Roy Tang

Programmer, engineer, scientist, critic, gamer, dreamer, and kid-at-heart.

Blog Notes Photos Links Archives About

I remember when playing the original version of Civilization back in the day, the “most advanced” form of government was Democracy, with the only downside of it being you can’t declare war (because you had a senate that would stop you.) The other available forms of government were typically not very useful, but Democracy massively increased your trade output, so most often I would build the Pyramids (a wonder which allowed switching to any government immediately and without penalty), and spend the rest of the game toggling between Democracy and Despotism (for when I wanted to go to war).

This made the game heavily slanted in favor of Western-style democracies, which was understandable for that time period. Around that era, the Soviet Union had just fallen, and the liberal democracy practiced by the United States, the one remaining superpower, became the shining example of a successful government that brought propserity to its citizens. I think that having grown up in this era and having been exposed to a lot of American culture (via TV and games and so forth) has led to my general bias in favor of liberal democracy and the values associated with it - freedom, equality, civil liberties, human rights, due process, checks and balances, separation of powers, and so on. (I cannot say the same is true for other people in my generation).

These days, the modern versions of Civilization have matured in terms of how they handle governments, recognizing that modern governments have different approaches that are not necessarily represented by “democracy”. Civ 6 presents three choices for modern governments: Democracy, Communism, and Fascism; Civ 5 lets you choose between ideologies: Freedom, Order, or Autocracy. Perhaps this is a reflection of modern geopolitics, where not only is the United States teetering on the brink of authoritarianism, despite being the lone superpower, but those daring to challenge its hegemony are leaning more towards authoritarian governments as well.

Aside from America’s traditional enemies like Russia and Iran, the starkest challenge comes from China, the juggernaut of Asia. Perhaps the ultimate counterexample to the idea that liberal democracy is the key to prosperity, China has been able to bring an economic boom to its citizens, leveraging the weight of a billion-person size market, all while retaining the trappings of power centralized in the state instead of the people. Censorship, propaganda, and adherence to the party are the norm, and those who dare speak out against the party are punished viciously.

I was thinking about all of this after a recent discussion with some Duterte supporters over at r/PH on reddit. The arguments in favor of the Duterte administration seem to stem around seeing him as a leader that “gets things done” (in quotes because I’m not sure quantifiably that he is getting things done more than other presidents), without regard for the damage to liberal values such as human rights, due process, checks and balances, and so on. Indeed even during the 2016 elections you could see some internet commentary stating that the problem with the country was that we had “too much freedom”, as if freedom were not an ideal to be aspired to.

In this light, the tendency of this admin to capitulate to China has an ideological angle as well, because China is the epitome of getting things done despite the cost to civil liberties, and of the state accumulating all power onto itself. It is disturbingly a trend not only in the Philippines, but even in a number of Western nations, where far-right parties with tendencies towards extreme nationalism and authoritarianism are gaining steam.

I’ve always been of the opinion that the world mostly exists in a state of trying to find balance; most trends wax and wane, trying to find the optimal equilibrium in which to settle. I worry that perhaps liberal democracy’s peak days have come and gone, and we are now on the brink on an era where authoritarianism gains ground. I had always hoped that our future was somehow leading to something like a Star Trek-like utopia, but there are plenty of other potential sci-fi future scenarios, not all of them pleasant. We can only hope that things get better before they get worse.

(I’m not a political science expert or anything, so probably I’m not exactly using some of these terms accurately, feel free to educate me in the comments if you like.)

See Also