I think everyone will agree that the social media environment has become toxic as far as political discourse is concerned.
Many have given up, avoiding politics altogether. Those brave enough to articulate their opinions run the risk of getting trolled and threatened with violence. People want to share their sentiments – but there is no safe space for them to do so.
In light of the divisive, fractured nature of social media today, how can we move the political discourse forward? How can we move towards an issues-based conversation?
These questions are of particular importance today when people are divided between those who support President Duterte and those that are critical of him.
If we think of “polarization” as a spatial metaphor, then we should imagine people being forced to the opposite ends of the earth – the North and the South Poles – and then fighting, thinking that they are too far away to understand one another. Which is sad because most of us actually live closer to the equator of ideas, and being critical and supportive can actually co-exist. By being forced to the fringes, however, our hearts can only grow cold.
First of all, we need to stop the name-calling; the ad hominem attacks must end.
We should, in the language of the peace talks, declare a “unilateral ceasefire.” Regardless of how strongly you feel about your opinions, dismissing a contrary point of view as “idiotic” is a non-starter, and will plunge us deeper into our divided state.
At the minimum, we need to try to understand where people’s views, no matter how irrational to us, are coming from. At best, we need to appreciate people’s efforts when they try to make a coherent case for what they believe in. Now more than ever, we need the spirit of Evelyn Hall, who once wrote: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Second, we need to stop generalizing people’s opinions – and avoid falling into the mental trap of false dichotomies.
J.R.R. Tolkien already provided a template when he, in the voice of Gandalf, told Frodo: “Not all those who wander are lost.” To which I may add: Not all who fight for human rights are pro-Aquino. Not all who support Duterte support Marcos. Not all who criticize Duterte’s war on drugs is a drug lord sympathizer. If only we are willing to endow complexity on people and their worldviews, that’s already a great leap forward.
Third, we must all show some respect for facts – whether or not they favor us.
If the crime rate is truly going down, then we must accept it (even as we may reject its value in making arguments for the war on drugs). But if there emerges evidence to the contrary, then we must also accept that.
Of course this is much easier said than done because our epistemology – our way of knowing the truth – rests on trust (i.e., Who or what do we believe in? Foreign magazines? National dailies? The state media? Anonymous blogs?).
But there are times when the evidence is overwhelming and we cannot turn a blind eye to it. Simply dismissing anything as “biased” without basis is a bias in itself, and we must ask ourselves how many articles we liked or shared not because of their merits but simply because they affirm what we believe in.
Fourth, we need to strive for common ground, not just for coming up with motherhood statements we can all say with pride (i.e., “I love the Philippines!”) but to push for shared positions on issues.
This is the most challenging, because, as the past elections have revealed, even our fundamental principles have diverged (or have always been divergent).
Some seem to subscribe to the idea that ends justify the means, while many still hold fast to the principle that there are absolute values that we cannot transgress. Many others fall somewhere in between, supportive of the need to take stronger measures in the war on drugs, but uncomfortable with the dismissal of people’s deaths as mere “collateral damage.”
But sometimes, our disagreements are largely semantic. The mere mention of “human rights” may anger some people who have been led to reject them, but these same people, surely, will not condone the killing of the innocent.
Alas, even words like “decency” are getting a bad reputation, but “respeto sa kapwa” (respect for others) and even the much-needed “awa” (compassion) may still resonate with a majority.
Finally we must have the humility to acknowledge that we could be wrong. How can we even debate when we’re not prepared to concede defeat? Pride in having staked our name on someone’s side should not make us stick to them when they’re clearly wrong, and neither should we be embarrassed to embrace the people we have attacked in the past when they are actually making sense.
Of course, this takes leadership, and President Duterte himself should lead the way by not being divisive and by being open to other perspectives. It also takes courage: Alas, trying to build bridges carries the risk of being hated by both sides, and of course, there will always be trolls that will try to undermine our efforts.
But what is the alternative? We can continue preaching to our own choirs, and mocking the others outside of our circles of like-minded peers, but to what end?
We have already failed when we think of each other as enemies. – Rappler.com
Gideon Lasco is a physician, medical anthropologist, and commentator on culture and current events. His essays have been published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Singapore Straits Times, Korea Herald, China Post, and the Jakarta Post.
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