Death of reason in challenged democracies is not always colored yellow

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ANTONIO P. CONTRERAS

ONE thing that is being killed daily in this age of political polarization is reason. There is just too much insanity and audacity to speak without due regard for logic, evidence and fairness.

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And nowhere is this more evident than in the global embarrassment of Sen. Antonio Trillanes at the hands of the BBC’s Stephen Sackur. Asked if he was a democrat, Trillanes replied that he is a member of the Nacionalista Party.

The BBC host confronted Trillanes with the fact that President Duterte was elected despite his public pronouncements of killing drug lords and criminals and dumping their bodies in the Manila Bay, and despite admitting association with the Davao death squad during the campaign. Despite all kinds of dirt thrown at him now that he is President, he remains highly popular.

Mr. Sackur practically told Trillanes that in a democracy you have to live with the consequences of the vote of the majority.

Senator Trillanestried to wiggle his way out of his ignorance of what a democrat is by demeaning the intelligence of the electorate when he claimed that the ordinary citizen does not know better, and doesn’t have the complete information. And then he committed the crime of being misinformed himself when he claimed that it is not shabu, but marijuana, which is the illegal drug of choice in the country.

Senator Trillanes failed to realize that if he would question the rationality of the Filipino electorate, he should also know that it is the same electorate that elected him twice to the Senate.

One has to appreciate the fact that in a compromised democracy, the political outcomes of elections may indeed not necessarily be optimal. If Trillanes thinks that President Duterte is an example of that, then so is he. And this is not a monopoly of the Philippines.

Popularity doesn’t make it right, even as it doesn’t also last. And in a compromised democracy, where the distribution of reason may be skewed and uneven, then the freedom of expression that is enshrined in the constitution may not necessarily work to make reason dominate the free exchange of ideas.

After all, democracy is not about the power of reason, but the power of numbers.

It is also a fact that reason is clouded by political bias, and it is not only Trillanes that suffers from this malaise.

It is seen among the leftist demonstrators who took to the streets to condemn the martial law proclamation of the President. Using rehashed slogans to shout over megaphones and carry in placards, and new effigies to burn, these youthful demonstrators lashed out at the imagined human rights abuses which martial law have allegedly inflicted on the people of Marawi, without even condemning the terrorist rebels. What is dominant among their narrative is the representation of a Marawi under siege by government forces, without even mentioning the Marawi ransacked and brutalized by the advance forces of the Daesh’s global rebellion that is poised to inflict terror beyond anything that martial law could bring. One can therefore fairly read from this narrative a bias against the state and, by implication, in favor of the terrorists, albeit unintended. We can only wonder how the Left could worry about a martial law where they can still speak up and burn effigies, and be oblivious of the horrors of IS’ terrifying tactics such as beheadings to silence dissent.

Unreason also infects some of the pro-Duterte partisans who seem to be equally guilty in committing irrational acts. Reading through their comments in social media can give you a severe dose of a different kind of terror when you are confronted with cases of epic failure to comprehend.

The pilot of our show “Busting Lies” which I host, which essentially made the case that the martial law proclaimed in Mindanao by the President is totally different from the Marcosian one, on the whole received overwhelmingly good reviews. Criticisms from the anti-Duterte crowd were to be expected. But there were also those pro-Duterte netizens who seemed to have been lost in translation and falsely accused the show of maligning the President, even to the point of attacking us as paid hacks of the Liberal Party.

Irrationality is also seen even among those who have the opportunity to research, and the time to filter through the noise of distorted messaging. I see these both from pro-Duterte and anti-Duterte netizens who have academic pedigrees or are otherwise expected to be more rigorous and rational for being professionals in their own fields.

In the earnest desire to attack or defend the President, many fall into the trap of echo chambers and tunnel visions, of knee jerk reactions from a state of mind that is infected with paranoia and conspiracy theories, and of behaving as if in a perpetual state of being under siege or of being on attack mode.

Many pro-Duterte people demean the black-and-white worldviews of the yellows, yet are themselves inhabitants of a simplistic and dualistic world of good and evil.

Political partisanship always has the effect of clouding judgment and reason. We have a field day making fun of Trillanes’ meltdown at BBC, or criticizing the Left’s ideological confusion vis-à-vis terrorism.

Yet those who support the President should realize that sometimes we also allow our biases to undermine our reason.

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