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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.

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. Besides, myth is a stuff of life in this world and mind you, it also sustains life in a lot of ways.

(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

Image

“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

What Is An Idea?

ideas

“Where do correct ideas come from? Do they drop from the skies? No. Are they innate in the mind? No. They come from social practice and from it alone . . .”
–Mao Zedong

 

Ideas pop up in the mind as they are triggered by experience which in its most basic form is via sense perception. We call this “sense experience” from which certain description of properties and qualities of perceived objects/entities are formed in the mind. Nevertheless, ideas are likewise formed through the mental process of abstraction wherein perceptual description of properties and qualities we call sense data are combined and/or woven together. In the latter take, an idea doesn’t have to be strictly a mental representation of something that is concretely located in the external physico-material world.

When articulated, an idea is supposed to have a meaning. We can have an idea of a unicorn and articulate our understanding of what it means even if we know that in the physico-material world, no animal called unicorn may be found. An idea like this which could have represented an animal in the physico-material world is said to be fantastic or fictional, if you will. A fictional idea in simple terms is nothing but one’s figment of imagination. However, in a lot of instances, many fictional ideas have been made to “exist” and in fact “have actually seen the light of day” by way of human creativity as in movie productions.

This whole “magical process” has fed children’s imagination with a modicum of realization (as in fiction made tangible) when they don’t just see Superman, Batman and Spiderman, among others on the movie or the television screen but right before their eyes in flesh and blood shaking hands with them and signing their shirts, toys, comic books and what not at the moviehouse lobby. Ideas are therefore generally descriptive of properties and qualities of (1) those that have already been pre-existing as tangible entities in the physico-material world and (2) those that are now made to exist by actualizing the description of properties and qualities of certain fictional conceptions.

We live in a world of facts that make up states of affairs which are not only identified, described, signified and hence understood by means of ideas but they likewise spontaneously spawn new ideas that enrich human experience. In grasping and interpreting a shared or intersubjective state of affairs, an idea may either be right or wrong. Right ideas correctly and accurately identify, describe, signify and understand a state of affairs empirically and/or logically.

There are however instances when ideas are not necessarily reckoned as right or wrong. These are ideas of personal opinions which generally depend on the personal perspectives of individuals from whom such opinions issue out. Yet, we should also be critically on guard that the basis of an opinion doesn’t run contrary to facts and logical thinking. Opinions may be personal and thus perspectival but if they are grounded on false and inaccurate assumptions, they are ab initio faulty at least and impertinent at most.

In pragmatic terms, ideas may either be destructive or constructive and this consideration belongs to the philosophical province of Ethics. In other words, ideas aimed to violate human rights and dignity by way of abusive, oppressive and exploitative acts that assail the very essence of justice is morally destructive. Whereas, ideas that promote the inalienable significance of human life, human rights, justice and freedom, among others form the most valued foundation of constructive principles that uphold and sustain the supreme virtue of human flourishing to: (1) ameliorate the human condition from suffering; (2) resolve conflicts and misunderstandings; and (3) promote the well-being of humanity and the ecological condition that sustains such well-being on planet Earth.

However, “destruction” is not always immoral if seen in a context where human creativity can’t operate well because of certain systemic obstacles in the way of fully achieving higher degrees of human flourishing. In this sense, we need to open ourselves to ideas intended to destroy factors that hinder progress. With due respect to the Austrian-American economist, Joseph Schumpeter, I’d like to appropriate the term he used–“creative destruction”–to describe in a concise way the point I have raised here (though of course the original notion came from Hegel which was later likewise appropriated by Karl Marx in his political economic theorizing).

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 24 June 2014

demo

If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in government to the utmost.

Aristotle

Democracy is the road to socialism.

Karl Marx

“Our great democracies still tend to think that a stupid man is more likely to be honest than a clever man.”
― Bertrand Russell

Freedom and democracy are dreams you never give up.

Aung San Suu Kyi

 

 

Democracy—or literally, “rule of the people”—is the ever ideal political state of affairs in an organization from the simplest to the most complex, like in the context of a nation. As an ideal, there even seems to be magical in the concept as it appeals to people who value equality rights, majority consensus, consultation among members of a group or citizens of a country, openness in the public discussion of important social issues and transparency in the decisions and actions of leaders put into office by the people.

Theoretically, there is always something magnanimous in a society that is ruled democratically. The people’s interests and welfare are of utmost significance in such society and their most able protectors and sustainers are the people themselves. Social benefits, rights and privileges are not supposed to be enjoyed by a few but by all. If such is basically democracy, an instance wherein some people or some sectors of society are deprived of the benefits, rights and privileges enjoyed by others is a clear insult to the essence of democracy.

In the present discussion, I don’t intend to get to a detailed exposition on the varieties of democracy actually operationalized in different so-called democratic societies. Of course, generally in these societies, representative democracy is most common and the instrumentality of election is the most practised to put into office leaders who are not only supposed to represent the electorates but are also tasked to be delegates of the people who bring the latter’s agenda to government. In a democracy, these elected officials are technically known as public servants. They are not masters as in a slave society or lords as in a feudal estate. They are in office to serve the interests and welfare of the people. As public servants, their real power resides on the people who voted them in office and the role of leadership bestowed on them is a public trust which is supposed to be an inalienable, a non-negotiable, conditionality. By and large, these are the exalted ideals of democracy.

But moving on from the ideals to what is actually obtaining in reality, the more concrete question at this point is: Is there really an existing society where the system of governance is truly democratic? Could it be more reasonable and realistic to think on the basis of what is actually happening and hence observed, that there is always a cabal of elite leaders who take up in theirs hands the role of governing people in their respective social locations? Aren’t democratic ideals just as they are, i.e., ideals? In this sense, could we reasonably say that most probably, democracy is just a figment of our imaginations?

If these are all we could get to, then the problematization of whether democracy is obsolete or not is a non-issue. How can a notion which hasn’t actually seen the light as yet in the real world be called obsolete? An ideal that has never yet been given birth but always gets aborted every time it is conceived can never be obsolete. The desire and yearning for it have always been there since time immemorial.

Democracy will always remain to be an ideal until the point of its realization at the highest level of a society’s evolution. All the signs of social evolution moving toward the direction of its achievement are not only apparent but obvious in the history of humankind on planet Earth. Humanity has witnessed the development of societies on the basis of the economic substructure from primitive communalism to slavery to feudalism to capitalism to socialism and the evolution continues under the guidance of the most refined ideals of democracy at this point of human history.

© Ruel F. Pepa, 16 June 2014

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