Do We Really Care About the Demise of Our Democracy?

Nicanor Perlas
06 May 2017

Recently, I received a flurry of text messages and calls from my friends. They were upset by the decision of the Congressional Commission on Appointments (CA) to reject Ms. Gina Lopez as Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources of the Philippine Government. Lopez is considered by tens of thousands to be one of the best public servants of the Duterte Administration.

Amidst all these, I had a stirring conversation with a colleague. He was a victim of “pay-off” democracy. His opponents had filed a bogus case against him. The case was full of lies, inaccuracies, and inconsistent facts. Yet my friend lost the case because his opponents had bribed the prosecutor, giving the latter millions of pesos to issue a verdict in favor of the opponents.

Shortly after this meeting, I received another text message from another good friend. The content of the message surprised me. This friend of mine was complaining about both the unjust decision of the CA against Lopez and the rotten justice system of the Philippines. On the latter, she should know. She recently suffered a reversal at the Court of Appeals in a case that she had already won hands down. Again, the cause of her defeat were large amounts of pay-off money for the judges.

Finally, not being able to contain herself, she wrote me: “What is happening to us? What is happening to our democracy? Her message captured not only her anger but also the frustration of millions of Filipinos and other citizens of good will around the world. How can we truly have a democracy that works?

Pressed for time, I sent her a short response. I wrote: “What we need is a cultural revolution. The heart of the revolution is the revolution of the heart.” I was hoping she would understand what I meant.

But she did not reply. I thought that maybe she found my answer too soft, too irrelevant compared with the need for quick and decisive action that would dramatically and almost magically bring real justice to the country.

I have been involved with social change efforts for decades. And I have been exposed to both social change theory and practice for all these years.

Many, like me, have come to realize that dealing with symptoms will not result in long term change. The CA decision above and the “pay-off justice” above are symptoms of a much deeper problem ailing Philippine society.

So more and more, there is clamor for structural changes because our problems are systemic, structural and interconnected. Yet even structural approaches have their own weaknesses. Changing the structures will not necessarily result in the needed changes in society.

There is a very interesting book already published in the 1980s. It is called After the Revolution. It analyzed dozens of examples of revolutions that toppled existing governments. These were nationalist, anti-imperialist, and communist revolutions. Yet none of these revolutions were successful in installing the kind of changes they wanted to see in society. Worse, some of these revolutions actually made it worse for their societies.

Both the superficial and structural approaches to social change missed out on something crucial. They never addressed the harder challenge of how to bring about a change of consciousness in society itself. This was the missing dimension in all these attempts to create a better society.

We all remember the late Philippine President, Manuel Quezon. He boasted. He would rather have a government run like hell by Filipinos than have a government run like heaven by Americans.

Well I guess we all know what happened. Quezon was right. We have had and have governments run like hell by Filipinos. And the end of hell is nowhere in sight!

The more sophisticated version of this statement comes from Einstein. This great scientist said: We cannot solve problems using the very same consciousness that created the problems.

In short, our level of consciousness, worldviews and values governs our behavior. And our behavior, in turn, governs how we behave inside systems. We can change structures, including systems of governance, and we will still get hell if people running these structures and systems still carry with them the same old, dysfunctional consciousness that breeds corruption, nepotism, egotism, and other negative traits.

This is not to say that dealing with structures is not important. But we have to remember that structures are made up of people. And it is people whose consciousness we are concerned about.

Both are important. Societal change always starts with a change in an individual. But appropriate structures are important to ensure these changes in individuals have a context that reinforces the change process.

This is where the Lemniscate Process is important. The inner change begins when we do care about what is happening to our world, our community. These concerns trigger an inner journey that yearns to seek what it would take to have a new self and a new society.

This transformation starts with the single person. Then it spreads like a contagion to another person. And before we know it, especially aided by social media, it spreads to hundreds. A new culture is born. A cultural revolution is in the horizon. We move from heart to heart. Thus: the heart of the revolution is the revolution of the heart.

However, there is an important element that cannot be forgotten in this change process. This inner and cultural revolution takes time. It is no easy to change decades of habitual behavior in an individual. And it would be even be harder to do this in society at large.

But it is possible. It has been done. But we need a very strong motivational force in ourselves than is beyond our own self-interest. We have a much more powerful and all-encompassing Self within our day-to-day self. We have to learn to access the sources of the Eternal within ourselves. Only when we do this can we persevere. Only when we do this can we wait out the long time periods necessary for a real cultural revolution to happen.

Yes, we have to change how we change the world. And it will not be a quick fix. It requires focus, determination, and savvy. Then and only then we will have the world that we have all been longing for. Then and only then we can we have a truly functional democracy that can create a structure that would enable us all to truly realize our highest human possibilities.

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