In response to JoeAm's blog HDPR: The Enormous Challenge, Poverty
Joe, I was trying to come up with a Unified Field Theory on corruption and poverty but I soon realised I was waaay out of my depth. So instead of a “theory of everything” I have this Bits-and-Pieces Theory…
To begin at the beginning, you started your essay with the observation, “Poverty is the big challenge.” How big a challenge is it?
The quantification of poverty is not exact. The CIA’s “The World Factbook” pegs the population living below the poverty line in 2006 at 32.9%. For 2009, the presentation by the National Statistical Coordination Board has it at 37.3% using the old methodology and at 26.5% using the refined methodology. I am sceptical about changing metrics in midstream, thus I will take the average of 31.9%.
There can be no doubt about it. The problem of poverty is staggering: almost a full third of the population (of 94.8 million people) is mired in poverty. That is 30.2 million poor. That is greater than the Australian population of 22.9 million.
In comparison, for countries with similar populations, we have Vietnam (87.8 million) with a poverty rate of 14.5% (2010 est.); Ethiopia (84.3 million) at 38.9%; and Germany (81.8 million) at 15.5% (2010 est.). In perspective, we are better off than an African nation but much worse off than a neighbouring Asian nation and a European nation.
The President’s answers to both questions are crystal clear in his pithy campaign slogan, “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap”. Others see it differently. The Legislature, as this blog has pointed out, mostly ignores the question of corruption and sees poverty as a mainly economic issue; it has proposed the solution of charter change to stimulate the economy by increasing foreign participation and ownership. The Church appears to agree with the President's view that corruption is a prime cause of poverty but also cites unequal opportunities and distribution of wealth. It does not accept the widespread truism, however, that overpopulation is a contributing factor.
Still others offer other causes. To name some: greed, elitism, indolence, government system and mismanagement, misplaced priorities, political hyperactivity, unemployment, colonial mentality, OFW culture and the Pinoy mindset.
There is something to be said for each of these, but I think there is great truth in the President’s insight: Corruption is the killer.
To analyse the problem of corruption, to pinpoint its origins, I think it would be helpful to use Freud’s model of the human psyche comprised of the Id, the Ego and the Superego. Just a brief recap: The Id is the unconscious source of basic impulses and drives. The Superego is the moral component, of which Conscience is a part. And the Ego is the conscious Self, which balances the demands of the Id versus the overriding control of the Superego. I will use the term Conscience as a substitute for the Superego.
Certainly, there are other models that can be used. To examine poverty, for example, we could adopt (Douglas) Adam’s model of Galactic Civilisation which has three phases: Survival, Enquiry and Sophistication. The first phase is characterised by the question “How can we eat?”; the second by the question “Why do we eat?”; and the third by the question, “Where shall we have lunch?” In this paradigm, the poor are in the first phase; the bloggers and commentators belong to the second phase, some sipping tea; and the politicians, judges, clergy and oligarchs fall into the third phase.
Seriously, however, were I to encapsulate the Filipino psyche In Freudian terms, I would simply state it thus: the Filipino Id and Ego run rampant and ignore any input from the underdeveloped Superego.
Filipinos have hardly any recognised internal limits, only external ones. To illustrate:
- The Id says, “Let’s take a ride on the motorcycle.” The Superego whispers “Wear a helmet” (or is silent due to ignorance). But the Ego ignores the warning and immediately exclaims, “Okay, let’s go!"
- For the politician, the Id says, “Imagine what you can do with that money”. Again, the Superego faintly whispers, “But, sir, that money is not yours”. But the Ego suppresses the ethical reminder and exclaims, ”Awesome! I can buy that new car and make myquerida Maria happy!”
- For the priest, the Id says, "Hmm, what a pretty altar boy..." You get the point.
To a certain extent, the Freudian model can be compared to the three branches of government: Legislature (Id), Executive (Ego), and Judiciary (Superego). The analogy is not quite perfect.
- Both the Legislature and the Id are the sources of action: the Legislature in constructing laws, and the Id in driving desires.
- Both the Executive and the Ego are doers of the action: the Executive to execute the bills passed by the Legislature, and the Ego to satisfy the Id’s desires.
- Both the Judiciary and the Superego are controllers of the action. While the Judiciary applies the law retrospectively and prospectively, the Superego applies control prospectively but is able to review actions retrospectively. In this manner the Superego acts like a temporary restraining order, one that turns into a permanent restraining order when reason has judged the proposed action to be harmful or unethical.
The question then arises: How do we develop the Superego in the Filipino psyche so that corruption is eradicated? To answer this, we must first identify the forces that form the Superego.
I think the primary forces or agents that influence the Superego are (in descending order of importance):
These agents are all-important especially in the formative years of the child. All of these taken together comprise the cultural environment.
The order of importance is primarily based on the hours spent by the child with each agent. The child is exposed to parents 24 hours a day, to the Church one day a week, to the schools five days a week, to peers as long as school time and play time, and perhaps, the least to media. (At least until adolescence after which they spend all hours on the computer.) The Church, with fewer hours than School, has been positioned immediately after Parents because of the magnitude of influence they exert on the Superego.
Have we completely identified all the forces that influence the Superego?
I am not certain we have. There may be other factors to be considered, such as, for example, the geographical location of the country and its weather. There could be more.
- The Philippines is a disaster zone. The country lies on the very rim of the Ring of Fire and at the very front of the typhoon belt. Volcanic and climactic disasters have taken their toll and continue to do so. It can be posited that these disasters engender both an attitude of fatalism and an attitude of seasonal opportunism that is reflected in the idiomatic saying, “Make hay while the sun shines.” These attitudes, it can be argued, lead to the numbing of the Superego as evidenced by (Jose) Avelino’s famous 1949 quote “What are we in power for?” and (Renato) Corona’s infamous insight, six decades later, that there are “benefits in working for the government”. It cannot be gainsaid that the majority of politicians have taken Avelino's advice to heart, one grasping generation after another.
But we cannot move the Philippines to a better location (unless the tilting of the Earth’s axis is considered?), so we are forced to look for solutions within the perimeters of the five-sided polygon delimited by the primary agents. I do not intend, much less have the capacity, to give a comprehensive list of solutions to be associated with each agent. I will simply and briefly dwell on their relevance to this discussion. Some of the proposed solutions are sourced from this blog and its commentators.
Parents are the first to plant seeds in the Superego. They do this by setting limits to bad behaviour. When I was growing up, the rod was not spared, but this technique has become a contentious issue. Modern parenting is now on the side of eschewing this method, at least here in the Antipodes.
This blog has noted that a basic problem with parents is ignorance. It is not that they do not teach their children at all but rather that they teach wrong values only too well. As this blog has stated, “Kids watch what parents do.” And parents can be bad role models.
The solution is to teach the parents. But it is too late in the day to return them to school, so re-education must be done through other means.
- In the Human Development and Poverty Reduction (HDPR) Cabinet Cluster approach, the front-end agencies of the government in direct contact with the people must impart knowledge. In the RH Bill, for example, there is a provision that recognises the responsibility of the government and LGUs to provide reproductive health information.
- The commentator Jim-e has proposed the idea of public service announcements and educational campaigns that can be distributed through the mass media. These announcements and programs must be carefully crafted, must not be used for political advertising, and must select the best media to reach the widest audience. Some of the primary issues that can be addressed relate to basics such as sanitation and cleanliness - littering, spitting, and pissing in public; neighbourly conduct; observance of traffic laws; and sustainability.
- Parents must not only be taught survival values like wearing bicycle and motorcycle helmets; they must be taught moral values as well, like the pursuit of material wealth should never be made at the expense of another, especially those of children. The media reports that one of the latest hazing victims was enrolled in a reputable school, and had both parents working abroad. It is unconscionable that mothers, some trained as teachers, have to work as maids in foreign countries. For heaven’s sake, let us have some self-respect. And to think that our not-so-glorious ex-president had a program to create super-maids. It is enough to make one cry out in anger and in sorrow: “It is NOT just the economy, stupid!”
The Church is the second-most influential agent to the development of the Superego. I have positioned the influence of the Church ahead of school because religion provides the overarching world view (Weltanschauung) through the different stages of man's life, from birth, through marriage, to death. Moreover, on a yearly basis, religion supplies the peak experiences in the spiritual dimension of life on earth in the celebrations of Easter, Christmas, religious processions and fiestas (or Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha).
The main contribution of the Church to the Superego would be the internalisation of the Decalogue (or their equivalents in the Koran). Most of these teachings are universal in character, in particular the fifth to the tenth commandments, and can be made the basis of a secular code of ethics.
Sadly, the churches are no longer seen as part of the solution but as part of the problem itself. (As long as a century and a quarter ago, Rizal perceived this but it is only now that the reality of his perception is beginning to sink in.) The churches have not observed their own precepts, much less the constitutional doctrine of the separation of the Church and the State. The two dominant churches – the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) and the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) – have failed abjectly in their missions to act as promoters and guardians of morality and to encourage believers to hew a life in touch with the Divine. Indeed, both have been involved in unethical and undemocratic behaviour, and both are now seen to be major stumbling blocks to the Daan Matuwid.
It is interesting to note that the incidence of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church is not limited to Filipino priests. It is a world-wide phenomenon. One would suppose that the clergy, with their direct link to the Divine, would have superior Superegos. I note this in passing (a) to highlight the almost indomitable potency of the Id and Ego, and (b) to emphasise how much conditioning the Superego requires to be effective. The size and strength of the walls of Conscience must be more encompassing than the Great Wall of China, which was easily breached by going around it, and more like the dikes of the Netherlands.
Compared to the Church, schools have smaller rites of passage in graduation ceremonies from primary to tertiary levels in the preparation of young adults for careers, jobs and self-sufficiency.
This blog has touted the subjects of ethics and civics as mandatory. I would add a couple more:
- Reasoning. The Mind must be trained to think properly. This is crucial as the Filipino mentality is caught in superstition, just a little above the African mentality of magical thinking (witchcraft). This mentality is not limited to the countryside but prevails also in urban areas as evidenced by the recent brouhaha on the link between deity and disaster. The absurdity of a lady candidate for senator proposing that the rains-with-no-name is divine retribution for the pro-RH Bill stance shows how blind our leaders are. Google "list of thought processes" and Wikipedia enumerates more than a hundred processes worthy of study.
- Mindfulness. As the Mind is trained to think it also must be trained not to think too much. Google offers employees its "Search Inside Yourself (SIY) program. Mindfulness programs for children have been developed and are now in place. The theory is that training the mind to pay attention to the here and now is beneficial, and this has been proved scientifically and in practise. The method is to focus the Mind away from Time Past and Time Future into Time Present. It is the power of Now (Tolle).
Of the five agents, perhaps only schools can be claimed to have an unequivocal positive effect on Conscience. It is not surprising, therefore, that the HDPR cluster recognises education as the central tool for “investing in our people, reducing poverty and building national competitiveness”.
Learning, formal or otherwise, should not end after the schooling years. To this end, the national government and LGUs must provide for libraries at least in the urban areas. In the Australian city that I live in, population of 49,000, there are nine libraries. Apart from books, each library is stocked with periodicals, local and international magazines, audio books, eBooks, music CDs, movie DVDs, computers, comfortable furniture and – oh, yeah – free coffee. It hosts community events, craft (knitting, needlework) and writing lessons, specialised classes for kids and seniors, game clubs (e.g. Scrabble) and book clubs (e.g. Sci-Fi & Fantasy fans).
In the early years, children learn from their playmates, schoolmates and church mates. In later years, they learn from office mates, club-mates and bar-mates. The impact of peers on the Super-ego may be positive or negative, may strengthen or diminish Conscience.
For myself, it was negative, and on balance I can induce that this will be true for most of us. You learn to swear, smoke and drink from mates. The urge to experience life, to plumb the depths, is at its height in adolescence when a child has gained some independence and is venturing out into the world. Peer pressure at this stage may mislead to greater depths, such as experimentation in sex and drugs, and to misconduct and substance abuse.
One great danger to be wary of is social packs, whether they are gangs in da hood or fraternities and sororities in da college. These organisations use violence as a tool of membership and a tool against other organisations. The violence is not limited to the physical, and members often tend to adopt groupthink, sacrificing the integrity and judgement of the individual Super-ego.
Peer influence is often examined within the context of young lives. One wonders though how much peer pressure affects the actions of government employees, politicians and judges. The questionable decisions of the Supreme Court judges on Midnight Appointments and the Truth Commission, for example, reflect more herd thinking than individual judgement.
The media is all pervasive, from TV to computers to mobile phones, that indispensable modern device that is calendar, clock, camera, entertainment centre, web link, talking companion, and soon to be wallet. Media can influence the Superego for good or for evil.
- Television was and perhaps still is our largest window to the world. The child's exposure to TV begins at a very early age, mostly it is hoped in educational programs for children. But neglectful parents do not limit watching hours and the child can witness things - in entertainment shows, in movies and in the news - which he may not begin to understand. It can be argued that to reveal the world-as-it-is to a young mind is a good thing, but the idea is to buttress the dikes of Conscience, and exposing the young mind to too much dirty floodwater may be counterproductive.
- The windows offered by the technological revolution, in computers and mobile phones, is expanding at a great rate. It has been less than two decades since Google was created, but these devices have been used in aid of political revolutions, as in the Arab Spring, and in political evolutions, as in the Corona impeachment trial and now on the RH Bill. Blogs and social media have stirred and raised community awareness. Both (r)evolutionary and counter-(r)evolutionary sentiments have been voiced on the digital platform in both gutter and elegant language, but as C.K. Louis has observed, "All dialogue is positive".
In the above discussion, the role of government has been touched on at several points, and I am beginning to think that government can be considered to be the sixth primary agent. In educational campaigns, such as anti-littering, and in providing information on its services, such as health, the government can exert beneficial influence on the Superego.
Beyond the President’s campaign slogan, the causal link between corruption and poverty has not been clearly established. But the theory is simple enough to spell out: money not lost in corruption will remain in the government coffers and can be channelled to the poor, directly and indirectly. Directly by cash subsidies in several projects like the “Food for Work” and the “Rice for Work” incentives and the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program, which is the largest. And indirectly by additional funds for education, healthcare, childcare and job creation.
Given the above, it would be easy to agree with the President and conclude that eliminating corruption will also eliminate poverty. On reflection, this might be a vast simplification. It has been observed, for example, that poverty grows apace with the economy. This phenomenon may be explained by the probability that the number in hungry mouths grows in the same proportion as the economic rate, but we will leave that paradox for the economists to analyse. Poverty is not a single-solution puzzle. Yes, the elimination of corruption helps. Yes, cash subsidies and welfare incentives help. Yes, reducing ignorance helps. Yes, increasing the middle class helps. But there is not one silver bullet to kill poverty.
With respect to corruption, part of the answer may lie in the logic of the heart. The expectation of the government’s sincerity in uprooting corruption has, not so coincidentally, lifted the expectation of a better, if not prosperous, life. These rising expectations are clearly evidenced by the President’s approval rating in social surveys and in the volume of comments on the Web. What is not yet clear is the effect they have had on the poor, if any.
In Australia, it is estimated that one in 11 live below the poverty line; in comparison Switzerland, where no one is supposed to go hungry, has a rate of 6.9%. The numbers are not overwhelming, but the conclusion is inescapable: Poverty is, and remains, a First World problem as well. Why is this so?
In Australia, the poor live a life of relative gentility compared to the squatters on the riverside. Some have computers and almost all have mobile phones. The Aussie poor generally belong to two categories: the homeless and those on welfare benefits. The second category consists mainly of the disabled, the unemployed, single parents burdened with children, and bludgers. Important: while a portion of these people are true victims of misfortune, a significant portion can be said to be poor by choice. For one there are the professional bludgers. For another it is true that some single mothers birth more than a single child to gain government subsidy which increases with each newborn; and the subsidies remain in place until a child reaches his 18th birthday. One can imagine the results if this encouragement were available in the Philippines - Church or no Church. No, no, I would rather not. It boggles the mind and I, for one, do not want to imagine the nightmarish results.
Thus we arrive at a paradox: in spite of living in countries filled with opportunity and abundance, there are people who are poor in fact by choice. Why? I believe it is because they are poor in spirit.
This leads me to the conclusion that the issues of corruption and poverty are, in the main, issues of consciousness. The Filipino Ego is too strong and is deaf to the voice of Conscience that cries “Stop stealing!” and “Stop living like animals!” At the end of the day, corruption and poverty can only be diminished, not eliminated, by a rise in the individual and collective levels of awareness and in the ensuing realisation of the responsibility that comes with that rise. A good government, like the current administration, will attempt to do its part, but the individual citizen = as parent, student, worker, man of God, and poor soul - must do his as well.
The wisdom of Greece, the cradle of democracy, continues to shine: “God helps those who help themselves.”