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Apr 15

Paradox of modernity

Current – http://blogs.inquirer.net/current/2007/04/15/paradox-of-modernity/

 

JOHN’S entry has me thinking of one very good example of how the traditional view of government as end-all and be-all has given way to a more modern view. And that has to do with gas prices. Once upon a time we had a Oil Price Stabilization Fund, as part of the 1990s reforms it was scrapped; and where once, governments lived in mortal dread of negative public opinion due to increased gas prices, over the last few years our government’s learned that it can take, at the very least, a more nuanced approach to whatever public commotion world gas price increases cause. Instead of subsidizing everyone, government subsidized gas prices for public utility vehicle operators (who traditionally were at the forefront, together with the labor unions, of threats to mobilize strikes). The middle and upper classes that own vehicles have been left to fend for themselves, while the commuting public is cushioned by the subsidies for public transport operators. Now it might just be, that the appeal of a strike has been blunted in great part, because the tremendous number of Filipinos abroad (and sending news to loved ones at home) has taught the public that there are certain things governments can’t really control -or decide not to control. John suggests the unwritten premise in my previous entry, “here is a tectonic shift in the public’s view of the role of government”; he suggests that there remain far too many who expect government to do too much, and that this attitude has remained pretty much the same over the past few decades. He and I obviously disagree, too, on the impact of the New Society, which I view had a massive (and on the whole, negative and almost fatal) effect, while John believes it had a more incremental effect, hardening our society’s attitudes towards government (if you recall my entry on We Filipinos, there is much going for John’s views. A blog like this is as much about an exchange of thoughts between myself and John, and between you, the reader, and either of us, as it is about each of us trying out different ideas, or even just working them out. Randy David in his column today, takes a look at the concept of modernity, and what’s modern in comparison to what’s traditional -and how the traditional not only comes into conflict with modern notions and trends, but has a strength of its own. My previous entry tried to look at the things public opinion has decided to target as one explanation for our problems, and I hoped to provoke readers into questioning certain assumption, including assumptions as to what the problems are. This passage from David’s column particularly struck me:

This crusade, however, can only go so far in curing the problem. The proliferation of political dynasties is itself only a symptom of a bigger malaise—the absence of any real political competition in our society. If you just treat the symptoms—for example, imposing term limits and banning political dynasties—the disease will likely manifest itself in other forms. For now, the political family is the carrier of the virus. In the future, it could be the corporate mafia, or the religious cult.

Because the passage assumes that the absence of political competition is, indeed, a “malaise,” and that things would be better if the malaise were to go away. My hunch is that it’s gone beyond being a malaise -it’s a permanent condition, as people -those inclined to think of themselves as modern, anyway- are tuning out, avoiding politics and its need for periodic divisions of the house (to adopt a parliamentary term), while John points out, on the other hand, that for a vast portion of our population, they continue to cling to perhaps outmoded, even unreasonable, expectations of what government, and the political system that props it up, ought to do. David pointed out that justifiable as opposition to political dynasties is, the real reform that remains to be done is campaign finance reform. To my mind, he’s correct, if only because of this contradiction in the political dynasty debate: opposing dynasties puts one part of the population, those aspiring to be modern, against the rest of the population, which not only has no problem with the family being the basis for political involvement, but believes the family is the basis for involvement in everything. Which leads to some people being very angry at, and mobilizing against political clans as living examples of everything inefficient, disreputable, etc., while another, and much larger, portion of the population thinks family-centered involvement should define not just politics, but the professions (families of lawyers, teachers, doctors, engineers, pastors, etc.), and I suspect part of their ambivalence with shrieking about dynasties is: if you oppose political dynasties, what’s next? The sort of dangerous thinking that opposes that other fundamental family-centered activity, the family business? Take the website David points to as exemplifying objections to family-dominated politics. Its fundamental claim is to representing a modern and modernizing attitude towards politics. And it assumes this:

This concentration of power in one or two families in a given area often becomes a source of corruption and poor leadership. Such political dynasties often get to corner businesses in their areas through illegal and unfair practices, in connivance with big businesses there who resort to bribing them.

But hasn’t business, at least big business, increasingly learned to avoid its previously incestuous relationship with politics? And might it not be, that in local politics, entrepreneurs and business people are learning to keep politics out of the picture, as much as possible? This isn’t to say they may be more honest, though surely they consider themselves, perhaps, more civic-minded. But whatever the reality may be, the perception is that the political class remains hand-in-glove with the business class: that they are both the problem. What does this do, to the modernizing claim, though, that the market will sort things out? The huge sums of money being spent nationally and locally in this campaign are testimony to a market approach to politics, and I think it’s fair to say it’s horrible because it’s a waste of resources and sells public office as if it were a bar of soap. But this is the modern, market-oriented way of politics, which doesn’t work, the surveys seem to suggest, with the minority that sees itself as more discriminating, but still appeals to to the majority -which John says still has the old, dependent, attitude towards politics, and which government even if run by the best qualified or most sincere, couldn’t deliver on expectations. At this point all I can say is it may be John and I are approaching the question from two different sides; Randy David’s column interjects a very helpful definition of terms. Another column, today, by Sylvia Mayuga, points to the momentum being built up in these modernist sectors of the population, whose modernity may actually, if we borrow John’s framework, highly traditional. Both pieces point to a paradox: can the aspiration to be modern, remain modern, if it’s built on what is, after all, a very traditional assumption? That political involvement and its goal of control of the government, are not only good, but necessary, and capable of achieving beneficial change?

Now it might just be, that the appeal of a strike has been blunted in great part, because the tremendous number of Filipinos abroad (and sending news to loved ones at home) has taught the public that there are certain things governments can’t really control -or decide not to control.John suggests the unwritten premise in my previous entry, “here is a tectonic shift in the public’s view of the role of government”; he suggests that there remain far too many who expect government to do too much, and that this attitude has remained pretty much the same over the past few decades. He and I obviously disagree, too, on the impact of the New Society, which I view had a massive (and on the whole, negative and almost fatal) effect, while John believes it had a more incremental effect, hardening our society’s attitudes towards government (if you recall my entry on We Filipinos, there is much going for John’s views.A blog like this is as much about an exchange of thoughts between myself and John, and between you, the reader, and either of us, as it is about each of us trying out different ideas, or even just working them out.Randy David in his column today, takes a look at the concept of modernity, and what’s modern in comparison to what’s traditional -and how the traditional not only comes into conflict with modern notions and trends, but has a strength of its own…. My hunch is that it’s gone beyond being a malaise -it’s a permanent condition, as people -those inclined to think of themselves as modern, anyway- are tuning out, avoiding politics and its need for periodic divisions of the house (to adopt a parliamentary term), while John points out, on the other hand, that for a vast portion of our population, they continue to cling to perhaps outmoded, even unreasonable, expectations of what government, and the political system that props it up, ought to do.At this point all I can say is it may be John and I are approaching the question from two different sides; Randy David’s column interjects a very helpful definition of terms.
*****

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