There was a time quite some years ago before Margaret Thatcher emasculated the trade unions in the UK, when I had the job of negotiating incentive schemes with the unions on large multi contractor construction sites. I dealt with the union convenor for the 10,000-man site, with shop stewards, with bonus stewards and with national officials. Those guys who mostly did not have any university degrees, nor much else in the way of academic credentials were competent, intelligent and resourceful and many became household names and had the ability to challenge government at very senior levels. Through that challenge process they gained publicity so that people understood what their views were.
In the Philippines we see it is necessary to have a four-year degree in accounting to be a cashier or a four-year degree in hotel and restaurant management to be a waiter or waitress. The need for a degree seems to be an essential prerequisite for the most mundane sorts of jobs, probably because there are so few decent jobs. But it’s a big hurdle, the requirement for a four-year degree, when most people simply can’t afford to support their children’s further education for an entire four years. Thus, there are lots of resumes around showing that only one or two of the four years was actually completed before the money ran out. In a Philippine context it is necessary to have this educational qualification in order to stand the least chance of rising in society and thus, have any opportunity at all to have an opinion of any value.
But the Philippines is far from being a meritocracy. The routes to fame and fortune seem to be; politics, the TV or movie industry, modelling, or simply to become a “businessman”. Trade union officials generally don’t get seen as stars, nor for that matter do the “intelligentsia” [where is it by the way!?]get much in the way of publicity or gain a public profile which would command wide respect, through which they would gain the ability to shape the culture of society, seriously challenge government and make their opinions known to “the people”.
An intelligentsia, a term much used in communist countries but equally applicable everywhere, is a social class of people engaged in complex and critical thinking and which plays a leading role in shaping a society’s culture and politics.
I know quite a few Filipinos who could qualify as members of an intelligentsia and I have no doubt that there are very many more, from all backgrounds and walks of life—and with or without four-year degrees. They can produce the critical thinking and guidance which the rest of society needs to put it on the right track. But although these people exist; the trade union officials, artists, journalists, doctors, NGO workers and economists—even some academics and lawyers—their opinions, challenges and guiding advisories never make the position in the media from which they could have the influence they deserve and from which the nation would benefit.
This complex thinking, criticism and guidance can never, it seems in a Philippines context, trump the publicity given to the weddings of TV personalities and models, or the accusations of evil deeds, the simply outrageous statements made by some politicians, or how much money various oligarchs have. The Church, of course, has a public voice and gets publicity but usually in a sensationalist sort of way and given that the priesthood is educated in philosophy and ethics then it is probably seen as an acceptable surrogate for an intelligentsia. But the Church cannot be an acceptable surrogate for an intelligentsia, its power in the Philippines is too great for it to be immune from the potential for political interference and even if it is totally immune from such interference, in a Philippines context where politics and conspiracy theories are of such high interest, it could be suspected of being politically manipulable, and it is not the role of the Church as a body to criticise the state on temporal matters.
The Philippines needs to get off its preoccupation with TV personalities, movie stars, politicians, oligarchs and those accused of evil deeds—frequently they are the same people, anyway. Despite all the forces against it, a middle class is slowly developing at home here in the Philippines and that is sorely needed. But more public attention must be given to the outputs of complex and critical thinking by those who would be genuinely qualified to be “thought leaders”—such a trite and horribly jingoistic term.
There is a need to bring out the thinkers and give their ideas some real media coverage so that the public, whether they like it or not can have their own thinking broadened beyond how much the wedding gown of such and such a personality cost, or whether or not the President attended the christening of one of some personality’s babies, or even getting hysterically excited because a man who operates death squads may become President of the Philippines.
As the middle class develops further, it needs a forum for sharing its thinking. In the UK, there are the weekly magazines, the Spectator and the Economist; in the USA there is Time magazine; in France there is the satirical Charlie Hebdo [Charlie Weekly]. If the current market doesn’t support such publications then at least let’s have a news-sheet generally available which acts as a vehicle to promote intelligent and constructive challenge and critical thinking on matters of the development of society, its culture and moral political issues.
The media in general panders to what is perceived as the public appetite for sensationalism. Is there any relationship between what some film star eats for breakfast and the government’s endless dysfunctionalities? Let the media educate the public and stimulate challenge to the status quo by introducing in ways that can be readily understood the outputs from complex and critical thinkers who cannot be accused of any involvement in politics, and through that, raise the knowledge base of the Filipino emerging middle class, as well as the masa. Then eventually more votes will be cast on the basis of knowledge, rather than fame and good looks.
Mike can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org