I am no fortune teller but I know enough about the higher probabilities, not from intuition, but from cyclical history. After all, man is a creature of habit and very few can break what they have established over decades. Individual habits translate to collective behavior, of course, and Filipinos have a history of behavioral propensities that can be expected to challenge us.
It will be a contest between man’s attachment to habit and man’s capacity to break habits that will come into play – as always. The odds, of course, favor the continuation of habits over breaking them. That is why man’s predictability is stronger than his unpredictability. This leads to stability, but it also ends in an obsolescence that younger generations rebel against. Familiarity generates security until it eventually breeds contempt. No wonder even great faiths like Christianity incorporate the principle of new wine and new wineskin. Nature does even more. It operates on birth-death cycle to ensure that what is old fades away to allow the new to emerge.
When those among us who are eager to see meaningful change in our societal and political landscape, it is best for us to temper our expectations by clearly understanding the dynamics of habits. Whatever our political affiliations, we can be optimistic or otherwise and have good reasons for either. Actually, the political front experiences change faster than the religious or economic. Elections are a mechanism that ensures some measure of change. Mostly, they can be fleeting or superficial, but at least there will be changes. Religions take centuries or millennia to have serious changes, and so do economic principles.
But maybe not anymore, not now. The technological advances have been so dramatic that it is upsetting practically all established habits and belief systems. It is not just technology but generation after generation of the world’s young that are its believers and aggressive army. Of course, the traditional mindset and way of doing things are not just lying down and conceding. In most parts of the world, they are fighting back, digging in, hoping to use some part of technology but adverse to surrendering to it. Well, they may be stubborn but they will lose. The old and traditional that does not morph and renew itself will simply die because of attrition. If tradition has sustained itself, it is only because the new generations agreed or submitted, even reluctantly. That is not the case today.
There have been a few occasions in recorded human history when major changes happened. Remember the birth of agriculture symbolized by the plow when mankind began the skirt away from foraging as a way of life? That was momentous. Then came the industrial era that has extended until today. All of these were technology and they effectively changed lifestyles, the way you and I live. What we have now is not any less awesome. In fact, it is so awesome that few dare to make predictions as to how life will be a hundred years from now. The Internet and Artificial Intelligence are mere forward glimpses and the future promises more, much more.
Thank goodness we are just in 2018. Though it feels that time flies, at least we can still see things unfold. Human lifespans have also increased and this somehow compensates for the speed that things unfold today. Filipinos can now expect to live for 70 years when it was only 50 years when I was born. In the last several decades after WWII, our economic and political fortunes experienced sharp turns and discontent become more loudly expressed. Yet, the aggregates lifespan increased by 20 years. In the next 20 years or by 2040, many expect our average lifespan to increase by another 10 years. In the macro, life is not as bad as we think. Unfortunately, the benefits of the macro for most of us cannot compensate for the trials of the micro.
Still and all, it is a new year, and I eagerly look forward to a good year. It may not happen but if I am pessimistic about it from the very beginning, then I add to the probability of a difficult year. There is such a thing as self-inflicted misery and it starts with our believing that life will be miserable. I am hopeful like most Filipinos whenever a new year comes along. And I wish to extend that optimism as long as I can even though I know bad habits are hard to break – the collective bad habits that have kept Filipinos stuck in a darkish hole for some time. I can focus on what I can contribute to making a strong, productive and proud Philippines – and keep company with others who are determined to stay above the fray.
With President Duterte’s recent approval ratings at a high level, he has once again a rare opportunity to harness the high hopes of a people towards a brighter 2018. Of course, the President will need to unite a people that have been battered by acerbic partisanship for two years (since the 2016 campaign and elections). If the President himself succumbs to the temptation of being partisan, he will generate the intensification of his own opposition. With his popularity, he may realize that he can simply move forward and set aside the natural resistance of political opposition. As we need to focus on what we can contribute to building the nation, all the more the President has to.
As for the opposition, they, too, have their role to play. There are valid reasons to complain as much as there is great room for improvement. It is only right that there is opposition to the heavy toll on lives from the drug war. I believe that the President and the PNP realize that, no matter what the provocation, saving lives remains a noble task of government.
I pray that we succeed, that the nation succeeds, that we move closer to peace and prosperity in 2018.
Editorial cartoon, January 4, 2018