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demo

“What is true, just, and beautiful is not determined by popular vote. The masses everywhere are ignorant, short-sighted, motivated by envy, and easy to fool. Democratic politicians must appeal to these masses in order to be elected. Whoever is the best demagogue will win. Almost by necessity, then, democracy will lead to the perversion of truth, justice and beauty.”

–Hans-Hermann Hoppe

“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?”

— Ruel F. Pepa, Is Democracy Obsolete?”

Is there a worthwhile sense in discussing the issue of the perversion of democracy? In the first place, what is true democracy? Only when we have captured in clear and definitive terms the essence of democracy can we truly get to an understanding of how it is perverted. Another crucial question related to this matter is: Is it really possible to maintain the immaculate perfection–if there actually is such a thing–of the democratic principles or such is only a figment of someone’s imagination because in reality, democracy is always bound to be perverted? Does history present us with a solid and realistic instance in the collective life of a particular nation where honest-to-goodness democracy has thrived and evolved toward a certain level of near-perfection where supreme political power authentically resides with the people?

Etymologically, we understand democracy as ‘the rule or the government of the people.’ Ideally, we can imagine a situation where the people of a particular geographical territory have a united political power to be in control of their socio-cultural and economic states of affairs. They live in a society where the voice of the majority is heard and the general will of the people is what dominates the political arena. Their leaders as true public servants are genuinely serving the general interest of the people. The dynamics of their leadership are shown in how they sit down and put their heads together with their constituents as they listen to the latter’s concerns, both long-term and imminent. They do not take the cudgel of decision-making from the people as it is a fundamental presupposition that only the latter are the legitimate performers of such act, both simple and complex, while the leaders simply take the role of facilitators. Moreover, leaders are not only representatives of the people but more significantly their delegates. In this sense, it is the people who are the true wielders of power and their leaders are only the facilitators, consolidators and integrators of the people’s concerns, plans and programs. These leaders are also the spokespersons of the people who have delegated them to echo in a broader context what the people want to accomplish and achieve. Lest we get lost in the embellishment of these ideal descriptions, a return to reality is now imperative for what we have just said is not what we find in so-called democratic nations.

The concept of democracy has gone through the process of equivocation. The powers that be in one nation call their government a democracy while those in another have the same name for the kind of government they have despite its diametrical differences from the mechanics and dynamics of the former. A survey of governments of different countries in the contemporary scene yields us all sorts of democracy in varied colors, shades and hues. At the end of the day, we get to a realization that everything has gone confused and confusing as well. Worse yet, we have witnessed how on the one hand is ‘democracy’ globally bannered by one of the most powerful nations in the world in terms of military firepower being traditionally acknowledged as the vanguard of ‘genuine’ democracy in the modern dispensation while on the other hand is at the same time heavily supporting in terms of finances and armaments fascist and neo-nazi governments in other parts of the world like Ukraine, Israel and Saudi Arabia among others. In this connection, we say that it is not really democracy but the concept of democracy which has evolved. Or perhaps ‘evolve’ is not the most appropriate term but rather ‘devolve’. In other words, ideal democracy has in reality passed through the path of perversion. Democracy, in the context of so many nations who call themselves democratic, has been perverted.

But ideal is ideal and ideal democracy might not even be practicable in real-life politics. If such is the case, there couldn’t have been a perversion of democracy along the way. Democracy could even in itself be a perverted concept. One thing that makes it impracticable is the idea of the majority of the people ruling a country which in literal terms is inconceivable. Take the case of a country with a population of more than a million. How do you imagine such a country being democratically ruled on the basis of our definition of democracy? It is just impossible. So a modification in the concept has been generated and was later given the name, ‘representative democracy’. And there is nothing neat in this newly evolved (or devolved) concept which has further perverted the originally perverted concept of democracy. This is precisely what we mean by devolution which as suggested earlier is more proper than evolution in the case of democracy. Besides, who in the first place were the people who ‘invented’ the notion of ‘representative democracy’ but the very people themselves infused with the ambition of being the powerful representatives of their constituents. And now democracy has absolutely gone down the drain because these so-called representatives of the people are in reality representatives of big-business interests owned by millionaire and multi-millionaire–even billionaire–tycoons whose most nefarious operations are generally geared to impoverish the population by way of large-scale exploitative means. Rightly so because these big businessmen were the ones who poured millions and millions of dollars/euros/pesos to finance the bid of these misnomered ‘representatives of the people’ in a traditionally ‘democratic’ process called elections.

Having all these considerations in mind, do we still think that democracy could have gone the way of its ideal trajectory? Democracy being practicably impossible has no other trail but to go awry. Being itself a perverted concept of government makes it a potent tool for malevolent power-grabbers to get to their most desired sinister ambitions. Instead of facilitating government power to be possessed by the people, these megalomaniacs have contrived all forms and props that would make it appear as if the people are the real ones in power. In reality, what we see are only semblances of democracy in varied superficial formations that do not have the purported essence of its ideals. Democracy has therefore never been perverted. What we witness now in various forms of so-called democratic governments where none of the majority of the people in any society for that matter is the wielder of true power is the fact that democracy naturally defeats its ideals and hence is nothing but a failed system.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 18 May 2015

It was quite a special day in PhiloMadrid on 3 May 2015 as a big group of Philosophy students from the University of Amsterdam joined us at Centro Segoviano (Madrid). . . . The topic discussed was “Can We Understand the Oriental Mind?”

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math

“It is the power of understanding and discovering such truths that the mastery of the intellect over the whole world of things actual and possible resides; and the ability to deal with the general as such is one of the gifts that a mathematical education should bestow.”
— Bertran Russell, “The Study of Mathematics”

Where? In business? . . . In science? . . . In technology? . . . Or in life in general? Well, I’m no mathematician at all and if just to recall the math courses I had in school, they included arithmetic, algebra, geometry, trigonometry and statistics; can’t even think of any other courses where I did some kind of mathematical computations except in physics though it isn’t officially considered a branch of math. Nevertheless school math seems to be so abstract and divorced from the practicality of real life outside the four walls of the classroom. There was even an instance in the distant past when I overheard a high school student making the comment why he had to take algebra when in the daily grind of actual life, he wouldn’t have one heck of a moment to use it.

So as not to complicate matters, it is perhaps much better if we just take up the most basic aspect of mathematics to get to an interesting discussion of the issue of mathematics’ fundamental role in whatever context we wish to handle the issue. Dealing with the much higher branches could bring us to certain complex problems only the experts can give a run for their money, so to speak. Besides, the obvious limitation set by the topic doesn’t open up  a leeway to explore upper-storey considerations. As a matter of axiological concern, I’d rather look into the pragmatic and utilitarian values of the most basic aspect of mathematics–call it arithmetic, if you will–in the daily life of the common human being under normal circumstances. In this way, we veer away from the academic abstractions of the discipline and locate its usefulness in the down-to-earth nitty-gritty of human experience.

Four very important aspects of human experience that lead to knowledge are differentiation, classification, quantification and specification. In all these matters, mathematics plays an essentially crucial role. The most basic operationalization of mathematics is in being able to differentiate and classify in experience the data of perceptual knowledge. The process is so natural that on the one hand, a unit is spontaneously distinguished from another on the basis of certain obvious properties. Yet on the other hand and on the basis of the same properties, two or more similar units are deemed to be classified as belonging to the same genus or family or species technically called a “set” in the language of modern math’s set theory. In other events, one could rather find some differences in the properties of two units despite some aspects of significant similarities and thus define their intersection.

Then we closely focus our attention on a particular set of units and look at them individually. At this point, we begin to quantify and connect them. We determine the factors that make them related to each other and the conditions that make them affect each other as well. A further magnification of each of the unit with a more serious stress on its peculiarities brings us to the in-depth level of specification. We get to its detailed components and explore their systemic interconnectivity that effects functionality. Technically, we are into the epistemological realm of philosophical inquiry which fundamentally considers the importance of the basic instrumentality of mathematics. In other words, this is how we actually begin to comprehend empirical reality: through the mathematical path. The thematic aspect of mathematics is obviously a non-issue as  yet but what is being established by this presupposition is the integral pre-eminence of the spontaneous, non-thematic mathematical category in human consciousness.

The normal human at her/his most basic state of being is mathematically enabled. S/he has the inherent mathematical endowment to differentiate, classify, quantify and specify empirical information because at the base of her/his epistemic platform in consciousness is the very domain of logical reasoning which is the absolute foundation of the mathematical infrastructure. Says Bertrand Russell in his ‘The Study of Mathematics’:

‘The characteristic excellence of mathematics is only to be found where the reasoning is rigidly logical: the rules of logic are to mathematics what those of structure are to architecture. In the most beautiful work, a chain of argument is presented in which every link is important on its own account, in which there is an air of ease and lucidity throughout, and the premises achieve more than would have been thought possible, by means which appear natural and inevitable. Literature embodies what is general in particular circumstances whose universal significance shines through their individual dress; but mathematics endeavours to present whatever is most general in its purity, without any irrelevant trappings.’

Being thus grounded in logic, mathematics in its thematized form provides the structural patterns that lead us to a better understanding of an otherwise complex reality with all the series of interconnected events impossible to track down in a space-time maze. Mathematics, in this sense, facilitates us to better understand significant aspects of reality by isolating the ‘fiber’ of their quantitative dynamics from the ‘flesh’ of their empirical mechanics. The whole process is actually a simplification rather than a complexification as the non-enthusiasts of the mathematical discipline stubbornly contend.

Mathematics is the sophisticated extension and expression of human rationality thematically ‘institutionalized’ in formal logic. This thought brings us to the realization that the most fundamental role of mathematics in human life is the ‘fortification’ of certain matters of specified information and knowledge of various levels of importance by way of a thoroughly quantitative examination of their categorized and differentiated components. Common sense has its own degree of importance but not enough in attending to the complexities of higher-level problematizations.  The facilitative edge of logical reasoning at that stage is never doubted as a time-tested ally. Nevetheless, in a lot of instances, the trajectory of complexification doesn’t rest within the coverage of what logic may handle but even goes farther upward  at a certain height where the sophisticated process of mathematical operations are of the essence.

Mathematics, though utilized epistemically through the facility of human consciousness, is a transcendent discipline for its essentially independent character is not contained within consciousness. Had it been so, its subjective streak would have shown. But mathematics is devoid of subjectivity. From a dualistic perspective, we automatically conclude that if it is not subjective, it must be objective and hence located in the outside world. But neither is mathematics a property of  what classical philosophy calls the ‘extended substance’. Mathematics is therefore not in the mind nor in the world. Like the question on the reality of the ‘soul’ raised by the Buddha in the Surangama Sutra, mathematics is located neither within nor without. Perhaps its most appropriate location is Plato’s Realm of Universals for in that sphere, nothing may be destroyed nor altered in eternity and perfection. In fact, the transcendent reality of mathematics could even be properly construed as higher than the ‘secured’ status of the christian ‘God’ for even the latter cannot violate the rules of logic, much less that of mathematics. This reminds me of an encounter I had some two years back with a stupid clergy of a charismatic episcopal church who argued with the intensity of a preacher delivering a passionate homily behind the pulpit that his ‘God’ is so omnipotent (all-powerful) he can even will to make two plus two become five.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa 13 May 2015

On Modern Feminism

fem

“Other people will call me a rebel, but I just feel like I’m living my life and doing what I want to do. Sometimes people call that rebellion, especially when you’re a woman.”
— Joan Jett

“Feminism is not a dirty word. It does not mean you hate men, it does not mean you hate girls that have nice legs and a tan, and it does not mean you are a ‘bitch’ or ‘dyke'; it means you believe in equality.”
— Kate Nash

“I’d like every man who doesn’t call himself a feminist to explain to the women in his life why he doesn’t believe in equality for women.”
— Louise Brealey

The present discussion specifically focuses on (1) second wave feminism, also called  modern feminism (which emerged in the 1960s and was highlighted by the publication in 1963 of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique) whose principal aim is to end gender discrimination and (2) post-modern or third wave feminism (which came out ca. 1990s) whose centerpiece is sexuality as a significant foundation of female empowerment. Antedating these two waves was the pre-modern or first wave ( in the 19th century) feminism whose main concern was on woman’s suffrage or right to vote.

One presupposition that stands out though in dealing with this issue is the fact that feminism as an ideology and a movement is unilaterally a western socio-cultural and politico-economic concern. The height of its assertive defiance is in the context of western industrial society whose fundamental landscape has been dominated by the male species being simply a continuation and perpetuation of patriarchy in the preceding civilizations both ancient and medieval. If however we find feminist movements in Asian societies, these are almost certainly the more heavily western-influenced ones.

Feminism in general is an aggressive stance  against social prescriptions that undermine the dignity of the woman as a human being. We find this woman-debasing condition in almost all social institutions where the rules of the game–both implied and expressed–are almost always male-centered, male-promoting and hence absolutely advantageous to the social standing of the man. In this kind of social arrangement, the man is in full control of major concerns such as organizational leadership, decision-making, rules-formulation and institutional administration among others. In this state of affairs, it is the man who calls the shots, so to speak. It is against this pernicious social setting that the woman has rebelled to actively assert her rights, her dignity, her creativity, her competence, her humanity and the distillation of all these is cogently imbued in the ideological framework of feminism.

Pushed against the male-dominated social wall, the prejudiced woman of the modern western industrial society has seen her disparaged condition and resolved once and for all to rise up and subvert the imbalanced system. With an unwavering will power that even surpassed that of a man’s heart, she has moved onward traversing old and seemingly secured cultural frontiers to claim territories society bestowed on her male counterpart since time immemorial. At this particular instance, feminism is not only an ideology but a movement. Along the rugged socio-cultural terrain, the woman succeeds in demonstrating not only to the man but likewise to the docile segment of her species the reality that she is perfectly able to dabble and accomplish a lot of endeavors culturally assigned to the man without necessarily losing her femininity.

We’ve seen her as an accomplished engineer directing an army of construction workers in a high-rise building project smack at the center of the metropolis. We’ve witnessed her mettle operating  a bulldozer in a highway construction project. Right in the busy inner-city streets,  we have boarded countless times the bus or the taxi she drives or the subway train she operates. Nowadays, she is no longer as defiant and angry as in the past several decades ago hollering invectives against the system in mass mobilizations. With the total confidence of a seasoned performer, she soberly does her job today with a high sense of achievement while reminiscing the past when such kind of a job was  specifically categorized within the exclusive domain of the male species. Neither is her competence being challenged by anybody anymore for her place in society being equal to that of the man is already established and secure. These are among the many positive gains of feminism.

However, the struggle is not over yet. Conservative fundamentalist religions which are mainly of so-called christian rootage in western societies are still around asserting their irrational dogmatism and freak stubborness despite obvious irrelevance. Suffused with their counterfeit spirituality, these so-called conservative fundamentalists have formulated self-serving moral guidelines to perpetuate the notion that the woman ought to be subjected under the headship of the man. More repugnant than this general mandate is the particular injunction that the woman has no “god-given” right over her body. In other words, she has no choice at all to determine what she thinks is best for her condition in physical terms. The loudest voices from which this notion emanates are those of the fundamentalists–both catholic and evangelical–whose nauseating slogan is “All life is sacred.”

In the light of this immiment concern, post-modern or third-wave feminism is here yet to stay until the moral legitimacy of feminine sexuality is fully achieved over and against the distorted morality of religious fundamentalism and when total woman enpowerment is finally an unconditional reality.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa 7 May 2015

orient

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”

–Lao Tzu

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”

–Buddha

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”

Confucius

“Nothing hurts a good soul and a kind heart more than to live amongst people who cannot understand it.”

Hazrat Ali Ibn Abu-Talib

It could be a rhetorical question asked by someone who doesn’t really expect an answer. It could even be a derisive query from someone who thinks that the “oriental mind” is a myth and thus understanding such a “mind” is a non-issue at all. In fact, in the present post-modern era called the Age of Information or the Third-Wave Civilization, the sweeping cultural influence of western science and technology has reached global proportion eclipsing what still remains in non-western cultural vestiges. What then is the sense in problematizing the “oriental mind”? Besides, a closer look at the matter brings us to the concept of the “orient” which geographically points to continental Asia that horizontally runs from the eastern and southeastern frontiers of Europe to the Pacific Ocean. To think of a monolithic type of people called “oriental” is highly inaccurate as we consider the multi-racial Asian stocks from the Arabic, the Caucasian and the Indic to the Mongolian and the Malayo-Polynesian among others.

Or perhaps there has been a distillation of certain dominant intellectual and emotional characters in this tremendously multi-variegated Asian racial stocks that have evolved through time. In this connection, the superficial aspect of physico-racial differences doesn’t seriously count at all. It might even be of the essence to explore the issue of the “oriental mind” against the backdrop of the prominent Asian wisdom traditions that dominated past mainstream civilizations in this part of the globe and have in the process been generally absorbed actively or latently within the collective consciousness of the typical Asian whether s/he is Arabic, Hindu, Caucasian, Mongol or Malay. With the typical Asian in mind, we are treading on an idealism of Platonic variety–an amalgam of different virtuous qualities that constitute a philosophical Asian. Let’s call this the “Asian mind”.

But how do we understand the Asian mind? What do we mean by the word “understand” in the present context? In the western philosophical context which is basically discursive, critical and analytic, to understand is for someone to capture in unambiguous and precise terms what is being said by another. In this sense, the issue of understanding is purely on the discursive level. Meaningfulness is gauged in an exclusively linguistic focal point. One speaks, the other listens; one explains , the other clarifies and ascertains; one expresses her/his thoughts, the other understands. And now we rehearse the original question at hand: Can we understand the oriental mind? Taking the question in the western context is very limited for its fundamental concern is simply focused on utterances. In other words, the key issue here  lies on what is said and one’s understanding of it is wholly hermeneutical, i.e., a matter of correct interpretation which largely depends on one’s mastery of a common language-game whereof both the speaker and the addressee are “natives”. This is the point where west is west and east is east, so to speak.

Western understanding is linguistic while eastern understanding goes beyond the sphere of the spoken words. The “occidental mind” understands manifest statements while the oriental mind doesn’t stop at what is spoken but tries to “get into” the realm of the other person who speaks. Understanding in the oriental sense is an act of probing into the other’s inner person with a deep concern on where the latter is coming from as s/he utters what comes out of her/his mind. The major concern of oriental understanding is therefore the unpronounced, i.e., internal, motivation of the other person in her/his utterance. If this is how we understand the meaning of “understand” in the question, “Can we understand the oriental mind?”, surely we can indeed understand the oriental mind.

The oriental mind’s presupposition is: We speak from experience. What therefore matters more is not solely what is spoken of (though of course it has also its own degree of importance) but the experience–shallow or deep–that leads to the utterance. In this sense, the oriental mind is not quick to criticize and judge on the basis of what is said. What has been said could sound very offensive on the basis of a superficial evaluation but normally, the oriental mind doesn’t get offended. The oriental mind is an exploring mind for it traces the depth of experience from which an offensive utterance emanated. This condition further describes the oriental mind as non-confrontational. The oriental mind is not offended and at the same time never offensive. It is not because s/he is scared to get into trouble; s/he simply believes that offenses and troublesome events don’t solve problems but add more troubles and hence, more inconveniences, difficulties and distress. The oriental mind doesn’t put too much magnitude on words that have been said but on the experience–past or present–from which the person is coming while expressing her/his point.

The oriental mind is not only peaceable but tranquil amidst conflict and dissent. Discourse may lead to a linguistic understanding of what is being said but the oriental mind is more used to being reflective on serious issues with all the pros and cons considered. It doesn’t however mean that s/he doesn’t get discursive. Discourse is something normal in the human condition but the oriental mind puts more importance on reflection, even on meditation to refresh the mental capacity and get to a much better and more enlightening insights. The oriental mind is therefore not only reflective but meditative. In the process, s/he doesn’t only capture the “atomic” elements of a particular experience but also the total scenario where these elements are located as well as the past experiences–distant or recent–to which such particular experience is connected and hence a part of a much larger circumstance. In this way, reflection and meditation make the oriental mind holistic. S/he doesn’t only see particular trees in a forest but likewise the entire landscape where the whole forest is located.

In this situation, the oriental mind is more synthetic than analytic. Of course, the whole is made up of parts but what is the use of the parts if they are not put together to constitute the functional reality of an implement that serves life? This very thought makes the oriental mind pragmatic. What matters is not all discourse but action that enhances life. Inaction in a reflective/meditative state is not an end in itself but a significant path to meaningful action. True to the mystical character of the pragmatic oriental mind is the notion that “he who speaks doesn’t know and he who knows doesn’t speak.” With this in mind, the silent moment comes and it’s time for me to quit talking.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa 29 April 2015

bruce lee

“Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” — Bruce Lee

When philosophy gets more personal, it traverses the frontiers of its academic mooring. In this case, it opens up the alley of communicating a suggestion, an appeal, an invitation or a challenge spoken on the “I-Thou” plane (with apologies to Martin Buber). At a certain point, it holds in abeyance its typically critical posture and gets up to the level of the very human and highlights the wisdom of love or “sophophilia” (with apologies to Emanuel Levinas) rather than the conventional love of wisdom (philosophia). Having this point of departure in mind leads philosophizing to an approach that makes one reflect on issues without the need to get defensive while anticipating the nasty comments of antagonistic kibitzers going ballistic. And philosophy becomes sympathetic and friendly.

Philosophy then assumes the bearing of a trustworthy fountainhead whose tenacity has been honed by an unceasing train of theorizing and counter-theorizing within the rich tapestry of human experience. Without hesitancy nor trepidation, philosophy may thus spell out a challenge which, when taken as it comes, primes up the very philosophical spirit of the one who is being challenged. In the entire gamut of such a scenario, no one is reckoned as offensive or offended. On a positive note, this condition locates philosophy at the forefront of human intellectual activities where dogmatism never finds a cozy space while openmindedness has always been given unlimited access. The philosophical terrain being an open field of inquiry doesn’t have sharp edges but only smooth surfaces and rounded corners  that accommodate the orderly flow of ideas whose meanings need to be clarified to facilitate understanding. Hence, philosophy as a friendly endeavor speaks out while people listen.  It invites protagonists in the drama of life to pour out their most cherished thoughts into the sea of contending views and let them gush through the cerebral tributaries of the reflective enthusiasts. And with an air of confident spontaneity despite the lack of actual personal encounter, it voices out a bidding to those whom it considers as friends: “Be water, my friend!”

But from where does such a bidding emanate? What has happened to humanity at the height of modern civilization that such “a voice is heard in the wilderness”? Is it really humanity’s perennial curse to create and embrace one macrocosmic dogmatism after the other? At a certain point of stubborn advocacy that defies rationality and openness, we persistently clamor for tolerance and broadmindedness which allows us to conceive new and fresh ideas that define the raison d’etre of that particular historic moment. Then we start anew to institutionalize the most popularly accepted notions of the epoch and erect dogmatic edifices in their honor. And the clock of progress stops once more at the expense of rationality and openness. The cycle continues–a proof that we have never learned to cope with the intricacies and complexities of life since time immemorial. Seemingly, we have continually failed to understand and imbibe the imminence of openmindedness, responsiveness and most significantly, flexibility. We are a stubborn bunch whose unyielding will in most cases is just an egotistical manifestation of an unbendable pride. Worst of all, nobody dares to holler, “Be water, my friend!”

The well-fortified stronghold of our socio-cultural paradigm expresses itself in unyielding metanarratives that clog our minds to the point of paralysis.  Petrification takes effect and our lives get confined within the narrow parameters of how we define our respective worlds. We close and seal off the cages of our imprisonment and transform the lush forest of human wisdom into a wasteland, even a desert, for the stream of free-flowing creativity has been dried up and no living water flows to nourish the field. In many instances, we are irrationally rigid and unrelenting as we stand our ground in defense of a belief fraught with loopholes. We have mastered not the art of reasoning but that of rationalization and in the process pile up close-ended arguments we never wanted to be challenged. True to our being children of “hard modernity,” many of us have actually lost the cerebral flexibility that originally characterizes the essence of our humanness. This era has disappointingly failed to sit down and listen to new voices that emanate from emerging experiential spheres of our time. “Liquid modernity” (with apologies to Zygmunt Bauman) has yet to find an authentic niche in our present reality. The challenge remains: “Be water–be flexible, openminded, tolerant, approachable–my friend!”

© Ruel F. Pepa, 22 April 2015

arti

“I believe that at the end of the century the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted.”
— Alan Turing, Computing machinery and intelligence

“Artificial intelligence will reach human levels by around 2029. Follow that out further to, say, 2045, we will have multiplied the intelligence, the human biological machine intelligence of our civilization a billion-fold.”
— Ray Kurzweil

The present discussion on artificial intelligence (AI) is not a technical one and hence starts off with an uncomplicated definition based on a non-technical understanding of artificial intelligence as software intelligence found in non-human systems that “think and act rationally” like humans. We find the simplest types of such systems in the most modern appliances and equipment that make chores in households and offices easy and even enjoyable. Their most sophisticated types though are harnessed and utilized in the complex field of robotic science and technology which has been experiencing unprecedented velocity in the creation of remarkably new and more complex systems that unceasingly transcend their very recent predecessors. The path of the field’s advancement seems to be boundless and the issue of having the best is deemed irrelevant in a situation where something better perennially emerges.

People have witnessed a lot of amazing technological inventions and innovations in the multifaceted performances of artificial intelligence systems ever since the earliest stages of their development. Activities previously done with a lot of manual and muscular efforts are now accomplished with no sweat and just at the tip of one’s finger. I would venture to say that artificial intelligence is among the highest scientific and technological achievements of humanity in the post-modern civilization. As useful systems fundamentally designed to facilitate human productive activities, AI-based tools/implements/instruments should be viewed positively and with an air of appreciation and praise to the geniuses behind their creation. From this point of view, there is nothing to worry about AI as it is fully under human control generally for the purpose of work facilitation. Like when fire-making was first discovered and later enhanced with the invention of match and lighter, AI systems are basically facilitative. Humanity has benefitted a lot from the use of fire in so many practical purposes in the contexts of the household and the industry as well.

The positive aspect of AI is best depicted in the 1999 Robin-Williams-starrer movie The Bicentennial Man which is based on the 1993 novel The Positronic Man  co-authored by the celebrated science fictionist Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg. The highly sophisticated robot–an android, to be specific, having been designed to look and act like human–which is later called Andrew Martin first arrives at the posh mansion of the wealthy Martin  family for functional and facilitative purposes. As the story develops, Andrew Martin undergoes several upgrading–both external and internal–until the point where he develops self-consciousness and already acts spontaneously like human and with not an iota of non-human traces anymore. The story unilaterally dwells on the good side of humanity as Andrew in his most fully developed “humanness” is the personification of a cultured, non-violent, sober, rational and sympathetic person.

We might opine that despite the leaps and bounds seen in the achievements of robotic science and technology, humanity could yet be thousands and thousands of miles away from the realization of an Andrew Martin, i.e., if such point is ever truly realizable. But taking the matter hypothetically and imagining such a possibility, is it more rational to think of the immoral side of an android which is in diametrical opposition to the amiable “personality” of Andrew Martin in the movie? If the process basically starts off in programming, is it more rational to consider the possibility of a sinister conspiracy to create and programme diabolical androids designed to destroy significant segments of humanity for the evil programmers to take full control of planet Earth? This is the dark side of AI whose fiendish potentiality is not far-fetched. It is like fire which on the one hand is absolutely advantageous but also harmful on the other hand if tapped for criminal purposes. In this sense, it is reasonable to think that AI is both an opportunity and a threat.

But is there really something new in this circumstance when since time immemorial human beings in general are personifications of opportunities and threats toward each other? Why do we get troubled by the emerging power of AI which could on the one hand be constructive yet destructive on the other, while we fully know that the basic stuff of life is largely  characterized by both construction and destruction? Are we worried that humanity will soon be threatened by the dark side of AI systems when the truth of the matter is long before the advent of AI, humanity has always been threatened by the evil forces of totalitarian powers well-entrenched in governments and big capitalist empires in control of  nations’ economies? Future AI systems employed and mobilized in the service of these political and economic powers will certainly heighten the degree of their oppressive domination and intensify the common people’s oppression. In this penultimate condition, large-scale chaos will multiply in geometric proportion until the final annihilation of the human species on planet Earth. Without sounding like a biblical prophet, we seem to be heading toward that direction.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 15 April 2015

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