Never have I started and discarded so many Facebook posts until this election.
I started to write a post titled, “Am I answering the right question?” It would’ve been about Daniel Kahneman and how he explained the way we make decisions: our fast-thinking System 1 and slower System 2. I wanted to write about the dangers of substitution, which is how we often come up with intuitive answers to complicated questions. Substitution is what deludes us into thinking we’ve answered our target question, for example: “Does Candidate A’s platform, track record and character match what I value in a leader?” by instead replacing it with an easier question (often without noticing), such as: “How much anger do I feel when I think of Manila’s awful traffic jams?” or “How do I feel about City X?” or “Does this man/woman look or sound like he/she can get things done?” or “How do I feel about Candidate B’s dad?” It was going to be a post asking us to pause. Reflect on whether we were really answering our target question.
I started to write a post on how rating agencies — S&P, Moody’s, Fitch — viewed the elections. The Philippines is currently investment-grade. (Why should I care what we’re rated, you ask. It matters because, among other things, how we’re rated will impact how much the government pays when it borrows from abroad — much-needed loans and investments to pay for bridges, roads, power plants, etc.1) I had seen some posts on my Facebook feed (enthusiastically ‘shared’ by a few friends) alleging that it wouldn’t matter who won the elections — the country was on a growth spurt anyway. Well, not quite. S&P, for example, say our rating was based on “the new administration after the May 2016 elections having a strong mandate to continue to pursue orthodox fiscal, economic, and development policies”2. Moody’s echo this: “It remains to be seen whether the next administration will preserve or extend the improvements in this area seen under Mr. Aquino’s stewardship”2. Fitch ditto: “Deterioration in governance standards and/or reversal in reforms implemented under the Aquino administration could be credit negative”2. Again, pause. Have we thought about each candidate’s economic platform? Does it stand up to the task? Do they even have one?
I started to write about Indonesian President Joko Widodo, the ex-governor of Jakarta and ex-mayor of Solo, and the folly of assumptions. Being a good president is not quite the same as being a good local government official. It will be tougher by far. What sort of assumptions are we making in choosing Candidate Y? Are our assumptions reasonable? What logical leaps are we making here?
I started to write a post about red herrings. From annoying yet harmless memes, deliberately misleading endorsements that could’ve been easily fact-checked, statements/opinions from parties who clearly have conflicts of interest, to the more pernicious ones — for example recent articles/posts/comments that frame one’s choice of candidate as class warfare, a choice dictated by whether you were a “have” or “have-not”. Not only is this notion completely beside the point, it also has the effect of encouraging divisiveness among us voters — an unnecessary distraction when the people we should be roasting at this time should be the candidates themselves.
I started to write about something that we in finance call “deal creep”. Deal creep goes something like this: Boss Z orders you to get her a coffee from downstairs. Sure; you were on your way to the coffee shop anyway. The next day, she tells you to get her her usual latte and to mail some letters for her at the post office. You do it, because you’re nice. Before you realize it, you’re picking up Boss Z’s laundry at Greenbelt, calling yaya to remind her to pick up the kids and doing Boss Z’s taxes. Ta-daa…deal creep. I was going to make an analogy between deal creep and the compromise of one’s core values. The erosion is barely noticeable, at first. Insidious. Easily justified away. Pause — let’s ask ourselves: what are we giving up and at what cost?
I wanted to write about another word that was being bandied about a lot these days: empathy. Call me cynical, but are any of us seriously thinking that any of these candidates know exactly how you or I feel? To paraphrase something I came across long ago: only in math does A equal A, my friend. In my opinion — no, there is no empathy to be found here. Not in high-ranking politicians, anyway.
I started to write all these things — and posted none of them.
It wouldn’t matter, I said to myself, because of the backfire effect: which is “when your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger”3. I told myself I’d only risk the wrath of friends, family, strangers. I reasoned that people’s minds were already made up.
But what really stopped me from posting all these thoughts as soon as they cropped up was this: emotion. It was the intensity with which my friends and family posted about their candidates, shared news articles or reacted to the debates. It was the anger I felt bursting through the screen as I scanned a comment on a friend’s post with 140+ replies (and going strong).
My posts would’ve achieved nothing in the deluge of such anger and impatience — anger from the sticky commute with barely serviceable trains and hours-long traffic jams; anger at almost daily muggings in taxis and buses and from passing motorcycles; anger from politicians’ grubby fingers in the public pot and even grubbier faces grinning at you over every potholed sidewalk; anger at the daily slog where nothing seems to have changed except taxes are now higher. My Facebook friends and their friends are rightfully angry. They want to be heard. They people want something in their lives to change and they want it ASAP.
So I kept quiet.
But here I am, finally, wearily, writing. I just had to let it out somewhere. I have no expectations. I’m prepared to be dismissed.
At this point I can only hope that, after all is said and done, we Filipinos do not get the short end of the stick, with a pitiful “But you promised…?” being all we’ll have left after this cycle of too-high expectations and inevitable disappointment.
1 If you’re nitpicking you might call me out and say “Hey, our banks are mainly deposit funded anyway!” That’s true. But credit ratings signal other things, like how attractive the Philippines is to invest in.
2 I’m not even sure if I can quote directly from rating reports — no copyright infringement is intended. The underlying Philippine sovereign reports are: S&P Research Update 21st April 2016; Moody’s Credit Opinion 23rd December 2015; Fitch Ratings 8th April 2016.
3 ‘You Are Not So Smart’ by David McRaney. A sobering read for all you overconfident motherf*ckers out there. https://youarenotsosmart.com/the-book/