Monday, February 26, 2007

Kabataan Party: A Critique of Revolutionary Discourse

The formula for revolution is frighteningly simple: tell the people what they want to hear. The slogan of the Kabataan Party is lifted off the banner of the League of Filipino Students: “Nationalist, Scientific, Mass-Oriented Education”. With ideals like that, they pretty much cover the values of the entire bloc of Filipino youth. Activist, student, and downtrodden—everyone gets a mention. Combine this with their list of demands for subsidized public education, and the whole idea can be very seductive to a young mind. Blanket statements like “Who among you here wants Gloria to remain in power?” and “Dapat tayo magkaisa para sa bayan,” forward a mindset of non-thinking. They make some rather grand assumptions that, in the discourse of the revolutionary, are not to be scrutinised: The Administration is evil; the people are oppressed; the solution is a system overhaul. These are not ideas to be examined or critiqued if they truly reflect the realities of Filipino society. Instead it is a discourse that treats everything as in terms of a binary conflict: us versus them, opposition against administration, people against the government, the oppressed against the oppressor. This sort of portrayal is easy to understand, and it is easy to communicate. But is it really the sort of discourse that will lead to real solutions for our country?

There are some serious contradictions that exist within the discourse of the revolutionary youth. The first is the idea of equality and freedom. Basic political analysis shows us that the values of equality and freedom are essentially at odds with each other. A people who are all equal are not free to be better than others. A people who are all free will not be equal, because some will possess more opportunities, better skills or just plain dumb luck. In espousing freedom and equality, one must ask the question of which is to be valued more than the other.

Another contradiction is the discourse of the reversal of power-relations. The revolutionary wants to replace the elitist power institutions of the status quo with power institutions that will be truly representative and mass-oriented. But this misses the point of simply replacing one power institution with another: the society is still divided between the institutions and the mass.

Lastly, let’s go after the specific contradictions that arise in the list of values of nationalism, science, and mass-oriented policy. Again, at face value, these are very convincing; these values are what the people (you and me) want to hear. Unfortunately, there are basic contradictions that arise from the combination of these values: what may be scientific may not necessarily be mass-oriented. For example, the protection of fishing areas to maintain sustainable levels of fish populations will necessarily mean that local fishers will have to go further (spending more money for gas) to reach viable fishing sites. Nationalism can also be in contradiction with science, which recognizes the benefit of humanity as a whole, rather than the petty lines of geopolitical borders.

At the end of the day, we don’t find anything wrong with a desire for change, with a desire for improvement. In fact, the need for a positive change is crucial to our survival as a nation. But what we need is more than just the blanket rhetoric of ideological discourse. What we need is a focus on finding carefully thought-through, stringently scrutinised and intelligently critiqued solutions.


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