Column: Acts of conscience and Facebook memes

Published on February 17, 2009

The last column was about probabilities: Which, of the many members of the so-called Moist-Eye Club, have a realistic chance of winning the presidency in 2010? My reading of certain pre-election surveys by the poll group Social Weather Stations may be wrong, but I think (naturally enough) that it makes practical sense.

Assuming that popular will is respected, only six politicians have a real shot at winning the big prize 15 months from now — Vice President Noli de Castro and five incumbent senators: Loren Legarda, Manny Villar, Chiz Escudero, Ping Lacson and Mar Roxas. Assuming further that the global financial crisis will have fully sunk its fangs into the Philippine economy by the last quarter of the year, that list should narrow to maybe three aspirants by the time certificates of candidacy are filed in December. (We can make other assumptions, but the idea that the field will narrow to maybe three strong candidates still sounds reasonable to me.)

But readers have asked the inevitable question: Shouldn’t we vote according to our conscience, not according to what the surveys say?

Yes, we should. At the same time, we should have what we can call a realistic sense of consequence. I was one of the two million who voted for Jovito Salonga in 1992; I hoped until the last moment for a miracle to propel the three-time Senate topnotcher to the presidency. I had no doubt, however, and despite the late surge in Danding Cojuangco’s candidacy, that the contest was between Fidel Ramos and Miriam Santiago.

The conscience question can also be understood as a rephrasing of the bandwagon issue. Don’t surveys influence voters (create a bandwagon, in other words)? The reputable survey organizations have answered this question often and well (but like the issue of sample size, it refuses to go away — a victim of politicized discourse). In the main, scientific surveys don’t create a bandwagon; if they did, then they wouldn’t be accurate. They would fail the test that elections provide.

Some voters might define a conscience vote as one that reflects a voter’s view about the best candidate for the position, regardless of “winnability.” Others, those whose consciences have been deformed by corruption or by the debilitating habit of always looking out for the main chance, might consider that a vote for the most “winnable” candidate, regardless of platform or character, is the truest act of conscience.

I would like to suggest that politically active citizens define a conscience vote in 2010 as a balanced choice: a balance between track record and political promise, between leadership qualities and the ability to win elections.

* * *

It seems the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration has not yet given up hope that, somehow, by some legislative or judicial miracle, former press secretary Jess Dureza’s prayer will be answered and President Arroyo will continue to serve beyond 2010. This lack of focus on the elections, this bias for postponement rather than victory, carries enormous risks for the President.

Despite all this talk about a merger of the Lakas-CMD and Kampi parties, the administration continues to act as though its salvation lay in Charter change. An example:

At the start of the year, the biggest political issue was the “Alabang Boys” scandal and the growing crisis in illegal drugs. Part of President Arroyo’s characteristically hands-on response was to name herself the field marshal in the war on drugs. It was a flamboyant gesture — and politically wasteful; she could have named the Vice President, the member of the administration with the best chance of winning the 2010 elections. Or she could have named others with presidential ambitions — to test them, to allow them to cut a higher profile. That she did not do so argues that she is, at best, ambivalent about the elections.

If she reads the political situation today as honestly as she did in that Rizal Day speech of 2002, she will see that the 2010 vote cannot but be a referendum on her, and that every candidate (even De Castro or whoever she will anoint) will in fact or in effect run against her. She will be George W. Bush — a Coalition-of-the-Willing kind of karmic justice.

* * *

The buzz-iest Facebook meme of the last few months is “25 random things,” which creeps up on unsuspecting friends and invites them to an orgy of over-sharing. At least that’s what I thought, until I started reading my friends’ notes.

A meme is a newfangled noun, forged out of “mimesis” and “eme” in what was apparently a Silicon-Valley smithy. The impressively updated Merriam-Webster online dictionary dates it from 1976 and defines it as “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.” The “25 random things” about one’s self, a popular request that jumps from victim to victim like a happy virus, is one such meme.

It can be ill-used. “This bloodletting must stop!” a poet’s joke-y comment on a friend’s wall read. He was playing a riff on the tendency of some to share “too much information” — as an ABC News report phrased it. But I suppose depending on the kind of friends you have, and their writing skills, and their sense of restraint and taste for revelation, the meme can become a window for the wonder-wounded. (Ah, Shakespeare.)

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve read prose-poems and Pascalian pensees, insights from the Commonwealth of Australia and the Republic of Bacolod, odes to hula hoops and near-perfection. What’s not to like?

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