either individually or collectively. This will be explained below, in detail.

3. The result of 2. has been demonstrated by the rise of demagoguery, or populism in recent years, in many countries. If you have read or follow the Filipino political scientist Richard Heydarian, I probably don’t need to explain this to you, and certainly can’t explain it better than he does.

But nevertheless, I will explain that I am using the terms “demagoguery” and “populism” in the sense of ‘leaders who draw power by rabble rousing, i.e. emotional, inflammatory discourse to create antagonism against an “elite”’. This elite can be real, or imagined, along a spectrum.

At one end of the spectrum is paranoid conspiracy theory, in which the affairs of the world are governed by an ultra-secret group, for example, “The C.I.A.”, or “The Trilateral Commission”, while at the other end of the spectrum, the identity is simply assigned to a generalized segment of the population, for example “mga dilawan” (the yellows), as if such people were actually organized, and met with each other on a regular basis for the sole purpose of oppressing all other groups in the population. I emphasize “emotional”, because this type of discourse is, by its very nature, irrational and illogical.

It matters not that many populists are themselves manifest members of that elite: Donald Trump was one of the richest people in the US, while Rodrigo Duterte is a dynastic traditional political warlord. The electorate, apparently, fails to see the obvious contradiction.

In case you’re wondering what the difference between a demagogue and a populist is: a populist is simply an elected demagogue, or one who is in power.

4. I define the best leaders as those who act, according to law, in a manner that will benefit the majority of the population, whether they are in the electorate or not. Note that sometimes this means also acting in the interests of a minority. For instance, acting in the interest of a marginalized, and possibly oppressed ethnic group, is still broadly acting in the interests of a nation, because the nation’s constitutional goal is to equalize opportunity for all.

Candidates who are against traditional patronage politics are generally not as popular as trapos

This is problematic, because good leadership often requires unpopular decisions. For example, raising taxes is generally unpopular, but it is also necessary. A converse example, patronage politics, or paying people to like (and vote for) you is wildly popular, but it’s the opposite of good leadership. Thus, candidates who are against traditional patronage politics are generally not as popular as trapos.

Also note that this definition makes it pretty clear what bad leadership is, which is to act in a manner that will be adverse for the majority of the population, and in particular to act in a manner that benefits mainly themselves, and often on whim. An almost perfect example of bad leadership is Duterte shutting down ABS-CBN, which benefitted no one (arguably, not even himself), prejudiced the whole media sector, destroyed shareholder value and thousands of jobs, and served only to reinforce his ego.

5. The actual exercise of democracy is limited to elections, which take place every six years, in the case of the president and vice-president. Once we have elected the president, we’re stuck with him or her for that period, never mind if he or she turns out to be corrupt, incompetent, stupid, evil, or simply absent— or all of the above. We can’t “fire” a president during their term without violating our own democracy. It has happened twice in our history, and both times, it was a violation of democracy, and of our own Constitution.

It would be interesting to propose a system in which the voting is held more often, perhaps continuously, in real time, so that defective leaders can be removed very quickly. A parliamentary system can work that way, in the sense that the population elects a political elite, and that elite selects the leader from among them, but this has its own flaws.

Let’s turn to how people in general make decisions, starting with basic psychology.

Carl Jung proposed that the human mind is governed by four cognitive functions: thinking (rationality), feeling (judgement, emotion), sensation (perception via the senses, and aesthetic reality), and intuition, (perception via the unconscious). All humans, regardless of measurable intelligence, manifest these functions.

The functions are further divided into “extraverted” and “introverted”, which we will not delve into here, and “dominant”, “inferior” and “auxiliary”, which we will. Jung observed that typical psychological development results in one function becoming dominant in consciousness, and the “opposite” function then becomes inferior. Thinking and Feeling are opposite functions, while Sensation and Intuition are opposite functions.

Thus, for instance, if an individual is a “thinking”-dominant type, their “feeling” function will be inferior, i.e., they will tend to be less emotional and judgmental in their conscious mind. Their unconscious mind will be the opposite, ruled by judgement and emotion. Meanwhile, the other two functions will be auxiliary, i.e., equally in the conscious mind and the unconscious mind, and non-dominant.

Note that over time, individuals’ dominant function may change. Usually, one or the other of the auxiliary functions may develop, but very rarely the inferior function. One could evolve from being a Thinking type to a Sensation type, or an Intuition type, for example. The Myers-Briggs personality table (actually a wheel, not a table), is based on this Jungian framework. You might be familiar with it, if you’ve ever been subjected to this analysis for work.

Jung further went on to say that the ultimate goal of psychological development, and indeed of most spirituality, is simply to bring all four functions into perfect balance, i.e., no single function is either dominant, inferior, or auxiliary. He called this individuation, or self-realization. He said this was a parallel, in psychological terms, to the Buddhist concept of Nirvana, and that the inner peace it brings is the relaxation of the tension between the four functions.

Voters vote— based on which function is dominant in their consciousness

Using this framework, we can see that individuals will tend to decide and act— and voters vote— based on which function is dominant in their consciousness. There do exist many individuals in whom the thinking function is dominant, so such individuals could be expected to make rational decisions, and vote on a largely rational basis, i.e., logically, based on verifiable facts, and even quantifiable. If you’ve read this far, you might even be one of them.

Here, now is something I’m asking you to assume, and it’s a big ask: thinking and rationality are not in any way more “valid” than the other functions, except to thinking-dominant individuals. All individuals have the four functions, and we all use them to perceive, process, and act or react. It’s just the way people have evolved— or how God made us, if that’s what you believe. Jungian psychology is, anyway, highly compatible with all sorts of spiritual belief systems, and Jung used them as evidence for his arguments.

Let’s speculate at how different types will vote:

Thinking is the most obvious, because thinking-dominant types will decide based on a logical process. But there are many subtleties to this. Some seem to think they have a monopoly on logic and facts, and that anyone voting for another candidate is either stupid or irrational. This is not at all the case, and, by the way, measurable intelligence plays very little role in this discussion. We’re talking about the process.

This does not mean that sensation-dominants, intuition-dominants, and feeling-dominants do not think. Of course, they do. They just think in different ways.

Individuals can be thinking types regardless of measurable intelligence. Put bluntly, you can be as stupid as a brick, and as ignorant as a jellyfish, but you can still be a thinking type. All it takes is that your dominant function be rationality and logic. It may be flawed rationality and inferior logic, but it doesn’t change your fundamental process. By the same token, very intelligent thinking types can make perfectly logical and rational decisions that you don’t agree with; you may call their facts fake news or what have you, but the fact remains, people can rationalize anything and everything.

Example: “I am voting for Marcos because this country needs a strong leader. Robredo is weak, because she is a woman.” This is a logical argument, whether you like it or not. You may not agree with the assumptions, but nevertheless, there is a rational process that led to the decision.

Feeling, or judgmental/ emotional types will vote largely based on how the candidate, or what they stand for, makes them feel. It may not even be that direct. It may even be how they feel about politics in general, or about this election, but it will be a largely emotional decision, and often, moral, as well— according to their particular morality. They may be able to rationalize it, or they may not. Feeling types will often object to being forced to rationalize, because for them, (even if they don’t consciously know or acknowledge it) thinking/ rationality is the inferior function. Note that Feeling types are not impervious to logic, or do not consider it; they will, especially when confronted by it. But their decision-making process is not based on “does this make logical sense?”, but rather, “How do I feel about this?”

In this context, do you begin to understand “respect my opinion”?

Example: “Leni Robredo is a good person, who should be our leader.” That is emotional and based on morality. The verb “should” is the key indicator: no dominant logical process, just judgement.

Intuitive people, it can be said, do not ‘decide’, instead they ‘know’

Intuitive, or gut-feel types will arguably not even make conscious decisions, in the sense that they do not go through a logical process of evaluation, nor even a conscious judgement, and even less, a realistic sensory perception. Intuitive people, it can be said, do not “decide”, instead they “know”.

Example: “I am voting for [candidate] because they will win.” No logical process, no judgement (“should”), no sensory perception, just pure intuition.

Sensation types generally cleave to the aesthetic, but more importantly, they tend to be practical and realistic, because their process is anchored on their perceptions, which are based on physical reality. Sensation types tend to be people like artists, architects and designers, sailors and other adventurers, and others. They are by no means illogical or emotional, simply that their decision-making process is largely based on what they like, and what they believe will work.

Example: “Why should we elect a president who not only looks like a crook, but is actually convicted in the United States, our principal ally? How will he be able to negotiate with them? I’d rather vote for Leni, because she will look and sound great at international summits.”

Having examined the role individual personality types play in voting, let’s explore how Filipinos vote today.

Part of Jung’s theory of personality is that cultures can be compared to individuals. Individuals, before they attain consciousness, i.e. as infants, do not have a “self”. They do not differentiate themselves from their environment, and live in what Jung terms “the collective unconscious”. Consciousness arises or develops from this state, when the individual realizes their identity as an individual, differentiated from other individuals, and the rest of the world.

This can be a gradual, evolutionary process, or it can be quite sudden. Jung himself, in an interview, recalled the exact moment he attained self-hood. He was 11 years old, he said, walking home from school, when suddenly, it was as if he stepped out of a mist for the first time in his life, and saw the world. He didn’t just realize where he was, he realized that he was, an entity separate from the rest of the world; in it, but not a part of it.

Like individuals, nations, cultures, societies have a psyche, and attain self-hood, or consciousness, typically when they become independent. The Filipino nation was arguably born with the Cry of Balintawak in 1896, and evolved over time, attaining self-hood in 1946, with independence from the United States. In terms of nationhood, the Philippines can be said to have emerged from infancy, gone through toddlerhood, and perhaps taken the first steps into adolescence. But we are still a nation of children, literally as well as figuratively. 43% of Filipinos are below voting age.

Nations tend to have a dominant function in their consciousness, and this, in the case of the Philippines, is (to my mind, undoubtedly), Feeling. As a nation, we collectively tend to be emotional, and respond most of all to emotion. We are judgmental in the way we evaluate situations. Furthermore, we seem to validate everything with emotion.

They’re able to flip all these positive traits into negative ones— through the use of anger, hatred, jealousy, resentment, and class war

One example of this is how many see this particular election as a contest of good versus evil. Another example is how effectively the Duterte campaign in 2016 employed emotion, in the form of hatred, to campaign against the “elite”, in the person of Mar Roxas, who unfortunately, was a poster boy for elitism: grandson of a president, wealthy family, well-educated (with real degrees!), intelligent, well-spoken, and above all disente (decent). It is particularly interesting how the Duterte campaign, unable to find any hard evidence of corruption, incompetence, or lack of integrity, was able to flip all these positive traits into negative ones— through the use of anger, hatred, jealousy, resentment, and class war.

If Feeling is our dominant function, Thinking is, by necessity, our inferior function. It is underdeveloped and latent, even unconscious. If you have read carefully thus far, you will know that this does not mean that we, as a nation, are stupid, or lack intelligence. It simply means that our national consciousness is least governed by rational discourse and analysis and most governed by judgement and emotion.

The auxiliary functions, Intuition and Sensation, remain subservient to Feeling and are not much differentiated or developed. It is important to accept that we, as a nation, may be different from you, as an individual. As I said, all four cognitive functions are present in the national psyche, but Feeling is dominant in the collective consciousness.

It is often said that Filipino elections are personality contests. Issues are rarely considered, while perceptions, specifically emotional impressions, are everything. In fact, in every election since 1992, the candidates hardly even bother to present issues, let alone platforms. They simply try to project carefully curated personalities.

It is a delusion of the middle-class echo chamber that we think all Filipinos are as passionate and involved in national political discourse as we are. This is manifestly not the case. About 53% of the population, to begin with, live outside urban centers, and have limited access to information, particularly news, even before ABS-CBN was taken off the air. The fact is that those who are even aware of national politics are in the minority, and those who care enough to develop any kind of opinion are even fewer.

Apathetic Filipinos outside the middle class cannot be blamed for thinking that national politics does not affect, or even include them, because in the end, the outcome of elections doesn’t have any discernible or measurable effect on their lives. Hence, they do not suffer from the bourgeois conceit that voting is an important responsibility and decision.

Most bourgeois Filipinos do not even realize how offensive it is to ask someone who is not politically involved, who they are voting for, and worse, why. It is seen, not least, as an invasion of privacy, and at most an imposition of elitist values.

Given this state of apathy, basic name recognition is a traditional prerequisite, because people aren’t likely to vote for you if they’ve never heard of you. Candidates at the senatorial level and below will have spent a lot of time trying to get seen on traditional and new media.

In the presidential and vice-presidential races, the candidates don’t generally have a problem with name recognition, but Marcos and his family spent serious money online to rehabilitate the Marcos name, because much of the name recognition was negative. Robredo didn’t have much of an issue, having been elected vice president and having traveled extensively all over the Philippines, plus it arguably helped her that Duterte kept complaining about her during his late-night tirades— when there was anyone even watching.

Assuming name recognition is established, by what criteria do Filipinos actually decide to vote? There are many. One is simple herd mentality. This is why local officials are so important to national campaigns. Many Filipinos will vote for a candidate just because their congressman, governor, mayor, or barangay captain said so. It makes no difference to them who wins. Some of them, of course, are hoping to sell their votes— again, it makes no difference to them.

A feeling-dominant culture is particularly susceptible to manipulation, just as individuals are. Emotions are easy to manipulate, and the advertising and communications industry has been doing this for over a century, let alone the sinister ecosystem formerly known as Cambridge Analytica. It’s not that Filipinos, by nature, are gullible, it’s more like we think with our hearts rather than our brains.

Separately, there is the phenomenon of gambling culture, and picking the winner. A segment of voters see elections as a game, where the winner is the one who calls it correctly. This is why traditional candidates spend a lot of time proclaiming how they are in the lead. That some people refer to their chosen candidates as their manok (chicken) is no coincidence.

As has been said, Filipinos pay little attention to platform, but a lot to personality— and that means perceived personality. Erap Estrada and Fernando Poe had the personality of masa heroes, but both belonged to the elite. Erap came from a prominent San Juan family and attended the Ateneo de Manila, although he famously did not finish there. Fernando Poe Jr. was showbiz royalty, almost literally: his nickname was “The King”. His father was a famous actor before him.

Perceived personality trumps fact and consensus reality any time. You may remember those famous sound bytes, where a Rappler reporter asked a middle-aged woman why she was voting for Ramon ‘Bong’ Revilla Jr., who at that time had been convicted for plunder in the Napoles pork-barrel scam. The women replied, “Eh kasi guwapo siya, at mabait. Hindi kami naniniwala doon [the Sandiganbayan conviction].” (Because he is handsome and a nice guy. We don’t believe in the conviction.”)

Again, that most of the population does not have the same access to information as the bourgeois does. When data is even available outside the urban centers, people use it primarily for entertainment, including social media, rather than private communications and mainstream media. Social media networks are fundamentally trust networks. You have to approve people to be your Facebook friend, or when you follow someone on Instagram, it’s generally because you approve of them, or believe in what they say. This is what makes these platforms vulnerable to the spread of fake news and emotional manipulation. As the notorious Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels said, “If you tell a lie big enough, and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

Ultimately, education should be able to endow students with the ability to discern fact from fiction, and particularly, from lies

The level of education of people is a factor here. Ultimately, education should be able to endow students with the ability to discern fact from fiction, and particularly, from lies. It has evidently failed in this regard. The Department of Education itself has been demonstrated to have included inaccuracies, fake news and lies in the national curriculum. Again, it’s not that Filipinos are stupid. It’s simply that many of us have never been provided these tools.

We can say all we want that the truth will prevail, but at the end of this campaign, it is pretty clear that the truth is not as powerful, in the short term, as the lies people want to hear.

This, for better or worse, is how we think as a nation. It is our process, at this stage in the development of our national psyche. Is it something to be ashamed of? Perhaps, but everyone makes mistakes. The Germans in the 1930’s, voted Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party into office. The Americans voted Donald Trump into office in 2017, whether you believe that is a mistake or not. That’s the flaw in democracy, and democracy is what we’ve got.


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