Monday, October 8, 2007

Cultural Transformation, Political Democracy and Human Development

Monday, October 8, 2007
Ming-Chang Tsai (2002), examining the influence of political democracy on human development, asserts that.

Increased inclusion of the masses in politics exposes the relative social disadvantages of poor groups. Eckstein (1984) maintained that the potential benefits from increasing access to schooling, job markets, and political participation are likely to be impeded because both the material constraints and a submissive authority culture of the lower class sustained their subordination vis-à-vis the affluent class.

The above argument implies that cultural transformation is necessary in order to achieve human development through political democracy. For the full attainment of human development, how, then, is cultural transformation along with the adoption of values consistent with and supportive of democratic politics possible?

The political participation of the masses may be restrained due to their poverty and their “submissive” tendency towards the affluent class. Material constraints and the subordination of the poor by the affluent impede them from benefiting from the advantages of democratization such as improved access to education, health and employment opportunities.

The stressful situation and frustrated outcomes for the inclusion of the general population, mentioned by Ming-Chan Tsai (2002) using the argument of Eckstein (1984), do occur across nations. For instance, a “submissive authority culture” permeates Philippine society. David Wurfel (1998) points out that the largest portion of the Filipino population has a “subject” rather than a “participant” orientation towards politics and society. While there is some level of political awareness, there is also widespread acceptance and passivity among Filipinos, thus viewing themselves as powerless subjects “whose lives are directed by political processes above them.” (Jackson 1997: 125)

An article written by Randolf David (2002), entitled “The Powerless Public” addresses the “submissive authority culture” of the poor vis-à-vis the rich in the Philippines. He discussed how those “who have money, power and technology go about their daily business, completely unmindful of the effects they create on the life circumstances of others” (p. 145) while the poor who are adversely affected resort to private coping mechanisms which do not address the real problems of living in an increasingly complex society. (p. 146)

A powerless public cannot be the wellspring of meaningful political participation. Unaccustomed to and hardly capable of addressing public issues, the masses are not likely to treat any democratic exercise – elections for instance – as opportunities for discerning and advancing public good. Besides, “having a democratic constitution and a complete set of democratic institutions is not the same thing as having a functioning democracy” (Camposano 1995: 2) that builds an enabling environment for human development. Our country may possess the formal institutions of democracy but we have yet to acquire the values and dispositions that are necessary to make political democracy work. A way for democracy to work towards human development is through good governance and building a civic culture through the accumulation of social capital – learning to trust and cooperate, active collaboration with others based on the recognition of common interests and collective instead of individual benefits, implementing effective poverty alleviation programs that empower the poor and having a strong civil society that facilitate social interaction and active participation in the economic, social and political affairs of the country.


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