The power of choice

By: Jose Ma. Montelibano - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | February 18,2022 - 09:00 AM

If people have different choices and are free to choose whatever or whoever they prefer, there is freedom. If people have different choices but are not free to express and go after their preference, there is limited or no freedom. Yet, people who feel forced to submit to stronger forces also exercise their choice. Even out of fear or desperation, choices are made.

The impoverished, the marginalized, have very limited freedom of choice. Worse, they have even less access to opportunities to choose from. The ignorant, the prejudiced, and the victims of information manipulation, they, too, have limited freedom. But first, they had to give up their choice to think objectively and process information intelligently.

Choices are not only gifts, they are challenges as well. When they are gifts, they bring benefits and satisfaction. When they are challenges, and become trials when we make poor choices, they bring pain, suffering, and regret. Democracy in its essence encourages and protects the freedom of choice. It does not guarantee intelligence and good choices.

The same with the opposite of democracy. Authoritarian regimes offer little or no choice except, maybe, to refuse cowardice even if it means death. Usually, people will choose to be cowards rather than die. It takes a while or it takes great suffering to bring the fearful towards anger and desperation beyond the risk of death. But it will happen, just later than sooner.

People can also exercise democracy by being part of a herd, simply accepting to follow and be controlled by those in power. Worse than this is for people to lose their option for intelligence and diligence. They become lazy thinkers, fodder for misinformation and propaganda. They make a choice, wrong and often stupid choices, and concede their capacity for intelligence to favor their laziness.

This is our daily environment – the choices we have to make. Because our form of government is democratic, then we have more choices, not less. I know there have been challenges under the Duterte regime, but Duterte was the choice of a plurality and in consonance with our fundamental system of electing leaders. In his exercise of power, he has overreached many times in the judgment of many people. Still, our options have more or less remained accessible to us, including our choice to resign or to fight back.

Now, we are inside the electoral process, another special opportunity to affirm or reject what is there. The pandemic has not been kind to democracy and individual empowerment. The fear of Covid-19 and death allowed a democratic government to go authoritarian. Yet, because our level of independence and preparedness was very low, we accepted that authoritarian governance with only occasional resistance or resentment.

The overall sentiment, therefore, is not radical change in the exercise of government but simply a deeper wish for the pandemic to fade away and die down. The pandemic became the rationalization and justification to accept what we do not like, and apparently, government was well aware of this. I believe that more than a better president, Filipinos want more a better environment in the field of health, business, and employment.

In other words, the pandemic scared us so much that we lowered our higher expectations simply to increase our chances of survival. Again, this points to the same low level of independence and preparedness we have as communities as a people.

This may translate as bad news for Filipinos, including politicians, who see the need for meaningful, even radical change. When the need for this kind of a change is relatively low, money, power, and influence increase their already built-in advantage. The greater losers, however, are really us the people and the nation. Lower expectations will bring the least of needed change in our poverty situation, and in the state of corruption we are mired in.

It does not help the cause of the just and well-meaning that, not only the pandemic was bad enough, but the emergence and hyper activity of fake news. Not many people may realize that the need for change should start now. They can, in fact, be led to believe that poverty and corruption are simply realities we should learn to live with. After all, have they not been around for so long that it is nobody’s fault anymore?

Political opposition can use the campaign, not just to give a platform, but precisely create more stimulus for people to dream bigger and higher. Poverty and corruption must not just be the usual target of all candidates. They must be articulated in ways that make more people connect these to the pain of their daily lives.

Strangely, the mere enumeration of promises that comprise the platforms of candidates carry a subliminal message that nothing really will change. Good and bad candidates, the credible and the disreputable, mouthing platforms that scriptwriters can very do for them. It seems they are all afraid to be radically different, to offer a dream that was unthinkable until they bring it up. They want to win more than be hope-bearers.

I agree that there are candidates who are so different that they contrast like day and night. Yet, the contrast is not really extraordinary when the general environment already has flashes of day and night colors. Only when our world is really dark can we appreciate the light, even fight to let it come into our lives.

I see enough people wanting change in a more impatient and demanding manner. They are already more than just the tip of the iceberg. But they are not yet the majority, not yet the substance of the iceberg under the water. They have to sustain and intensify their passion, their determination. And they cannot never give up, not before the elections, not after the elections. That is the nature of empowering people, the nature of people power.

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TAGS: democracy, freedom, marginalized, People Power

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