In full contact Filipino martial arts (FMA), overcoming your opponent in the ring is only part of what needs to go in your favor to win a match; you also have to win over the judges, who do their best to score the fight objectively, but also look for other things.
FMA judges also look for four items: good offense, good defense, ring generalship, and respect for the art. When applied to the world of electoral politics, these criteria for judging full-contact FMA show us dimensions of political combat that could help us, as voters, more easily extract meaning from complex, confusing, and deceitful political campaigns.
In this second installment of four, I unpack one potential use in electoral politics of the FMA value of ‘good defense’.
On good defense: FMA judges look for defensive skill, i.e., blocking, evasive footwork, disarms, bobbing and weaving, which together compose a defensive outlook that is uncommon in an average fighter. More often than not, defense is not prioritized in training by most fighters. And even if it were, the adrenalin rush of a full-contact match eschews defensive fighting as both the biology and psychology of survival kick in. A fighter who is viewed favorably is one who knows and demonstrates smart, responsive defense.
Just as ‘good offense’ indicates discipline, so, too, does ‘good defense’; in addition, and perhaps more relevant to the discussion below, this FMA value of ‘good defense’ also indicates restraint and sound judgment.
Applying ‘good defense’ on voting. As voters, this discussion helps remind us that we have the wherewithal–the means–to filter campaign information. Sound judgment, a key aspect of ‘good defense’, is an inherent human capacity. From both the perspective of biological and cognitive development, sound judgment emerges in all of us; biologically, we gain the capacity for judgment as the prefrontal cortex fully develops in our twenties, and cognitively, we gradually but surely learn to think in more sophisticated ways as we age, from simple logic to abstract thinking. Sound judgment is innate in all of us.
To remind us of our capacity for sound judgment seems needless if it were not for our tendency to take shortcuts when making decisions. I teach foundation courses in human behavior and the social environment (HBSE) theory to first-year graduate students and every semester it never fails to amaze me how many ask me to explain how to critically think.
Critical-thinking is a vital ingredient to sound judgment because it is through it that we extract original thought, that we integrate information in our environment creatively and analytically, in order to make sense of our world and specific matters requiring our attention and decision.
Why so many of us fail at critical-thinking could be partially explained by our tendency to overestimate how much we know of some thing. Called the “illusion of explanatory depth” this tendency is what allows us to make knee-jerk responses to things that normally would require a deeper, more reflective process, like choosing a leader, or voting ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ on a ballot initiative.
We assume we understand, when we really do not. We convince ourselves that we have deep understanding, when we really only have a grasp of a surface-level understanding.
Just like an FMA fighter should train defensive fighting, so should we also exercise critical-thinking as we vote. We cannot simply consume campaign information handed to us for it is manufactured to shape our thoughts. We must metabolize it, analyze it, and reach a level of understanding that is beyond the surface.
Sound judgment is something we may take for granted, something we may assume we regularly already do, but ask yourself if you can successfully explain with adequate depth of thought the reasons why you are voting for your candidate, and what you will surely find out is that you do not really understand the issues as well as you thought you do, and that you need to process things more fully.