Thursday, July 6, 2017

The plight of Manny Pacquiao proves that Philippine political chatter lacks integrity

Philippine political discourse is too noisy. This seems to be the reason why confusion and lack of perspective reigns amongst the Philippines’ chattering classes. Hardly anything gets clarified, no problems get framed properly and, as a result, all the wrong arguments win. There is a concept in communications engineering called signal-to-noise ratio. In the age of digital communications (where signals are crystal clear), the Philippine National “Debate” is like those old eight-track magnetic tape cartridges where analog signals are stored. As magnetic tape ages, the sound stored in it loses its crispness and becomes increasingly muffled. Its signal degrades to noise which is that hissing sound that grows louder with time in tape recordings.
The thing with analog recording (as what magnetic tape does) is that amplifying the signal merely amplifies the noise along with it. This is because every individual analog recording is unique to its physical recording medium. Take, the Stones’ song “Satisfaction”. Every individual vinyl record and tape recording of “Satisfaction” is a unique pattern — basically the sound of the instruments and Mick Jagger’s voice along with the randomly added — and lost — sounds resulting from the inevitable random accumulation of scratches and irregularities in the vinyl grooves into which they are etched or the effects of small changes in the magnetic properties of ferrite particles embedded in the plastic tape where it is stored. In analog recordings, once the original signal degrades as a result of changes in the physical properties of its medium, there is no way to recover that loss.
In digital recording, the signal is stored in the form of discrete data points — on and off states or “bits” that then gets fed into a computer, say a CD or DVD player, to decode and turn into sound. Rather than detected directly off physical recording media, the signals is generated algorithmically from recorded data that is streamed into the device. As such, digital recordings of “Satisfaction” stored in any individual medium (such as a CD or DVD) are perfectly identical to one another. The signal’s integrity is perfectly preserved.
This is why the political discourse in the Philippines — which behaves like an analog magnetic tape recording — lacks integrity. The message is dependent on the properties of its storage and transmission medium. For example, how one responds to messages about Manny Pacquiao depends on who or what is transmitting that message. The audience responds differently depending on whether the messenger is Jim Paredes, Senator JV Ejercito, Rappler, or even us humble writers at Get Real Post. Never mind that the underlying principles relevant to the message are identical. To the average participant in the political “debate”, the message is the messenger and the messenger is the message.
The integrity of political messages in the Philippines routinely gets muddled in the morass of personalities that repeat and transmit it. This is because Filipinos, as an audience, fail to anchor their efforts to comprehend and evaluate these messages on a stable platform of principles. Instead of using those principles as stable context to evaluate messages, Filipinos depend on the messengers’ theatrics and, as a result, get their comprehension faculties inundated with noise.
In the the Pacquiao example, there is a small handful of encompassing first principles that feed into any discussion about him. In fact, not only are they just principles, some can even stand as factual on their own merit:
(1) Pacquiao is a a popular boxer.
(2) Congress is where laws are crafted.
(3) Voters elected Pacquiao to Congress because they idolise him as a boxer.
(4) Pacquiao’s current performance as a legislator is substandard.
Think of every discussion about Manny Pacquiao in the context of his involvement in Philippine politics and they will all be reducible to the above four items. This is true regardless of who is discussing or what their agenda is. These principles remain stable and relevant regardless.
This is a simple but powerful example of how noise which, needless to say, is an unnecessary waste product of messaging and signal transmission processes can seriously degrade the quality of the debate. In this example, the principles are stable and indisputable. Viewed in this light, the “Manny Pacquiao issue” is, by all intents and purposes, an absolute non-issue. And yet, the Pacquiao topic utterly dominates the chatter today. That’s just a whole lotta noise. To restore integrity to the debate, one only needs to refer back to these first principles to get a bit of clarity.

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