Straight thinking vs straight path

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Perhaps the funniest feature on social media this week is a graphic on the showbiz government website.

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The graphic depicts President B.S. Aquino, hand on balding head, exclaiming,

“OMG, I finally found out
what’s wrong with my brain.
On the left side, there is nothing right.
On the right side, there is nothing left.”

I will use it as an introduction to this brief meditation on the unfortunate tendency of President Aquino and his administration to depend on slogan thinking (sloganeering) in tackling the great tasks of the presidency, instead of employing sound critical thinking and analysis in meeting national challenges and grappling with crises.

Aquino and slogan thinking
This tendency started during his highly effective election campaign in 2010, when he employed his popular slogans:

1.“Kung walang korap, walang mahirap (if there are no corrupt officials, there are no poor people),” and

2. The equally vivid “tuwid na daan (straight path),” which was skillfully used as an antonym to Manny Villar’s circuitous and crooked road projects in Cavite and Laguna.

The slogans, as they are, are fine. But it is absurd to think of them as public policies, without subjecting them to thorough analysis and argument.

1.“Kung walang korap, walang mahirap (if there are no corrupt officials, there are no poor people),” and

2. The equally vivid “tuwid na daan (straight path),” which was skillfully used as an antonym to Manny Villar’s circuitous and crooked road projects in Cavite and Laguna.

The slogans, as they are, are fine. But it is absurd to think of them as public policies, without subjecting them to thorough analysis and argument.

“Kung walang korap” is in reality an absurd proposition. After almost five years in office, Aquino has not appreciably reduced the numbers of both the corrupt and the poor in Philippine society.

“Tuwid na daan” has suffered a similar fate as the administration has been embroiled in various scandals and mishaps that showed the President and his principal advisers and allies in Congress as not treading a straight path of rectitude and honesty.

Through this column, I’ve long been asking the Palace spokesmen and communicators to define or specify what is the straight path. Is it the Ten Commandments? I’ve even written about my bizarre experience – when I Googled “straight path,” I was brought to some Islamic websites. The term “straight path” is explicitly cited in the Koran. The Holy Bible mentions at best “straight and narrow.”

On social media, the Aquino slogan is now derisively dismissed as “tuwad na daan” (upside-down path).

“Slogan thinking,” logicians and philosophy teachers remind us, is not a substitute for straight or critical thinking, which requires the application of principles and reasoning to propositions and arguments.

Slogan thinking is like shorthand. It is lazy and incomplete.

We use the word “thinking” loosely to describe anything that passes through our minds— idle daydreams, free associations, random recollections, and half-hearted resolutions about the morrow.

Critical of straight thinking
According to Professor Monroe Beardsley, author of the book Thinking Straight, thinking is a series of ideas that is directed toward the solution of a problem.

Thinking has two fundamentally different aspects: its creative aspect, and its critical aspect. Good thinking is to a marked degree both creative and critical.

Creative thinking is thinking that generates new ideas, unsuspected solutions to problems that we have been wrestling with.

Critical thinking comes into play when you have an idea to try out, a theory to test, and a proposition that someone is defending or objecting to.

Good critical thinking is what Beardsley calls straight thinking.

His book cites numerous examples of crooked thinking, but his focus is on thinking that is cogent and effective because the steps have a logical order.

Aquino’s biggest mishaps have occurred when he and his advisers failed to employ sound critical thinking and logical analysis to his initiatives:

1. The invention of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP);

2. The peace agreement and the Bangsamoro Basic Law;

3. The impeachment of former chief justice Renato Corona; and

4. The jailing for a prolonged period of time of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo

Believing your own advertising
In the book, The Image: A guide to pseudo-events, Daniel J. Boorstin wryly observes: “When the gods wish to punish us, they make us believe our own advertising.”

BS Aquino is a classic example of a politician who believes in his own advertising and in the image conjured of him by his many media consultants and entourage.

He became a prisoner of his own image, and could not function as a leader in the real world.

Had he paid more attention to straight or critical thinking, and less to the straight path mantra, he would not be floundering as much as he is doing today.

When the president delivers, as has been announced, his fourth speech on the Mamasapano tragedy, he would have a better chance of righting the listing ship of state, if the speech is stripped of lies, gimmickry and tortured reasoning.

It’s not promising of success that he plans to torture the semantic difference between “seeking understanding” and “issuing an apology.”

More likely, the president will waste more of his political capital, or whatever is left of it. Showbiz government may be proven right.

yenmakabenta@yahoo.com

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5 Comments

  1. You are right, Ken. This is also what is called the ” bandwagon” thinking. Comments on columns like this one are examples of this kind. People jump in and join whatever is printed negative on newspaper without “critical” or “creative” thinking.

  2. Venerando Desales on

    Yes, you are right, Ken! Slogan thinking is only good in election campaigns to catch the voters’ attention on a capsulized idea of the speaker. However, in leadership and management of the affairs of government, a combination of vertical and lateral thinking must be used.Vertical thinking is the use of logic to reach a conclusion while lateral thinking is the use of creativity to find solutions to a problem. The two hemispheres of the brain are utilized: the judgmental and the brainstorming minds. A leader of the nation must possess these capacities with an excellent rating. Mediocrity has no place in the Presidency, and also in other elected positions.

  3. With hubris, bravado and big ego, add to that an ‘inutil’ Congress plus blind followers, the Aquino government is a “hopeless” case. The country is in a “pathetic” and sad state.

  4. Roldan Guerrero on

    Talking of governance, we are in the worst situation ever experienced by every Filipino. Physically speaking of all elected male Philippine presidents, Benigno Simeon Aquino is the ugliest of them all and is also being characterized in the kind of regime he has.