On Compassion


“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”
Gautama Buddha

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
Albert Einstein

“And when I came in with tears in my eyes, you always knew whether I needed you to hold me or just let me be. I don’t know how you knew, but you did, and you made it easier for me.”
Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook

“Some people think only intellect counts: knowing how to solve problems, knowing how to get by, knowing how to identify an advantage and seize it. But the functions of intellect are insufficient without courage, love, friendship, compassion, and empathy.”
Dean Koontz


Getting into a philosophical discussion of compassion is one herculean exercise. Like in dealing with the concept of suffering, silent reflection–or reflective silence, if you will–is perhaps the most meaningful and effective path to better understand compassion in its fullest sense. I know how it feels to be compassionate in the presence of a triggering event and I’m sure others likewise do if caught in a similar situation. But “exposing” the concept of compassion under the sunlight of objective scrutiny is, I believe, a distortion of and thus injurious to the true meaning of compassion. In this sense, I’d rather not dissect the concept of compassion on the “operating table”of epistemological inquiry but instead embrace it in the silence of my heart as the most fitting way to understand its dynamicity.

Appropriating the Wilberian quadrants paradigm, the essence of compassion is exclusively located in the upper left quadrant which is “interior-individual” and can only be precisely known by the entity who at a certain point in time experiences it while in the very process of doing a “compassionate” act. Some manifestations are observable to call an act “compassionate” but such manifestations are not absolute proofs that such an act is truly triggered by compassion. Nevertheless, in an instance of this nature, the main concern is not on the issue of whether an act is one of true compassion or not but rather on the resultant positive and hence beneficial effect(s).

We have seen a lot of so-called “compassionate” acts performed by human individuals and groups in cases of calamity, distress, disaster and emergency among others, both big and small, personal and collective. We express in unison words and paeans of praise and appreciation for a “compassionate angel” who “selflessly” go out of her/his way and even beyond her/his means to help someone in need and in the process soothe the latter’s pain and ease her/his suffering. But true compassion is hitched on motives. Whatever one’s motive is in doing a “compassionate” act towards another is basically unknowable. It is the performer of the act her/himself alone who understands her/his true motive. I do not however imply that compassion is unreal; it is just externally unverifiable in its fullness. In other words, the most we can do is to simply approximate the judgment we conceive and utter in relation to an act deemed as “compassionate”.

I for one believe that compassion as a matter of feeling is real because I myself feel compassion towards people in distress or in extreme need of help. In certain cases though, the possibility of translating my feeling of compassion into a compassionate action is almost (if not totally) nil because of space and time factors as well as financial constraints. I genuinely feel the need to help and ease the pains of a friend but due to some limitations, there is actually no way for me to possibilize my feeling of compassion through personal presence. If compassion is all a matter of feeling, no more, no less, then it is nothing but a futile operation of consciousness whose effect(s) could even be seriously detrimental at its extremest point to the mental and emotional condition of the individual who has been disturbed and troubled by her/his feeling of compassion towards a person or a circumstance.

My feeling of compassion is understandable only within and by myself unless it is translated into action. But even when it finds a way of being expressed in action, it is only the performer of the act who has the absolute understanding that her/his act is one of compassion on the basis of her/his real motive. It should not therefore be the performer’s intent to convince both the spectators to and the recepients of a beneficial act that such is a “compassionate” act. It is enough that the performer of a “compassionate” act understands that her/his act emanates from a genuinely compassionate motive; it is not something that needs an explanation. What is therefore objectively necessary in such an event is the fact that someone in distress has benefitted from a good deed and in the process has been freed from her/his difficulty and suffering. If someone other than the performer of the deed wants to call it “compassion,” then so be it.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 22 October 2014

The Will to Convince


“I lie more convincingly than I tell the truth.”
― Simona Panova, Nightmarish Sacrifice

“I make little account of victory. Nothing is so stupid as to vanquish; the real glory is to convince.”
― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

“Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.”
Desmond Tutu, [Address at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Houghton, Johannesburg, South Africa, 23 November 2004]

“People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.”
― Blaise Pascal, De l’art de persuader

“If you need to invoke your academic pedigree or job title for people to believe what you say, then you need a better argument.”
Neil deGrasse Tyson


Aristotle proposed three tools of persuasion: ethos, logos and pathos. Ethos is hitched on a person’s credibility and authority being a recognized professional and expert in a particular discipline or field of specialization. In this case, one’s convincing power is not a matter of exercising her/his will but something that is simply grounded on how others acknowledge her/his track records tested in time and proven to be successful and consistently reliable in a number of instances. In other words, s/he doesn’t have to exert a willful effort to prove a point and in the process convince or persuade others on the validity and/or strength of what s/he claims to be true and dependable. For a person of ethos, the power to convince is a “no-sweat” issue where it is not necessary for that person to exert her/his will to do so. What s/he says is convincing enough simply on the basis of his proven skill or expertise in a certain area of concern. In most if not all instances, it is generally a take-it-or-leave-it situation where one could confidently say, “I am an expert here and even if you get down to the nitty-gritty of my professional career, records definitely point to how my stellar performances establish once and for all who I am and what I can do.” With this, we say that one’s convincing power is embedded in her/his credibility and no will needs to be exercised to effect such power.

The same line of thought works in considering logos as a tool of persuasion fundamentally independent of the will, being absolutely reliant on facts, mathematical proofs and sound reasoning which in its most technical form is effected by way of logical arguments. Presenting statements grounded on facts and solving abstract problems through mathematical treatment as well as proving the meaningfulness, validity and soundness of certain claims by means of formal logical arguments are all matters outside the operational realm of the will. The convincing power of the logos is therefore inherent in the factual statements presented, the mathematical equations laid out and the logical inferences established to prove the soundness of a claim. As in ethos, the will to convince is as irrelevant and immaterial in logos.

In a lot of circumstances, the mutual connection of ethos and logos is even spontaneously displayed as the most convincing points in dealing with certain specific issues are best handled and presented by the experts themselves in the particular fields where such issues emanate. In this sense, we could say that logos builds and strengthens ethos without resorting to the operationalization of the will to convince people. There is the expert talking with the confidence of a genuine professional in her/his own specialized discipline sans the sugar-coated jargons of a glib-tongued salesman whose will to convince is expressed in every tactical intent to play up the emotions of the audience.

At this point, I would venture to put forth the notion that the will to convince applies so well in pathos whose core of persuasive intent is no more beyond an exclusive appeal to emotion. In this particular context, the will is appropriated to convince someone about an issue that can neither be handled in consultation with seasoned specialists (a matter ethos) nor be approached factually, mathematically and logically as well (a matter of logos). Most cases of this category are witnessed in the speeches of political candidates prior to elections and in the fire-and-brimstone homilies/sermons of fundamentalist Christian preachers. In the case of political candidates on a campaign trail, intelligent electorates don’t rely on the former’s will to convince but more critically on their impeccable and impressive track records as transparent, honest and pragmatically performing public servants in the true sense of the term, as well as on the logical reasonability of their platforms that jibes so realistically well with concrete facts.

I think one of the most arduous situations where the will to convince is exercised to its extremest limits is in a fundamentalist Christian evangelistic gathering. In such a meeting, the preacher tries so hard to get his “message of salvation” across with the ultimate goal of converting people to become members of his so-called “flock”. This is an event where ethos and logos are generally paralyzed to effect their convincing powers because religion being basically founded on faith doesn’t have a room to accomodate “real” facts. Furthermore, even if logical reasoning may be superficially appropriated for religious purposes to yield seemingly sound conclusions supportive of established religious dogmas and principles, they nonetheless issue out of faulty premises with no reliable factual bases. In the same context, ethos is likewise difficult to establish among its “luminaries” because in most if not all cases, their credibilities are suspect being of the spurious kind, for their performances as “prophetic messengers,” “miracle workers,” “divine healers,” and “charismatic speakers” among others are short of what genuine ethos requires from an honest-to-goodness skilled and expert practitioner of a specialized profession in an established discipline of scientific, technological or humanistic importance.

A very popular context where the will to convince has long established its niche is in the field of commercial advertising. This is a particular sphere where the will to convince doesn’t only extensively use pathos to stir consumers to rabidly desire advertised products but also to blatantly distort ethos and logos in the naive consumers’ disempowered critical threshold. This method of brainwashing pushes the power of pathos to its extremest point aimed to paralyze ethos and logos and exploits the condition that most human beings are generally vulnerable in their emotional constitution.

There are however instances other than the non-political, non-religious and non-commercial types where the will to convince is utilized for specific purposes. A case in point is someone’s sinister plan to distort facts by weaving a series of filthy lies and in the process conceal the truth from those who are desperately looking for it to solve a very serious problem of widespread magnitude. The will to convince in this case is therefore a ploy to dupe people who have been rendered exhausted by all forms of obstacles and difficulties they have encountered and experienced in their search for truth which up until a certain point in time is not only elusive but seemingly unachievable. Such is a perfect moment when the will to convince finds its way to spew its deceptive toxin.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 14 October 2014


“Ignorance and prejudice are the handmaidens of propaganda. Our mission, therefore, is to confront ignorance with knowledge, bigotry with tolerance, and isolation with the outstretched hand of generosity. Racism can, will, and must be defeated.”
― Kofi Annan

“While we maintain the unity of the human species, we at the same time repel the depressing assumption of superior and inferior races of men. There are nations more susceptible of cultivation, more highly civilized, more ennobled by mental cultivation than others—but none in themselves nobler than others.”
― Alexander von Humboldt, Cosmos: A Sketch of a Physical Description of the Universe: Part One, 1858

“All nationalistic distinctions – all claims to be better than somebody else because you have a different-shaped skull or speak a different dialect – are entirely spurious, but they are important so long as people believe in them.”
George Orwell

Postulating racial discrimination as natural in the human condition is tantamount to granting it a universal biological rootage. In this sense, it is normal to assume that human beings are racist in varied degrees as they relate with others of different racial origins. The issue of racism taken in this light is therefore not basically one of ethical concern since it is ordinarily assumed and expected that in normal circumstances all human beings are more or less racist. Superficially, it doesn’t look harmful at all and hence negligible per se for racism as being “race-centered” could simply be taken as a natural attitude of giving more importance and concern for the well-being of the people of a particular race where one belongs. Analogically, we generally have the same attitude of showing more concern and love towards our own families–i.e., being family-centered–without necessarily being antagonistic and adversarial towards other families.

Being professionally non-scientific and much less a trained biologist or geneticist for that matter, it is not however within the scope and limits of my present concern to investigate in the general sphere of biology and the specialized discipline of genetic science the possibility of racial discrimination as inherent and therefore natural to the biological constitution of the human organism. Besides, the assumptions on the issue at hand that perhaps racism is natural is all theoretical and do not meaningfully connect with what has actually taken place so far in the course of human history. Racial discrimination as we have witnessed it is fraught with animosity, violence and even death of genocidal magnitude. Considering all these conditions, the issue of racism as natural is not really under attack (at least, not yet) but a concern that needs to be viewed ethically.

It is an unquestionable human reality that there are in us certain natural and thus inherently biological tendencies (even propensities) to act in some ways that could be offensive and injurious in varied degrees to others. It doesn’t however necessarily follow that something of such natural character should at all times be given an expression and therefore performed based on the single assumption that such is an inherently biological (or biologically inherent, if you will) matter. In this connection, the more serious issue is not whether racism is natural or otherwise but on the fact that through generations in human history, racism has wrought havoc and destruction of lives and properties in practically all parts of the world. Uncritically assuming that racism is natural, it is nevertheless an extremely grievous specter of dehumanization that needs to be constantly overcome in the course of human history.

Yet, contrary to the above position is the belief that racism/racial discrimination is never natural or inherently biological but rather a matter of cultural programming.  It is generally considered that the human species as a child is fundamentally “color-blind,” i.e., devoid in her/his consciousness of whatever pertains to racial discrimination. This position, in my opinion, is both empirical and reasonable as what we have witnessed and observed has given us convincing instances that in societies where racism is an alarming situation, cultural orientation is the culprit. Its toxic substance is passed from one generation to the next and the programming process starts at home. Children at an early age are henceforth conditioned to believe that since they belong to a race more “superior” than those of the others, the issue of not mixing with the latter is the basic norm. Over and beyond it is the more serious attitude that should be developed and sustained along the way of growth and maturation which is one of animosity and hatred.

Reinforcement is an important aspect of such cultural programming so that in the context of a society where racial discrimination is so pronounced, racists have actually gotten beyond the conditioned acts and have even advanced towards the level of intellectually thematizing their racism by coming up with seemingly objective studies on the issue of one particular race’s superiority over another by invoking principles grabbed from the pseudo-science of eugenics. At its most blatant and heinous operationalization, racism gets a strong political color and in certain known and recorded instances is termed as “ethnic cleansing”.

Racism in its cultural form is sustained by reified principles that constitute the dynamics of how the next generations should likewise be programmed as their predecessors. A new set of conditioning mechanics may be assembled to adapt to new exigencies but the dynamics remain the same. There is in fact a preponderance of empirical evidence in history and current events to support the notion that racism is prime and foremost a matter of culture and not of nature. Races are natural but racism is fundamentally cultural. We saw it in South Africa during the apartheid era which Palestine has likewise been going through for generations while being oppressed by Zionist Israel.

However, racism as a serious problematique is not a monolithic one but in most, if not all, instances is coincidental with the political or the economic or the social or even a combination of any or all of these factors. This consideration sustains more the notion that racism is more cultural than natural. In the case of Nazi Germany, racism was coincidental to an adversarial positioning against what was then perceived as Jewish dominance in the economic affairs of Germany. In the US, racial discrimination of the European-American populace towards the African-Americans was more of a social-status issue which had grown from an economic condition that spawned the mentality that the raison d’etre of African-Americans in the US was for the sole purpose of being “used as tools of economic production”.

Pockets of racism, big and small, are all over the world. Yet, there is nothing to blame about this hideous problem except the fact that cultural unilateralism initially spawns it to its negative extremes and drives it onwards to its most despicable form.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 8 October 2014

On Heroism


“Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
― Alfred Tennyson,
Idylls of the King and a Selection of Poems

“Heroes didn’t leap tall buildings or stop bullets with an outstretched hand; they didn’t wear boots and capes. They bled, and they bruised, and their superpowers were as simple as listening, or loving. Heroes were ordinary people who knew that even if their own lives were impossibly knotted, they could untangle someone else’s. And maybe that one act could lead someone to rescue you right back.”

― Jodi Picoult, Second Glance 

“The real hero is always a hero by mistake; he dreams of being an honest coward like everybody else.”
― Umberto Eco, Travels in Hyperreality

We were introduced to so-called national heroes in school at an early age as the government’s way to promote and instill in our minds the spirit of patriotism. We were programmed to toe the line that connects heroism and patriotism. In a lot of cases, these national heroes were warriors who fought in battles to win freedom and independence for the country. In the US, we have the likes of George Washington and Patrick Henry; in South America, Simon Bolivar; in Cuba, Jose Marti; in France, Napoleon Bonaparte and Charles de Gaulle; in the Philippines, Andres Bonifacio and Macario Sakay; in China, Mao Zedung;  in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh; in East Timor, Xanana Gusmao. Nevertheless, there are also non-warlike/pacifist heroes like Mahatma Gandhi of India, Jose Rizal of the Philippines, South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, Poland’s Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic. Their biographies are not simple life-stories but glossed-over and embellished accounts of larger-than-life exploits of legendary magnitude whose faithfulness to facts is never questioned and thus viewed as an issue beside the point. Their heroism bestows immortality to their names and grants them a permanent niche in the history of their respective nations.

But there is another type of heroes whose heroic exploits are not of the patriotic kind. They don’t even plan or intend to be in the category of heroes. Their heroism is more of the spur-of-the moment event at the most unexpected time and place where imminent action is of the essence. Their heroism is characterized by a salvific or redemptive act not of the religious type but of a down-to-earth kind of compassion to other fellow human beings in desperate need of succour. Their most needed actions are performed with calculated precision right at the middle of life-and-death situations. S/he is a hero who fearlessly jumped to the water to save a drowning boy who to her/him was even a total stranger. . . . S/he is a hero who successfully prevented a heavily problematic guy from committing suicide by way of both physical and psychological interventions. . . . S/he is a hero who, unmindful of a clear and present hazard, was able to pull an unconscious individual out of and away from a burning car about to explode any moment after a massive road accident. . . . S/he is a hero who triumphantly effected a negotiation with a band of rebel militiamen to release their hapless captive(s) without resorting to violent alternatives and ransom payment. . . .

We can go on and on as we think of so many instances where acts of heroism are performed, exalted and even rewarded in a lot of ways. However, most of those considered to belong to this type commonly end up to be unsung heroes known only to and are hence remembered only by a handful of witnesses to their heroism which include the family and friends of “the saved”. For me, though, these are the more authentic heroes of the existential, here-and-now relevance. Unlike the patriotic type of heroes, the existential heroes, so to speak, are not endowed with the trappings of exclusive greatness. They shy away from the limelight of adulation generally accorded to the superficial popularity of idolized celebrities. After their acts of heroism, normal life goes on with their feet still planted on the ground.When the hype subsides, they just simply slip back into the mass of people where they believe they really belong sans false pretensions.

Another type of heroes are nominated, advertised, sponsored and voted through media exposure like the CNN Hero of the Year which was awarded in 2009 to a Filipino teacher and social worker, Efren Peñaflorida. He was chosen from a group of 9,000 nominees from 100 countries. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Efren_Peñaflorida). Very much incongruous to the first two types, nominated heroes may not technically be called counterfeit but they are certainly fabricated. Heroism is not a matter of nomination as in the case of candidacy. It is the height of one’s presumptuousness to put her/himself forward and promote her/his own “heroism”. Heroes are made by and in extraordinary circumstances where genuine recognition is automatically spelled out not by media outfits but by the appreciative witnesses at the very point in time when a heroic act is in progress. The making of a hero is not an event planned and organized but an exigency in the here and now. In this sense, acts of authentic heroism, both big and small, are basically unscripted as they happen spontaneously and serendipitously.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 30 September 2014


“If I die, and come again…in another lifetime…in a new body…soul…spirit, then…that is not me.”
― Michael Bassey Johnson

“Men who have nothing to lose never give a thought for eternal life.”
― Paulo Coelho, The Devil and Miss Prym

“If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration, but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present.”
― Ludwig Wittgenstein

“Christianity set itself the goal of fulfilling man’s unattainable desires, but for that very reason ignored his attainable desires. By promising man eternal life, it deprived him of temporal life, by teaching him to trust in God’s help it took away his trust in his own powers; by giving him faith in a better life in heaven, it destroyed his faith in a better life on earth and his striving to attain such a life. Christianity gave man what his imagination desires, but for that very reason failed to give him what he really and truly desires.”
― Ludwig Feuerbach, Lectures on the Essence of Religion

The question “Is it possible to live forever?” may be taken literally or figuratively. Literally, it is something that interests both science and religion. Figuratively, it may be interpreted in a lot of ways and the focal point is on what the term “to live” connotes which generally depends on the speaker’s context.

In the literal sense, the scientific location of the issue is of course the physico-material realm where empirical investigation by way of experimentation or observation is supposed to be performed to find out if there is such possibility. On the basis of known human experience on planet Earth, there is not an iota of evidence which could lead us to theorize on the probability (i.e., having a strong sense of likelihood) of one living entity to live forever, though, it doesn’t dismiss the possibility (i.e., the minimal likelihood) of such condition.

However, the literal take of religion on this issue posits a dualistic conception of reality wherein the lower realm of physico-material existence is limited and terminable while the higher realm of non-physico-material, i.e., spiritual, existence is eternal, timeless, deathless. In fact, in the religious sense, living forever is not only a possibility but a guaranteed reality as life that ends on earth (the lower realm) is extended and continued in eternity (the higher realm). Even if we sidestep into the oriental varieties of religion, particularly Hinduism and Buddhism, the doctrine of samsara or rebirth (reincarnation) is a cycle of existence that merges the earthly and the spiritual and establishes the notion of life’s perpetuity.

As a figurative matter, “life” or “to be alive” or “to live” could mean a lot of things to different people so that even in the passing away of a person, that person could still be described as “alive” in the memories of her/his loved ones. In other words, as long as the good or bad reputation of a person lingers in the memories of people from one generation to another, that person remains “alive” to them. Such metaphorical “life” which that person possesses even after the literal decay of her/his physical composition could even be perpetually remembered in society as in the case of national heroes. Life in the figurative sense could also be an attribution of some material objects associated to a particular person as in the books s/he wrote, the gadgets or instruments s/he invented, the songs s/he composed and/or sang and so on and so forth. In this figurative or metaphorical sense, we could even say at this point that memory is a facilitator of immortality. Memory “breathes life” even if a person has long been deceased and it likewise writes history in the process. History as we understand it to be a corpus of written records of past significant events in the life of a nation is a potent vehicle that  immortalizes heroes.

Now, looking at the present problematization as a philosophical issue, questions assigned into the realm of  experience (or matters of empirical consideration) are always deemed to be possible as long as they do not violate human rationality tested through the instrumentality of logical analysis. What is therefore mentally conceivable without getting into a logical contradiction is always regarded to be possible. In other words, something of this category may happen and be witnessed in the empirical realm. An imagination of a state of affairs where a certain entity is described as one possessing eternal life may be perfectly accommodated in one’s “mental space” without committing a logical contradiction and is hence rendered possible. The same may also be said about the possibility of a unicorn to exist since an image of a unicorn may likewise be accommodated in one’s “mental space” without getting into a logical contradiction. However, a “square circle” or a “round square” is absolutely inconceivable because of the term’s inherent logical contradiction which precludes its spatio-temporal location in the empirical realm the fact that even one’s “mental space” cannot actually imagine such an object. We therefore appeal to logical consistency to determine whether eternal life is possible or not.

Conclusively, we could say that on the one hand,  the proposition, “It is possible to live forever” is logically sustainable. However, empirical constancy, on the other hand, cannot concretely validate the probability of living forever.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 23 September 2014

On 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


“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


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