Thursday, February 03, 2011

Heidi Mendoza: writing about something I have nothing much to say about

I would like to write something about all the "revelations" about corruption in -- shockers! -- the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The trouble is, it's just too much trouble. In the constant din of digital chatter in "social media" and hearsay reports flying from one broadsheet to another in mainstream media, it gets difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. In our usual form, we've all but turned this into another Shawarma topic.
In the same way that we have doomed Filipino business sense to muddle along in small-time mediocrity, we now oversee the slow but steady degeneration of the national debate ironically as we celebrate an unprecedented increase in public participation using the latest Web applications. While an increase in participation is welcome and supposedly "keeps everyone honest", more content does not necessarily mean deeper knowledge or better quality insight.

Real insight comes from an ability to see patterns and relationships among bits of disparate pieces of information.

Contrast that with the way the output of traditional media tends to cluster around a narrow band of shawarma topics -- the latest tongue-wagging events (and the morons behind them) reported to the smallest value-crushing triviality.

The venerable thinker Nassim Taleb makes an interesting assertion: that regularly reading a newspaper (or any source of current events) follows the law of diminishing returns. With every detailed update and bulletin you take in from such sources, you actually gain less additional information for your trouble. Indeed, with the explosion of on-line content on people and events, the average schmoe now spends more time scouring a multitude of references to get the "full picture". Yet the rate at which an avid follower of current events actually adds to his knowledge and understanding becomes smaller and smaller as ever more trivial chunks relative to the base he is adding to is soaked up. The tragedy here is that people who are imprisoned in this race to keep "up-to-date" on what they think are the "issues" increasingly miss out on opportunities to gain real groundbreaking insight.

There's just too much detail, too many people involved, and too many trails to follow. For every new factoid thrown out for the chattering classes to feed upon, ten new plots emerge. For every new plot, additional noise is added to the din.

Perhaps this is the reason why these sorts of things tend to coalesce around a person and his or her sordid story. Today, former state auditor Heidi Mendoza is that person. She is the icon of this latest of national "scandals" -- the person being fashioned into a modern-day Joan of Arc by the collective voice of a people always on the look out for the next "hero" to gallop in from the horizon.

Last time it was Jun Lozada and his entourage of nuns. Another time it was Jessica Alfaro, star witness extraordinaire.

Perhaps this need for a central character around whom noise barrages are organised and upon whom the burden of celebrity is foisted upon by a population of starstruck ignoramuses, helps simplify the vast complex of dysfunction that Filipinos had progressively amassed and subject themselves to over the last half-century of "independence".

I can't really be bothered to follow the daily minutiae of detail proliferating in monstrous numbers as to ultimately devalue themselves. I rely instead on Heidi Mendoza to make the issue simple. For the majority of Filipinos too lazy-minded to come to real terms with the immensity of corruption in the Philippine military Heidi Mendoza is a symbol of a nebulous "solution" in the same way Noynoy Aquino was a similarly nebulous solution to the perceived immensity of Arroyo-era corruption.

With solutions that everyone tacitly agrees is nebulous in nature, there is no need to understand the detail of how it is to be implemented.

2 comments:

  1. This is one topic that doesn't interest me in the slightest; the media and the 'watchdog culture' already cried wolf too many times as of six or seven scandals ago. Corruption in the AFP? Wow, what a revelation. Yawn.

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  2. Trial-by-media seems to be only as far as these cases ever go in the Philippines. As you can see though, they provide good entertainment for the small-minded. :-D

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