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Political Adolescence

Politics are a collective endeavor. They always are. And believe it or not, most politics are not intended to be partisan – except in ideas and points of view. In that dimension, there is more competition than we realize because much of it is not emotional. The competition is more about which idea is better, which program is more effective, which policy is more sustainable.

Ideas, concepts, mechanisms, even policies, and laws are in another dimension and can be devoid of emotionalism – in theory, anyway. In reality, however, that level of objectivity that we ascribe to intellectual dynamics are often impossible outside of laboratories or libraries. The partisanship of ideas is very different from the partisanship of emotions. In the Philippines, politics are not only collective, but they are also dominated by emotions. And there lies all the drama.

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Human behavior experts from various fields of science, medicine, and spirituality all agree that those dominated by their emotions are considered immature. Immaturity is a stage we all go through. Unfortunately, many do not ever get beyond that state of being. Many do go through life all the way to old age without being able to manage their emotions. If the Philippines is a young nation, it may not only be chronologically but, more importantly, behaviorally as well. Adolescent behavior becomes most visible in politics because political dynamics are collective, and because politics trigger hyperactivity in all forms of media.

Adolescence is not evil. It is a natural stage of human development. But even if it is natural, it can be harmful or destructive. Adolescence is a necessary but delicate learning curve. Its many painful experiences provide us with many lessons and insights. However, lessons unlearned force us to keep repeating what may be painful over an infinite period. That is immaturity extended beyond its natural phase.

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Political adolescence is a learning curve, especially for a people so long trapped in colonial rule. It has been just over seventy years when our last colonial master, the United States, left us to govern ourselves. Understandably, having had no independence to self – govern for four centuries, our political immaturity was natural. At the same time, it has had many painful experiences, even painful periods hosting warlordism and military rule. We have been having our lessons but I’m not how well we have learned them. If we have not, it will simply translate to more painful experiences.

Partisanship is part and parcel of political adolescence. In fact, it may even be its central feature. Partisanship is a common expression of emotional politics. The more intense it is, the more blinded and confrontational are its players. Partisanship colors everything or discolors them. The more emotional is the less rational. Objectivity in Philippine politics is a myth, a mere play of words. And Filipinos by no way are not exclusively afflicted. Look at the turmoil around the world. Look at the wars. Look at the political instability. We do not have a franchise on partisanship. Unfortunately, the immaturity of other nations do not make ours less painful.

Behaviorally, too, immaturity is punctuated with a “me first” attitude, from infancy up to childhood. Adolescence is a critical transition period. The almost totally “me first” mindset begins to consider others as the value of peers increases at this stage. Yet, it is only a transition, not a transcendence. Even with adulthood, we struggle to tone down personal interests in favor of the collective or common good. Adolescents are way too unclear about that greater good that adult society keeps talking about. While there is a definite move towards “ours” (atin atin) from “mine” (akin akin), it is a small “ours”, the “ours” of a gang, a clique, a group, more than the big “ours” of community or nation.

We have just had our midterm elections. The winners have just been proclaimed, and I do not begrudge any one of them their glorious victory. Unless they did something against election laws. And only the guilty ones would know that because proving anything is never easy. It is not the winners I am talking about but the way we voters chose whom to vote for. Was it because we knew them personally? Was it because we knew what each was capable of contributing to the common good? Was it because one looked better than the other, or was more entertaining? Or was it because one was seen more often in television ads? How we processed our choices reflects our maturity or lack of it.

Political maturity, however, is a long and, sometimes, painful process. There will be quick and dramatic shortcuts in human development – the fundamental basis of political development. We can change forms of government, but any form will reflect still our political maturity or immaturity. As citizens, we can reflect on our own level of maturity by simple reviewing how we made our electoral choices. Those we elected will be representative of us. That is how it is in a representative democracy. If we did not know how to properly process voting preferences, those who govern us cannot be much better than our collective wisdom.

Life goes on. So will our politics. Winners today and losers tomorrow. Superstars today and forgotten tomorrow. Hopefully, powerful now and not prisoners tomorrow. Our historical political drama has been full of heroes and heels. The narrative of the Philippines is as colorful as the zarzuelas we love to watch on television. It will not change soon. There is much more drama up ahead, especially if I consider how rumors continue to fly abut President Duterte’s health. Any prolonged absence is sure to trigger speculations because he has a health issue that has never been cleared in the minds of the public. As political adolescents, we may regard Duterte’s life or death as more crucial than political institutions.

Elections are over. Let us revert back to what is basic – that we as citizens are the engine of our nation’s life, growth, progress.

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TAGS: adolescene, Elections, Glimpses, Jose Ma. Montelibano, life, nation, political, politics
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