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On Destiny

Destiny

“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.” 

– William Shakespeare

“Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.” 

— William Jennings Bryan

“Control your own destiny or someone else will.” 

— Jack Welch

The most fundamental interconnected questions of ontology are destiny-related: (1) Why am I here now? (2) What must I do? and (3) What can I hope for? In view of the issue of destiny, these questions trigger another set of questions as: (1) Is my being here now a matter of my destiny? (2) Are the acts that I did before as well as those that I do now and those that I will do in the future geared towards what I’ve been destined to achieve? and (3) Do I have the free-will to figure out, plan and design what I hope to happen to me within the time of my life here on earth or an unseen supernatural power has already planned everything for me and hence precludes any of my effort to change my pre-arranged destiny?

It’s not only an ontological concern but an epistemological certainty that I am heading towards a “destiny”. But to exactly know where is that is not within the limited scope of my knowledge. Perhaps I could have an imaginary glimpse of it but neither is it certain that that’s precisely where the trajectory of my life leads. It could just even be an aspect of my wishful thinking and hence a subjective musing so distant from the facts of reality. It is still and perhaps will always be a doubtful matter for me to know where I’m heading to in this world. I could consciously say that I am in control of my own life but to likewise have the assurance that I am also in control of the events yet to happen involving myself is not only preposterous but presumptuous. However, I can more or less approximate the course of my life  and in the process figure out probable scenarios of what could most likely come about within a short range of time span considering my own strengths and weaknesses and having a reasonable assessment of the opportunities and threats that are presently obtaining and may be anticipated to occur in the passing of time.

In this light, whatever my destiny will be is all dependent on my abilities and limitations as well as on how I deal and cope successfully or unsuccessfully with the  events that happen in the world, or perhaps it’s more reasonable to say, in my world. My destiny in this context is therefore not something that has been predetermined before my time on earth began. Destiny as I signify it is something that is in my hands. In other words, I am  consciously empowered to conceive what I want to happen in my life and to actually make it happen, but again, on the basis of and thus dependent on a realistic assessment of my limitations and the opportunities I would be able to grab in perfect timing. This view of destiny has been prevalent since the inception of the Age of Reason and the Era of Scientific Revolution when modern humanity decided once and for all to sever its link with the simpleminded superstitions, irrational and unscrupulous  dogmas and unscientific cosmology of the preceding Age of Irrational Dogmatism that overwhelmingly flourished during the Dark Ages of western civilization dominated by the Roman Catholic Church, its Magisterium and of course, the infamous Inquisition.

The American integral philosopher Ken Wilber partitions the evolution of worldviews from the most primitive which is the archaic period to the magical and the mythical periods until the time of modern and postmodern humanity which is the rational as well as the existential eras (cf. Wilber’s A Brief History of Everything, http://www.shambhala.com/a-brief-history-of-everything.html ). Appropriating the same Wilberian paradigm for our present purpose, the notion of  supernaturally foreordained destiny came about during the magical and the mythical periods. In the magical period, the role of foreordaining destiny was attributed to some supernatural powers whose mystery no mortal could ever fathom. Without yet the instruments of science in an immeasurable world whose myriads of phenomena needed to be explained to appease the troubled consciousness, humanity conceived a reality animated by nature-spirits whose fantastic display of power was very obviously perceivable by the senses with all its magical depth.

In the mythical period, humanity was fully convinced of how this magical depth constitutes a systemic reality characterized by certain regularities and a constant arrangement of orderly events governed by the laws of higher powers located in heavenly places where planets, galaxies and costellations exerted enormous forces to control human states of affairs on earth. And the institutionalization of religion was inaugurated. Human circumstances had been dominated by a worldview that bestowed tremendous power to pantheons of gods and goddesses who were not there only to manage the daily grind of life but more meaningfully the future destiny of humanity. They were bearers of  immense power of judgment that could grant and sustain life as well as snatch back and destroy the same life at the point of disobedience and utter rebellion. These were the gods and goddesses in control of human destiny.

At the inception of the rational era or the Age of Reason in what is commonly dubbed as modern civilization in the history of the western world, humanity has since been guided by logical rationality and the scientific method to confront a new reality. Nevertheless,  this new reality in some significant ways has further evolved through time to the point of even having adversarial partisans challenging the sharp edges and the inflexible metanarratives of institutionalized positivistic science and the unyielding technicalities of formal logic to inaugurate the existential humanity whose destiny is what s/he makes it.  What we have here is a continuously evolving human reality whose trajectory is one s/he  has shaped and laid out and constantly rearrange and revise in a space-time continuum for this very trajectory itself is an aspect of her/his evolving humanity that leads to a destiny freed from the delusion of mysterious foreordination.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 16 September 2014

On Entitlement

entitlement

“People who are given whatever they want soon develop a sense of entitlement and rapidly lose their sense of proportion.”
– Sarah Churchwell

“People who take more than their share usually feel an inflated sense of entitlement.”
– Jeanne Phillips

“Entitlement is the opposite of enchantment.”
– Guy Kawasaki

What am I entitled to? It’s good to start with myself asking the question as a matter of self-reflection. Simplifying this way doesn’t make the issue simplistic. It fact, getting subjective  doesn’t stop at the surface. In most instances, it inspires a way to deepen one’s thought and make the process even “archeological,” so to speak. In this case, we could dub it “self-archeology”. Then I am face to face with myself, figuratively. I find myself in a variety of circumstances which provide the necessary backgrounds to determine the contexts where I could see my entitlements, i.e., the things that I deserve.

Without being exhaustive, let me take the roles first that I have assumed in my reality here and now. On a more personal plane, I am a husband to my wife and a father to my children. I am also a friend to people whom I likewise call friends. Moving a little bit farther from the personal and getting public in a way, I am an employe with certain responsibilities not only to the job that I do but to the outfit that has employed me, i.e., my employer. And since I am working in an academy, I am a teacher to my students and a colleague to my fellow teachers. Stepping farther away and locating myself in the larger context of my country of origin, I am a Filipino in terms of nationality and of course, citizenship, though not presently in the Philippines being a resident of a country thousands of miles away.

I could go on and on and enumerate more and more contexts pertaining to myself but one factor significantly characterizes my so-called presence in these contexts and that is the factor of relationship. Having this in mind brings me to a clearer viewpoint to make sense with the issue of entitlement which is thus relational. Every context defines my entitlement as I relate with the major components within such a context being myself a major component of which. At this point, I get to the realization that this whole issue of entitlement is not exclusively personal and subjective at all but cultural as I am led to the question, “Why am I entitled to x in the context of A?” And then a related question crops up: “Is this entitlement an inherent aspect in such a context or something established by convention as a constant habit through time?” Perhaps, it could be dependent on the context, so that in one context it is inherent while in another, it is conventional.

As a father, socio-cultural convention has set for me certain entitlements I deserve from my children. As an employee, the entitlements I deserve from my employer is based on existing legal and institutional policy provisions. As a citizen of my country, another set of entitlements are supposed to be granted to me on the basis of my constitutional rights. But being relational, the issue of entitlement likewise becomes my responsibility to grant what is entitled to the others with whom I am related. In this connection, entitlement is not a one-way traffic. Convention likewise defines the entitlements that my children deserve from me as legality and institutional policy are the basis of what my employer is entitled to get from me. As a citizen, it is never contested to think that constitutionally, my country is entitled to receive some services or commitments from me.

Conventional, legal, constitutional. But are there instances wherein entitlement is inherent? If an entitlement is inherent then it is deemed necessary. Now, if there is such a necessary entitlement, could it likewise be construed as universal? If it is a universal entitlement, then it must be located in a most fundamental context. And being an aspect of human consciousness, could a universal, necessary and hence inherent entitlement be located right in the essence of that humanity? If such is the case, then we get to the more general terrain of human entitlement. As human beings we are entitled to certain conditions that necessarily make us human. In the absence of such conditions, some aspects of our humanity are lost. At this point of the discussion, the issue of entitlement is spontaneously magnetized and drawn towards the subject of human rights so that the many basic entitlements of a human being naturally connects with these rights. We as humans therefore deserve to be treated as such and this major thought strengthens the relational factor that we have earlier established.

I as a human being am entitled to be respected as such. This is the most fundamental entitlement upon which my other human entitlements rest. I can enumerate the different human rights I am entitled to but all these redound to the foundational respect that is due me as a human being. In recognition of this, I get beyond myself and realize that my humanity requires from me the responsibility to render the same respect fellow humans are likewise entitled to. To name the most basic of these rights considered as inherent, necessary and universal entitlements are life, justice and freedom. Deprivation of these basic rights is tantamount to dehumanization and we have witnessed how in certain societies these rights are being violated in varied ways, means and degrees of inflicted difficulties.

But respect may be taken beyond its reasonable context in relation to entitlement and aporopriated arbitrarily for selfish, even egotistical, objectives. We have witnessed how individuals demand for favors they claim they deserve. In almost all instances, they appeal to conventional practices and legalities to advance such claims. On the one hand, it could initially appear that they have the right for such claims but on the other, a more deeply rational evaluation of the situations would take us to a realization that there is something wrong with the whole system where the entitlement claims are being made. In the final analysis, we are conclusively led to a point where all of these claims are nothing but schemes to achieve opportunistic gains.

A case in point is an academic demanding the university administration for his entitlement to a promotion in rank on the basis of a less defined  and hence hazy policy provision that a professor who has published books is entitled to a promotion in rank with a corresponding salary raise. It is actually the failure of the system that such policy provision has not been properly defined. A closer look at the situation revealed that the academic has really published a lot but these publications are textbooks and workbooks which do not actually reflect his scholarly achievements. In consideration of the latter, he in reality has never published a single scholarly treatise in a respected journal refereed by distinguished luminaries in the particular field where this academic is supposed to be professionally associated. In all  highly esteemed universities, such policy provision contains in it the well-defined statement that rank promotion is a valid issue if and when an academic has already published in well-respected refereed journals honest-to-goodness treatises of scholarly value and not just textbooks and workbooks.

More instances of demanded entitlement may be enumerated and in fact categorized as either necessary or just plain egotistical with no solid reasonable foundation. The former is grounded on the basis of our human reality while the latter in most, if not all, cases is something taken advantaged of because of the faulty dynamics of a flawed system.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 11 September 2014

personal

“We define our identity always in dialogue with, sometimes in struggle against, the things our significant others want to see in us. Even after we outgrow some of these others—our parents, for instance—and they disappear from our lives, the conversation with them continues within us as long as we live.”
Charles Taylor, Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition

“Sitting there on the heather, on our planetary grain, I shrank from the abysses that opened up on every side, and in the future. The silent darkness, the featureless unknown, were more dread than all the terrors that imagination had mustered. Peering, the mind could see nothing sure, nothing in all human experience to be grasped as certain, except uncertainty itself; nothing but obscurity gendered by a thick haze of theories. Man’s science was a mere mist of numbers; his philosophy but a fog of words. His very perception of this rocky grain and all its wonders was but a shifting and a lying apparition. Even oneself, that seeming-central fact, was a mere phantom, so deceptive, that the most honest of men must question his own honesty, so insubstantial that he must even doubt his very existence.”
Olaf Stapledon, Star Maker

 

“I think therefore I exist,” said Descartes. My problematization at this point, however, is not on the existence of the “I” but on the essence of the “I” itself, given that it really exists. “What is the ‘I’ ?” is an impersonal question–an objective one, if you will. Objectively problematizing the “I” would seem to drag me farther away from it and would just get me to a very superficial “knowledge” about the “I” if ever I would really get there or if it could truly be called a “knowledge” of the “I” at all. Once, it was already done by Wittgenstein (in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus) and he has gotten to nowhere, i.e., to a “mystical” point where nothing could be further said on the basis of the limits which he has established in the said treatise: “Anything that can be said at all can be said clearly. What we cannot talk about, we must consign in silence.” Hence, objectifying the “I” leads us to the mystical–to silence.

Perhaps, the better initial query is: “Who am I?” It sounds grammatically well and it doesn’t seem to lead me farther away from myself who is asking the question right at this very point in time. Does responding to this question lead me to a true “knowledge” of myself? Well, at least, it is clear right at the start that I am not going elsewhere. I am not after an objective knowledge of myself for I am now at the point of accepting the truth that I cannot actually get to such a knowledge. At least, at this moment, what may only be ascertained to be objective is the fact that if ever I get to a knowledge of who am I, such knowledge is a subjective one. “Who am I?” is  a precise question not directed to anybody else but to myself. In a sense, it is geared to establish my personal identity. My personal identity could be initially understood as my own knowledge of myself–of who am I.  But who needs my personal identity? Is it an issue that has to be thematized for myself? Isn’t this matter something spontaneous and doesn’t have to be asked? Do I really need to have a “thematic” knowledge of myself? Well, if we refresh our memory and be reminded of Socrates’ philosophical challenge, then we should know ourselves,  I should know myself.

Human beings are endowed with the power of self-consciousness or self-awareness, if you will. This makes us homo sapiens sapiens, i.e., beings that are not only conscious but conscious that we are conscious. it doesn’t however mean that such self-consciousness connotes self-knowledge. It only tells us that we are conscious not only of things around us but also of the consciousness that is able to perceive the things around us. We are not therefore endowed with the full knowledge of ourselves at a single instance of time. In this sense, what I can say at the moment is I am aware of the things around me and I am aware that I am aware of this reality. My knowledge at this very moment is that of myself and of the things that I know I am perceiving right now. Well, of course, my memory doesn’t fail me yet and if necessity requires me to recall things of the past that I need to remember for a present purpose, technically I’d say that these matters are within the scope of what I know.

Self-knowledge is a different issue. I am not a complete, permanent, and hence unchanging, being. I am in a process of change. I am process. I am change. I am in a flux. I am flux itself. In fact, it is reasonable to concur with Heraclitus’ ontology as I contemplate on this matter. What I know about myself is just my circumstances at this point in time on top of what I can yet remember as I squeeze my memory. I am an etre-pour-soi, a “being-for-itself” (with apologies to Sartre) and if ever I wish to make sense of what I mean by my “self-knowledge,” it is nothing but a knowledge of my present limitations. It is myself here and now which I myself cannot get hold of for it is not an object that may be grasped sensibly. If “self-knowledge” is literally transposed and thus understood as a knowledge of my self, that’s where the difficulty is. What is that “self” of which I have a knowledge?

Knowledge reifies, i.e., converts into or regards as something concrete what is said to be known. In the process of knowing, something is conceived as complete and unchanging–an etre-en-soi,  a “being-in-itself”. In this connection, knowledge of the self seems non-feasible besides the fact that the self is so abstract and there is no way to capture it. The self is so fluid and elusive and such descriptions do not lead us to its true knowledge but only to the periphery. Perhaps there is really no true knowledge of the self because in the first place, the self in its subjectivity is as unknowable as its objective illusion.

Nevertheless, what is unquestionable at this stage of our almost failed “exploration” is the subjectivity of the self and nobody can actually get to it from the outside for the self is its own access. It is endowed with the dynamics of secrecy that spontaneously operate according to their natural “wirings” and whatever is projected out of it in perceivable terms as “personal identity,” so to speak, may only be approximated and never totally ascertained. My personal identity is therefore not my real self for the latter is that which nobody knows except myself. There is no facilitative channel to objectively access the subjectivity of the real self. The philosopher John Searle simplified it by commenting that A can never know the consciousness of B unless A is B. But if one’s personal identity is not the self of a person, then what is it?

Personal identity is a public image–something objectively known. Its operational locus is the society with all the elements of the latter’s expectations. Personal identity doesn’t therefore have the spontaneous nature of the subjective self for it is culturally calibrated. It is a person’s own created image of her/himself according to how he wants to appear in agreement with or in defiance of certain socio-cultural expectations. One’s personal identity is a person’s mask–a persona–of her/his own invention.

However, there is in our being “something” inaccessible to others, i.e., something in me that is accessible only to me and something in you accessible only to you. That is the core of one’s individual humanity. But there is also something in us accessible to others, our public selves, a.k.a. our personal identities . . . your personal identity that I and other people know and my personal identity that you and other people know. This public self is generally what society expects from us or what we want society to know about us. This is something that we maintain all along and as much as possible, an image we want to consistently stick in the minds of people who know us. There is however nothing wrong with this except that there is still that which I call the core of my individuality. The most that our loved ones could know about it cannot get beyond the closest approximation possible. That’s why the loved ones with whom we have intimate relations can say they “know” us and that which they know about us is not called our “personal identity”. In other words, we don’t need that personal identity for us to be known by them and they don’t require that personal identity for them to truly know us. Personal identity is very superficial. It is what a business outfit needs to engage in a business with us. It is what government agencies require from us to issue licenses or whatever. It is a “portfolio” of information to legitimize our existence in an organization. In a more intimate personal relation, no personal identity is required.

Personality or personal identity is what we actually show to get recognized. But the core of our individuality doesn’t have to be shown. It is something discovered by way of intimacy. Through our public selves, we show sympathy but empathy is possible only through the core of our individual humanity. The latter doesn’t actually show as in the objective sense. It is something that meets and embraces the other in the depth of an intimate encounter where there is no need to say even a word. This is a condition where one understands the other in silence. This is a situation where nothing has to be shown overtly but the spontaneity of discovery becomes a reality. Illustrating further the difference between personal identity and the core of individuality, the former is invented and intended to be shown while the latter is discovered and understood in the depth of intimate connectivity.

But personal identity is not devoid of depth; it requires and involves commitment and principles. In other words, one stands by her/his own invention of her/himself which consists of a constant process to convince her/himself of the “reality” of all the aspects of his personal identity as a matter not only of affirmation but also of confirmation. Personal identity is the public “I” supposed to be knowable objectively. One’s personal identity is known in definitive terms and established as the defining character of one’s person. From this conceptualization emanates the notion that “first impression lasts”. Once one has known the character of another and such knowledge has been strengthened by time, it takes a herculean effort for the former to change her/his impression of the latter even in the face of most indubitable controversies.

Personal identity is the public individual, the legal person, the one presented to us in bodily form with all her/his intellectual, emotional and mental properties. S/he is the next-door neighbor and the office colleague, a fellow member in an organization and an acquaintance in a bar which we regularly frequent. He is every Tom, Dick and Harry that we meet regularly and casually on the street whom we usually greet with an amiable “Hello” or “Hi” and tell others in passing that “That guy is nice and friendly,” without the intent or the means to verify such an impression.

With all these in mind, personal identity doesn’t seem to be an epistemological issue considering the fact that  its reality is not a big deal at all. Life goes on and we are not bothered about the truth or falsity of another person’s identity as long as no moral issue gets in the way of our relationship with them. Anyway, from their point of view as people thinking the same way we do, my personal identity is no big deal at all to them as a matter of epistemological probing. Myth or not, one’s personal identity is a way for me to deal with the other person in an ethically fair manner.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 02 September 2014

On Vacation

vacation

“Every person needs to take one day away.  A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future.  Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence.  Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.  Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.”

― Maya Angelou, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now

“A vacation is what you take when you can no longer take what you’ve been taking.”

– Earl Wilson

“Every man who possibly can should force himself to a holiday of a full month in a year, whether he feels like taking it or not.”

–William James

It has become traditional that people employed in companies/institutions doing their respective jobs and responsibilities in the office or out in the field at least forty hours a week are given time to relax and recreate at least some days (that might even extend to a month or two) within a year. Even students in schools of all levels are entitled to this provision of vacation holidays. In industrialized societies, this matter is something legislated and has to be provided by legitimate companies/institutions as a benefit for employees. Vacation has been established as an important mechanism within the general corporate system operational in an industrial social landscape. Basically, it is viewed as something necessary.

Vacation holidays may be spent in a variety of ways. People may go out of town to the countryside to savor the ambience of rural life which of course is not a common thing for them while busy in their city jobs. The more adventurous ones would even go camping for several days up in forest mountains and re-establish their so-called affinity with Mother Nature. The wide expanse of beaches either along the mainland shorelines or on exotic islands are inviting magnetic fields for sea lovers overwhelmed by tremendous exhilaration while being embraced by chains of aggressive waves or enthralled by the magical spell of the sea breeze while watching in reverie the majestic sunset. None beats human creativity to think of the best way one would want to make her/his vacation holidays most exciting and memorable–but of course, within the limits of her/his logistics, so to speak.

In affluent societies, vacation holidays are generally enjoyed by those corporately employed, both white-collar and blue-collar varieties. These are societies where the gap between the middle class and the proletarian class is narrow. In such societies, labor exploitation of the latter class is nil and the dignity of the workers’ humanity in the workplace is well-respected, duly appreciated and properly remunerated. These are societies where job skills and professional expertise are genuinely acknowledged and accordingly paid. So that in this particular context, those who are so-called administrative and management executives on top of the corporate ladder do not have the illusion that they are way more important than those under them. In fact, in many instances, they treat each other as equals and ignore in the process their nominal titles.

However, there are also less affluent societies where the gap between the more and the less economically well-off is wide.  This context presents a less rosy condition of the working class where exploitation and oppression are a reality in the workplace: industrial workers being forced to work beyond the legally prescribed hours while being paid off-the-scale wages besides the fact that no fringe and welfare benefits are extended to them. In this situation, it is already a given that vacation holiday is not only an impossible provision but an alien concept to them. Only the well-paid and the more powerful at the top echelon of the corporate hierarchy in these societies are said to be the more privileged ones entitled to enjoy vacation holidays.

Vacation holiday, being a particularly modern phenomenon in a distinctively industrialized civilization, was non-existent in the preceding agricultural era. Such a reality may still be true even to farmers, agricultural workers and peasants of the present modern era who most likely do not have the concept of vacation holiday operative in their minds. Night respite in the comfort of a poor man’s cottage is the more realistic event in a farmer’s life. Farm work is a regular daytime responsibility and the approaching dusk signals the beginning of a much needed rest until the first glimmer of the sun’s ray appears on the horizon to start once more another busy day on the farm.

In an industrial setting, vacation holidays are not only viewed as a reward but more as a sought-after necessity that ought to be granted to the exhausted corporate workers after months of hustling  and bustling over boring routinary chores either in the comfort of an air-conditioned office or in the discomforting heat of a manufacturing plant. In an agricultural setting, though, vacation holidays are no big deal if not considered as an absolutely negligible matter at all.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa 23 July 2014.

welfare

“Anyone who can walk to the welfare office can walk to work.”
–Al Capp

“Programs that are labeled as being for the poor, for the needy, almost always have effects exactly the opposite of those which their well intentioned sponsors intend them to have.”
–Milton Friedman

“One of the consequences of such notions as entitlements is that people who have contributed nothing to society feel that society owes them something, apparently just for being nice enough to grace us with their presence.”
–Thomas Sowell

Situation of poverty varies from one society to another. Poverty could be widespread in one society–i.e., the general condition of the people–while only limited in another. In countries where the majority of the people are poor, their governments are commonly the culprit as massive graft and corruption prevails in all levels from the local to the national. There is rampant exploitation of the common people to the point of utter disempowerment by fascist and para-feudal leadership in both the political and economic fronts. In most instances, government is in a conspiratorial relationship with big businesses whose owners themselves are very much involved in the political arena. In fact, this unholy collusion breeds bureaucrat capitalism where powerful people in government use the financial resources of government as business capitals for personal enrichment at the expense of the people’s social well-being.

In a predominantly impoverished society, social welfare is a non-operational formulation. Such a society’s government could have an existing Department or Ministry of Social Welfare with all its high-sounding programmes peppered with technical terms, loaded with comprehensive plans of action and allocated with budgets in hundreds of millions–even billions–of pesos or dollars but no tangible projects actually operate as the said allocations have already been pocketed by big-time thieves well-placed in positions of power. In this sense, social welfare is simply a meager chip-in or a pittance if not a total illusion that has long escaped the imagination and expectation of the poor for whose benefit such social welfare is theoretically intended.

However, efficient government is fundamentally an obvious factor in a society where poverty is at the minimal. Such government has high-level transparency which almost precludes graft and corruption and empowers the people as respected critics of government matters and worthy participants in the democratic processes. In this condition, government leaders are honest-to -goodness public servants and do not act  like fascist taskmasters and/or feudal overlords. It may be argued that efficient government and economic empowerment do not have necessary connection but empirical exposures have confirmed in practically all instances that governments of economically stable societies are basically democratically efficient and hence citizen-empowering. In studies done by experts, both academe- and non-academe-based, Scandinavian countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland) as well as British commonwealths like Canada, Australia and New Zealand are all economically strong societies where governments are highly efficient  and citizens are genuinely empowered as robust participants in all areas of democratic exercises.

It is also important to note at this point that in each of these countries, the government’s social welfare component has long been in active operation. With this particular aspect of public service, society’s poor are not forsaken in the dark nor left out in the cold, so to speak. Their basic needs are met and sustained by government in an official capacity to make sure that they don’t become eyesores on the street while fending for food and begging for money from passersby or walking aimlessly in dirty and stinking clothes or making the gutters or sidewalks spaces to sleep at night. In these societies, social welfare is a well-managed concern considering the fact that poverty which it mainly addresses is not a prevalent issue. Nevertheless, at a certain point beyond its fundamentally positive objective to help the poor, social welfare has its downside and may also be negatively viewed as an instrument to perpetuate dependence. In other words, with all the provisions delivered to society’s poor for an indefinite period of time through the social welfare mechanism, government is not really empowering the people to exert efforts to become self-reliant and productive citizens who should be working their way out to support their own and their families’ needs.

Such a problem may be a negligible one in the more economically stable countries mentioned above but is considered to be serious in some other countries with similar social welfare component whose economies are either not as stable or way off the scale at a more critical level and whose governments are not as efficient and transparent. In this condition, the welfare system operates with all conceivable difficulties expected while attending to the basic needs of more poor people whose state of disempowerment has driven them to a deeper level of destitution and desperation. This situation is perceived to be critically detrimental to both government and the poor who rely solely on government assistance via social welfare.  In most cases, government is likewise disempowered and helpless to create long-term job and employment opportunities for the poor and the scenario of long queues of able-bodied unemployed people continues as these people remain absolutely dependent on social welfare provisions.

Social welfare, in that case, could be negatively taken as a disempowering factor itself. It may be construed that social welfare is an  agency that in some ways further weakens and narrows down the productive prospect of otherwise creative human beings endowed, on the one hand, with conscious minds to think of better and viable plans of action and with physical strength, on the other hand, to put into action the most practicable plans s/he has been able to conceive. In view of this, social welfare at the most extreme point of the present context perpetuates dependence, desensitizes creativity, deactivates productivity, sustains disempowerment and in the final analysis, protracts and institutionalizes poverty.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 16 July 2014

Is Justice Revenge?

justice

 

The virtue of justice consists in moderation, as regulated by wisdom.”

–Aristotle

 

” If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?”

–William Shakespeare

 

“There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supercedes all other courts.”

–Mahatma Gandhi

 

“Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”

–Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

“It is essential that justice be done, it is equally vital that justice not be confused with revenge for the two are wholly different.”

–Oscar Arias

 

The issue of justice is one of ethics and is basically founded on the human sense of fairness. It is something desired in every act or circumstance that respects the value of meaningful life both human and non-human. Justice is the very principle that sustains the condition of existence in its spontaneous flow towards higher and greater levels of refinement. It is supposed to be the fundamental standard that bestows dignity to humanity. As such, human dignity is inalienable, inviolable, and thus, non-negotiable on the basis of the moral principle of justice.

Justice promotes human flourishing which in a more comprehensive sense ties up and connects with ecological flourishing without which human flourishing doesn’t make sense at all. If ever there is a summum bonum or the highest good of morality, justice should stand as the uncontested beacon that gives direction to a more reasonable and proper understanding of the virtues of compassion, courage, freedom, honesty, humility and responsibility, among others. In the light of justice, these virtues transcend their theoretical configurations and hence take their respective concrete forms of pragmatic expression in actual Sitz-im-Lebens. Justice, therefore, gives credence to and protects the essences of these virtues. From such condition, justice itself draws its legitimacy as a supreme virtue that in turn should likewise be protected by the human agents who uphold and value it over and above the others.

Justice–as it is represented by the blindfolded woman holding up a weighing scale at the façades of halls of justice and supreme courts–is impartial and does not subjectively look at the superficial aspects of persons, things and events. The weighing scale definitely represents the analytical character of justice with the “syllogistic” potency of a cold logic that takes its ethical signification as the major premise: “If x then y. And x. Therefore, y.” Or, “If x then y. And not y. Therefore, not x.” In other words, the “logic of justice” takes the same rational path trodden by a logical argument where something meaningful has to be proven (technically, the conclusion of a formal logical argument) through an orderly presentation of reliable evidences (technically, premises in a formal logical argument). As in the application of the formal logical procedure in true-to-life circumstances, the full satisfaction of the “logic of justice” is not simply hitched on an argument’s validity but more on its soundness.

All these matters henceforth considered, justice is by and large a virtue that transcends subjective perception. In this connection, there is supposed to be nothing emotional in the process of rendering justice to whom justice is due. Justice, as we have seen its objective configuration, follows a logical trajectory whose premises exactly lead to their inevitable conclusion. The true essence of absolute justice which is devoid of subjective feelings and emotions is re-confirmed in us: “If x then y. And x. Therefore, y”. Or, “If x then y. And not y. Therefore, not x.” With this in mind, not a single matter of feeling or emotion may ever be construed to trigger an act of justice. Having the character of cold logic, the procedural path that leads to justice cannot emanate from a sensation of anger or elation, hatred or affection, sadness or pleasure.

Turning now our attention to the question, “Is justice revenge?”, one important issue to focus on at this point in time is the basic idea that highlights an understanding of revenge. We may start off with the question: Does it emanate from rationality or is it basically a feeling fired up with hatred? In practically all instances, revenge is loaded with a highly aggressive feeling of resentment and loathing. It is characterized by a strong drive to retaliate– and to retaliate viciously–towards a specifically defined adversary. But can revenge draw a supportive push from reason? In certain instances, people would justify the reasonableness of revenge (or vengeance). In the process, a flurry of opinions could be developed as considerable factors that make revenge seemingly reasonable and hence could be construed as an act of justice. But this manner of looking at the issue at hand distorts the logic of justice. The confusion created by putting revenge within the range of justice and vice versa desecrates justice and elevates revenge at the level of the virtuous. This is a case of making a mess out of the ethical landscape where justice is held supreme. Having true rationality at the core of justice, revenge cannot truly emanate from it for the conceptual components of revenge rest on one’s feeling of hatred and abomination.

A god acting on the basis of revenge is not a just god. The logic of justice cannot operate in such statement as “Vengeance is mine says the Lord.” However, knowing the theological background that triggers contradictory statements which put the god of believers on the spot does not cast any negative notion about such a god if he really exists for such statements of conviction are only mental formulations of people who have never really known the mind of the god they say they believe in but merely imagined ideas such a god they have conceived would say according to their wishes and desires.

A case in point where an act of revenge had been made to appear like an act of justice was in the impeachment trial of the Philippines’ Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona a couple of years ago which was maneuvred by the President of the Philippines himself, Benigno Cojuangco Aquino, III. It was more of an act of revenge than of justice as Aquino had an axe to grind against Corona who had previously approved the Supreme Court’s order to parcel and distribute to farmer-tenants farmlands of the expansive Cojuangco-Aquino`s feudal estate. The impeachment process was conducted by the legislative branch of government to create a semblance of justice. But it was a case of utter railroading for the majority of the legislators were members of the president’s coalition block. More serious than this is the information which very recently leaked through the media exposing that the President himself paid the legislators hundreds of millions of pesos from government funds just to effect the plot of revenge he masterminded against the erstwhile Chief Justice.

Justice takes a logical trajectory sans any feeling of hatred or loathing. At the end of the day after justice has been rendered to whom it is due, victims of previous injustice would certainly have a feeling of exhilaration and triumph for in the most superficial sense, their cause has been avenged. But one thing is very clear: they finally achieved the justice they long sought for not on the basis of hatred and revenge but through the “logic of justice” whose major premise is drawn from the “ethics of justice”.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 08 July 2014

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“A person is not merely a single subject distinguished from all the others. It is especially a being to which is attributed a relative autonomy in relation to the environment with which it is most immediately in contact.”
–Emile Durkheim

“The deepest problems of modern life derive from the claim of the individual to preserve the autonomy and individuality of his existence in the face of overwhelming social forces, of historical heritage, of external culture, and of the technique of life.”
–Georg Simmel

“Human rights are a fine thing, but how can we make ourselves sure that our rights do not expand at the expense of the rights of others. A society with unlimited rights is incapable of standing to adversity. If we do not wish to be ruled by a coercive authority, then each of us must rein himself in…A stable society is achieved not by balancing opposing forces but by conscious self-limitation: by the principle that we are always duty-bound to defer to the sense of moral justice.”
–Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Rebuilding Russia: Reflections and Tentative Proposals

Personal autonomy is basically “political,” not in the ordinary sense we use and understand the term as in leading a nation or governing a country. However, the notions of governing and leading are important aspects of it. More than these, we could add more like planning, organizing and controlling, among others. But in personal autonomy, all these are specifically “operationalized” by the agency of the self within the confines of one’s own individual personal context. Personal autonomy is an issue strictly focused on the capability of a moral agent to manage her/his life, administer rules of conduct to make her/his existence worthwhile and decide on whatever s/he wishes her/his life to become.

As a philosophical concern, personal autonomy starts off with fundamental questions one should ask her/himself as: (1) Why am I here? (2) What must I do? and (3) What can I hope for? Nobody has the ultimate power to realistically respond to these questions except the one who has posed them for these questions are not asked by someone to another but to her/himself alone. These questions put the issue at hand in its proper perspective and simultaneously affirms that personal autonomy is prime and foremost an existential matter.

In Sartrean terms, the existential paradigm is founded on the notion that existence precedes essence (cf. Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Existentialism is a Humanism”). As far as the meaningfulness of one’s life/being is concerned, there is no pre-ordained/pre-conceived doctrine or principle except the reality of a human person’s being here and now. This is the begin-all of the world which is characterized by meanings, i.e., perceptions, interpretations and conceptions, that emanate from the conscious minds of its human denizens. There are therefore no overpowering, transcendent and supernatural forces through which the meaningfulness of this world and existence in this world has been eternally pre-determined before the emergence of the self-conscious and intelligent homo sapiens sapiens on planet Earth. In this sense, Plato’s Realm of Universal Ideas is nothing but a delusion.

In a significant sense, we say that this world inhabited by us humans is a human world. But in another sense of equal worth, each of us is also a self-constituted  “world” whose depth of personal circumstances can never be fully accessible to any other human being except to the individual self and to her/him alone. In a lot of ways, certain decisions we make as well as certain acts we do are solely our individual selves’ own and thus cannot be delegated to others. These decisions and acts range from the physico-biological to the socio-cultural. These are events that constitute the reality of personal autonomy.

But personal autonomy has its limits. We are not only self-constituted individuals but likewise components of a bigger and wider reality  called society. Within the social context we have a culture shared with the other members of society. Many of our decisions and actions concern others and not only ourselves. We may assert in full force our personal autonomy on the one hand but the reality of human relations and the importance of moral responsibility to respect the humanity of our fellow human beings, on the other hand, is of equal importance. This reality puts certain limits to personal autonomy.

Using the dialogical language of the Hasidic philosopher, Martin Buber, the human world is not only an “I-It” state of affairs but more importantly, an “I-Thou” (or ” I-You”) reality. The human world is not only an epistemological realm but a relational sphere. In this condition, we, the knowing subjects (noesis), do not only connect with the known objects (noema). We are self-conscious subjects that relate with fellow self-conscious subjects in a personal way. Even at this point, we realize the fact that the existential doesn’t necessarily end outside of personal autonomy but spontaneously extends to its limits at the level of the relational.

Appropriating Sartrean existentialism once more, we say that as personally autonomous individuals we are “beings-for-ourselves”. The responsibility of signifying our own existence is nobody’s task  except ours. We basically create ourselves in the sense of making our lives meaningful and essential. We are not complete and perfect entities incapable of change. We are open-ended beings whose lives and individual meanings depend on how we make them. We are in a continual process of change and all factors that relate to such process is within the scope of our personal autonomy.

However, an affirmation of our co-existence with fellow humans widens the range of our being. We are not only “beings-for-ourselves” but also “beings-for-others”. This reality puts limits to personal autonomy without desecrating and relegating to insignificance the inalienable worth of the personal. We remain at the same platform of human dignity but with due respect to the person of the Other. In the process, we submit ourselves to the rules of proper social engagement that uphold and promote the principles of human rights. Having this in mind, we are morally bound to decide and act without violating the basic human rights of other people. Personal autonomy works well within the subjective bounds of one’s own concerns but may also intersect with the concerns of another person. Yet, we ought to always be cognizant of the fact that in the course of such possibility, we don’t step on another’s toes and be the cause of the desecration of the latter’s very own personal autonomy.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 2 July 2014

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