Stay close to the ground
Aware of distractions and forewarned of disruptions, the natural question is “What then?” I have frequently over the last two decades stated my conclusion that we are vulnerable, individually and collectively, to external forces and influences proportionate to our level of dependence. In other words, we are less vulnerable when we have a higher level of independence.
It is basically an individual journey and also a familial one. Parents and the older siblings must have an understanding and buy-in to the principles of developing the human capacity for productivity. Without developing human productivity, there will be only reliance on others and the environment but never independence.
The most primordial capacities of humans are to consume (as all other animals) and to produce (as only humans can). Development begins when the fully dependent infant is slowly introduced and trained to do some things on his or her own. Development matures when productivity far outpaces consumption. In other words, our humanity must transcend the more animalistic nature of consuming, then attain productivity and creativity.
Being primordial, though, does not relegate other human needs and capacities that also have to be recognized, appreciated, and developed. I do not believe, however, that we can focus less on transcending consumption and attaining productivity as our priority. Otherwise, less essential needs and desires will effectively be deadly distractions.
In a society that is more defined as poor and perennially in need of assistance rather than being self-reliant and productive, it is impossible to draw people to higher aspirations and visions. A poor society in a naturally rich country already implies at least two layers of citizens – the very rich and the many poor. The bigger the gap between the two means that economic and political power will lie in the hands of the very few, the elite.
There will always be an elite in any society, even in dictatorships. There are always the few at the top whose views, decisions, and programs will be followed. In democratic societies, the elite are a little bit more in number, from a fraction of 1 percent in totalitarian states to maybe 5 – 10 percent. For as long as the vast majority cannot transcend their poverty or lack of capacity, they will have little or no say at all.
On the other hand, even if an elite class is present in a thriving democracy, the majority are productive and cannot just be pushed around. The elite learn to adapt in order to stay ahead or above. Their dictation has to be more subtle. They also need to do a lot of marketing and convincing so that their ideas or products are accepted or bought by the majority.
At best, we are a colonial country in transition towards democracy. Our level of dependence was best exemplified in the first months of the pandemic and the imposed lockdown. In the first round of support funding (from the Bayanihan 1 fund), the government budgeted to provide food for 80% of Filipino families. Not all of the 80% were poor, but all, not just the poorest 30%, were suddenly dependent under an emergency situation.
In other words, our communities, poor and middle income, were simply inadequate to the challenge of harsh times. That was in 2020. Today, the pandemic is inflation. It has been high from the beginning of the new administration when its president could not believe inflation was at 6%. Well, since then, inflation has climbed nearly 45% to 8.7%, outpacing the economic growth rate.
The sad part is that the growth rate did not benefit much the 80%, only the upper 20%. But inflation, especially of food and fuel products, hurt the 80% the most and only a little the upper 20%. More than six months of a crunching inflation cannot extend itself more without fanning the fire of discontent. Only more subsidies can placate the hardest hit, which by now is the majority of Filipinos.
Those who suffer are those who are most dependent on external support, basically from the government. Only higher subsidies can be of substantial assistance to them, and the government may not be in any mood to do that except for political promises. The most dependent, then, must move with desperate urgency towards reducing their dependency. Outside of subsidies, there is only one other way – increased productivity.
Our focus must stay low, meaning on our needs for the basic essentials. We begin with food, and that may start with growing as much as we can from our own backyard. Productivity can begin with growing our capacity to grow our own food, as families or as small communities. Staying close to the ground means the least of distractions, especially the political kind.
Families and communities must again build or rebuild their relationships to a point that they can address together their basic needs. They may need to barter, they may need to collaborate in order to be more efficient in producing the most important goods and services critical to survival. The pandemic showed us that millions of our families and communities could not take care of themselves by themselves. Always, external lifelines were needed.
What is the difference between then and now? Society and the economy opened and have begun to move. That is the biggest difference. But crippling inflation rates have neutralized the positivity of a more open economy and economic growth rates that gave little to the majority of Filipinos. Meanwhile, big corporations and big businessmen are blessed with profits that seem incongruent with the economic hardship of the majority of Filipinos.
Inflation did not just suddenly go up, and it will not just suddenly go down. Even if it did, Filipinos who are vulnerable to the threat of hunger, homelessness, and scarcity of income must grow their capacity to help themselves. Those among us who have the heart and vision to lend them a caring heart and a helping hand are all they have. Let us not fail them.
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