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“The Animal in Us”

animal

“Many cultures, including the Native Americans, believe that if we put our ear to the ground, we can hear Mother Earth’s heartbeat. Land animal totems are keenly aware of this heartbeat – and in fact, are said to walk in time with the beat of the Earth’s heart. Consequently these land animal symbol meanings relate to intuitition, awareness, and cognizance. Additionally, this animal group represents being grounded, and stable both mentally and physically. ” –Avia Venifica

Animals are our brethren.” — Mahatma Gandhi

But we human beings, are we not animals? Isn’t it simply the pride of our humanity that always puts  a wedge between us–who call ourselves human–and the so-called animal world? Isn’t this pride just a sheer expression of what we think as the uniqueness of our humanity and thus the rest of the animal world are in this sense not at par with our ontological superiority? Or, are we not totally animal so that it is more realistically meaningful to say that there is only something animal in us?

In so many basal ways ranging from the simply rude to the most obscene, we know the animal about the human being in expressions like, “You bitch!” . . . “You sonovabitch!” . . . “You’re all wolves in sheep’s clothing!” . . . “You’re a snake who’s never learned to value good deeds done in your behalf!” . . . “These politicians are all crocodiles in coats and ties!” . . . “These dirty rats are all scot-free to scavenge garbage bins on sidestreets!” . . . “These stalking dogs have gotten used to follow their idols’ performances even to the end of the earth!” . . . “That one heck of an ape keeps repeating what I’m doing!” . . . “You’re surely get a lashing from that scorpion-tongued idiot if you get critical of his views!”

Yet, in another context, exemplary animal aspects are likewise reckoned about our humanity: “He just gave me a warm, encouraging bear hug.” . . . “Their enterprise is as busy and organized as an anthill.” . . . “The eagle-eyed fighter pilot delivered the shot right smack on the target!” . . . “His bull-like strength pinned the opponent down on the canvas in less than a minute.” . . . “She walked with the elegance of a gazelle and it drew some significant rave from her admiring fans.” . . . “She was a dove of peace who arrived just in time to settle the dispute.”

These are all superficial attributions brought about by some instant emotional surge. At the end of the day, the established affirmation remains: We are human and never animal. Human pride perennially rivets in our consciousness the belief that humans are human and animals are animal and never the twain shall meet. In the judaeo-christian thought-system which has dominated through generations the cultural apparatus of the western mind, the divide is irreconcilable as divine power deemed it at the beginning of time the uniqueness of humanity having been especially endowed with a “spirit”  never bestowed to animals. That is what the creation story tells us. But that’s a myth which through time and in the dramatic march of science in its methodological observations and investigations has been proven inaccurate and unreliable even impossible. Something which solely relies on and is hence a matter of faith is a dead-end and will never lead us to a meaningful and worthwhile discussion of an issue which is of prime importance to better understand our circumstances in the here-and-now.

Starting off with the state of being where we ought to reasonably begin, the concreteness of our physical reality is a given. We cannot commence the journey elsewhere; consciousness points us to what is perceived in physical reality. And our very own physicality is indubitably animal. We can see it, we can feel it, we can even smell it and listen to it. The issue at this point is not simply consciousness but, as the phenomenologist contends, it is consciousness of something and that something at the onset is consciousness of our physicality. We are basically animal and perhaps the only factor that takes us beyond the basicality of our animality is the fact that we are able to be conscious of our consciousness. We are self-conscious entities. Could this be the location of the animal-human frontier? Are we now  at this point identifying the ultimate dividing line that separates the human from the animal? Is this realization a justifying break-away point to make it clear once and for all that we are totally human and hence fully shed off the vestiges of our animality?

The truth of the matter is we cannot escape from the reality of our physicality. We are here and now in flesh and bone and blood. It is only the arrogance of our well-achieved evolution that has given us the illusion and the delusion that there is nothing animal in us anymore. In recognition of this incontrovertible fact and to turn the table around, it might be rather more meaningful to say that there is something human in our animality. What makes sense at this point is not the animal in us but rather the human in us who are actually animal.

But to give the topic, “the animal in us,” a run for its money, so to speak, let’s consider certain significant factors that cannot break the animal spell in our being such as: the instinctive drive to survive; the spontaneity to desire what our senses have perceived as desirable; to feel the pleasure of being in a delightful experience and the sorrow of being in a sad state; the natural impulse to provide for one’s own need and the offspring’s need as well; the innate sensitivity to protect one’s well-being as well as that of her/his loved ones. Among others which I failed to mention here, these are the circumstances of “the animal in us”–in fact, the indisputable reality that we are animal.

Conclusively, we could now soberly say with deep sensibility that our self-consciousness/self-awareness (which in most recent investigations done by present-day biologists using the most modern/most sophisticated methods have dramatically proven that even chimps and dolphins as well as other mammals show some significant signs of self-consciousness), creativity (in arts and technology) and moral sensibility do not extricate us from the animal kingdom but simply give us the knowledge that within the kingdom, the evolutionary process has gone this far.

Arrogance is the single “badass” that such an evolution has carried through the space-time continuum and has given us the utterly wrong notion that we are no longer animals as eons ago, we successfully broke away from the dispicable limitations of the animal kingdom. In retrospect and through the aid of the very instrumentality of self-awareness, the more reasonable human animals in us have realized once and for all that many lower animals have more appreciably and thus more commendably productive and moral characteristics than what the majority of us human animals have. It is interesting to note at this point that there has never been a record of a lower-animal mass murderer that parallels  the caliber of a Hitler, a Mussolini, a Netanyahu, a Bush or a Blair, among others. However, there have been cases of mass murder in lower animals and these are perpetrated by none other than the human animals. No lower animals invented religions which later developed to become hatred machineries sowing misery, violence and terror on planet Earth. No lower animals got into politics to deceive and manipulate and exploit fellow animals and thereafter enrich themselves with the loots they plundered from the latter.

In the final analysis, it is not “the animal in us” that has created all the mess we find in the world; it is rather the human in us animals.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 6 January 2016

The Here-and-Now

 

here and now

“Every moment is utterly unique and will not be continued in eternity. This fact gives life its poignancy and should concentrate your attention on what you are experiencing now.”
― Joseph Campbell, A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living

“She was thinking how all those paths and the lawn, thick and knotted with the lives they had lived there, were gone: were rubbed out; were past; were unreal, and now this was real; the boat and the sail with its patch; Macalister with his earrings; the noise of the waves–all this was real.”
― Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse  

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”
― Henry David Thoreau

The here-and-now is the “possibilization” (with apologies to Sartre) of being. If there is no here-and-now there is no possibility of being, much less of becoming. The here-and-now doesn’t exist but it makes existence possible. Perhaps, we could say it is existence itself. As an epistemic category, it is a “knowing-of-being” to establish the essence of “being here and now” as a matter of awareness over and beyond the superficial consciousness of mere location. We are not simply located in space-time (the scientific equivalent of the philosophical here-and-now); we signify our being in it. And in such condition, we ask the questions: (1) Why am I here? (2) What must I do? and (3) What can I hope for?

The here-and-now is the scaffolding of experience. There is no experience outside of the here-and-now. There is no here-and-now prior to experience; it is in the thematization of the occurrence of experience that the here-and-now reveals itself to us. It is only in this very condition of thematization that the epistemological cause-effect description may be applied to the here-and-now where experience is the cause of how we get aware of it. However, the ontological reality is a different landscape where such cause-effect sequence is not an issue since the here-and-now is in simultaneity with experience. Neither one of them causes the other.

My here-and-now is the present state of affairs where I am now. In a sense, I am here now because I have chosen to be here now. In many instances, it is so. But there are also many instances where I am in right here and now but such is not of my own choosing; certain events in the course of my life have brought me here now. Of course, it is not always the case that I like and enjoy the here-and-now where I am in but difficulties due to limitations make it almost impossible for me to get myself out of it. With a sense of acceptance and resignation, I may just settle down and give up with the final thought that this is my lot in life–my destiny, if you will. In this sense, I could reasonably say that my own personal limitiations set the very limits of my here-and-now.

Nevertheless, not all limitations within my circumstances are personal. I am part and parcel of a larger reality whose immensity imposes limitations not only on me but on every living soul, so to speak, within the frontiers of such a reality. Reckoned as it is, I am just a tiny speck of being within the hegemonic confines of this extensive here-and-now. It is also my here-and-now but not of my creation. In a lot of ways, this enormous here-and-now affects my thoughts and non-thoughts, my actions and inactions. This is the here-and-now before which I am paralyzed to go against and hence of which I am disempowered to act in defiance.

The here-and-now within the range of human experience is therefore not wholly personal in the existential sense; it is also politico-economic in the global and thus objective sense. In the context of this understanding, the here-and-now is a matter of power in the hands of manipulators and exploiters. It is actually the Zeitgeist–the Spirit of the Time–that is in control of our lives in the present era. We are all ensconced in this global here-and-now where the more privileged enjoy the comfort of affluence and wealth while the rest are wallowing in all levels and degrees of impoverishment brought about by the greed, covetousness and over-indulgence of certain ravenous powers-that-be who have exhausted their global influence and might to destabilize, ravage and finally ruin resource-rich societies through proxy wars.

In the final analysis, we could come to the conclusion that one’s here-and-now is not exclusively hers/his. Having this thought in mind, we could even say that the personal here-and-now is actually something that each of us share with another’s here-and-now.  At the end of the day, we get to the realization that the here-and-now we have been thinking about is a collective one–a sharing of the same horizon in the hope of achieving common goals from day to day.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 29 December 2015

being happy

The real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.”

― Laura Ingalls Wilder

“So he tasted the deep pain that is reserved only for the strong, just as he had tasted for a little while the deep happiness.”

― F. Scott Fitzgerald, All the Sad Young Men

Can “being happy” really be defined? We are not dealing here with the general concept of happiness. “Being happy” carries in it a fundamentally existential sense and defining it as a concept is tantamount to robbing the experience of being happy of its essence. Besides, defining it in linguistic terms leads us to a standstill. Nobody will bite a conceptual definition of “being happy” for such will always be wanting from the viewpoint of every individual person whose experience of being happy depends on her/his personal circumstances in life. With a million people each of them having experienced being happy, a million definitions are in the offing. In other words, nobody is capable of coming up with a single universal definition of being happy. Moreover, defining a “living” experience in words is immediately putting boundaries around it. “Capturing” the spontaneity of experience as it happens is missing the next segments of its flow. Let’s appreciate a “living” flower undetached from its stem and hence from the totality of the plant where it is found. Let’s not pluck it from the stem through which life flows. Defining in words a spontaneous experience is like plucking a flower from its stem.

However, being happy may be observed. I know when someone–especially those who are closely related to me–is happy. There are some obvious physical manifestations to know when a person is happy. However, there are also instances when such manifestations are absent and it is only the one who experiences being happy who knows that s/he is happy. Being happy is a matter of subjective feeling so that we can only utter, “I am happy,” for other people to know and think that we are really happy. But there’s no possibility in whatever way of allowing an individual to enter into the state of another individual’s being at the very moment the latter is experiencing it. What is strictly considered at this point of the discussion is the fact that only the one who experiences being happy has the basic knowledge not of being happy in general but of her/his own experience of being happy.

The experience of being happy may be shared by two or more individuals. Nevertheless,  something may make one happy while the same thing could trigger sadness in another. The final results of a championship match between Real Madrid and Barcelona will surely make the supporters of one happy and those of the other sad. But in most instances, being happy on the one hand or being sad on the other is only a flitting thing. As a matter of feeling in the context of our earthly experience, both being happy and being sad are never perennial. In this sense, it is somewhat difficult to draw the demarcation line that distinguishes being happy from being pleased. Or perhaps, there is really no distinction between them. Perhaps, it is just our propensity to get dramatic and different that we diversify terms in our language and one instance is in the way we make being happy distinct in meaning from being pleased. As far as my two cents is concerned, I don’t see the difference between the two at all.

Besides, in a world  full of problems, troubles, headaches and sufferings, being happy is only in pockets and snatches, so to speak. Being happy is therefore  a short span of rosy moments as they are a rarity. We live life as it comes and we should meet it with a high sense of realism. In so doing, we find ourselves on a more stable platform that makes us realize how important soberness is. When the floodlights of pleasure hit us, we are not overwhelmed with seemingly endless exhilaration. When the dark shadows of tragedy strike us, we don’t resign at the corner of defeat and utter devastation.

Being happy and being sad are the two sides of the coin of life. Balance is the name of the game and such is shown when we have already mastered the art of standing on the edge.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 5 November 2015

natural

“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

The term “natural” may be understood in different ways respective of the context.  Yet, in every context, it is much easier to handle if viewed in contrast with its antonym. At one point, “natural” contrasts “artificial” while at another, its opposite is “cultural” and further still, it is antithetical to “supernatural”. In the first sense, what is “natural” is original and its copy or simulation is the artificial. The simplest example I can think of right at the moment is orange juice which of course is natural if derived by squeezing real oranges while artificial if what makes it look like an orange juice is the artificial coloring and the simulated taste is produced by a concoction of certain chemicals called artificial flavors.

Similar thought may be applied to human beings wherein a person whom we know very well is acting very strangely–i.e., very artificially–in a particular situation. We could make a spontaneous judgment on the matter because we know the person so well and under normal circumstances, we just couldn’t imagine s/he would act in the way s/he’s acting right now. In other words, it is a circumstance wherein the contrast between what is natural and what is artificial is so pronounced. At the end of the day, we get to the point of saying, the person wasn’t her/himself. However, the same evaluation or judgment may not be applied if the other person is a total stranger. We know nothing about her/him, i.e., we are ignorant of who s/he really is. Having this condition, there is no way for us to know what is natural and what is artificial in that person.

In many instances, many normal people tend to act artificially in public because of general social expectations–even pressures–embedded in the ways and means where we have gotten used to. We always tend to think of how the public will react if we start doing something unconventional. So the best thing to do is to toe the social line. We go the way of the majority and act artificially to maintain the convention without rocking the boat. However, we act in a very natural way in the presence of intimate family members and friends who, we are quite certain, will never expect from us anything beyond what they know of and about us since time immemorial, so to speak. And in such a condition, we don’t get ashamed. We don’t care at all even if some lapses–even craziness and stupidities–are committed because we know family and friends will always understand. Criticisms from them are always well taken with less strain and no embarrassment at all.

Being natural in the second sense, i.e., natural vs cultural, is a different state of affairs. In this context, there’s nothing negative both ways. The whole situation is basically characterized by a continuum that starts off with the natural and moves forward on a trajectory that leads to the formation of the cultural. In this particular sphere of discussion, the human factor is of the essence being a culture creator. There is no culture much less civilization minus humanity. In a more theoretical configuration, we find the human being right smack at the interspace between nature and culture. Hence, prior to human existence, we say that all was a natural domain, i.e., everything was natural.

Yet, the dynamics of what we call nature–or the natural, if you will–are distinguished by the process of evolution and the emergence of humanity is part and parcel of its orbit. In other words, the human being who is the prime author of all aspects of the global cultural landscape regardless of how diverse it is finds her/his most meaningful niche within the ambit of the natural. In this sense, it doesn’t matter at all how diametrically disparate nature and culture may be; the reality that matters once and for all is the fact that nature and culture constitute an unbroken spectrum. A further elaboration of this issue leads us to a realization that even if culture is by and large thought out in the most sophisticated operation of the human mind and substantially manifested in space-time, the most basic raw materials of physical culture amidst us are drawn and extracted from nature.

Nevertheless, even if we contend of how unbroken the spectrum that connects nature and culture may be, some infringements are however committed along the way not in the area of nature but rather in the area of culture. These infringements are not matters of lapses but of abusive acts of wanton destruction perpetrated by self-aggrandizing people to materially enrich themselves to the detriment of Earth’s natural resources. Having considered this leads us to the two sides of the human phenomenon: the creative culture-builder on the one hand and the destructive nature-abuser on the other.

Lastly, being natural in the third sense, i.e., natural vs supernatural, is simply being realistic. What is natural in this sense is that which we actually experience here and now. On the basis of this, we are all authorities of our respective experiences which in a lot of instances find a common convergence point. We understand each other and agree on many things of natural importance because many times we find ourselves in similar situations. It is realistic to say that we encounter a lot of problems in this world but in the same vein, most solutions to such problems are likewise located in this same world.

This world we live in is real and this is the main issue why we are deemed to make the best of this world. The most sensitive, sensible, responsible and committed among us are the most able and determined protectors of the Earth which is our home. There is no other nebulous world elsewhere which many religions have idealized. The supernatural is a figment of one’s imagination that gives false hope to the naïve and the brainwashed. We defend the natural because we are replete with the rational grounding to sustain its reality while upholding the “reality” of the supernatural takes a lot of imagination and presuppositions based on made-up stories elevated to the level of myths and legends.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 29 October 2015

Thinking Out Of The Box

thinking out of the box

Each of us is an individual located in our own respective boxes, so to speak. Each box constitutes the components of a human person’s being–the particular programming courtesy of the family as well as the way society in general has conditioned our ethos and mores. The box provides the space  where we find safety and enjoy serenity. Basically, it is our comfort zone. It is our haven of rest. It defines what we consider as the norm. It grants us stability and constancy. The box is where we rush into in moments when risks prowl about and threaten our steady bearing.

In certain ways, the box may be seen as a factor that defines and identifies us as individual persons known and familiar to others. But in a deeper analysis, we get to a realization that individual boxes are nothing but microcosmic reflections/versions of the all-encompassing macrocosmic box that integrates the cultural structure of a society. We call it convention whose strength depends on how such is sustained in the lives of its individual bearers. We say that the box is unassailable, inalienable, non-negotiable. The box is therefore characterized by a self-reflexivity that aims to brace its own platform of strength. In this sense, it is deemed inviolable to seriously acknowledge that subverting the box is a grievous infringement of a preeminent wellspring of social cohesion and tenacity. In other words, we are not supposed to subvert the box.

But at certain points, the box gets oppressive and tyrannical with all the seemingly insurmountable barriers on all sides that define its box-ness. In this condition, our mobility and maneuverings are acutely confined within a very limited playing field. In such a situation, even our conception of free movement is adversely affected. The conditioning mechanism of the box actually prevents us to think of and explore even its frontiers. From a sense of uncertainty which spontaneously evolves in time to a feeling of trepidation and fear, the box asphyxiates and snuffs the call of creativity within the essential singularity of our humanity. The box through all the multivariagated factors that embody  its complex network prevents us to go beyond its fringes which if we just have the courage to get near them will prove to us once and for all that those very fringes are illusory. And thus we get to stand face to face with the reality that we can defy the box.

Yes, the box is here and now but the thought that we cannot resist and pass over it is a self-imposed illusion. The box may be traversed, even transcended, and normal humanity is endowed with the power to do so. In many instances, we tend to be hindered by the established presuppositions of the so-called conventional. Convergent information dominates and persists in us and in the process blinds us to see and explore the possibility of divergent information (cf., Giovanni Corazza’s TEDx Roma lecture on “Creative Thinking: How to Get out of the Box and Generate Ideas” . . . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bEusrD8g-dM) We are reluctant, even scared, to diverge from the accepted, the acknowledged, the approved, the authorized. We don’t want to rock the boat. We are discomfited to think out of the box. By and large, we are denizens of the establishment. We have gotten used to things and events. A slight modification disorients us. We get upset when the old ways are challenged.

The box is like Plato’s cave wherein people are chained all their lives while facing a wall where shadows of things passing in front of the fire behind them are projected. The shadows constitute their reality. There is nothing more meaningful beyond the shadows. And when someone gets freed from that “reality,” s/he becomes a pariah. The box or the cave is real but not all of reality. It is just a speck of the more exciting and more immense reality for over and beyond the reality of the box is the more exhilarating and daring reality of possibilities. It is the latter reality that is supposed to excite us and intensify our aspiration to think and explore new opportunities, novel alternatives, unique approaches, uncommon ways, unconventional means. Thinking out of the box is awakening the hibernating courage within us and mustering our strength to probe and walk along the road less traveled.

The norm of the box is poignantly captured in the First Duty of the eminent modern Greek philosopher Nikos Kazantzakis’ “Spiritual Exercises” entitled The Saviors of God (http://www.angel.net/~nic/askitiki.html) as follows:

WITH CLARITY and quiet, I look upon the world and say: All that I see, hear, taste, smell, and touch are the creations of my mind.

The sun comes up and the sun goes down in my skull. Out of one of my temples the sun rises, and into the other the sun sets.

The stars shine in my brain; ideas, men, animals browse in my temporal head; songs and weeping fill the twisted shells of my ears and storm the air for a moment.

My brain blots out, and all, the heavens and the earth, vanish.

The mind shouts: ‘Only I exist!

“Deep in my subterranean cells my five senses labor; they weave and unweave space and time, joy and sorrow, matter and spirit.

“All swirl about me like a river, dancing and whirling; faces tumble like water, and chaos howls.

“But I, the Mind, continue to ascend patiently, manfully, sober in the vertigo. That I may not stumble and fall, I erect landmarks over this vertigo; I sling bridges, open roads, and build over the abyss.

“Struggling slowly, I move among the phenomena which I create, I distinguish between them for my convenience, I unite them with laws j yoke them to my heavy practical needs.

“I impose order on disorder and give a face – my face – to chaos.

“I do not know whether behind appearances there lives and moves a secret essence superior to me. Nor do I ask; I do not care. I create phenomena in swarms, and paint with a full palette a gigantic and gaudy curtain before the abyss. Do not say, ‘Draw the curtain that I may see the painting.’ The curtain is the painting.

“This kingdom is my child, a transitory, a human work. But it’s a solid work, nothing more solid exists, and only within its boundaries can I remain fruitful, happy, and at work.

“I am the worker of the abyss. I am the spectator of the abyss. I am both theory and practice. I am the law. Nothing beyond me exists.”

To SEE and accept the boundaries of the human mind without vain rebellion, and in these severe limitations to work ceaselessly without protest – this is where man’s first duty lies.

Nevertheless, it is in the Second Duty where we see how the box is defied and the reality of more challenging possibilities outside of the box is courageously faced, even embraced:

I WILL NOT accept boundaries; appearances cannot contain me; I choke! To bleed in this agony, and to live it profoundly, is the second duty.

The mind is patient and adjusts itself, it likes to play; but the heart grows savage and will not condescend to play; it stifles and rushes to tear apart the nets of necessity.

What is the value of subduing the earth, the waters, the air, of conquering space and time, of understanding what laws govern the mirages that rise from the burning deserts of the mind, their appearance and reappearance?

I have one longing only: to grasp what is hidden behind appearances, to ferret out that mystery which brings me to birth and then kills me, to discover if behind the visible and unceasing stream of the world an invisible and immutable presence is hiding.

If the mind cannot, if it was not made to attempt the heroic and desperate breach beyond frontiers, then if only the heart could!

Beyond! Beyond! Beyond! Beyond man I seek the invisible whip which strikes him and drives him into the struggle. I lie in ambush to find out what primordial face struggles beyond animals to imprint itself on the fleeting flesh by creating, smashing, and remolding innumerable masks. I struggle to make out beyond plants the first stumbling steps of the Invisible in the mud.

A command rings out within me: “Dig! What do you see?”

“Men and birds, water and stones.”

“Dig deeper! What do you see?”

“Ideas and dreams, fantasies and lightening flashes!”

“Dig deeper! What do you see?”

“I see nothing! A mute Night, as thick as death. It must be death.”

“Dig deeper!”

“Ah! I cannot penetrate the dark partition! I hear voices and weeping. I hear the flutter of wings on the other shore.”

“Don’t weep! Don’t weep! They are not on the other shore. The voices, the weeping, and the wings are your own heart.”

Beyond the mind, on the edge of the heart’s holy precipice, I proceed, trembling. One foot grips the secure soil, the other gropes in the darkness above the abyss.
Behind all appearances, I divine a struggling essence. I want to merge with it.

I feel that behind appearances this struggling essence is also striving to merge with my heart. But the body stands between us and separates us. The mind stands between us and separates us.

What is my duty? To shatter the body, to rush and merge with the Invisible. To let the mind fall silent that I may hear the Invisible calling.

I walk on the rim of the abyss, and I tremble. Two voices contend within me.

The mind: “Why waste ourselves by pursuing the impossible? Within the holy enclosure of our five senses it is our duty to acknowledge the limitations of man.”

But another voice within me – call it the Sixth Power, call it the heart – resists and shouts:

“No! No! Never acknowledge the limitations of man. Smash all boundaries! Deny whatever your eyes see. Die every moment, but say: Death does not exist.'”

Yes, the box is real but outside the box is a more exciting and daring reality.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 22 October 2015

Do We Have A Soul?

soul

The question has never been simple and easy to deal with. Though, the issue at hand is almost a steadfast notion which is never questioned by adherents and devotees of whatever thought system–or religion, if you will–where such a notion is held in grand esteem. The concept of soul is an important component in the infrastructure of a metaphysical system that puts the human being within a larger belief context dominated by supernatural forces. In this sense, the materialistic/physicalistic scientific presuppostion has absolutely no access into it for it is never observable much less experimentable. The most we can say about it in positive terms is it is a construct to strengthen pre-established convictions zealously guarded by their defenders from the aggressive onslaught of prospective assailants.

In the Hindu religion, the soul is known as the “Atman” which is the human counterpart of the divine “Brahman”. There is therefore an ontological link that connects the Atman and the Brahman which grants the meaningfulness of human existence. Without such link, humanity is nothing. The Atman is the essence of being that guides humanity in pursuit of earthly pleasure and desire (“Kama”) as well as power and wealth (“Artha”) but without setting aside or ignoring the demands of duty and responsibility (“Dharma”) towards fellow human beings, society and the entire cosmic reality. These are human states of affairs whose trajectory is guided by the Atman towards the final achievement of liberation (“moksha”).

In the Christian tradition, the Hebrew concept of “nephesh” lives on from its Jewish theological rootage and in the new dispensation is directly associated with the Greek “psyche” where it is understood as the soul. However, the association is basically more theological than etymological because a deeper analysis of the Hebrew “nephesh” leads the inquirer not to the concept of soul because there is no such concept in Judaism. Early Bible translators (particularly those whose translation became known as the King James Version of the Bible) who worked on the Hebrew Scripures (also known as the Old Testament in the Christian Bible) were heavily influenced by their Greek-dominated theology as they translated “nephesh” into “soul”. Modern-day Biblical scholars have unanimously resolved the problem by a general consensus that “nephesh” in the overall context of Jewish theological system should more accurately be understood as “being”. In this light and as it is used in the Hebrew scriptures, “nephesh” doesn’t only refer to human beings but even to animals. In other words, both human beings and animals are “nephesh.”

However, the Greek concept of “psyche” is not totally isolated from the Hebrew “nephesh” as they are synthesized in the Latin concept of “anima” from which the English word “animal” is derived. The “anima” is the soul as it was configured in medieval theology but with a significant dosage of Aristotelian ingredient in the theological formulation of St. Thomas Aquinas.

“For Aristotle and for his medieval interpeter, St. Thomas Aquinas, in animals, the soul was the form of the body; even plants had souls which gave their body form. The growing oak tree was attracted towards the material form of the tree by the soul of the oak. Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas thought that there were animal souls which coordinated their movements, their instincts, their senses, their emotions. Of course, the word “animal” comes from the Latin word for “soul” which is “anima”; they were beings with souls. In addition, human beings had rational conscious minds concerned with the use of language and these conscious minds were embedded within the animal and the vegetative parts of our soul. The vegetaive soul shapes the embryo and the body had to maintain health and recovery from injury and disease. The animal part of our nature gives us our animal nature, our emotions which we share with the animals, our senses which we share with other animals.” [As quoted from Rupert Sheldrake’s lecture entitled “Cycle of Wonder: Can Science Revive Spirituality” . . . http://iai.tv/video/cycles-of-wonder ]

This whole exposition and any other related discourses as well on the complex issue of the soul do not, however, strengthen the case to prove the existence of the soul as a space-time entity.  Nevertheless, in the language-game where  it is traditionally used, the soul is more basically understood as a principle upon which certain observable and experimentable aspects of life–human, animal and plant–are reckoned to signify activities–both external and internal–that constitute the empirical and the rational in the whole gamut of reality where consciousness plays a vital and imminent role. This entire landscape is now the present specialized concern of the science of psychology which in its infancy had focused more on the unquestioned given-ness of the soul as a metaphysico-theological assumption. Psychology’s emergence and modification from being a thought system that initially dealt with the study of the soul (“psyche”) to becoming a science now engaged in the study of behaviors and mental activities in both humans and animals has gone a long way. With the rigorous demands of modern scientific paradigm, it has transcended the nebulae shrouding the concept of soul and directed its attention to focus on the more concrete and hence observable matters of behavior and cognition that constitute the transformational path of ontological progress towards a goal that integrates experience both external and internal.

The evolution that the concept of the soul has gone through gives us the image of a seemingly formidable and unassailable institution of a concept destined to survive in eternity, so to speak. Then, finally, it got to the point of standing face to face with the instrumentality of scientific investigation which has conclusively determined that the concept of the soul as it was theologically formulated on the basis of medieval metaphysics is nothing but a construct to sustain a belief network which in turn likewise sustained the soul’s image as real within the framework of such a belief system.

Now, the more scientifically enlightened among us don’t use the concept of the soul in its medieval configuration.  Its most common appropriation at present is in the figurative sense which is encountered more in poetic versification and prose. In retrospect, this modern understanding jibes well with the ancient Hebrew concept of “nephesh” which is properly translated as “being” and thus never evokes a mysterious or an ineffable aura. In the final analysis, we haven’t really dismissed and thrown away the concept of the soul in the dustbin of insignificance but rehabilitated it in the sphere of literary endeavor.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 29 September 2015

Gender

genderequality

 

“Actioni contrariam semper et æqualem esse reactionem: sive corporum duorum actiones in se mutuo semper esse æquales et in partes contrarias dirigi.” (“To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction: or the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal, and directed to contrary parts.”)

— Isaac Newton, Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica

Gender is basically a social construct (as distinguished from sex which is biological). It is traditionally defined by a classification of certain assigned roles to people in a social formation. In this sense, masculine roles are sharply distinguished from those of the feminine. Through time we have seen how this situation has been institutionalized with the fabrication of an impregnable frontier that separates one gender from the other. There are tasks socially assigned to exclusively cover the range of a gender’s conduct. In other words, none of a particular gender’s traditional roles may be assigned to and thus performed by those who belong to the other gender. Along with this is the standardization of an imbalance between genders where one is considered to be more superior than the other.

We’ve even witnessed how a wedge is stuck between genders to segregate skills and professions and in the process consider some of them more distinguished over the others. Though more equitable societies generally found in the West have levelled off the gender playing field, so to speak, the spectre of the traditional past still lingers in some localities. There may really be some changes in different areas of concern where we have seen the frontier being traversed both ways. Yet, when it comes to the issue of one gender dominant over the other, quantitative/statiscal records still show the persistence of the traditional perception which is actually embedded in the people’s collective consciousness. This whole scenario affirms the notion that old habits are really hard to die (as a line of an old song goes).

Though we’ve already seen an increase in the number of males in the nursing profession, it is still predominated by women and hence remains to be considered as a feminine career. However, there are certainly positive indications that sooner or later, a balance in terms of gender will be achieved. The same is true among the professional practitioners in the fields of construction and transportation (air, land and sea) which are yet considered as masculine arenas despite the entry of women in trickles. We can enumerate more employment areas where gender classification is yet particularly stressed.

What I consider as seriously odious on the issue of gender distinction is the privileging of one over the other which in the traditional context is the masculine over the feminine. We could have seen some superficial instances where there seems to be a progress towards equality but a closer analysis reveals that underneath still remains the vestiges of the old patterns. We can sense here the protracted ramification of medieval religiosity which exalts the social prioritization bestowed on the male species. It only shows that despite the trend that veers away from the religious and moves onward to secularization, a considerable amount of certain values, behaviors and attitudes still reflect the clout of male-domination in religion that continues to exert a lasting influence even in the cultural apparatus of the modern western human being.

The ghost of patriarchy is very much alive and felt in many traditionalist societies even in the contemporary post-modern era. Male-dominated societies which give more emphasis on the exceptionality of sex roles than gender roles (the fact that these societies are said to be dominated by males) continually thrive as denizens in these societies are yet incapable to disentangle and distinguish sex roles from gender roles. Worse still, women remain subservient to the wishes and biddings of men who are regarded as physically stronger (which is a matter of sex and hence biological) and therefore more stable, more decisive, more purposeful and more determined (which are matters of gender and hence cultural). But a closer look at this equation reveals the faulty association because physical strength is not the precondition of stability, decisiveness, purposefulness and determination. In other words, over and beyond the physical and the biological, these personal qualities of cultural importance may be present and therefore further enhanced in both masculine and feminine genders. (1)

However, on a positive note, we have likewise acknowledged the fact that there are unrelenting forces amidst us that continue to sustain the struggle towards gender equality with remarkable achievements along the way. In highlighting this matter, we could even conjecture that the whole event is constitutive of an evolutionary process that will ultimately lead to the desired objective. In other words, there isn’t even a need to aggressively pursue the battle plan for like a railway track, every movement on it inevitably leads to where it is destined to end. Nevertheless, we are realistic that the whole process will surely take a longer period of time until the arrow finally and fully hits the target.

This whole culture of gender orientation and gender role performance is in general an issue of personal choice that does not have any necessary bi-conditional bearing with female or male sexuality. The state of affairs wherein certain roles are assigned exclusively by a traditionally patriarchal social orientation to one gender instead of to the other—which still relatively dominates many societies nowadays—has been undergoing a dramatic transformation. We are therefore heading towards the full flowering of a socio-cultural landscape where social roles become flexible and are not preconditioned by sexuality and strict gender role demarcation. (2)

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 23 September 2015

Notes:

(1) “On Sex and Gender” . . . https://ruelfpepa.wordpress.com/2014/03/04/on-sex-and-gender/

(2) Ibid.

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