Simple Democracy Part 2: An Agreement
Please read Part 1 for the introduction and explanation on freedom.
Political Ignorance Leads to Political Stupidity
We’re jumping off this definition of Democracy:
Free men and women who willingly agree to a constitution, and who, using their power to educate and vote, passionately participate in the political process, resulting in the fair appointment of representative leaders who have garnered majority of the trust of the people, and who, after the leaders have been sworn in, support these recognized leaders in the building of a better nation, with just as much passion as they applied to supporting their initial candidates and concerns.
I’d like to continue this explanation of Democracy. While I am encouraged by the many questions and clarifications I’ve been asked since I posted my thoughts on this, I have to admit being very disheartened at the general lack of political knowledge and understanding of political systems. The average person I have spoken to has a very shallow understanding of what Democracy is, of how a Democratic government should function, and of their responsibility to protect, promote the ideals of Democracy, which are liberty, equality, and fraternity, and to cultivate thriving lives within this highly empowering framework. And it is an amazing framework of freedom as God intended (liberty), fairness for all under the law (equality), and love for neighbor (fraternity). Yet people don’t understand this. How many of us go about our day deliberately carrying these ideals as principles to live by? How many of us are even aware of them?
Not a lot from my experience.
The fault here lies with our parents (and maybe even their parents) and teachers, who failed to understand and teach the importance of political systems, prioritizing instead educational success, religious observance, and family community, all good things, but incomplete without a strong state to allow them to thrive. If we are highly intelligent but powerless to curb corruption at a state level, our country’s future level of intelligence will suffer without powerful infrastructure (such as schools and fast Internet connections) to not only improve education but provide opportunities for the educated. If we are highly religious, as we supposedly are the only Christian nation in Southeast Asia, but do not allow our supposed belief that God views love of highest value, service as the path to greatness, and that faith without works is dead, then we will have a very prayerful, very devout, very compliant, and very poor, very superstitious, and ultimately, very jaded people – as we do.
I’ll be expounding more on the idea of “education” on the 3rd part of this series. I just needed to express my frustration. If so many people can’t define Democracy, can’t explain how a Democratic government should work, and don’t know the provisions of the Philippine constitution (or at least have an active education on it), then where are all of these opinions coming from? What is the basis of our vote? What is the criteria by which we decide?
The Problem with No Fixed Criteria
If we have a beauty contest, and each judge had his or her own criteria, Judge A saying he is judging on face, legs, and hair, Judge B choosing talent, butt, and smile, Judge C picking answer to question, last name, and friends, Judge D basing his decision on what the other judges say, Judge E choosing the crowd favorite and the one with the most celebrity endorsers, and Judge F praying to God to reveal to him who he should choose, what do you think we’ll end up with? We don’t have a fair contest, and we don’t have an objective winner. This process will not result in an objectively superior winner because the criteria is all different. So what do beauty contests do? They fix the criteria. They say, “Here’s what we’re judging on. Here’s what we mean by beauty. Here’s what you should watch out for. And each criteria has a weight, meaning, they affect the total score differently based on the relevance and importance of the criteria. The person with the best total score, wins.” Without an agreement on the criteria there will be no objective way of sussing out who really should lead.
In choosing political leaders, we, you and I, are the judge, and we judge by voting. But by what criteria should we judge? From my observations, seems like my illustration above explains very well the state of voting in the country: different people using different sets of criteria.
There is no agreement on the criteria of what makes a great leader for a Democratic country like the Philippines in our current context. This leads to some very weird, unintelligent, and unprincipled reasons to why we choose certain candidates. Even the answer, “I know him or her. I know that he or she is from a good family.” Doesn’t actually answer the question, “Will this person make a good leader?” completely, when there should be more reasons to choose a leader beyond what we know about them. There are a lot of people I know a lot about who I will never wish to lead me.
No principled criteria leads to unprincipled choices.
The Importance of Agreement (and the Constitution)
I’ve only been recently made aware of the power and the importance of a constitution from my reading on the founding fathers of the United States. A constitution is an agreement between free people (or chosen representatives of free people) on the fundamental principles (there’s that word again) that will govern the nation. Without it, there is no common ground for people to build a nation on. More than a piece of paper, it is a document of power, and imbues what is basically a made-up idea, the state, with legitimacy and abilities.
A good way to illustrate this is the paper money in your wallet. At its most basic it is a piece of paper. But because it has the stamp of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, we can all now trust the value that’s printed on it. If I cut up pieces of paper and put P1,000,000 on them, I could not use them to buy anything. But because a trusted body, imbued with the power to issue currency, made them, we now all trust and operate using these pieces of paper. And who gave the bank power to do this? The Nation of the Philippines. We, through our representative leaders, agreed to empowering the bank to produce and manage the currency by which we transact. And what gives the Nation of the Philippines the power to imbue such power on a financial body (or any body for that matter)? The agreement by which we, as a people, embraced and committed to uphold. What is this agreement? It’s the constitution.
While we use paper money every day, very few of us understand that the only reason why we’re able to transact with it is because of the value it has been given through the power of a central bank, which was empowered by a nation, created through an agreement on principles of free people.
That idea blows me away. That because of this idea of agreement, people can come together and literally make something up from no physical raw material, and simply concepts and ideas, that may benefit a greater number of people. This is the power of agreement. When we say, “I will live by these same principles” we create a strong foundation by which great things can be built. This is why agreement is so important, but more than even agreement, this is why principles are so important, because these are things we are agreeing on.
The principles are things we are agreeing will judge the decision making of our government, and what should judge our individual decision making when choosing who to govern us. But what principles should we apply? The first set of principles are what I’ll call Public Principles, these are principles agreed to by the public, or in other words, the Philippine Constitution. It doesn’t matter so much what I think, in order to be a good Filipino, in order to be of benefit to the state, I need to understand, protect, and promote this public agreement in order to live in healthy community with other Filipinos, who, should also be doing the same – though this is unlikely as most people don’t even know they should be doing this. The first step here is to get a copy of the constitution, which is available online, and read it. I’ve been reading it section by section every day to learn it better. It’s not hard. If we have time for Facebook or karaoke, we should have time for our country. If you’re too lazy to do it, it simply means you don’t understand its importance, and whatever love you may feel for the country is mostly an emotional reaction to something you actually don’t understand.
There’s also Private Principles, principles that the public may not agree with but are part of our decision-making. For me, my faith informs these principles immensely, not so much that I vote based on religion (which I think isn’t wise), more on how I view humanity and the biblical ideas of community and society. Let me give you an example, in the Christian faith, we believe that God is a god of love, that this is the most important thing in the world. We understand that God’s idea of love is for us to receive His love through what Jesus did on the cross, where He sacrificed His life for us, and that we are called to do the same for others by sacrificing ourselves in service for others. So as a Filipino, I need to understand the Philippine Constitution, but as a Christian Filipino, I also need to have principles that are consistent with promoting God’s love, one of them being the essentiality of freedom. Because if I believe that love is most important, I need to understand that an important condition for love to take place is the freedom to choose (and not choose). If someone “loved” me because they didn’t have a choice, would that be love? Nope. That would be programing. If someone “loved” me because they would be killed if they didn’t, would that be love? Nope. That’s coercion. If someone “loved” me because they were bribed, would that be loved? Nope. That’s prostitution. Love is someone choosing me over them. For someone to choose me, they need to have the freedom to not choose me as well. So as a Christian, the idea of trampling on agreed principles in order to achieve ends is a violation of my core belief in a God of love, and of freedom being a God-given condition in order for love to be possible.
How I Chose My Criteria
Other than improving our understanding of the constitution (since, as I mentioned, is the original basis agreement by which to hold the government and would-be officials to), when choosing criteria, we need to think about values, in other words, we need to think about what outcome do we want. In the beauty pageant example, the organizers first answer the question, “What do we want to achieve?” and the answer may be simply, “We want a contest to discover who the most beautiful woman in the wold for this year is.” This leads to other questions, “What do we mean by beauty? Is it simply looks? Is it talent? Is it intelligence?” After this, based on what is important to beauty, they can now make their criteria, which the judges can now look out for when making their decisions.
So the first step in choosing criteria is knowing what outcome you want. I’m surprised that very few people have thought this out deeply because it’s actually a very obvious step. An easy way to start this is to think about 3 major issues that rank highest in terms of importance to you. For me, justice, the economy, and education rank high because it is in line with my life purpose of serving the poor and the unjustly treated.
Second, after knowing what issues matter most to me, I need to study and understand deeply the factors that contribute to addressing these issues. For example, let’s take justice. Justice suffers when the law is not applied fairly, consistently, and universally. So in order to for this issue to be addressed, a leader must be someone who is in a good position and has the ability to apply the law fairly, consistently, and universally. So how can I vote anyone, or even consider voting anyone, who has shown unfair application of justice (for example, by being corrupt) , inconsistent adherence to justice (for example, doing unjust things to provide justice for others), and has not universally applied it (for example treating relatives better)? Doing so would be illogical. If I have important issues, why would I vote people who are incapable of addressing these issues?
Step 3, after I know the factors that affect the issues important to me, I need to match the issues, the factors, and the capabilities of the candidate, and when I say capable, I don’t mean a catch-all idea of “smart” or “connected” or “can get things done”. That’s too broad. Let’s take business for example. We get a lot of ideas presented to us, but we don’t just invest because the team is smart. We also check if they can execute their smarts. We don’t just check if someone has a network, we also check if their network can be trusted. We don’t just check if someone can get things done, we also check if they have integrity. What if they can get things done but it’s because they have a low moral compass. It’s easy to make things happen without the encumbrance of moral principles, but it’s not what leads to lasting success.
For example, if I want justice, a candidate who can execute justice effectively is very very attractive to me, BUT I must check if justice was served justly (meaning it’s served according to the constitution), because if it isn’t, then it is not justice. If I think it is, than I am ignorant and an enabler of injustice towards another, because I did not take the time to deepen my understanding of an issue I claim to be important to me.
Let’s say helping the poor, if I vote a candidate who claims to have come from poor roots, or claims to understand the poor, yet has historically taken more for himself than he has given, than I am a fool. Because poverty isn’t caused by lack but by greed. Those who have less but are content don’t feel poor and don’t cause others to be poor. It’s those who want more and more and more who feel they need more and who actually take more. Again, I am defeating an issue that I claimed to be important to me.
If I say education is important to me, yet I don’t think about things like “How is education changing? What are the most competitive subjects? How is technology affecting the type of education a person needs?” then I’ll be drawn to promises like, “I’ll build 1000 schools!” without really knowing if the country needs 1000 schools or a new educational paradigm. What if those 1000 schools suck?
I can go on and on about issues and how a shallow understanding of issues will lead to seemingly smart but ultimately illogical choices. While there is no perfect candidate as there is no perfect person, we at least need to choose the best option, and the best option is not product of personal bias (which happens when we choose based on a shallow understanding) but on as much verifiable data as possible.
So the 3-step process is this:
- Know what issues are most important to me after careful study and reflection. This cannot be general issues or they won’t be effective. They have to be the issues you have decided in your hear to address yourself.
- Understand the factors that affect these issues deeply so that you are not easily swayed by promises that actually aren’t feasible. Instead your understanding of important issues and your stance
- Research your candidates, look for people who objectively show that they have the ability and integrity to address your issues effectively.
Should I Vote Someone Who Will Lose?
I remember when I was a child, talking to a relative of mine who I actually thought was pretty smart. I asked him who he was going to vote, and he said he liked a candidate but was giving his vote to another candidate because the person whose platform he agreed with wasn’t going to win. I didn’t think much about it then, but I remembered it when I was asked “Should I vote someone even if they’ll lose?”
My answer to this is what I’ve been explaining throughout this whole article: What’s your criteria? Is your criteria “Who will win?” or is it your principles?
It doesn’t matter who else is voting them, or whether they’re popular, or even whether they’ll win. The principled decision is the decision based on a thorough understanding of my personal values, the issues important to me, the factors affecting these issues, and the ability of the candidate to effectively address these factors. This is a very simple concept but takes discipline and study.
It’s been said that Democracy isn’t a system for the ignorant, the foolish, and the uneducated (education is used as a broad term for being knowledgable, not having a degree), but let me add to this, Democracy is not a system for the lazy, particularly intellectually lazy people.
As I study about the political process, as I pray, one of the most important questions to consistently ask God is, “Will this please You?” I don’t how many times I’ve done incredibly stupid things simply because I didn’t prioritize God’s happiness. These are the sources of my regrets. As we participate in this national exercise, let’s remember that God’s not going to ask us, “Did your vote win?” He will look where He always looks, are hearts, and the question of the heart is always, “Did you love?” “Did you love your countrymen by laying down some time to learn, to understand, to choose wisely what’s good for the country? Did you love Me by the candidates you chose? Or did you love yourself by prioritizing your own hopes and fears?”
Every day I am faced with deciding between what I desire and what my principles call for. Many times I fail this. It’s not an easy decision because many times what I want, including valid, beautiful, unselfish dreams, are at odds with what my principles call for the moment. For example, I want to have successful businesses, and it is this desire to do well here that can be used against me when doing well means sacrificing a principle. So what do I do? Do I allow my dream to take a hit or do my principles suffer when they’re needed most? This is especially hard for my big dreams, my big goals, and things I’ve been working and waiting a long time to be fulfilled.
Heres what I’ve found: every time I allow my principles to take a hit for my dream, it gets easier to rationalize the means for the ends. And the end result is always disappointing. Always. Yet every time I lay my desire down, when I lift up my dreams to God, and choose the principle, the momentary disappointment, the momentary suffering, gives way to something more glorious than what I originally desired.
I have dreams for the Philippines. As a man about to start a family, I dream of a safe, thriving, and united country. Listening to all the promises thrown, it’s easy to be swayed one way or the other. But I must look beyond the man and see his principles. I must hear beyond words and listen to his principles. And I must check whether their principles match my own reflected and defined principles. Why? Because principles are the building blocks of sustainable success. Without principles, there is no foundation to build on. If my desire for a better country, causes me to sacrifice my principles, than I should not be surprised when the world I helped bring about lacks them. I should not be surprised when men and women drop their principles for their desires because I did the same when I rationalied my principles away for my dream of a better Philippines.
What is a principle? It is not merely something I agree with. It is not merely something that feels nice or resonates with me. It is a foundational truth by which I base my ideas and actions on. I’ve made the mistake of thinking what “I believe” is automatically a principle. That was a shallow understanding. A principle must be rooted in undeniable truths (such as the constitution for guiding national decisions). This is why they’re not so easy to come by as most do not take the time to root them. But this is also why, once rooted, they are a strong foundation.
I won’t be using whatever small platform I have to tell you who to vote. You have a brain. Use it. Use it to define your principles. Use it to deeply understand your candidates principles. And use it to override whatever emotional instinct, whatever euphoria, whatever feelings of fear and desire, to choose a candidate that promotes these principles.
Note: Photo is actually the U.S. Constitution