When dreams are lost
By Joe America
It is unusual to speak to both Filipinos and Americans and have the same message.
Are you feeling dismayed or angry much of the time? Do you think leaders are betraying your nation? Betraying what you know to be good, and right?
Does government seem better at generating division and anger than unity and harmony? Have you lost confidence in leaders?
Kindly let me offer a theory as to why this is happening, and what might be done about it.
First, I’d like to thank commenters here at the blog for the insights they have placed on the discussion table. Just like arriving at a table full of fiesta delights, I have picked and chosen a few dishes that look particularly good.
Both the US and Philippines are trekking down parallel paths, having elected autocratic leaders unskilled in the ways of political nicety. These presidents are doing their thing, and it has us off-balance. But both were elected through the democratic process, so we cannot really claim it was a mistake. We may harbor suspicions about the election process . . . like who was providing money and aid . . . Russians, Chinese, Marcos family, vested interests . . . but that is nothing new, it merely reflects our new world order where communication and influence are as easy as tapping in a few keystrokes. Democratic politics has never been clean. That’s why Aaron Burr (US Vice President) shot Alexander Hamilton (former Secretary of State) in a duel, and why several US presidents have been assassinated.
We should, first and foremost, rid ourselves of the misconception that Democracy is organized and orderly. It is not. It is a battle of influences and the methods and outcomes are frequently chaotic and not to our satisfaction.
The successful politician puts order to the chaos. The unsuccessful one adds to the chaos.
Second, we should understand what drives democracy. Dreams drive democracy. Aspirations, ambitions, the promise of prosperity. Democracy has a forward look to it that places us on a timeline for self-development and self-enrichment, either of wallet or knowledge or experiences or soul. We LOOK FORWARD to having more or being better or being proud of our achievements. Democracy inspires us to study and work and plan and invest our energies.
As each individual moves forward, the nation moves forward.
Autocratic forms of government are different. They see the energy for improvement coming from the top, and people are resources to help the leaders drive toward what THEY see as important, enriching themselves along the way. Convenient, that.
Both the Philippine and US presidents today see people as subjects, not drivers of progress. If people don’t cooperate, they are bad.
- Democracy welcomes dispute because argument supplies the energy needed to keep the course firm, and to provide enough unity that the oarsmen are not beating themselves over the head with the paddles, but rowing in sync.
- Autocrats hate dispute because it undermines their authority and power. And it is their authority and power that keeps the oarsmen in line, working hard lest they be tossed overboard or given 20 lashes of the cat-tail.
The Philippine leader wants the power to execute oarsmen and lash 9 year-old rowers. The US leader wants the press to shut up and stop snooping.
In the Philippines, the broad masses of people have never experienced the rewards of a democratic drive for prosperity. So they are perfectly happy electing another slave-driver under the basic premise that there may be some way they can sneak out a win, or at least gloat because other slave-drivers are getting beaten. Democracy in the Philippines lacks unifying and directional energy. It lacks hope, or promise, for most citizens. People try to get what they can get NOW and time is just in the way.
In the US, the broad masses generally comprehend and participate in the forward-looking track of self-development . . . they view time as something they must calculate and manage . . . but chaos has today overwhelmed their sense of purpose. Chaos for Americans takes the form of being targets for terrorists, or having a hard time getting a good job because technology has ripped labor from the employment base, or having that black/white ugliness popping up again. And seeing the way politicians have turned into bitter game-players who have lost the ability to want or create harmony for the nation.
The whole nation seems to be screaming at itself.
The autocrat Trump is supposed to bring order to this.
He hasn’t. He probably won’t. The chaos will intensify. So will the dismay, the anger. The unclear direction.
So both in the Philippines and US, people have lost touch with the promise of democracy. They have lost touch with their dreams. The chaos of the present is overwhelming, and a lot of that can be attributed to our smaller world and the different ways we interact and get information (social media, internet).
It is hard for a soldier in battle to focus on his dreams for the future. He’s trying to survive. And I think that is where most of us are today. The troubles being imposed on us are inordinately heavy and even our friends and family are thinking strangely. These are emotional burdens and we are incapable of getting past them because others are in control.
Filipinos and Americans are in similar boats. We are busy dealing with today’s emotions, not dreams. We have lost our dreams.
How do we get them back? How do we return to the positive energy of aspiring and growing and reaping rewards?
Democracy is a system of flows and counterflows, of ebbs and tides, of checks and balances. As long as the Constitution is in place, there is a way to get back.
For the Philippines, the challenge is greater because there are more self-serving slugs in government than champions of democracy. And most citizens have never attained the rewards of aspiration as a steady stream of small wins. The US has a lot of principled players in government, and Americans reap lots of rewards. So chances are, Americans will weather the chaos and learn from it.
Most Filipinos don’t even see the problem, much less a solution.
In the Philippines, I’d imagine progress would require a new political initiative that promises to build a modern, generous, richer Philippines. It would have to be dramatic vision, promised by a charismatic leader who knows that people must be given dreams, and who can propose a way to achieve them. It would not be through phony solutions (federalism), but real ones (better income distribution, tied to achievement).
Is there a Filipino Martin Luther King, pictured above? His ‘dream’ speech opened American eyes, hearts, and minds, and set a new direction for human rights around the world.
Time as a path to hope must be put into popular thinking. Time has to become a resource. Rewards must become real. Tangible. And there must be a whole lot of them. People must be taught that it pays to dream, and aspire.
They must be taught to know in their hearts that it is better up ahead.
All they have to do is work earnestly.