Upstairs and downstairs

FREEPIK

THE frontrunner in the surveys has already declared through his spokesperson that he will not participate in any debate. His reason? He has nothing to gain and everything to lose in a confrontational format. His survey ranking speaks for itself. Unity is what he espouses. And the enemy is not the field of rivals but poverty and joblessness. Okay.

This does not exempt his followers (at least those who openly come out for their choice without any embarrassment) from getting into squabbles with others on their different paths. The people downstairs are familiar with the talking points of their leader without having to contend with hostile moderators and TV cameras catching their facial spasms as they go through their arguments.

The opinions expressed are all too familiar: the nation will rise again and recapture the golden age of military rule, torture, and the suppression of the opposition; the sins of the father cannot be visited on the son, even if he gets to keep the wealth daddy left behind; it’s time to sing the old songs of the new society — they do have a certain martial beat that recalls marching boots; and ending divisiveness in society and introducing forgiveness and healing as evangelical rules to emulate. Can’t we forgive the sinner even if he is unrepentant?

While the leaders upstairs have their own prescribed formats for discussion and argument, their followers go about their discourse without any rules or publicity. How can we distinguish conversations from debates?

Conversations take place with people with common beliefs. They exchange posts and wear the same-colored shirts and face masks. But in a wider social setting, there are bound to be differences in opinion.

The topic of candidates in a political year is grist for conflict among the followers. Social discourse can be a dance with uncoordinated steps, moving without music. One is either right or wrong, for or against.

Carrying on a conversation with a debater can lead to emotional distress, even a headache. Talks about trolls warping surveys and the size of crowds in another proclamation rally will find no common ground for agreement. Facts can be twisted, and photographs faked to show crowds where there were none.

True believers are not swayed by arguments. They just raise their voices higher to make their point.

In an unsupervised social debate, each topic is challenged with a contrary point of view. There is no turn-taking. People just talk over one another, and the loudest voice prevails. There are no time limits and commercial breaks.

It is not enough to give up and simply stop the debate — okay, anyway I don’t care about who’s right or wrong. Let’s just stop talking. Let’s just wait until the counting is over, and there is no cheating again. We think the contest is over anyway and your candidate will not be attending the inauguration.

Conversation and debate use different kinds of thinking. Daniel Kahneman in his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, describes fast thinking as “system one” which is basically intuitive and requiring no analysis, like understanding which food tastes better without analyzing why. Reading a map or figuring out what stocks to buy based on financial ratios is “system two” thinking, rational, logical, and requiring methodical analysis. Thus, conversation, which is intuitive and easy-going, clashes with debating, which thinks up of arguments and logical thrusts.

Without the rules prescribed by formal debates, conversations can easily lead to conflict and an abandonment of civility. Even families can have their political differences.

Public debates among candidates upstairs may get a higher viewership than social discussions downstairs. Will the refusal to be interviewed, except by friendly quarters, affect the chances of a particularly shy candidate landing the CEO position he is aiming for? This strategy of being unavailable for questioning for a job opening seems ridiculous in the corporate setting, as is the possibility of one rejected for the COO position previously now angling for an even higher position this time around.

Debates can be exhausting. Sometimes it’s just time to sleep. Can we then hear in our heads some ominous news in foreign media on happenings in Asia? “On the 50th anniversary of martial law, the Philippines has just declared the winner of its recent election by the name of…” And then we wake up in a cold sweat.

Is it too late?

Tony Samson is chairman and CEO of TOUCH xda

ar.samson@yahoo.com

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