Idealism versus pragmatics

The new Russia, by Konstantin Fyodorovich Yuon. See footnote on the artist.

By JoeAm

I’ve long held the view that there is some idealized form of a more perfect Philippines. A lot of the articles and much of the discussion here has oriented around understanding “the way it is”, and then proposing the actions that are needed to get to a richer, healthier, more secure, and more civil Philippines.

But those ideals seem a long way off, and there is no clear, much less certain, way to reach them.

So I guess I’ve become a reformed idealist, because the pragmatics of actually doing something in the direction of the ideals seem so crucially important at today’s fork in the road where the Philippines decides if it is going authoritarian or continuing with a slapdash democratic effort.

We have the most eloquent of idealists contributing here at the blog regularly. The chief idealists seem to be Edgar Lores, who drives relentlessly for a high-minded moral foundation, Micha who has grand ideas about money and the evils of those who are capturing the wealth and holding it back from broad distribution, and Francis who treads in fields of gray on about any topic, seeing both sides of issues as well as the tops, bottoms, insides, and obliquely into spacial realms beyond my grasp.

Well, of course they are all right on target, “spot on” as the Brits would say. The Philippines could use more rigorous moral and ethical foundations to get to prosperity, justice, and kindness. And, yes, the collection of wealth among the few is obscene, both in the US and Philippines where poverty is wretched in its breadth and depth. And, yes, there are complexities of history and culture and institutions here that defy simple calculation. If you squeeze here, then you get a bulge over there.

So I cannot deny that the idealists are right to establish healthy, well-considered goals. They offer their arguments convincingly.

But introspection and civility are not as evident in discussions on social media. Conversations are hammers against stone heads, anger more than reasoning, talking more than speaking, and bashing more than respecting. There are lines drawn everywhere and they are hard.

I tend to think everyone has an idealistic platform somewhere behind their arguments. But it seems to be a platform from which to attack, not reason. If you ask why, ask why, ask why, ask why, ask why there is conflict, you can work your way back to the fundamental idealism that is creating any conflict.

But no one has the patience to take that route. They are too angry and defensive and too much in a hurry. Too interested in winning the point rather than learning something . . . or teaching something.

So I am growing more skeptical about idealism especially when the action that emerges from it is to condemn Filipinos broadly, or condemn groups of them. That denies what I think is a fundamental truth: people do what they do, are where they are, for legitimate reasons. They ought not be blamed as if they had all the resources and wisdoms we have collected.

There is a large gap between the ideal world and the real world and yelling at people in the real world is not going to get much done to move toward any ideal other than anger as if it were a higher emotion of the human species.

I think we have to have the patience to ask those whys and get to the core of the conflict.

Then debate our ideals to create one that is agreeable to all.

Where is the Philippines headed? Toward a strongman in a nation that admires strongmen, or toward a democracy in a nation that seems not to connect with its inspirations? A lousy form of government for a people who are comfortable with it, or a good form of government that pisses people off, for its elitism and hypocrisy?

Well, we could debate it here . . . and have . . . but the flaw in the ointment is that crooks don’t debate, they steal and kill and push drugs.

So we become idealists without a portfolio.

It becomes futile to discuss it and we end up going in circles or nowhere.

Talk is futile.

Knowledge is futile.

We have to get to the pragmatics. The real things that can be done. Now, today, not at some hazy time far off in the distance.

That gets me into trouble, because I cannot participate in politics in the Philippines.

All I can do is encourage Philippine citizens to get off their computers and into the field. Or use those computers to make something constructive happen. Yelling at people or insulting them is unlikely to achieve much. Getting ignorance to become enlightenment on your demand is unlikely to happen. More will happen on the inspiration of a smile than the scorn of a snarl. And nothing happens if we hold out for ideals that are way far off in the distance beyond rhyme or reason.

Footnote on the artist, who ended up a realist:

Konstantin Fyodorovich Yuon (Константин Фёдорович Юон), was a Russian artist, creator of the Union of Russian Artists and the Association of Artists of Revolutionary Russia. In his work you can see a kind of summary of the evolution of the country’s art, from the impressionism to the entrance of the avant-garde, then the more experimental art and finally a social realism.

73 Responses to “Idealism versus pragmatics”
  1. Francis says:

    Bolsanaro has won in Brazil.

    The cynic in me says—let this generation bleed so that succeeding generation will stay away from this evil brand of authoritarian politics.

    I know that is high and mighty for me to say, as I am relatively well-off and won’t experience the worst of this madness—but I honestly don’t know what else is the alternative. I wish I could be optimistic, but I can’t.

    If Clinton, Haddad (and Roxas..?) had won—it would have only delayed the inevitable. The opportunists would still be plotting, and (no offense) but having steady-goes centrist governance go on for a bit longer would have only left people with even MORE built-up resentment.

    And you would have gotten someone far worse than this band of rogues.

    We need an FDR-esque figure to infuse a radical spirit into moderate politics, to save the system from itself.

    • Agree, and I like the way you put it. I’m not sure if I see the charismatic edge needed. Your assessment that a ‘good’ president would only have delayed the enivitable considers that Clinton, Roxas, et al are cut of the same, non-FDR capacities. I have no basis for disagreeing with that assessment.

  2. NHerrera says:

    Pragmatic idealism? Defining that to satisfy the idealist and the pragmatist is like the proverbial devil in the details. But I am drawn to the concept.

    Junior: “Dad, if we all do this and this, we will have an awesome Philippines.”

    Dad: “How about you clean your room, take out the garbage and mow the lawn.”

    • Ideals are the vision. Getting there requires direction and forthwith progress, but the problem is, the people want it NOW. So, as Francis says, it would take a special leader to get people on the progressive joy ride.

    • This is a bit like the Zen masters giving their novices a broom and saying “Before enlightenment, you must sweep the floor. After enlightenment, you must sweep the floor”.

      Or Miyagi telling the Karate Kid to polish his car before learning the first moves from him.

      Or the ora et labora of the Benedictine monks. Sleep at certain times, breakfast together, work the fields, work in the kitchen, have lunch together, read and write, have dinner, pray. Finally being rooted in reality is important, to prevent ideas from getting too pantastiko (“fantastic”).

      • sonny says:

        Footnote (Irineo): Benedict, the Roman patrician youth in a cave, is being outed to the world; he wanted to retreat from the world but the world is seeking him out.

  3. edgar lores says:

    1. The moral imagination is the essential prerequisite to the good life.

    2. Aristotle had a term for the good moral life – eudaimonia (or eudemonia). “In moral philosophy, eudaimonia is used to refer to the right actions as those that result in the well-being of an individual.”

    3. As several sources attest, eudaimonia does not translate as mere happiness. It means human flourishing or well-being as a result of rational (virtuous) actions. Indeed, eudaimonia is not consequent to rational actions but refers to the virtuous actions themselves. The journey is the destination.

    4. While conceived at the individual level, eudemonic action is dependent on the well-being of society as well. For who can achieve a state of individual well-being when the state of society is ragged and in tatters?

    5. I do not see idealism and pragmatics as necessarily dichotomous. If idealism defines the goals and pragmatics the way, then perhaps the way is not to delve into the whys and wherefores of conflicting ideologies.

    5.1. It is said that the liberal and conservative viewpoints are psychological and almost biological in origin.

    6. I propose, therefore, an alternative to the suggested path of introspective discussion to arrive by consensus at a future common ideal. The main reasons are that the path requires (a) a great deal of intelligence and (b) is through time and will take time. Meanwhile, we are at odds with each other. If not at each other’s throats.

    6.1. Instead, I propose that we start with a common pragmatic approach. This path is to agree, from the very start, and irrespective of thoughts and emotions, to treat ourselves and each other with respect and consideration.

    7. What does this mean?

    8. This means that, at the start, while we can propose specific solutions born from our respective worldviews, we should recognize that the first and foremost problem is how we treat each other. And that the solution to any problem should begin and end in respect and consideration of each other.

    8.1. This path is similar to how we conduct ourselves in TSH. In this state of mind, eudemonic solutions – that are both idealistic and pragmatic — will unfold.

    8.2. Generally, this path is the one espoused by religion.

    8.3. Realistically, the path fails if there is no initial or maintainable consensus. The consensus is by individual recognition (TSH commenters) or imposed (TSH moderator).

    9. In the following article, Rappler lists some of the major contentious issues facing the nation and where the senatorial candidates stand.

    9.1. I have rearranged the issues into two categories according to whether they pertain to an identifiable minority or not. The relevant minority is identified in parenthesis.

    9.1.1. Category 1 – Identifiable minorities

    o Death penalty (prisoners who have committed heinous crimes)
    o Anti-Discrimination Bill (LGBTIQ rights)
    o BBL (Mindanao Muslims)
    o Divorce (married couples in insuperable strife)
    o Anti-Political Dynasty Law (non-dynastic candidates)

    9.1.2. Category 2 — Non-identifiable minorities (applies to the nation as a whole)

    o Federalism
    o Martial Law extension
    o TRAIN Law

    9.2. My thesis is that just by a general consideration of our well-being and that of the minorities directly involved we should arrive at the correct idealistic and pragmatic stance for Category 1 issues. Thus:

    o A “No” for the Death Penalty
    o A “Yes” for the Anti-Discrimination Bill, BBL, Divorce, and the Anti-Political Dynasty Law

    9.3. As usual, there are caveats.

    9.3.1. The first one I can think of is that the “majority” in each of these issues are not unduly penalized.
    9.3.2. The second is that not all minority “requests” warrant approval.
    9.3.3. Note that I say “correct idealistic and pragmatic stance.” I am referring to the overall stance. The details of the proposed bills may not be perfect.

    • The three big issues missing are the economy, EJKs or the drug war, and WPS and sovereignty. We also have needs for managing fish, agriculture (both food security), power, censorship, and natural calamities. Where there is push, there is also pull. Hard to agree on such highly politicized issues.

      • edgar lores says:

        I would put the EJK/Drug War under Category 1, and the Economy and WPS under Category 2.

        But for the EJK/Drug War, there are two identifiable minorities: users and dealers. So far, the war has been mainly against users. For this minority, the idealistic and pragmatic stance — in consideration of their well-being — would be a “No” to EJKs. For the dealer minority, the stance would also be a “No” to EJK and a “Yes” for due process.

        On second thought for the WPS issue, the identifiable minority is the Philippines (as against China). It belongs to Category 1. The stance should be a “Yes” for Philippine sovereignty.

        • If you want to convince the Law and Order folks that your principles make sense, one has to argue from a point of view of effectivity:

          1) killing or jailing users makes no sense as new users keep coming up if the social root causes remain. Treatment and poverty alleviation are better measures.

          2) Killing dealers only makes sense if you want to cover up against potential “snitches” – meaning that you are actually protecting drug lords. Dealers can be monitored in their comings and goings, or if you have their phone or chat data, to track the drug lords. The heads of the hydra.

          Of course what I am writing in 2) is movie or TV series knowledge, but it makes sense. In fact it might also make sense to give shorter sentences and witness protection to dealers who “sing”.

          3) curtailing drug supply may include: laws to finally remove too much bank secrecy which the Philippines has. Follow the money is another principle of fighting any kind of organized crime. There should be laws similar to the US RICO laws to freeze assets of suspected drug lords.

    • (5) idealism is the compass, so you know where up and down is. Pragmatics is your diskarte. 😀

      (6-8) when I think of how the German Constitution (and of course it’s practical application) treats political parties and political participation, the way you are going is similar.

      There is the common distinction over here between democratic parties, and at the fringes you have radicals and extremists. Radicals do not accept any other way as possible or valid except their own, while extremists are willing to use illegal means including violence to achieve things.

      Extremist groups are forbidden and subject to criminal prosecution, while radical groups are observed by the domestic intelligence service. There is a yearly report given to parliament and publicized to everybody. Leftist, rightist, Islamic radicals and extremists are reported on.

      (9) This is where it gets interesting. “One person’s owl is another’s nightingale” is a German saying, and this applies to certain issues as well:

      – Death penalty is like wow, great, to certain groups. Just like Martial Law.

      – Federalism is a major point of contention as well.

      – Divorce. It is quite astounding how many are still anti-divorce. Even Catholic Malta has it.

      – BBL and China. On the yellow side, BBL is seen as good. The other side has as many who are vociferously anti-Muslim as there are anti-China people on the yellow side. LCPL_X has described some of the DDS in Mindanao as similar to Israeli settlers in mindset. It seems true.

      – Anti-Dynasty Laws. I think that at SK level (barangay), there already is an anti-dynasty law.

      But the translation from idealism to pragmatics is to ask people “anong gusto nating mangyari?”. The use of the collective natin is deliberate. The rest is the trial and error of democracy.

  4. Idealism always is in danger of becoming dogmatism if not tempered by pragmatism.

    (As I have said before, frog-matic and dog-matic are two different modes)

    Of course there are two extremes:

    1) Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” Does that work at all, pragmatically? OR

    2) Erap’s “weder-weder”, meaning “everything is depende”. Like the Filipina Miss Universe contestant in the 1970s Manila contest answered, when asked by one of the judges, a white man, whether she would go to his hotel room if he asked, she answered “it depends”. Asked for some clarification what that means, she said “it depends”. For people used to day-to-day survival as a struggle, it depends is a flexible, fluid way of dealing with life. For the individual, it has advantages. For the collective, it can mean disorder. So that alone cannot be the way to go, either.


    You do need some rules. MLQ3 posted a list of the rules for Boracay yesterday – too many rules.

    I answered that Munich’s Isar River goes by two major rules: no littering and put out grill fires.

    Private security patrols in summer to check on 1) and cops keep an eye on 2) due to fire hazard.

    Another person answered the trouble with us Filipinos is going extreme and then no follow-through.

    I answered it is like exercising suddenly when you notice you need it – instead of regularly.

    In the same vein, clean your house regularly – it is harder to do if you do it only occasionally.


    “Skin in the Game” is a book by Nassim Taleb (who wrote “Antifragile”) I am reading as of now.

    The danger of being an armchair analyst is a big one. Reality checks are needed at times.

    Though I don’t subscribe to what some DDS say (live in the drug-ridden barangays so you see) because I could also tell them, you do the killing, or at least help the police bury the dead, OK? Besides, you can’t expect everyone to experience everything. But one shouldn’t be out of touch. Sometimes you need others to describe things you aren’t experiencing yourself, for some reason. That all can add up to a broader view. But those who never knew what it is to have skin in the game might tell people to eat cake when they have no bread. Or follow ideals when they need to eat.

    • Thanks for that point that idealism pursued relentlessly looks a lot like the communist thrust and language in the Philippines. If they had a little wiggle room, they could attract moderate pragmatists to their cause. The distinction is that applied idealism is dogmatic, whereas idealism as a vision or aspiration concedes that the pragmatics are an important part of the journey.

  5. Francis says:

    Thanks, @Joeam for the article.

    “Idealism and Pragmatism.”

    I am reminded of two things when I reflect on those two concepts: the Left and FDR.

    If there is one thing which I wished moderates here could “steal” from the Left, and apply in democratic and electoral politics—it’s the ability to unite both “birds-eye” and “worms-eye” vision.

    What I mean is that, if I understand things correctly, the Left (in general—globally speaking) tends to see no opposition between idealism and pragmatism. A good theory (ideas) leads to good praxis (action) which can make said theory (ideas) even better.

    The Left (ideally) tends to like to do practical actions based on certain theories and refine those theories further based on what they’ve observed in doing those practical actions. A virtuous cycle ensures between action and ideas—or between idealism and pragmatism, to stick to the theme of the article above.

    What I wish moderates could do is to steal that “mindset” and use it to really make a difference with our democratic politics. Because I think that “learning” that “mindset” could go a long way in preventing the flaws of EDSA which led to us being vulnerable to the opportunistic plotting of Marcos, GMA in the first place.

    Like the flaw of “goody-two-shoes naivete” and the flaw of “easy co-optability/vulnerability to selling-out.”

    And I would argue that these two crucial flaws (as opposite as they are to each other) both stem from a common source: moderates tend to think of “idealism” and “pragmatism” as opposites—rather than as the Left (well, on average and in a global sense) does, which is to see “idealism” and “pragmatism” as complementary and feeding off each other.

    Why do the moderates/reformists tend to see “idealism” and “pragmatism” as opposites?

    I think it is because moderates/reformists have a simplistic, “good vs. bad” understanding of the two concepts: “idealism” is pure and good but unfeasible while “pragmatism” is dirty and bad but painfully necessary.

    As I’ve said—this is simplistic, and the simplistic nature of this dichotomy is evident when you compare a fascist to a liberal.

    An idealistic liberal who strongly believes in liberty and human rights, sounds good—yes? What about an idealistic fascist who believes that undesirables should be “disappeared” so to speak? Idealism is not inherently good, or pure—it can be evil, a defiled sort of thing.

    Idealism is never good nor bad in itself; the “goodness” or “badness” of one’s idealism depends on one’s ideals.

    What about “pragmatism” then? Surely—the “ability to get things done” is a universal standard. Surely—both fascists and liberals can agree on what it means to “get things done.” Efficiency is a truly universal rule, right?

    No. “Pragmatism” differs depending on who you ask—and it follows that “efficiency” differs on who you ask. The “efficiency” of a policy aimed to making undesirables “disappear” is surely different from the “efficiency” of a policy aimed at rehabilitating addicts. True, “pragmatism” is about “getting things done” but while liberals, fascists, socialists and social democrats can agree that they all want their “things done,” liberals, fascists, socialists, social democrats and whoever will still disagree on what exactly those “things” should be.

    And what constitutes as “efficiency” differs depending on what “things” you prioritize.

    “Pragmatism,” like “Idealism” is not good or bad in itself—but dependent on what that pragmatism prioritizes in the first place.

    Which reminds us. We noted earlier that “idealism” is usually considered by many moderates as a “trio” of the “good, pure and unfeasible” whereas “pragmatism” is considered inversely as the “trio” ot “bad, dirty and painfully necessary.”

    We have proven that the first two characteristics of both “trios” are meaningless; idealism and pragmatism are both neither good nor bad, neither pure nor dirty—for it depends.

    What about the last traits of each trio? Is “idealism” always “unfeasible,” and is “pragmatism” always what is painfully necessary?

    I would argue that this is a useless dichotomy. As we have shown—one’s pragmatism is anchored on one’s idealism; what ideals you have shape what you consider “pragmatic” in the first place. In light of this relationship, I would propose a re-definition of pragmatism and idealism.

    “Idealism” is commitment to one’s ideals, one’s values, one’s principles.

    “Pragmatism” is one’s capability to get those “ideals” implemented in practice—or to put it differently: how “street-smart” someone is at making their dreams, their ideals a reality.

    We can construct a simple ad hoc matrix of political behavior (why will become clearer later on) based on this definition:

    Pragmatic Not Pragmatic
    No Principles 1 3
    Principled 2 4

    1: No Principles + Pragmatic = Cunning Opportunists
    2: Principled + Pragmatic = Effective Politicians
    3: No Principles + Not Pragmatic = Crazies/Incompetent/Too Corrupt
    4: Principles + Not Pragmatic = Naive

    With this matrix we can now understand what we mean when we noted the two flaws of the flaw of “goody-two-shoes naivete” and the flaw of “easy co-optability/vulnerability to selling-out.”

    Many moderates/reformists become #4 (“Naive”) in the matrix because of their mistaken view that “rough politics” or “pragmatism” is dirty, and therefore one should stick to one’s principles blindly at all costs to “remain pure.” The desire to stay “pure” is greater than the desire to help the nation by being realistic about how to accomplish one’s ideals. This is what I mean when I say “goody two shoes naivete.”

    I am reminded of the quixotic quest and obession to ban the pork barrel or ban ALL dynasties—when solid FOI legislation would have helped keep the former accountable and transparent, while a ban on THICK dynasties might allow a coalition of THIN dynasty politicos and reformers to enact serious change on our political system.

    I am also reminded of the frustrations that many reformists have with the Party List system—who are disappointed that the Party List system has not become a source of token representatives for the marginalized. Instead, the likes of Mocha Uson are now become PL representatives because (per the Inquirer’s recent editorial) “it’s a relatively low-cost way of entering the House of Representatives without having to spend the millions that have become part of the traditional political circus.”

    Instead of being frustrated why so many trapos are taking advantage of the PL system lowering the cost to get into politics—why can’t moderates and reformists TAKE ADVANTAGE of this “flaw” to pump more reformists/moderates into the system? Why not strategize to WIN and keep out all the baseless, crazy “obviously trapo front” parties?

    But I digress—even if I could write an entire article on this.

    Which leads us to the second flaw.

    Because many moderates/reformists are prone to #4—eventually some go mad. Because of a lack of a support system/institutional framework—all those idealistic moderates/reformists are virtually alone in the vast toxic ocean that is Philippine politics. Because of (as we have discussed) a prevalent view that “idealism” is pure, good and unfeasible and “pragmatism” is dirty, bad and painfully necessary—those unorganized moderates/reformists will get extremely frustrated at the fact that they can’t seem to get anything done!

    The temptation to cut a few corners, to “play ball” with some sleazy figutes arises. Heavily. The thought process goes on like this: I HAVE to DO THIS—otherwise, I’ll get nothing done. Disillusionment. Any means necessary…

    Principles soon fade away. Pragmatism increases. Opportunists are born. Someone who was once a reformist/moderate becomes yet another trapo.

    Which is why pragmatism and idealism should not be seen a warring opposites—but as complementary and necessary to each other. “Idealism” is necessary to keep you “anchored” on what your ultimate vision is. “Pragmatism” is necessary for you to accomplish your ultimate vision.

    A unity of both is necessary not only to change society—but to prevent disillusionment which gives rise to opportunism.

    • Because many moderates/reformists are prone to #4—eventually some go mad.

      “Babuyin ko na”, some might say. (..pati sarili ko)

    • edgar lores says:

      In which quadrant would Duterte fall?

    • I’m one of your moderates going mad. The personal perfectionists (idealists) want candidates who have no flaws according to their value system. If the candidates made the wrong decision in the past they won’t vote for a perfectly good candidate for a broader, or different value system (pro-democracy, pro-human rights ideology). As a result, a hugely flawed person gets elected by people who are totally pragmatic in that they vote their emotions. Irineo got my attention with his point about the dogmatic aspect of ideology. You’ve couched this in different terms, with your #4 seeming to capture that dogmatism that will not accept a Roxas even if it delivers a Duterte.

      • This reminds me of a conversation with a German uncle in my early days in Germany. He was saying if you want to get exactly what you want, nothing more and nothing less, you could try founding your own personal political party but you wouldn’t get very far. The reason why we have political parties over here is to find a common denominator of what is important for us and push for it. You may not be satisfied with everything, I may not, but life is not a picnic. How true.

        Filipino 100%ers simply have no sense of priorities and will prefer to wallow in misery than to get at least what is MOST important for them. Quarrel in front of the common enemy over trifles. Same as what happened with American forces advancing in 1899. Why does Luna have the command? I could also be the commander-in-chief! Aguinaldo and Mabini rolling their eyes..

  6. Micha says:

    Bill Clinton and Barack Obama abandoned the idealism of Democratic Party and suckered up to the billionaire donor class in a pragmatic push towards the right.

    Guess where did that pragmatic approach led America?

    • Well, I tend to put that boogie man on the Supreme Court for allowing unlimited corporate donations. It was cater to corporations or lose. That is actually a very good example of ideology as impossible to achieve if the pragmatics flow a different direction.

  7. NHerrera says:


    (Situation + Leader —> Path or Means —> Goal) Constraints

    * There must be a good, better, a near optimum fit of Situation and Leader — the Leader must have a good if not perfect tune, hindi disintunado.

    * Constituents buy the (presumably moral-based = Constitution-based) Goal and the Leader.

    * Constituents buy the Leader-inspired Path to the Goal including the associated painful [not in the sense of being stricken with fear or being shot] reforms that the current Constraints restrains progress from the current unhealthy or deplorable Situation.

    The Schema or Premises shows that the Leader is central to the scheme of things.

    In the current real world: we may well ask the Goal and the Pragmatics of the Path taken by these Leaders: Trump, Xi, Putin, MBS of Saudi Arabia, KJU of Nokor, Germany’s Merkel, UK’s May and Duterte. In general, all of them are products of the particular Situations and Constraints they have to operate in the Path towards their Goal — part of these being the geopolitics of the countries.

    • Machiavelli’s “The Prince” was about Leaders, the main example being the leaders/warlords of the Northern Italian city-states that he knew well, juxtaposed with examples from ancient Greek city-states to illustrate certain basics that he considered important for being an effective leader.

      Shakespeare’s plays about various ancient Kings and Romans have been analyzed in “Tyrant” by Stephen Greenblatt as allegories (to avoid sedition laws dating to Henry VIII) pertaining to more recent English rulers such as Henry VIII, Bloody Mary – and his possible idol Elizabeth I.

      An analysis of Filipino leaders would have to include Aguinaldo, Quezon, Magsaysay, Marcos, Cory, Ramos, PNoy and Duterte, but also Jesse Robredo and Jejomar Binay – to study contrasts.

    • edgar lores says:

      The presented schema is descriptive and not prescriptive. It describes the process.

      The elements of the schema will usually vary because the “situation” element is subject to interpretation. The interpretation is usually done by the “leader” element.

      o (Corruption + PNoy —> Daang Matuwid —> Less/No Corruption) Official/Citizen Behavior

      o (Drugs + Duterte —> Operation Tokhang —> Less/No Addiction/Crime) Police/Addict Behavior

      • Less Corruption under Aquino.. leads me to a comment.

        1) they went after the big fishes – good thing as it is a major leak in the people’s money BUT

        2) the common man does not feel the effects as it is too abstract for him, not direct SO

        3) you have to also go after daily corruption and inefficient government service.

        No. 3) is where Duterte promised but under-delivered. OK, ten year passports – a quick win.

        The 911 for citizens was never heard of. But it still remains true that a lot of anger is due to inefficiency of government. In Germany if you file a police complaint or a case it is usually resolved quickly – a normal court case in 6-12 months not years and years like in Pinas. IF one could get Philippine courts working so fast that they get stuff done in 2 years at least, there would be less desperate enthusiasm for EJKs. This is one aspect of getting ideals to work in practice. Just pontificating about rule of law is hot air to a normal citizen. You need to show results.

        Back to corruption. The Romanian Directie Nationala Anticoruptie (DNA) is not a relatively toothless agency like the Philippine Ombudsman. It has 400 full-time prosecutors and it acts very quickly in dealing even with complaints on local officials. You need effectivity like that to convince skeptical Filipinos used to Marcosian (but not only) window-dressing that something real is happening. Otherwise the temptation to knee-jerk solutions returns as they know little else.

      • NHerrera says:

        Right. I will not write an extended essay on it, however, the “Situation” associated with PNoy and Duterte — although what you used are poster items associated with them — are more than just corruption for Pnoy and Drugs for Duterte. And consequently are the Goals they wish to achieve. [I have to inject this item here: this is not to deny that one or both of them had/ have hidden or undeclared Goals.] Thus, their path or means to those Goals are more extended. Similar statements for the Constraints they see and work against. This is the point of the current note. I may perhaps make this clearer if I take the Situation of Xi and his (and the Politburo’s) Goals, and Constraints to those Goals, which makes their path or means to those Goals similarly or even more extensive — something not so neatly described in a few words.

        Taken in more wholistic view, the schema can partake of a prescriptive flavor.

        • edgar lores says:

          True. For one “leader” element, there are multiple situations, multiple paths/means, and multiple goals. And multiple constraints.

          I did a vast simplification.

          Presumably, the prescription(s) will be in the “paths/means” element.

          In that sense, in providing for that element, the schema is indeed prescriptive and has a prescriptive flavor.

          The schema, however, does not describe any specific prescription. Which is why I characterized it as descriptive. All elements are variables.

          We would have to look at specific leaders, as suggested, to know what their specific prescriptions are.

        • NHerrera says:

          By the way, the schema I described is a conceptual generalization of the classic case of minimizing the Total Cost (the Goal) of an animal feed constituting of a mix of ingredients x1, x2, … ,xn while providing the appropriate nutrients, subject to constraints.

          C = func (x1, x2, … , xn)

          which is linearly expressed with coefficients to be found or solved for, subject to constraints which are also linearly expressed.

          This is of course, something which you and most of us here, I believe, know as Linear Programming, which is a cinch to solve with apps expressly made for that. This math equivalent is prescriptive.

          • edgar lores says:

            There you go! Specific and concrete examples will bring out specific and concrete prescriptions.

          • Linear Programming.. of course, the simplex method being one of the possibilities.

            That is, of course, if the problem is fully quantifiable. If not you need a feel for the matter.

            If you for example want to maximize crime-busting while avoiding collateral damage, there can be measures like body armor for cops, more manpower when arresting violent suspects, etc., and if you want to make sure criminals caught are properly prosecuted (which seems to often be an issue in the Philippines, cops complain that prosecutors throw out their cases for lack of properly gathered evidence), institute measures for prosecution and cops to work together BEFORE the case is submitted – many countries including Germany have templates for that.

            Actually a lot of stuff boils down to improving how public offices work, it is managerial.

            Probably a President who seriously wants to change things needs experienced and hard-nosed people to go through selected bureacracies, almost McKinsey style, and shake them through.

            • NHerrera says:

              Yes. And in the case of the Bureau of Customs, it may even be a simple case of using AI or robots and trained dog sniffers aided by robots — without the aid of corruptible humans — to do the work at the BOC. Really, that is one agency ripe for AI. This is idealism and pragmatism combined.

  8. NHerrera says:

    Angela Merkel made some sort of swan song: she will not seek the German Chancellorship come 2021. By that time she would be 16 years as Chancellor. Not bad indeed. With this announcement her moves will probably get a better reception — not as much criticized?

    • 16 years = 4 terms is something like a limit for most Chancellors.

      Merkel looks tired after 3 terms. So did Kohl in his 4th term. Adenauer ruled from 1949-1963 – from age 73 to age 88. “Der Alte” – the old man – had to be forced to resign by his own party. Bismarck was in power for 19 years until the new king Wilhelm II forced him to leave. It does make sense to change leadership from time to time, as those who are in leadership longer tend to not see new angles anymore – this was the problem with Kohl in his final years, he practically still lived in the old Federal Republic (West Germany) and did not understand the new times coming. What Merkel is definitely not seeking is CDU party leadership in the next general assembly.

  9. andrewlim8 says:

    Assigning active military men to run govt agencies will lead to far worse problems if the military men themselves prove to be corrupt.

    There is a strong reason why you put civilians in govt positions and not active military men. When the military men prove to be corrupt themselves (and there is no guarantee they are incorruptible), it will be a very hard fight to get rid of them and bring them to justice because their instinct is to resist with the use of arms.

    After tasting the fruits of corruption themselves, do you think they will still relinquish their posts?

  10. popoy says:

    Can an octogenarian be excused for having the temerity to participate in a discussion of valuable concepts without having read the fine thoughts of commenters; only browsing through and not digesting the meat of the surgery of facts and theory. The alibi for such transgression or indiscretion will be constrained by limited knowledge and experience. So here goes my palipad hangin whatever that means.

    Deductions need not go to specifics; to speculate suffices so that others may ventilate the truth by in depth discussion. Idealism and pragmatism can’t be horse and carriage that must always be together as the song goes. It’s crazy analogy but the horse (pragmatism eh?) can trot and gallup alone but the carriage (idealism) can’t be in motion alone.

    Is Kal Marx, Fredrich Engels, Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Il Duce, Che Guevarra, Fidel Castro, Mao Zedong, Deng Shiao Peng, Francisco Franco, etc., ARE THEY IDEALISTS? Are the ISMS of communism also IDEALISM? What about Capitalism?

    Are they idealists: USA’s Founding Fathers, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Teddy Roosevelt, Mahatma Ghandi, J, Nehru, Mohammed Ali Jinnah,?

    Can any considered world leader be both idealist and pragmatist at the same time? Can one be the former and later become the latter after an epiphany? JESUS CHRIST!, are Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas and Judas Escariot, PRAGMATISTS?

    Are autocrats and dictators idealists or pragmatists? Does idealism cancels out pragmatism and vice versa? Are theoreticians (theorists) also idealist when they only wanted to prove science in being? Idealism could be contextual, differentiating beings in psychology from sociology.
    Some teachers (not leaders) practice what they teach. It is more not about what they teach (idealism) but more on how they live their ideals.

    But when a teacher leaves and exchange teaching with some more powerful and lucrative position, and live and govern without idealism and instead actualizes pragmatism, that will make the discussion circumlocutory.

    Are philosophers, Idealists and their philosophy about IDEALISM? While scientists and their experimentation to prove the truth more PRAGMATISTS ? Is lawyering the ultimate pragmatism? And THIEVERY by politicians demonstrate the absence of both concepts?

    I just saw last night Gerald Butler as the LAW ABIDING CITIZEN.

    • NHerrera says:

      NICE, popoy.

      This leads me to revisit myself and ask whether I am an idealist or a pragmatist. My current response is the Filipino favorite: “it depends.”

      As a scientist/ technical man, I am both and always considered myself so. But in other areas, I have to think some more about it, to be honest with myself. [My mind and heart are still actively debating with each other. 🙂 ]

    • LCPL_X has described some of the DDS in Mindanao as similar to Israeli settlers in mindset. It seems true.”


      Not only “it depends” , but the two are not mutually exclusive.

      We go back to my high falutin’ clouds and rubber-meets-the-road on the ground analogy. The high falutin’ man can (and has to) descend ; whilst the ear on the ground , common touch, typa guy must also rise up.

      Ireneo’s correct. I’d say not only the Israeli settlers of today but waaay back after WWI too, til now who many now don’t view as as heroic compared to the time of young Ben Gurion and Golda, etc.

      My point, there has to be balance. Yeah, sure, the end does justify the means— but don’t over do it. There’s mission accomplishment and there’s also troop welfare (add collateral mitigation here too, since unwarranted killings result in unnecessary troop deaths).

      Machiavelli stressed this, so did chairman Mao, Che/Fidel , our Founding Fathers, and many others who’ve lead and managed men. That’s why I’ve always stressed look at the results. Economics is much harder to ascertain, too many moving parts; but on-the-ground governance is a lot quicker to tally.

      • NHerrera says:

        Yes, balance is the key. This reminds me of studies I read lately about physical exercise, done to excess, is risky and oversleeping is bad — which seem obvious enough when one thinks about them, not needing the studies.

        • exercise, done to excess = to blood lust

          oversleeping = to excessive philosophizing

          I don’t know of anytime in history when we (humanity) hit it perfectly balanced. Don’t think we’ll ever do.

    • edgar lores says:

      From the list of names, I would pick Abraham Lincoln and Mahatma Gandhi as embodying the perfect idealistic pragmatist. Or the pragmatic idealist.

      But do not forget the anonymous men and women who consistently lived/live their ideals quietly. Salt of the earth.

      If I did not know him, I would point to Nherrera. And yourself, Popoy.

      • popoy says:

        Don’t know about Herrera and he doesn’t (may be) know about me but methinks I grew up and will die just a WANNABE of many things to be for many of my goals in life like being a writer, a painter, an unblemished partner, a non-wealthy rich man as my goals in life; goals are never attained, but objectives are, like finishing my studies up to master’s level.

        Until JoeAm’s holy grail for morality in a democracy, I never thought being an Idealist-pragmatist is a being to be. For multitudes of literally hungry and sickly scavengers why they the hell will they care for idealism and pragmatism when the pain in their visceral dogs them day and night? Is being idealist-pragmatist attaining nirvana?

        Or being accidental billionaire for reasons of intelligence or, and crazy persistence the ultimate pragmatism? Think of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Zuckerberg, Robert De Niro, Donald Trump and the majority of very skillful players of NBA, NFL, etc. as ultimate pragmatists? Think of Mike Jordan, Lebron James, Pacquiao, Cassius Clay, etc. Are they singular pragmatists or IP hybrids?

        To me, only to me and I ascribe to no one, this JoeAm’s own droplet of rain is like an aircraft carrier floating like a leaf in an ocean of human frailty. Yeah, I know many here in TSoH like rockin’ and rollin’ the aircraft carrier to an even keel.

        Anybody like to see this prose caricature in wannabe poetry?

        • popoy says:

          The IP as Everyone’s Gordian Knot

          Don’t know about Herrera and
          he doesn’t (may be) know about me
          but methinks I grew up and will die
          just a WANNABE of many things to be
          for many of my goals in life
          like being a writer, a painter, an unblemished partner,
          a non-wealthy rich man as my goals in life;
          goals are never attained, but objectives are,
          like finishing my studies up to master’s level.

          Until JoeAm’s holy grail for morality in a democracy,
          I never thought being an Idealist-pragmatist
          is a being to be.

          For multitudes of literally hungry and sickly scavengers
          why they the hell will they care for idealism and pragmatism
          when the pain in their visceral dogs them day and night?
          Is being idealist-pragmatist attaining nirvana?

          Or being accidental billionaire for reasons
          of intelligence or, and crazy persistence
          the ultimate pragmatism?
          Think of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Zuckerberg,
          Robert De Niro, Donald Trump and
          the majority of very skillful players of NBA, NFL, etc.
          as ultimate pragmatists?

          Think of Mike Jordan, Lebron James, Pacquiao, Cassius Clay, etc.
          Are they singular pragmatists or IP hybrids?
          To me, only to me and I ascribe to no one,
          this JoeAm’s own droplet of rain is like an aircraft carrier
          floating like a leaf in an ocean of human frailty.

          Yeah, I know many here in TSoH like rockin’ and rollin’
          the aircraft carrier to an even keel.
          Popoy 0555301018

          • NHerrera says:

            Oh, I believe we know bits and pieces of each other through our comments on the various blog articles, the responses, and associated repartees. That is why it is fun and stimulating here, food for thought — food for the gods in ourselves.

            • popoy says:

              Oh by the way NH was it you who said his Dad is(was) from Tiwi ? When with a consultancy project for NAPOCOR (at the time of geothermal energy potential) been in Tiwi too where I heard the rural legend that underneath TIWI town is Hell itself because in the silence of nights they hear scary sounds of pain and torture coming from beneath the ground. Mga daing at taghoy ng mga nagdurusa sa mabigat na kasalanan. You then can say that my leg was pulled by some Bicolanos.and that was nothing but geothermal hot gossip.

        • edgar lores says:

          “Until JoeAm’s holy grail for morality in a democracy, I never thought being an Idealist-pragmatist is a being to be.”

          Perhaps not for you, Popoy. What about your grandchildren and their children and their children’s children? Do you want them to live in “an ocean of human frailty?” In a world of “multitudes of literally hungry and sickly scavengers?”

      • NHerrera says:

        That is nice of you, edgar.

        You are an Australian citizen with a heart and mind imbibing the common spirit of TSH for the improvement of the PH. I do not know how much of the wisdom you display here comes from the Australian in you.

        I am reminded again of that dated book by Bill Bryson, “Down Under” who has travelled to Australia but in one he purposely visited lots of places in Australia including the forbidding ones in the Northern Territory [Not part of Australian Federation, right?].

        Bryson spoke about the uniqueness of the land, the people, the biodiversity and his love of all of those, one of which is the general friendliness of the Australians. A country that gives importance to immigration enough to have a Museum devoted to it.

        On biodiversity he spoke of the different ways one’s life can be in danger from nature — the desert of the outback, the different species that can kill with either their claws or the venom from an apparently benign one floating about. One is the box jellyfish who he says is the most poisonous one. When Bryson asked a native about the danger of swimming he got an answer: “oh, yes, a bit in a season when there are plenty of them.” A bit? And that is the point of my narrative. They have a philosophy of life, not overblowing things.

        I hope the ugly political virus I wrote about with Irineo does not infect Australia in its most venomous scale. Only a bit, I hope, after reasoning it out. That may happen, I suppose, when the economy goes south as happens in those other countries. But there is time, space and resources for Australia to think about and implement things that will prevent such to happen. Idealism and Pragmatism.

        • edgar lores says:

          As I understand it, the States (6) are self-governing while the Territories (10) are not. You are right: the 6 states compose the Federation, while the States and the Territories, as a whole, compose the Commonwealth of Australia. Or simply Australia.

          There are several forms of the political virus, and I am sure one variant has infected Australia. This variant is not of the demagoguery kind but of lackadaisical leaders playing musical chair, frittering away time and money, and not devoting enough energy and passion to advancing Australia fair.

          Economics-wise, Australia continues to be the lucky country. I read recently that Australians have overtaken the Swiss in median wealth per adult.

          “The results show that if every Australian adult lined up in a row, the middle person would have a net worth of $US191,453 – about $270,000 at Friday’s exchange rate.

          “That puts us a nose ahead of the middle Swiss adult’s net worth of $US183,339.

          “Switzerland retains, however, its dominance over the global ranking for average wealth per adult – which it has topped every year since the survey began in 2000. The net worth of the average Swiss adult is $US530,240. Australia comes in second place with an average wealth per adult of $US411,060 (almost $580,000).”

          Yes, Australians have a unique sense of humor and philosophy. Everyone is a mate.

          I am a mishmash product of Hawaii, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, and Oz… and a 10,000-book library.

          • NHerrera says:

            Good for you. That last line triggers another thing. My wife and I was at a certain city abroad along with part of the clan.. And they thought they lost me. My wife said, “no worry; is there a book store here somewhere; I am sure we will find him there.” They did.

  11. popoy says:

    Me too, Thanks Edgar, I didn’t know you are downunderer, been there too in Kunyung Road where a classmate wrote me instead of a Mr in the envelop he prefixed before my name Ass.Prof. Unique Neal D. became a friend and was High Commissioner in Papua New Guinea. In Darwin up north I got a glimpse of the Abus (pejorative nomenclature like the N word) riding the public buses with them to shop in Palmerston. Salamat Edgar for suggesting I could embody substantive concepts.

  12. edgar lores says:


    A question for you.

    The opposition has 8 senatorial candidates and there are 12 Senate seats to be filled.

    As a voter, what is the best voting strategy to ensure that all 8 opposition candidates have the best chance of making it into the magic circle?

    o Option 1 — Vote 8: Vote straight 8 and only 8 positions?
    o Option 2 — Vote 12: Vote straight 8 but fill up all 12 positions (say, with the least popular candidates)?
    o Option 3 — Vote none and just watch the election with popcorn and favorite drink at hand?

    What is the most pragmatic and idealistic strategy?

    • NHerrera says:


      Not easy to answer the question and get it right because of different factors in the real world.

      Here is a scenario: assume no election scam whether done through manual voting or through machines. Assume further that there as many Opposition Candidates voters as there are Administration Candidates voters; there are 12 Admin senatorial candidates; and assume as still holding the findings of SWS that there are an average of about 7 or 8 (?) senators filled in by voters in their ballot, let us take 8.

      Then, on an “average” basis, for every 100 opposition-minded voters, the 8 Opposition Candidates get 100 votes each; for every 100 Admin-minded voters, the 12 Admin Candidates get a diluted 67 (= (8/12)*100) each.

      There is also the matter of logistics being optimized for the use of the OC.

      My notes above tend to support Option 1.

      I cannot support all my assumptions and there are other factors. But can I have part of Option 3, nevertheless, that is the “popcorn” part? 🙂

  13. Francis says:

    This is a bit late but:

    FDR—the great pragmatist—had a fine cabinet of brillant idealists whose ideals all contradicted each other. Idealism was channeled into bursts of experimental pragmatism.

    The naive radical idealists fail because the world isn’t as neat as their theories say it is.

    The “business-as-usual” centrism of many moderates fail (and are now failing in the age of because even pragmatism of FDR is useless without the spice of idealism, without a sense of vision that is inherently risk-taking, that is inherently tied to the uncertain future.

    That is—it doesn’t matter how well you can make curry (or Bicol Express) if your ingredients are the blandest thing on Earth.

    Which is actually a good metaphor for what FDR did—if I recalled understood things correctly:

    FDR took a bunch of idealistic, eager (and often conflicting) thinkers and channeled their ideas into a sometimes-contradictory pragmatic mishmash of radical and experimental policy; FDR mixed the spices in order to cook the curry we now call the New Deal.

    Also—for the second half of the New Deal at least, if I’m not mistaken—he had a superb set of people to perfectly word laws as much as possible.

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