At the height of Typhoon Yoyong’s fury, my wife and I were at the home of my old friend and colleague Teddy Benigno. Teddy was marking his 81st year and he wanted to be with his closest friends. Dinner was by candlelight, courtesy of the power outage, and the conversation focused on the country’s prospects of facing a period of anarchy.
Teddy’s guests had one thing in common. They are veterans and key players in political upheavals and events, from the two People Power political upheavals to electoral campaigns. If there is a group with the right mix of political savvy and perceptiveness to see what’s in the horizon with optimum accuracy, it is this group.
Surprisingly, nobody in our table had expressed anything that would give the impression that the country was going anywhere. The consensus was that the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo government and the very system itself were running on borrowed time and were headed for implosion and collapse. And what happens after that was what all of us were concerned about that evening.
The lethal combination of the most extreme poverty and runaway consumer prices, graft and corruption, public disillusionment over the political system coupled with the total absence of an inspiring leader-model and topped with an all-encompassing fiscal crisis lead to only one conclusion: we are headed for a period of anarchy. It is not like we wish this upon the nation but this conclusion was drawn from the well-evolved instincts and sensors of grizzled political watchers. Indeed, all this packs a force crying out to explode like the social volcano that Teddy Benigno had always warned about in his column.
Accepting the likelihood that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will not be able to avert the social explosion which sadly she herself promotes, I found some comfort in the political ideas of Donna Zajonc (pronounced say-john) on political evolution. I do not find the prospect of anarchy comforting but Zajonc’s ideas which regard anarchy as the start of a political evolutionary process eventually leading to a period of political enlightenment, or a period of political renaissance offers a ray of hope.
Donna Zajonc, MA, CPC, at age 28 was elected to serve three terms in the Oregon State House of Representatives. At one time, she became her party’s nominee for Secretary of State and is known as a political leadership coach. Her book – The Politics of Hope: Reviving the Dream of Democracy – outlines the four stages of political evolution, as follows:
1. It starts with anarchy.
2. Then it moves on to the traditionalism stage, the second stage of political evolution.
3. It then enters the resignation stage.
4. Until finally, it evolves into the politics of hope.
In an executive summary of her book, Zajonc wrote: “Viewed in evolutionary terms, our broken political systems are a symptom of progress. Far from being defeated, we're drawing closer than ever to our aim of true democratic government. When old systems don't work anymore, we begin envisioning a new political future. Individuals, nations, and whole cultures begin moving steadily away from what doesn't work toward what works well. A critical mass of our citizenry now understands that the old styles of leadership cannot move us successfully through the chaos and complexity of our 21st-century global society.”
Zajonc was writing about the current US political landscape but her assessment could very well apply to our own political situation as well. Zajonc describes the four stages, as follows:
The anarchy stage
Zajonc characterized this stage as one marked by hopelessness and rage. The citizens are mainly concerned for one’s individual welfare. Strong fundamentalist belief systems emerge and deny all other possibilities. Violence, acts that harm others, are rationalized and deemed “necessary”.
The stage of traditionalism
Traditionalism is marked by a period of fear, deception and polarization. It is a “them vs. us” or “black or white” thinking that assumes the other is wrong. There is a tendency to adopt dogmatic and simplistic answers to complex questions. It leads to a clamor for a strong leader who will “save” us, remove the chaos and fix the problem.
The resignation stage
At this stage, people feel politically powerless and lose interest in participating in the political process. They may be aware of the possibilities of the system, but they are also resigned to the fact that the traditional system is no longer relevant to their lives. Democracy is now based upon individual power, wealth and special interests of the people in office. Politicians are seen as willing to do anything to get elected; their interests are on behalf of the people who contributed to their victories, not for the collective good.
The stage of the politics of hope
New alliances are formed across old political boundaries. Having undergone a spiritual reformation, people speak freely and authentically. There is an aspiration to act and serve from higher motives of service and generosity and future needs define the political vision. With hope, trust and inspiration, collaborative action is used as the pathway to solutions.
The Philippine context
In the Philippine context, we find ourselves already in the second and third stages of Zajonc’s evolution. The traditionalism stage has led us into the resignation stage. The next level we are now about to enter is the anarchy stage and this can easily be triggered by a single event as what we experienced in our two People Power events of 1986 and 2001. In fact, save for the expression of rage, we are very much into that hopelessness that characterizes the period of anarchy.
I’ve said in previous columns that this nation is already in revolt, in the psychological sense. In contrast to our previous political crises, people have become too disenchanted to even see hope in the changing of the guard. The people want a system overhaul. The yearning to change the system becomes even more intense as the pressures mount.
We have not yet seen the worst of the devastation that typhoons Winnie and Yoyong had wrought in the mostly hand-to-mouth rural communities of Luzon on one hand and the eventual upward pressure on food prices for both urban and rural communities on the other. Livestock and crops which were to supply an ongoing means of survival had perished in many towns. The flood had leeched what remains of the nutrients in the soil. With forecast of an El Nino looming, and with our stymied capacity to produce, the poor faces the burden of even higher food prices. Some others face the grim prospect of no longer having the means to help themselves.
When a father kills himself and the family he cannot feed, when a mother kills the baby she cannot support, when people compete with rats for food in the trash, when one hungry Filipino becomes just one too many – something’s got to give.
More and more people I talk to have told me that they find an authoritarian regime an acceptable alternative to the present system. In his column several weeks back, my friend and Inquirer columnist Randy David wrote about Washington Sycip and F. Sionil Jose expressing support for an authoritarian regime and a revolution, respectively. Five years ago these mild-mannered gentlemen would have found these radical views unthinkable.
One of my doctors, a kind, mild mannered gentleman and a humanitarian, is not only in favor of an authoritarian regime, he is also advocating it. He had even broached the subject to me twice; asking that I seriously consider it. I see this as an unmistakable sign of people’s desperation and disgust over the present system. When I told my doctor that he is advocating for something that could be bloody, he responded:? “Blood cleans infection in our body. Our system is heavily infected. Bloodletting may be good for our country.”
If my own doctor and Washington Sycip – people who live quiet comfortable lives and earn over P2 million a year – can talk this way, what could possibly be going on in the heads of easily 40 million others who live below the poverty line. The bloodiest political upheavals in history involved much lesser numbers.