OPINION: Needed disruption

Edmund Tayao

Posted at Oct 30 2019 12:24 PM

Politics can be a paradox as the mind itself is a paradox. Perhaps it is not singly because of the mind, as the mind can be influenced by a number of factors, both from within and without: biological, physiological, and psychological and, of course, the social and economic, even cultural factors. It is a paradox because people want change but, at the same time, are afraid of change.

Politics is about change inasmuch as it is about decision-making. Harold Lasswell defines politics succinctly as “who gets what, when, where and how”. It is always about the individual and society, as the individual is the agent and/or the party in getting a particular good or value at any given time and place. The individual is also the one who chooses the best way, means or method, in getting whatever good or value. All these, of course, impact on other individuals in society that then requires a more methodical (often called ‘scientific’) way of understanding decision-making.

It is wrong to assume the politics is bad; this assumption is mainly because politics is seen in the limited sense of partisanship and not in the true sense of decision-making. Decision-making has to be methodical as the allocation of values or scarce resources can lead to conflict. It would not be much of a problem if all values or any and all resources are limitless but it is not; hence the need to study politics carefully bringing us to what political science is. David Easton provides the most comprehensive yet crisp definition, that it is “the study of the ‘authoritative’ allocation of values”.

This “authoritative” allocation is what makes politics contestable and often stuck to the simplistic idea of partisanship. Especially if the system in place is hardly methodical, the practice of politics will always be seen in the negative, something bad and dirty and therefore to be avoided. A closer understanding of Easton’s definition, on the other hand, brings us to economics; the allocation of values is very much about the allocation of scarce resources. The tendency has always been to dichotomize politics and economics. The reality, however, is that anything and everything that is political is economic, and anything and everything that is economic is political. For sure, some would dispute this, but let’s see.

Perhaps, the reader is asking why this discussion in this online column. It is something that is not expected as popular reading as it certainly looks and sounds academic. Precisely, the very reason why there has to be an academic is to be able to make good sense of everything that's going on. Especially in issues that impact society, therefore affecting practically everyone; there has to be a sober and robust endeavor to understand, as a crucial decision is to be undertaken.

If only we can always have this in mind, that is, to be methodical and therefore objective and taking a sober look at things, decision- making, pursuing and effecting needed change, things would most likely be better. Look around and understand carefully, there is no reason why one wouldn’t be able to come to a realization that there is a need for change. Not just any change, we actually need disruptive change. We need fundamental disruptive changes to our politics and governance.

For the longest time, this need for real change has been the sense of the public. Voters think, contrary to what many assume. Voters think as much with the very little information that they have, and they choose with the very limited choices offered to them. Every election, at least since the end of the dictatorship, and especially with the advent of more advanced information technology, more and more people are now able to make the choice that, for them, is right. And this right choice has always been a choice of the one that stands out as different.

Of course, one will argue that people still choose whoever is popular. Yes, that is true, but precisely because what is popular is what people tend to think they know. This is the very reason why everything and anything—from people to products and reforms— have to be popularized, so that the people will know and have a reason to choose. No one will and could possibly choose what is not known, and this precisely is why pursuing change is always difficult.

Still, people choose change. In the late 80s, voters always chose those who made a name fighting the dictatorship. Many of elected leaders then were lawyers and professionals as many assumed and expected things will be different and better with them running the government. This changed in the 90s when perhaps (and this would require a more serious study), the voters thought they had already tried lawyers and professionals, perhaps they could try actors and actresses; after all, in the movies, they always do good. Any actor, actress or basketball player then found themselves in elected positions.

But these popular men and women proved to be the same with previous choices—not much change happened. Voters then started considered other options, voting former men in uniform who made a name either valiantly defending or fighting the government. Some who presented themselves as successful businessmen and therefore possess the needed management skills to run the government also got elected. It became more and more difficult to predict how the voters will vote every election period. In 2013 elections, for example, the polls predicted a candidate to land between ranks 8 to 10, only to end up in the top position.

We continue to make the obvious choice, anyone who, from our judgment, weighing the limited information given, offers a different brand of leadership. A kind of leadership that can transform the government into something we long deserve as a people. The choices continue to be limited, however. We manage to have a really different choice every now and then, but this different choice ends up being more of the same in the long run. The existing system is not only limiting in terms of choices during elections, but also is limiting for a leader who is different and really wants to transform the government but ends up coming short.

We still have the opportunity to make that needed yet disruptive, as it is, systemic change, now. There are those still vacillating but nonetheless convinced we have to make that choice of real change. There are also those who show support, speak openly about change, but the details spoken only suggest dragging the feet all along and actually wanting to just have more of the same. Regardless of the differences, still and all we have the opportunity to change now as the atmosphere is simply calling for real change now.

We should continue to be afraid, as it is just right to be afraid. This is what makes us rational in the first place. Even those considering mainly their own interest are rational individuals as this is the default of everyone. In fact, it is only in knowing exactly one’s own interest that one can look at the broader scheme of things and in the process consider the interest of the many. It is also only by understanding the broader scheme of things that makes one better able to protect his interest. This is another illustration of politics being a paradox.

The bottom line is. by now, we should have spent considerable time weighing everything already, and know the pluses and minuses of every change in politics and governance being considered. It now boils down to just doing it. Let those who want to continue to debate do so. Let those who continue to argue against or even mislead people of real change do what they have to do. It actually even helps in popularizing the needed change.

If we want like real change, and there’s no reason why many would not want real change, it can only be disruptive change as it can only be systemic change. The current system is not only inadequate but is utterly inept. Only if we undertake far-reaching change can we hope to achieve what we have always been longing to achieve. We are running out of time. We have to do this now.
(The author is the Executive Director of the Local Government Development Foundation and a professor of Modern Local Governance at the Ateneo School of Government.)

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.