This article was originally published with The Manila Times on February 7, 2019.
It’s election season again, a test on the collective wisdom of Philippine populace or the supremacy of national ignorance. Time and again, we have seen how the former trumps over reason, logic, and good judgement. Many politicians and businessmen take advantage of our nation’s cognitive deficiencies to the point they want our populace to remain as they are.
Take a look at these alarming signs:
The Filipino people are the third “most ignorant” regarding their nation’s key issues, according to The Perils of Perception 2017 study which surveyed citizens from 38 nations on diverse issues concerning their country such as murder and suicide rates, teenage pregnancy, health issues, religion, among others. Ignorance, the lack of knowledge or evidence, is a hindrance to critical thinking, which is the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue to form a judgment or conclusion. I’ve written many treatises about the decline of critical thinking among Filipinos due to the rote memorization pedagogy in the public school system.
Three in 5 Filipinos believe US will defend the Philippines in case of an invasion from another country, based on a Social Weather Station (SWS) survey conducted in 2018. What is alarming is that only 3 percent of those surveyed “strongly don’t believe” in this case, which means the rest are totally oblivious of the real issues.
A Kantar TNS research in 2017 shows that Filipinos are among the world’s most accepting and trusting of the content they see on social media. About six in every 10 connected Filipino consumers (59 percent) perceive the content they see on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter as reliable. Globally, only 35 percent trust the information they see on these channels.
National ignorance means a gullible populace. It’s aggravated by certain Filipino idiosyncrasies, to wit:
The Philippines ranked third among those most confident, according to The Perils of Perception 2017 study. This irony is explained by a behavioral anomaly called, Dunning–Kruger effect – the more ignorant a person is, the more confident he or she is. This is dangerous as confidence behind ignorance will deny the person to admit he or she knows less.
The Philippines ranked as the third happiest country in the world, according to the Gallup International 2017 Report. The top three factors that make Filipinos happy are family, health, and religion, based on a 2010 study of the National Statistical Coordination Board. Ignorance may lead to happiness, based on social science and psychological studies, hence the famous quote “Ignorance is bliss”. We always applaud the Filipino’s high level of happiness because it helps us adapt to hardships in life, but we may be wrongly celebrating this quality as it may be stemming from ignorance.
The Philippines again topped the list of countries that spend time using social media, with a Filipino spending an average of 4 hours and 12 minutes on social media every day, according to the 2019 Global Digital Report. But widespread use of social media and smartphones results in the decline of critical thinking skill, based on the study conducted by psychologist Patricia Greenfield of UCLA.
Poverty remains high in the country, which stood at 21.6 percent in 2015, and the pace of poverty reduction has been slow, despite the generally good economic performance, said the World Bank in its 2018 on poverty in the Philippines. There’s a link between poverty and a quantifiable depreciation in cognitive ability, according to a Princeton University study.
Now, combining ignorance, happiness, confidence, being emotional, rabid use of social media, and poverty is a deadly cocktail, resulting in shallowness and easy contentment; hence, many politicians and businessmen capitalize on these.
As an example, it’s common to see a politician, especially crooked ones, kneeling down in church and praying while all cameras are focused; Filipinos get positively affected by the sight of this religious gesture. Politicians also resort to dancing and singing in their campaigns to entertain the public. Many of them patronize the poor by supporting dole outs, birthday gifts, and other small amenities to appease them from their wretched poverty. Social media is flooded with false propaganda since Filipinos believe what they read anyway. These are all common moves in the Philippine political playbook – keep the constituents poor and ignorant, and entertain them to satisfy their shallowness and take advantage of their ignorance.
Another is how mindless comedy films get top revenues from the patronage of the unknowing masses. Movie and TV show producers resort to giving what Filipino consumers want for commercial viability’s sake, which further pushes them down the quicksand of ignorance.
Pandemic ignorance is the root cause of the seemingly perennial poor state of our country. The force to maintain, if not, make Filipinos more ignorant and poor is humongous. Only an incorruptible and visionary government leadership with the help of the private sector, can overhaul our educational system and advance Filipinos’ cognitive abilities.
But then again, our future leaders are voted by the same ignorant electorate. The current government needs to step up and change our course.
The author is President & CEO of Hungry Workhorse Consulting, a digital and culture transformation firm, and Co-Founder of Caucus Inc. He teaches strategic management in the MBA Program of De La Salle University. The author may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.