Winning hearts and minds

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

“Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”

Judge Louis D. Brandeis

Judge Louis D. Brandeis is attributed to have said the above. I am less interested in Judge Brandeis because what is said has obviously outlived him. He found a layman’s phrase to highlight as great truth – that sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants. Materially, it is true. Symbolically, sunlight meaning transparency, it is even truer.

Darkness has been equated to evil for a long, long time. It may have been ignorance and/or the loss of full options when darkness overtakes a situation or a territory. Worse if darkness dominates the mind and the emotions. The earliest belief systems were coping mechanisms to explain darkness or to exploit the fear in people caused by darkness. Man’s limited knowledge or man’s insatiable greed and lust for power created and perpetuated superstition as a tool for control.
In the history of societies millennia before modern times, might was right. Also, the light was power. These same principles hold true. It may be that man is now reluctant to jump into violence. The number of deaths from wars has decreased. In our minds, because of publicity, there may be more wars and killings now compared to before. That is statistically untrue but wars are now sensational where they used to be normal. We highlight the sensational and, as a result, we are programmed to think the violence now is much worse than before. In truth, we did not know nearly enough about what was happening elsewhere.

In the public sphere, public information is now a demand. It is from this demand that media freedom, freedom of information, are given value and big latitude by society. If before, in the eras and eons of centralized authority, obedience or compliance was the need. Those who refused to obey or comply would usually meet death. It mattered less whether one was informed or intelligent. That may have mattered in the rare exceptions but the greater number needed to obey or comply. That was their duty to authority.

In societies, however, that joined the grand experiment we call democracy as the choice of a political platform, the elite needed a productive citizenry. Productivity needed information and knowledge, and the elite had to share most of what they knew so the mass public could produce more. Knowledge is power, it has been said, and education is the main pathway to dismantling poverty. These have been like mantras to present-day societies.
There is great truth in these sayings. However, they are not the complete truth and may even distract believers into dangerously wrong assumptions. The reality remains that power (as in physical might) and wealth remain the main gods of humanity. All you have to do is observe life, how people live it, where they devote their time and attention, and who sets the guidelines and penalties. Yes, people now have more flexibility and choices in life – until they defy the wishes of the powerful and the wealthy.

The counterbalance to superior power and wealth is the collective power of the people, the mass majority. That great majority must not blindly follow, they must not be blind. That is why information and knowledge are made available through mass education and mass media. They will never know as much, and selective but strategic information will be withheld from them. But the level of darkness, the volume of secrets, and the propensity to use force to exact obedience or compliance have been substantially reduced.

Government or authorities have had to change tactics in the few hundred years, from superior might to superior knowledge and superior wealth. In other words, control had become more refined, but not less effective. But for humanity that once had little options, the grand new space that they are allowed to play in can be enough to keep them from demanding more. After all, the mass population knows that the authority and the elite have superior might and superior wealth, both combined being the ultimate assets that drive all nations where poverty is a major problem.
The cost of wanton physical destruction and loss of human lives reduce production and progress. The authority and the elite are not served so much by these harsher methods until they feel they have no other choice. Their first option, therefore, or the default policy, is to win the hearts and minds of their citizens or their followers. This preference for popularity and approval by the people has given the same people a greater value, enough for publicity to be an effective tool in influencing positive change. Beyond publicity and transparency for information, there is that desire to win hearts and minds.

When one has something of value, even if it just means one’s approval of a personality or program, this new value awarded by those who once did not care begins the irreversible journey towards building a greater value of oneself. If authority and the elite are not pushed to the wall, they will have to bend more and more to please the people, to extract that popularity and approval. In turn, having greater value as people and citizens empower. This has been our process since 1946, rudely interrupted by martial law, but on stream again from 1986.

Meanwhile, younger generations who have never tasted the limitations that were once normal, limitations imposed by authority and the elite, have been programmed since birth to taste their value, to exercise their freedom, and, in fact, lead society in the all-important world of technology. Filipinos in their 40s or younger are the greatest deterrent to authoritarian control, not they are defiant, but because they do not know submission. Authoritarianism will interpret their reluctance to comply as rebellion and will turn severe. Let us pray that this reversal of direction will never come to be.

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