Key to social change: Enlightenment of the Elite

26 April 2003

On the outset, changing a society of 80 million largely impoverished, under-educated, and ignorant souls seems like a staggering if not impossible task. But history has proven that impoverished and illiterate societies can indeed develop into prosperous, vibrant, and sensible ones.

The recent children of European civilisation -- Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States are examples of this. All of them have not more than 200-400 year-old modern histories, and all of them were, up until the late 19th Century impoverished and illiterate societies. Their humble beginnings do not reflect the runaway successes that they are today. While, with the exception of the United States, these countries may not be the financially wealthiest, they are all tops in terms of human development.

The key lies in a society's Elite -- the citizens that disproportionately control a society's economic wealth, political power, and philosophical influence. While relatively small in number, their power to set the course of a nation's history is such that any effort to "tip over" (Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point, Little Brown & Company; February 2000) a nation's development course into the right groove would do well to focus on changing the mindsets of these people.

The word mindset is key. Many have dismissed Get Real! as a repository of ideas accessible only to the "wired" Elite, which, in the case of the total number of Filipino souls, is infinitessimal. But the concept summarised above and detailed below may address this gap. It is a radical challenge to the existing paradigm that social change is best sown at the grassroots.

The following is a list of Eight Points in Enlightening the Elite by Orion PErez Dumdum.

1. There are no and there never will be perfectly egalitarian societies. All societies will always have Elites

"Elites", in this case does not necessarily refer only to the well-heeled, well-dressed, and perfumed socio-economic Elites. It refers also to the intellectual Elites or "intelligentsia", political Elites, and other groups of people who wield some form of power or influence among other people. They can be student leaders, labor leaders, baranggay captains, parish priests, etc. They may not always be "rich" or materially well-off, but because other people look up to them, they are, by default, Elites.

2. Elites will always be the source of widespread change in society, good or bad.

The masses instinctively take their cues from the Elite or members of the Elite. In fact, historically, the leaders of mass movements have often been members of the Elite themselves.

3. A significant majority of the Elites of a given society must be enlightened and capable of critical reasoning for that Elite to espouse effective positive change in society.

If among the Elites, only a very small minority achieve a high level of enlightenment and ability to think things in a critically rational way, whilst the majority of the Elites are unenlightened or pseudo-enlightened, then the Elites will end up divided and will not be able to agree on proper policy. More importantly, the viewpoint of the truly enlightened Elites ends up muted (due to their limited numbers amidst a vast sea of ignorance) and their proposed course of action, neglected. Discussions, arguments, and debates on policy thus become a matter of sophistry (trying to "APPEAR CORRECT" through the use of rhetorical techniques) rather than genuinely weighing pros and cons and studying the feasibility of the stated options through logic and inquisitive reasoning.

Point number 2 talks about the fact that Elites are the key to widespread change in society, be it good or bad. Point number 3 states that the difference between good change and bad change for society is determined by the presence or absence of enlightenment and rationalism among the majority of the Elites.

Enlightenment, more importantly, is all about the continuous search for a high-level of knowledge, a high-degree of common-sense intelligence, and the continuous use of logic and reason in order to tie common-sense and vast amounts of knowledge together in order to come up with a fairly accurate understanding of various relevant phenomena and formulate suitable courses of action in order to solve problems that may be perceived. It is not considered enlightenment if after achieving a high-level of knowledge in one or more fields, a person decides that he/she has reached the end point of knowledge and thus refuses to learn anything new and no longer considers it necessary to update his/her knowledge in the fields in which he/she has achieved a degree of expertise.

Enlightened people will always seek to provide well thought-out and highly informed opinions, rather than opinions that are purely based on sentiment, emotional attachment, or other flimsy or arbitrarily concocted reasons.

4. Bigger potential dangers are likely to arise from the pseudo-enlightened or "half-enlightened" Elites.

Such Elites think they are "enlightened", but unfortunately, they aren't. Examples of such people are religious fanatics, die-hard proponents of Communism, other forms of Marxism, and Extremist Nationalism, Nazism, among others -- adherents to ideologies rather than common sense.

They are often of the impression that they are "enlightened" often because they believe that society needs to be improved, as most enlightened thinkers in the past had often advocated improved social and economic conditions for society. They are also likely to think of themselves as being "enlightened" if the point of view and/or course of action they advocate is unconventional, controversial, revolutionary, and not necessarily popular, due to the fact that historically, many important figures of the Enlightenment espoused unconventional, controversial, and unpopular views. Without them knowing it, they forget that while the views espoused by thinkers of the Enlightenment were often unconventional and/or unpopular, the real essence of the Enlightenment is in the use of independent reasoning coupled with the comprehensive collection of knowledge that is relevant to understanding and solving a variety of issues. Whether one espouses views which are unconventional, controversial, or unpopular, is not what truly matters. What matters is whether the views one espouses make sense and are grounded in reality.

But because Elites of society who are pseudo-enlightened have effectively deluded themselves to think that they are "enlightened", they will think that "they already have all the answers", and will often oppose the aims, views, and actions of the truly enlightened members of society. If the truly enlightened are too few in number, they will effectively be overwhelmed by the more numerous pseudo-enlightened ones.

Another example is the half-enlightened status of the Catholic Church in the Philippines. Any policy presented that goes counter to any of the tenets of the Roman Catholic Church is always in danger of being anathemized by the "Philippine Inquisition." The enlightened ones who bravely propose such measures often risk political alienation and social exclusion, which is tantamount to ?excommunication.? In this case, a solution to a problem cannot be easily pursued because one unenlightened sector of the Elite has decided to block the moves of the enlightened sector.

Furthermore, we have another example: Joma Sison & Luis Jalandoni, for instance, are both members of the materially-endowed, landowning Elite. Indeed, while they are members of the Elite, and perhaps even the "intelligentsia", that did not necessarily mean that they were truly enlightened. They are, unfortunately, prime examples of pseudo-enlightened members of the intelligentsia. On the other hand, many of their lieutenants in the communist movement are members of the "new Elite" who may have come from humble beginnings. Their lack of full enlightenment, largely a result of the Philippine school system's lack of emphasis on critical reasoning, resulted in their unquestioning and extremist zeal in espousing an intolerant and absolutist ideology. Despite evidence that exposes the poor results that their ideology's economic system has delivered in other countries that actually tried it, their lack of true enlightenment prevents them from critically analyzing this fundamental disconnect between their ideology's utopian promise as expressed on paper, on the one hand, and its disappointing performance in real-life, on the other. Truly enlightened individuals must always remain cold, detached, and skeptical about ideologies and fanaticisms, and should rather prefer pragmatism and the constant analysis and verification of actual data through the use of proper logic and critical reasoning.

Had Joma Sison, Luis Jalandoni, and their lieutenants been truly enlightened (and therefore, truly rational), they would have abandoned their lost cause long ago, as soon as it was obvious that the ideology they espoused could not deliver the material progress and human development that it promised. A more enlightened example of a Communist leader, at least in the economic aspect, would be the late Deng Xiaoping, as it was he who decided to shift China from a centrally-planned economy to a market-driven and capitalistic one, after noting that centralized economic planning could never react fast enough to the challenges that famines and food shortages posed. China today, though nominally Communist, is fast becoming a capitalistic economic powerhouse, and the benefits that an improved capitalist economy can provide to the masses are substantially superior to the ones previously provided under a centrally-planned economic set-up. Following China?s example, officially ?Communist? Vietnam has also gone on a 180 degree shift in economic policy towards market-oriented capitalism.

It is suprising that, while in the early 1900's, such an ideology might have been an untested yet apparently promising one that is perhaps, worthy of experimentation, it is difficult to imagine why, despite the wealth of evidence of economic collapse that such an experimental ideology brought about to several formerly Communist countries, some Filipinos as late as the 1990's, were still advocating a system that had already been exposed and proven to be a failure. Obviously, these people were just not enlightened enough to use their faculties of logical and critical reasoning. They were, perhaps, partially-enlightened to the point of realizing that society needed to be improved, but were not truly enlightened enough to logically and rationally verify whether the promises made by the ideology they had chanced upon made real sense in the real-world, given the findings and newer realities of the 1990's and beyond.

Most pseudo-enlightened intellectuals often require that their followers take their information from the same source, interpret it in the same way, and believe in the same things. There is an element of imposing a common subjectivity on the whole group, just so that the entire group can be united and unanimous. Strict adherence to the "orthodox view" is necessary, lest a purge be done to rid the group of deviant "heretics."

True rationalists and enlightened people, on the other hand, given the same amount of knowledge and evidence, are often likely to reach the same conclusion, even when working independently of each other. They may sometimes differ on a few specifics, usually because one party knows a little tidbit of information that the other doesn't know yet, but once that bit of information reaches the other one, and he verifies it to be true, he then makes adjustments, and revises his view. The end result is that their conclusions end up the same or highly similar, despite having been independent of each other. Because of the adherence to true objectivity, there is no need to coerce each other to subscribe to the same view. The empirical evidence as processed through proper use of logic and reasoning often speaks for itself.

Pseudo-enlightened intellectuals and their followers can be somewhat described as subscribing to a form of Messianism, where they believe that the author of an ideology is a kind of Messiah and his ideology and writings, his "Holy Scriptures." Far from merely taking the author's "advice" with a grain of salt, pseudo-enlightened intellectuals and their followers unquestioningly swallow the author's entire work as "Gospel Truth" and often refuse to acknowledge overwhelming real-world evidence that refutes the basic tenets of their 'religion.'

5. Human history is full of case studies of Elite leadership in social change.

During the Age of Enlightenment in Western Europe, the masses (peasants/laborers) and the uneducated people were, in a way, just as ignorant as the masses (peasants/laborers) and the uneducated people of the Philippines are today. They were not enlightened as far as theories, science, etc, were concerned.

But what made Western Europe of the 1700's and beyond different from the Philippines today is that, whereas in both cases, the masses were largely ignorant, in Europe, a large number of the Elites (nobles, intelligentsia, mercantile class, emerging bourgeoisie, etc) were busy reading up on Science, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Rousseau, etc, and beefing up on their practice of logic and rationalism, while in the Philippines today, only a small minority among the "Elite" are truly enlightened and rationalist. There are, in fact, much more people among the Elite who are unenlightened and half-enlightened. The unenlightened ones are busy fitting spoilers on their daddies' cars, going to bars/discos, partying, while the pseudo-enlightened ones chant repetitive mantras in street rallies, get indoctrinated in extremist cadres, and some even join armed movements. These are all members of the Elite, yet they are not enlightened. (Yes, even student leaders in leftist groups are members of the Elite. They are relatively better off than the rest of the masses. Labor & Union leaders are Elites because of the influence they wield.)

Western Europe of the 1700's was becoming "considerably enlightened," despite the numerous members of the masses who were ignorant, because "Enlightenment" merely suggested that at least a majority of the Elite be enlightened.

Therefore, Enlightenment may not necessarily require mass enlightenment, but may just mean that at the least, a significant majority of the Elites be enlightened.

A quick look at (PEx) or a few other Philippine discussion forums on the internet reveals the problem -- and let's not deny it; PEx and the other Filipino forums represents members of the Philippine Elite; people who can afford computers and internet time; people who were blessed enough to go to "decent-enough" schools and thus find work in companies that were modern and fiscally healthy enough to provide them with internet access.

Yet the quality of logical ability and critical thinking found there is dismal. While there are a few highly intelligent and rational members who post logically presented insightful messages, there is often a larger number of members who are often unable to appreciate the insights posted, usually because on the surface, they have a knee-jerk reaction to some of the insights. Often, they disagree without even properly reading through or digesting the data that is presented by the member they disagree with. And rather than aiming to understand things fully and get to the "bottom of things" in a logical and rational way, using sophistry and the quest to "appear correct" is how these members use "logic."

A large number of people care more about people's credentials rather than the logical merits of a case. People resort to various forms of argumenta ad hominem in order to retort or refute logically-presented arguments. They'd resort to fervent beliefs in ideology or religion, rather than properly thinking things through in a critical fashion to get their answers and justify their stand on certain causes. The usual result is that these people say "It is correct because I say so! I say so, because I have a PhD in this-and-that..." as opposed to saying "Based on the evidence presented and the analysis that went into it, these are my findings..."

Until the vast majority of the Philippine Elite are capable of discussing issues rationally in a calm, cold, detached, critically objective, and scientific manner, as opposed to discussions based on fervently-held fanatical beliefs and religio-ideological convictions, the Elite will be considered far from being enlightened. If the majority of the Elite is far from being enlightened, then the future of the society it heads cannot be said to be headed in a positive direction.

6. Whereas it is next to impossible, given the enormity of the task, to effectively enlighten the masses, it should at least be possible to Enlighten the Elites.

Resources are scarce, not over-abundant. While it would be ideal to educate and enlighten the masses, we know that given the dearth of resources and the fact that extremely good (enlightened & rationalist) teachers are not easy to come by, the first step should be to first concentrate the effort of enlightenment and teaching the values of Rationalism on the relatively small Elite sector of society that has the power and influence to fan out this enlightenment to the rest of society.

Enlighten the Elites first, then once a majority of the Elites are enlightened, the policies these enlightened Elites will pursue within society will likewise be enlightened. When the policies the Elites pursue are "enlightened", they will naturally seek to enlighten the Masses and seek to uplift them. Put another way, if you enlighten all the Elites then these Elites, being enlightened, will seek to enlighten the masses. From there, we must realize that not all of the masses will be enlightened...

However, there will be among the children of the masses, people who are ideal candidates for enlightenment. These are children of the masses who are identified to be more intelligent, more achievement-oriented, more driven, and clearly more influential, than their peers. These new entrants to the enlightened Elite will further swell the ranks of the enlightened Elite and will work more towards the further upliftment of the rest of society, especially the masses. A highly infinitessimal enlightened Elite will definitely not have the manpower available to painstakingly educate and enlighten the masses. Worse, the pseudo-enlightened Elites will seek to negate the effort expended by the enlightened Elites.

If only the Elites could all (or at least majority) be truly and "fully" enlightened, then at least these Elites can be united in the quest to educate and enlighten the masses. Thus, this spells the importance of first enlightening all (or at least most) members of the Elite.

7. The Enlightenment of the Elites must be thorough and not half-baked.

This is a corollary to point number 4, since as mentioned, the worst enemies of the enlightened Elite are not the unenlightened Elite nor even the unenlightened masses, but rather, the pseudo-enlightened (or ?half-enlightened?) sector of the Elite. Being Elites, they too will have some measure of power and influence. Being partially-enlightened, they'll think they know the answers on what needs to be done. Being partially-unenlightened, they'll pursue the wrong aims, use the wrong means, and cause more damage instead of fixing things.

When the level of enlightenment among the Elites is uneven, and a huge sector is only partially enlightened, you end up with a divided Elite. Partial enlightenment often leads people to seek answers from ideologies rather than through critical rationalism. When this happens, those who flirt with ideologies will end up becoming pseudo-enlightened. This poses as a huge problem since it would certainly cause the dangers described in point number 4.

To reiterate what was mentioned in point number 3, having a divided Elite where the enlightened Elites form a small minority and the rest of the unenlightened and pseudo-enlightened Elite is factionalized into so many splinter-groups that are antagonistic to one another presents more problems than having a "rich-poor" or "Elite-masses" divide. A divided and highly factionalized Elite will constantly squabble amongst themselves and will, in the long run, spell out a directionless society that is in a constant state of "virtual civil war." This was partly the situation in former President Corazon Aquino's "rainbow coalition" in which various mutually-antagonistic pseudo-enlightened factions of the Elite (yes, even the leaders of the Left are part of the Elite) were all brought together into one government. The result was the lack of direction, stagnation, and hence, the lack of progress.

Whereas in point number 6, it is possible for members of the masses to become new entrants into the intellectual Elite, in the Philippines, a number of them were not truly enlightened. Instead, they took shortcuts to become pseudo-enlightened members of the intelligentsia, and committed themselves to influential & somewhat "convincing" pseudo-enlightened members of the material Elite who espoused extremist ideals and became demagogues. As opposed to the thoroughly rational and scientific method of continuously gaining new knowledge, scrutinizing such knowledge, and using precise sequential logic to derive conclusions and/or courses of action, their preferred short-cut was to base their thinking on the ideologies of authors who came before them. If, for example, Karl Marx thought he had all the answers to social problems, wrote in an apparently "authoritative manner" on it, and his teachings gave an emotional "feel-good" high to its readers, these readers decided to take it as the absolute Truth and decided to commit themselves to it as if it were a religion. None of them thought of using their faculties of critical reasoning in order to rationally verify whether the ideas actually made any true practical sense in the real world. (See Point Number 4, referring to Joma Sison / Luis Jalandoni)

It is sad that highly intelligent people can sometimes be unenlightened or pseudo-enlightened. As mentioned, the biggest danger comes from intelligent people who are pseudo-enlightened. Thus, there is a real need to ensure that half-baked and pseudo-enlightened intellectuals are not bred by society. Always remember that Nazism, Religious Fundamentalism, Communism, and other extremist movements were often authored and implemented by brilliant but half-baked and pseudo-enlightened intellectuals.

8. Entry to the Elite must not be closed to aspirants.

Upward mobility and accepting qualified entrants into the Elite is of utmost importance. In many developed societies, many members of the "Elite" did not necessarily descend from members of a hereditary Elite. Many had humble parental origins. The key, in improving society, is in allowing the Elite group to expand and continually grow. The development of society, particularly the history of the First World, is founded on allowing the Elite group to grow and expand by creating opportunities for members of the masses to improve themselves and become new members of the Elite. The expansion and creation of a strong and large middle class is precisely what this is all about. Without this, the ideals of true representative Democracy will never come into fruition in the Philippines.

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