Elections and mean-spiritedness go hand-in-hand. This past election was no exception. However, as John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory predicts, give a normal person anonymity and an audience, they will tend to act like fuckwads. This fuckwadery, the technical term for such behavior, was greatly amplified this year by the massive echo chamber provided by social media.
Nancy Binay was undeniably this election cycle’s online punching bag, but the subtext was always that poor people, who are painted as gullible and simple-minded enough to vote for any inexperienced dope with a recognizable name, would carry her all the way into the Senate. So, as the early election returns predicted a strong finish for Ms. Binay, social media unsurprisingly turned into an it’s-the-poor’s-fault blame game.
Of course, such a view is shallow and lacking in the complexity necessary to sift through the dynamics behind any electoral outcome. Sure enough, level heads would come to point this out. However, some critics of the blame-the-poor narrative just as easily fell into the other extreme, which is similarly (if not equally) vapid.
Many, such as the Christian Union for Socialist and Democratic Advancement (CRUSADA) criticized the “bobo voter” as a “myth.” They seem to have taken it, though, that when people say “bobo (or rather ignorant) voters,” they actually meant poor voters. I do not deny at all that this is probably what people mean when they sneer at Nancy Binay’s top 5 finish. However, denying at all that ignorant voters exist is an empty view that panders to middle-class guilt more than it offers a thoughtful rebuttal to the cynics and the disillusioned.
It has almost become heresy to offer the view that human beings can differ in intellect or understanding. Such a view invariably elicits being called, “elitist.” And when one is called “elitist,” the discussion ends. Elitists can’t possibly offer anything worth listening to. But all the trouble actually stems from a fatal assumption that both sides of the argument fall prey to, which is the belief that “ignorant” can only describe the poor. So, if you call someone ignorant, you are calling someone out for being poor. This is not the case at all.
It is true that the poor are disenfranchised and are disproportionately deprived of information that is necessary for a reasoned decision. This is an institutional problem that must be corrected. However, this does not imply that the poor are incapable of reasoned decision, it simply means that they are forced to unfairly work harder than richer people (as in all other things). Access to information is a class issue; ignorance is not. It is often the case that people who have the privilege of access to limitless information simply reject it on principle, because of dogma, superstition, and blind allegiance to authority.
A couple of years ago, the well-heeled Ayala Alabang Village’s local government unit came out with a draconian ordinance that required prescriptions for contraceptives as innocuous as condoms. The ordinance was, unsurprisingly, spearheaded by the ultraconservative Catholic residents of the affluent village. Several copycat ordinances also came out around the country.
This election year, the village’s Parish of St. James came out to endorse the theocratic Ang Kapatiran Party, along with other staunchly anti-choice candidates. Now, given the vast evidence supporting the effectiveness of proper sex education and accessibility to contraceptives in curbing abortions and generally promoting economic freedom for women, I would unequivocally call anti-choice views ignorant and wrong. I also view the desire to keep LGBT as second class citizens as ignorant and wrong. And having residents of a powerful wealthy village to espouse and promote such views goes to show that wealth does not imply enlightenment, neither does ignorance imply poverty.
Real and objective consequences
CRUSADA describes the path to truths as “asymptotic”—a view that I deeply share. I don’t think anyone, no matter the degree of effort, will ever have perfect and certain knowledge. However, an asymptotic path implies that some real value that exists is being approached. It is not an anything goes kind of relativist pluralism. It is not a denial of the existence of objective truths. There are right answers and wrong answers. There are answers that are closer to the truth than others (hence “asymptotic”). To know whether our ideas are sound, we test our ideas using the tools of reason and evidence to cut away inaccuracies, fabrications, and illusions in our thinking. These tests favor no social classes.
We can, in principle (if not in practice), compare the social consequences of views, such as homophobia and social liberalism, using metrics that are empirical and science-based. (If you doubt that there are objective differences between the two and that neither view is more worthy of our time, I invite you to live in Sudan.) Those who claim that such objective views of ethics are “absurd” have no intellectual basis to denounce violence, injustice, and oppression.
There are better ways and worse ways to vote, because some ways of voting will lead to more suffering than other ways. Does this imply that there is only one way to vote, one perfect ballot? Not in the least. There could be many, but equally optimal configurations of a ballot. They may be fundamentally different in composition, but they can lead to outcomes that similarly increase well-being in a society. We don’t usually get much in terms of choice during elections, but even if the best options available aren’t very desirable, there is still a difference between the best options and the worst. Having a plurality of acceptable answers does not mean that all answers are acceptable. Let us disabuse ourselves of the cowardly instinct of respecting ideas for the sake of respect. Let us see ourselves as beings capable of critical thinking, accepting and rejecting ideas based on reason and evidence.
We can all share the goal of desiring a functioning society that benefits the people. And I do believe that people who voted for Nancy Binay or JC de los Reyes share this goal, though I strongly disagree with their ideas on how to reach this common goal. That’s what it means to be a democracy: we can disagree about how to reach our goal, but we do our best to work together to build a nation.
But, if we are to take a real step toward a flourishing nation, we must first admit that some people, regardless of class, have ideas that fail the test of reason and evidence. We have to reject the more pernicious myth: the anti-intellectual myth that anyone’s ignorance is just as good as anyone else’s knowledge.