The ‘lesser evil’ rip-off

The ‘lesser evil’ rip-off was first published by The Manila Times on 27 October 2022. – Admin

DURING political seasons such as what we are in now, we hear often enough about would-be voters rationalizing their choices as the “lesser evil.” While a lesser evil offers hope in which a nation may come out less scammed from a ripped-off situation, being responsible for that nation’s future suggests that choices must not be among candidates, but among possible approaches toward an overhaul of existing worn-out political systems.

The status quo is that we have political leaders who, although armed with a mandate to represent the people, often end up serving the interests of a few — such as those who funded their electoral campaigns.

The status quo is that we have voters who, instead of representing their entire communities and the incoming generations, end up voting for themselves. And to make this chore easy for themselves, they rationalize their choices as expressions of the democratic free will. They may also take offense when fellow voters try to educate them, saying they are entitled to their own opinion like anyone else. They fail to appreciate the democratic ideal, which aims to arrive at informed decisions that necessarily must go through a continuing process of learning.

There obviously is a need for a change in our political systems. It can start with voter education processes that must continue even outside of political seasons. We need an unlimited campaign period for better politics. And given that we saw how deficient our learning institutions and our supposed guardians of morality are in arresting a culture that tolerates — or even applauds — summary killings and corruption in government, we need people participation to step up.

In the context of how wanting the corrupt and deadly game of Philippine politics has been played for decades, it is time that “the enthusiasm of the young” must take over the “wisdom of the old.”

Ideas like citizenship development, people empowerment and participation are not new, but they need to be repeated, especially for the youth of this country, as often as necessary.

In Citizenship Development: The Role of the Family, the School, and the Community (1991), author Thomas Dynneson argues that inputs from molders of character are not enough to produce citizens that practice and promote the highest standards of social accountability. He underscored the key roles played by family and community in citizenship development that go far beyond classroom walls. Where social values are important, such as in the exercise of suffrage, promotion of ideal citizenship must therefore be a collective responsibility.

A voter education process that truly works must also need to be contextualized with understanding of how people participation evolves under changing social conditions. For example, in the youth participation model (also called youth-adult partnership) developed by Sherry Arnstein and Roger Hart, there is recognition of the different degrees to which youth can be involved or take over the responsibility, depending on the local situation, resources, needs and level of experience. Hart’s ladder of participation identifies eight levels of youth involvement:

Rung 8: Shared decision making

Projects or ideas are initiated by young people, who invite the adults to take part in the decision-making process as partners.

Rung 7: Young people-led and -initiated

Projects or ideas are initiated and directed by young people; the adults might be invited to provide necessary support, but a project can be carried out without their intervention.

Rung 6: Adult-initiated, shared decisions with young people

Projects are initiated by adults but young people are invited to share the decision-making power and responsibilities as equal partners.

Rung 5: Young people consulted and informed

Projects are initiated and run by adults, but young people provide advice and suggestions and are informed as to how these suggestions contribute to the final decisions or results.

Rung 4: Young people assigned but informed

Projects are initiated and run by adults; young people are invited to take some specific roles or tasks within the project, but they are aware of what influence they have in reality.

Participation means to be involved, to have tasks and to share and take over responsibility. It means to have access and to be included.

Rung 3: Tokenism

Young people are given some roles within projects but they have no real influence on any decisions. There is a false appearance created (on purpose or unintentionally) that young people participate, when in fact they do not have any choice about what is being done and how.

Rung 2: Decoration

Young people are needed in the project to represent youth as an underprivileged group. They have no meaningful role (except from being present) and, as with decorations, they are put in a visible position within a project or organization, so that they can be easy for outsiders to spot.

Rung 1: Manipulation

Young people are invited to take part in the project, but they have no real influence on decisions and the outcomes. In fact, their presence is used to achieve some other goals, such as winning local elections, creating a better picture of an institution or securing some extra funds from institutions supporting youth participation.

Arnstein’s model concludes that “the higher you are on the ladder, the more power you have in determining the outcome. The bottom two rungs — manipulation and therapy — are not participative and should be avoided. The next three up — informing, consultation and placation — are tokenistic; they allow citizens to have a voice and be heard, but their views may not be properly considered by those in power. The final three steps — partnership, delegated power and citizen control — constitute real citizen power and the fullest form of citizen participation.”

Citizens who accept a lesser-evil candidate put themselves in situations where they accept being manipulated. They are mere decorations in the political grand scheme of things. They bring to the system token inputs and help legitimize the political process.

The lesser evil rip-off - (Photo by
The lesser evil rip-off – (Photo by

In sum, lesser-evil voters carry out their citizenship duties indifferently at best, and slothfully at worst. They are not unlike a policeman who, in trying to perform his law-and-order duties, summarily murders suspects. Suffrage is not about a democratic expression of free will. It is about being accountable to fellow citizens, for their collective future as a nation.

If political leaders represent the sovereign people, voters represent not only their publics but also, in a profound manner, those who cannot vote — the young and those who are yet to be born. Voters are not voting only for their own interests. Therefore, they should look beyond choices that offer nothing more than the lesser evil.

Addressing the culture behind the vote is the first step. Re-structuring the entire system is next. Read my essays on the People’s Congress and see how our young voters can put themselves in a better position to take control of their collective future.


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