The difference between ‘transition’ and ‘change’

As a student of the social sciences, I’ve come to the categorical conclusion that our country is in a state of transition. However as a teacher, my advocacy can get pretty complex. We may be in transition, but we are still a society in need of change.

It’s too easy to agree that we are in transition by simply looking at our society in technical terms. We are ushering modernity in our politics, economics and social values but change — any change — is never easy. It is often most difficult on those who have a lot to lose and thus, modernity challenges traditional forms of power that rely on patronage and arbitrariness to become professional and accountable.

In his column today, Randy David posits that the testimony of Jun Lozada and the swan song of Jose de Venecia on the night he was ousted were both indicative of this transition. However, it is a transition that may not necessarily lead to good things. To wit,

The old values that used to mitigate the oppressiveness of feudal power — self-restraint, the value of friendship, loyalty, word of honor, etc. — are fading away. What is replacing the grip of old-world politics, however, is not the ethical professionalism of modern politics but the sheer rapaciousness of the parvenus of present-day Philippine politics. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s presidency is emblematic of this kind of transitional politics, still traditional and oppressive in every way but shorn of any redeeming qualities. No qualms, no shame, no conscience, no limit.

Transition can and should lead to good things of course. In The Spirit of Democracy, Larry Diamond emphasized that these transitions should allow for the rise of democratic values (justice, trust, accountability, transparency, choice, etc.) and the corresponding institutions to make these possible.

In an earlier column entitled Civic duty and national renewal, Randy David outlines three ways for this to happen.

  • The first is to seek to understand the demands of a modern society and to participate responsibly in its collective life.
  • The second is to help lessen the suffering of others in our midst.
  • And the third is to make accountable those who make decisions in our name.

He challenges us to take up our civic duty by getting educated, immersed and involved.

To be able to watch ourselves collectively as a nation — that is the mark of a modern society. But to be able to revise our notions of who we are and what we can be — that is the quality of a great people.

This is the primary difference between transition and change. The former is something we surrender to; the latter is something we make possible. It’s almost like fate and destiny, and change, like destiny, requires action. It is unfortunate that the cold world of the academia can breed apathy inasmuch as it raises awareness. A lot of the wealthy and educated classes find comfort waiting for the changes they are sure will come. However, the reality always is that there are those who aren’t willing to wait.

So which side of history will you be on?


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