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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

got it

“Sometimes we don’t know what we want until we don’t get it.”
—  Sloane Crosley

“‘Getting it’ is being able to project the probable results of your current actions and ridding yourself of the potential death threat.”
— Frank Regan, We Don’t Get It: Essays on Nature’s Indifference
 

We see the dots and we see them very clearly but we just fail to connect them. We fail to read the message of totality where all elements are supposed to connect with each other. We don’t have a holistic perception of the entirety of world events because in a lot of times we only get fixated on an isolated instance that we think is the most important while the rest are of minor significance. And if the former is fixed at the right moment, everything will get better. We think we live in a world of fragmented, disconnected events. We have never learned to look at reality as a web of interconnected happenings and that’s precisely the reason we fail to understand why there are breakdowns in the world in general and in our individual lives in particular. We fail to understand life. We don’t get it.

By and large, our focal point is our individual lives with all their immediate desires, wishes and needs. In attending to these personal matters, we don’t care at all whether others would be detrimentally affected or not. We always tend to prioritize our own personal condition over those of others’. In fact, in most instances, we tend to believe that our respective individual concerns are so imminent that it’s not necessary to care about those of the others’. Even the possibility of stepping on the toes of others while satisfying our needs is not something we believe we ought to  seriously care about. In this sense, we only understand our own personal situation and not the others’. The general condition of life in this world is so complex that we are convinced we just don’t need to understand it. We don’t need to get it. In fact, we don’t actually get it.

Each of us is so tightly enclosed within our shells so that what matters are only those within the subjective sphere. One says, “There is nothing beyond my world” which gives us the notion that there is nothing outside of one’s conception of the world.  There is therefore a dismal failure of the individual to see the reality of the Other as well as of  the larger world whose changes–whether good or bad–depend on the interactive presence of people in such a world. And we likewise fail to cope with the changes because we have been so engrossed with our own private circumstances while things pass by in time and space. We have long ignored the larger reality outside the walls of our skulls and we wake up one morning without an iota of idea of what we need to do.  Now we are face to face with the realization that not only us but multitudes of other humans like us are the real protagonists in the ever transforming and unfolding drama of life on planet Earth. Suddenly, we have come to realize  that each of us is a part not only of a global but of a grander cosmic network. And now, we are beginning to get it.

At the end of the day, we get to the conclusion that we need to know the true connections of things and events out in the world. The way towards this knowledge does not only involve one’s willingness to break the shell of her/his solipsistic confinement but a genuine desire to get her/himself involved in an honest-to-goodness process of investigation and discovery that at least toes the basics of the scientific method. This trajectory realistically leads us to a more comprehensive understanding of  the world and the interconnected components within it that make such a world go round. And now, we don’t only see the dots but also how they connect with each other.  In fact, not a single one of them is in isolation. We may not be able as yet to explain the deeper and more complex aspects of some connections but the axiomatic presupposition of their interconnectedness is the foundational bedrock of whatever we wish to further explore with the intent to understand more and better the whys and wherefores of events that pop up every now and then.

With the mental framework that we have thus far achieved, it is not, after all, the end of the world even when we say at the moment, “We don’t get it”. We don’t get it as yet but on the basis of the presupposition of interconnectedness that we now accept as an indispensable premise, we are enthusiastic and confident that something will come out in the exploration that we intend to do or are actually doing here and now  with the expectation that sooner or later, we will get it.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 08 April 2015

accountability

“It is wrong and immoral to seek to escape the consequences of one’s acts.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

“A body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody.” ― Thomas Paine

In the context of the State, to whom is the governing class accountable? With the fundamental assumption that this class constitutes the leaders of a nation, it is automatically understood that their accountability is to the people whom they are supposed to be serving. In the specific setting of an ideal democratic society, leaders in government are technically known as “civil servants”. Through the instrumentality of suffrage, they are placed in different positions of leadership by the people themselves. In other words, an ideal government based on democratic principles is theoretically prime and foremost a government of the people and hence is expected to perform its functions for the people, i.e., to serve in the people’s interest. In this sense, the issue of accountability is a crucial one.

In the praxis–i.e., theory and practice–of statecraft, it is one of the most important foundations–if not the most important foundation–of honest-to-goodness public administration and management. Alongside the precept of accountability is that of transparency and together they constitute the twin pillars of integrity in government leadership. Accountability becomes genuine as it is strongly reinforced by transparency and transparency is the window through which the people are assured that their government leaders are truly accountable to them as they perform their respective duties in the nation’s interest. A deviation from this path of integrity casts a shadow of doubt on the leaders’ rectitude and makes their persons suspect as the jar begins to crack, so to speak. As the situation gets worse, the very democratic character of government itself is held in abeyance, then severely challenged and repudiated at its worst point of deterioration. At this juncture, the breakdown of democracy becomes real and absolute. Integrity gets ruined with the bankruptcy of accountability and the collapse of transparency. And the ideals of democracy is demolished.

But let’s get real and look at how these commonly called democratic societies are by and large being led by the governing class. First, a closer look at the real character of this governing class is of the essence. Who are the people that constitute the governing class in a nation? What is obvious is they are the formal leaders who occupy the topmost stratum of the government’s hierarchical triangle called the bureaucracy. In a democracy, they are basically perceived as leaders elected by the people–the electorate–and hence are expected to serve in the interest of the people to whom they are accountable. However, this is just an “epidermal” reality. The truth of the matter is  the so-called governing class is truly a class in the sociological sense of the term, i.e., a categorically defined segment of  a strictly ordered social chain of power relations. The governing class  is thus the most powerful tier in a State’s bureaucratic caste system. As a matter of social experience, not only formally designated (either elected or appointed) government leaders in office comprise the governing class. It likewise includes people of extensive influence that we call “powerbrokers” in political parlance. They do not actually have official designations since they are not formally within the bureaucratic sphere but they wield tremendous power and control over and above the bureucrats in office from the highest to the lowest stratum of the hierarchy.

In fact, this informal, non-official segment of the governing class is the most powerful. It is a cabal of prominent business people–generally multi-millionaires–in commerce and industry most often with wide global ties. Other multi-millionaires who are also within the ranks of the governing class which could be of equal number are the hideous type engaged in nefarious circles like big-time drug trafficking sydicates ,  upper-class prostitution rings and high-roller gambling chains, among other large-scale criminal cliques. Their uncontested power emanates from their finances, part of which they pour into the campaign purse of every candidate they support prior to elections. The most prominent of them even get the monicker, “king makers”. In a lot of ways, these “king makers,” both legal and illegal, are even internationally connected with networks of the same feathers which in turn are working with and hence likewise linked with the formal governing class of the country where they are located. Incumbent government officials are much more accountable to these powerbrokers who financed their election bid than to the common electorate who voted them into office. So long as they continue to occupy official government posts, these formal administrators remain beholden to the informal, non-official segment of the governing class.

In the case of semi-colonial and semi-feudal third-world countries which are mostly located in Africa, Asia and Central and South America , the governing class is not only comprised of the local formal and informal (or official and unofficial) administrators but also of the governments of more economically superior countries exerting hegemonic control over these vassal countries. In fact, there are instances wherein the putting into office of the president of a less-powerful country is effected through the manipulative maneuvering of the ruling government in a globally powerful State. The local government leaders of a vassal country are therefore absolutely accountable not only to the local king-makers but also to the government of the global power that has overarching hegemony over the vassal country’s socio-politico-economic affairs. In this sense, the national government of a vassal country is duty-bound to perform certain responsibilities in the interest not of the local citizens but of the dominant external power.

A case in point is the Philippines which is a vassal country of the United States of America. Throughout the history of the Philippines since the Treaty of Paris, its government has been dominated by US hegemony. Even the appointment and election of its top leadership have constantly been monitored and given a go-signal by the rulers in the US. In other words, a Philippine president may not be elected unless s/he has the blessings of the mighty superiors in US government. This affirms the reality that the Philippine government and its local governing class are definitely accountable to the US government.

In a very recent sensational event involving the tragic death of forty-four members of the Philippine National Police’s Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) in an ambush-massacre staged by a powerful Islamic rebel group in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, the whole fiasco was triggered by an inadvertent order of Philippine president Benigno S. Aquino III in obedience to the command of the US government relayed through the US embassy in the Philippines to capture or neutralize two dreaded international terrorists with a multi-million bounty on their heads and had previously been sighted within the vicinity of the rebel group’s encampment. The US government was  aggressively after the reward money come hell or high water and the Philippine government had to accomplish the kill by hook or by crook with the former’s pledge that the latter would have a share.

After the tragic event, the Philippine president has kept on denying that he issued the direct order to enter the rebel group’s lair. As in past innumerable instances, President Aquino has denied responsibility in judgment errors committed and at worse, always points a finger of blame and accusation to other people mostly his underlings. In this particular ambush-massacre case, Aquino has continually denied his accountability to the Filipino people in general and to the families of those who perished in particular. He and his minions in the administration have even shamelessly resorted to the twisting of the principle of command responsibility just to get him out of the accountability loop. In the final analysis, what is obviously displayed in this entire event is the Philippine government’s subservience and sense of accountability not to the Filipino people but to US hegemony.

The negative aspect of the accountability of the governing class in the context of nominal democracy hitherto presented isn’t however intended to paint a pessimistic and hence hopeless scenario. The truth of the matter is nations are passing through an evolutionary process where some are yet less evolved while others are already beyond the median. In fact, we are already aware of certain situations where genuine accountability in honest-to–goodness democratic states of affairs have been witnessed and about which we have been made aware by post-modern media. The best paradigm so far is the experience of true democracy in the South American country of Uruguay where the sterling records of its retired president Jose Mujica has captured the appreciative sensibility of people around the world. In Mujica’s government was witnessed true democracy in action where the authentic integrity of its president was securely held by the two strong pillars of accountability and transparency.

Another evolution has likewise been rolling on in the small Scandinavian island-nation of Iceland after a devastating economic debacle due to large-scale corruption maneuvered by the local bankers. Now, Iceland is fast recovering with the pillars of accountability and transparency all in their proper places as the country moves on towards a more genuine democratic political arrangement and fast catching up with the highly evolved democracies of Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 25 March 2015

orwell-huxley

“In a properly organized society like ours, nobody has any opportunities for being noble or heroic. Conditions have got to be thoroughly unstable before the occasion can arise. When there are wars, where there are divided allegiances, where there are temptations to be resisted, objects of love to be fought for or defended – there, obviously, nobility and heroism have some sense. But there aren’t any wars nowadays. The greatest care is taken to prevent you from loving anyone too much. There’s no such thing as a divided allegiance; you’re so conditioned that you can’t help doing what you ought to do. And what you ought to do is on the whole so pleasant, so many of the natural impulses are allowed free play, that there really aren’t any temptations to resist. And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there’s always soma to give you a holiday from the facts. And there’s always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. now, you swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your mortality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears – that’s what soma is.”
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

“Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know what no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me.”
George Orwell, 1984

Aldous Huxley’s 1932 megahit [Brave New World . . . http://www.idph.com.br/conteudos/ebooks/BraveNewWorld.pdf%5D or George Orwell’s 1949 blockbuster [Nineteen Eighty-Four . . .  http://www.planetebook.com/ebooks/1984.pdf%5D? Two daring novels in the first half of the 20th century that either fascinated or shocked their intrigued readers. It was the apex of an era–the reign of positivism–in the industrial civilization when modern science and technology were uniquely acclaimed as the final point of humanity’s cultural evolution. It was an exclusive period in human history when the strongest voice of modernistic erudition aimed to displace once and for all traditional as well as mystical religions was unilaterally pushed and dictated by the unopposed mechanistic and physicalistic science which later saw its most persistent and seemingly airtight exposition in B. F. Skinner’s highly controversial volume, Beyond Freedom and Dignity [http://selfdefinition.org/psychology/BF-Skinner-Beyond-Freedom-&-Dignity-1971.pdf], published in 1971. It was that particular point in historic time known in social science as the “age of disenchantment” (Entzauberung in German)–a term appropriated from the German philosopher Friedrich Schiller by the sociologist and philosopher Max Weber in his The Sociology of Religion [http://ir.nmu.org.ua/bitstream/handle/123456789/134984/9b765b0dda623b36ce1b928c9c3d8e4f.pdf?sequence=1 ]–when modern western society had been drawn into the bandwagon of positivistic science whose chief objective was to devalue the traditional merits of the so-called religious, mystical and spiritual experiences.

In both paradigm-shaping novels, the central issue is the human person: Is s/he an autonomous being, that is a “being-for-itself” (with apologies to Jean-Paul Sartre) endowed with free-will and the inherent power to organize and hence determine her/his future? Or, is s/he  solely a physico-mechanical “object” whose ideas, thoughts, feelings and decisions are just by-products of her/his physico-chemical constitution, genetic configuration and environmental conditioning? From where does s/he draw the meaningfulness of her/his life? Or perhaps the more fundamental question is: Is her/his life meaningful at all? Is humanity’s future predetermined by material limitations in a closed system of reality or it depends on one’s choices and decisions in a reality that is open to the unhindered operation of her/his free will? Or, given that there is human free will, could the problem lie in the condition that the majority of human beings conduct their lives like sheep in a flock whose course is stirred, regulated and determined by the strong, the tough and the powerful minority among them? Are manipulation and control an inherent dynamic to make society orderly and organized, well-coordinated, well-managed and properly governed?

In 1984, free will is a given nevertheless a dangerous component of the human personality. Thus, it has to be curbed, controlled, muffled and finally subdued to give way to the uncontested importance of social values and personal virtues to strengthen and fully empower the State machinery. The State in this sense is deemed to be the paramount source of the citizens’ welfare and development measured in terms of social stability achievable only by way of economic productivity, institutional order and national peace. Nineteen Eighty-Four is an exposition of how society under the iron hand of totalitarian rule operates. Totalitarian governance is the new power that forces traditional religion with its god(s) out of the sphere of society’s political system without throwing away the dynamic of fear which is always a pre-eminent factor in most religions.

In 1984, a new “god” far more powerful than the nebulous “god(s)-in-heaven” of traditional religions is inaugurated and is now known as “Big Brother”. He is identified as the lead “conductor” in a symphony of fear that characterizes the new social order. His unbendable and unbreakable laws are administered by his loyal minions well-placed in various sectors and levels of the government bureaucracy. They are better described as severe taskmasters whose major importance in the hierarchy is in the area of reward and punishment, though punishment seems to be their chief expertise. Common in a society conditioned by totalitarian rule is the ascendant factor of fear. In every area of life, citizens should get used to the stringent rules and regulations exacted by their leaders who represent in person the sovereign ideals of Big Brother. Citizens are in a state of continual apprehension and terror all the time as their movements and activities both in public and in private are constantly being monitored by ever-present cameras [very similar to the closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras we usually find in public places and even on the streets as surveillance devices to capture and record untoward activities which in many cases could be criminal in nature].

Though not exactly in a totalitarian political milieu, this situation is now a reality in the present dispensation known as the “Age of Information”. The condition may not be as harsh as the tyrannical ambience in Orwell’s fiction but in our time, the constant flow of information via online monitoring even on the most guarded secrets of an individual person’s daily conduct of life may be accessed through the most sophisticated instruments and devices electronically connected/linked to computers and hand-held equipment we use and without which life doesn’t seem liveable to many of us on a daily basis.  In other words, we denizens of the post-modern world are generally in one way or another being subjected to constant surveillance by the powers that be both in global and domestic landscapes. There may not be commensurate punishment yet at this point in time for every misdeed and misconduct people do but the fast evolving information technology we have had in the post-modern reality could sooner or later be utilized by despotic and authoritarian regimes as a concrete tool to effect oppressive and onerous measures against their own citizens. If actual oppression is conceived as a real possibility in 1984 by sowing widespread terror even with all the technological limitations in the plot’s context, could such possibility be more highly conceivable in the present post-modern era with all the sophisticated technological devices the age of cyberspace has at its beck and call?

Huxley’s Brave New World is a different scenario in human manipulation and social control, or “social engineering,” if you will. Unlike 1984, it presupposes the delusionary character of human free will. There is no free will at all and every human being is in reality an absolute captive of her/his physico-chemical constitution, genetic configuration and environmental conditioning. Hence, in the creation of a “brave new world” of functional and productive inhabitants predetermined in their talents and expertise, competence and readiness, certain indispensable factors must be realized such as the utilization of a reproductive technology where the birth of a human baby is artificially simulated in a laboratory; the application of psychological manipulation and mental conditioning; and the operationalization of psycho-social reinforcement. All of these are conditions in the successful formation of physically healthy individuals whose optimum contributions in the maintenance of a strong, well-balanced and well-structured society are absolutely necessary.

A “brave new world” is an effective and efficient social order where there is no confusion in its inhabitants’ respective social roles and responsibilities. A “brave new world” is a highly stratified society where division of labor has to be effected at every level of the stratification. This social stratification is characterized by a caste system wherein the topmost level is occupied by the so-called Alphas who are not mass-produced and hence have the highest degree of individuality in terms of above average intelligence, exuberant personality and exquisite physical qualities. The  Betas are likewise not mass-produced and have a high degree of individuality though some notches lower than the Alphas. The lower caste levels like the Gammas the Deltas and the Epsilons are mass-produced and have lower-level intelligence. They are also  much shorter in stature and less good-looking in physical appearance. The different levels in the caste system are the results of laboratory manipulation wherein the developing human organisms at their earliest stage of maturation are subjected to different chemical exposures. Alphas and Betas are very well taken care of. They are constantly provided with an optimum supply of oxygen and excellent nutrition. Such physiological reinforcements are however intentionally expropriated from Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons so as to preclude high-level intelligence in them by stunting brain development. This mental function restrictions are a necessary condition for them not to get further educated and thus always remain happy and satisfied while efficiently serving the State through the specific menial tasks assigned to them.

In Brave New World and 1984 are two different models of a single intent: personality manipulation via  human engineering–both psychological and physiological–to effect the formation of a social order where inhabitants are no longer aiming for higher life status as their present condition is all satisfying by the standards of material security measured in terms of economic stability. In 1984, the general rule of the game is simply toeing the line of Big Brother and everything will be alright. The system–whose main feature is the omnipresent surveillance mechanism–is unconditionally airtight so that even a mere casual thought of staging a rebellion is non-feasible. In this social milieu, the omnipotent control factor is the overarching span of prevalent fear instilled in the cultural apparatus of every citizen. This method of manipulation is a playing-up of the Jungian archetypal presupposition whose main thesis is grounded in the theory of the collective unconscious. In this particular instance of our present discussion, such presuppostion touches on the primitive religious impulse of the human species where fear of the unknown is the primal disturbance factor. Nineteen Eighty-Four is therefore an exposition of how this so-called religious fear may be politically appropriated to set the stage of an orderly and peaceful society populated by obedient citizens loyal to the State and the powers behind it.

In Brave New World, fear, along with the rest of human emotional tendencies, is generally non-existent in the lower rungs of the caste system. Emotional feelings are solely experienced by the Alphas and Betas since they are the only ones endowed with high-level individual personalities. However, there are always psychogenic drugs to neutralize and transform into positive their negative emotions. Society is so efficiently organized that peace and order are its inherent components. The positively conditioned Alphas are the ruling elites whose intellectual and emotional programmings are always exactly geared for the well-being and maintenance of society’s institutional stability and productivity. In close comparison with Orwell’s society, Huxley’s “brave new world” is the better model. It is more sophisticated with all the trappings of modern science and technology and the air of satisfaction pervades the social atmosphere. Its denizens are more civil and cultured in an environment where there is no hatred, envy and insecurity. The “brave new world” is a perfect society where there are no sicknesses, insanities and problems due to emotional imbalance and ignorance commonly found in less-evolved societies represented in the novel by the “savage reservation“.

However, putting aside all the theoretical considerations hitherto discussed and highlighted, something seriously ominous troubles the sanity of a thinking mind in further reflecting on the most fundamental aspects of Orwell’s Big-Brother-managed State and Huxley’s “brave new world”. In the course of a clear-minded analysis, we want to examine not only the logical validity of Orwell’s and Huxley’s presuppositions but also the soundness of states of affairs that constitute the major premises upon which their respective presuppositions are based. In the process, we ask the following basic questions: Would the dynamics of humanity allow the possibility of Orwell’s and Huxley’s societies? Isn’t the continuing history of human civilization replete with defiance and struggles, destructions and violence, sacrifices and deaths which are sheer aggressive displays of humanity’s assertive disposition when challenged and provoked in both small-scale and large-scale contexts? Seriously considering these questions leads us to doubt the realistic grounding of Orwell’s and Huxley’s presuppositions. The next question primed up by such doubt is: Do you think the citizens of a nation would just let people in power to form an Orwellian society or a Huxleyan “brave new world” without putting up a reasonable fight?

Orwell’s and Huxley’s societies are founded on institutionalized dehumanization. We call them societies but can we still attach the term “human” to modify them? In Orwell’s society, human free will is suppressed and denigrated. In Huxley’s, it is obsoletized in the majority of the people who constitute the lower rungs of the caste system. In the final analysis, we question the humanity of a society where human freedom is non-existent for such freedom is the only guarantee that bestows dignity to humanity. The persistence of the drive of the human free will to preserve human dignity is the strongest defiant factor expected to aggressively and relentlessly challenge the legitimacy of either an Orwellian or a Huxleyan society.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 19 March 2015

cult of personality

“Neither of us cares a straw of popularity. Let me cite one proof of this: such was my aversion to the personality cult [orig. Personenkultus] that at the time of the International, when plagued by numerous moves […] to accord me public honor, I never allowed one of these to enter the domain of publicity. . . .”

Karl MarxA letter to German political worker, Wilhelm Blos, 10 November 1877

Personality cult is a system wherein a human being is projected as a larger-than-life entity with all the trappings of greatness, perfection and supremacy. It is basically a deification of an individual person deemed extraordinary and whose heroic exploits have captured the imagination of the masses in a particular socio-political climate. The central figure in a personality cult is generally viewed by the adulatory multitude as an impeccable paragon of a revered hero who personifies their ideals, wishes and dreams more especially in times of national adversity, political disarray and socio-economic crisis. The hero of a personality cult is an “anointed leader” believed to be endowed with super-human power to redeem the impoverished and disempowered masses from the exploitative machination of evil forces that dominate a particular social condition.

Personality cult strongly reflects the persistent need of the social human for a visible personification of power conceived as the convergence point of personal inspiration, political authority and institutional structure without which social breakdown spontaneously seeps in to fully destroy the cultural legacy of a people. Personality cult is therefore a vehicle that generates and promotes the exemplary deeds and godlike preeminence of a supposed national “savior” tasked to liberate his people from tyranny, exploitation and oppression and lead them to “the promised land,” so to speak. Evaluating the marked trails and dramatic lessons of world history, some personality cults appreciatively lived up to the people’s expectations and successfully effected the anticipated consequences while others faltered and failed as their erswhile heroes carried their sullied names to the tragic graves of ignominy.

On a positive note, many personality cults in history spearheaded the revivification of otherwise dying socio-political orders and even toughened their institutional configurations through the dedicated and passionate activism of the people whom these personality cults had consistently inspired. History in different epochs has witnessed the emergence of extraordinary personalities whose leaderships are not simply acknowledged but extolled, glorified and even immortalized  by the next generations. These heroic personalities remain and will always remain to be a galvanizing factor to rally the people into action whenever there is a threat of disintegration and destruction, both internal and external. In many instances, their influence is not solely political but likewise cultural.

It has been constantly observed that if and when such inspirational impact has reached the cultural level, its overarching centrality does not only infuse the sentimental infrastructure of a nation but moreso, the spiritual fiber of every responsible citizen that meaningfully constitutes such a nation. Distinguished from legal authority and traditional authority, eminent classical sociologist and philosopher Max Weber calls it “charismatic authority” in chapter 3 of his Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology (edited by Gunther Roth and Claus Wittich) [http://www.public.iastate.edu/~carlos/607/readings/weber.pdf] entitled “The Types of Legitimate Domination”. On pages 125-126, Weber writes:

There are three pure types of domination. The validity of the claims to legitimacy may be based on:
1. Rational grounds – resting on a belief in the legality of enacted rules and the right of those elevated to authority under such rules to issue commands (legal authority).
2. Traditional grounds – resting on an established belief in the sanctity of immemorial traditions and the legitimacy of those exercising authority under them (traditional authority); or finally
3. Charismatic grounds – resting on devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the normative patterns of order revealed or ordained by him (charismatic authority).

In the case of legal authority, obedience is owed to the legally established impersonal order. It extends to the persons exercising the authority of office under it by virtue of the formal legality of their commands and only within the scope of authority of the office. In the case of traditional authority, obedience is owed to the person of the chief who occupies the traditionally sanctioned position of authority and who is (within its sphere) bound by tradition. But here the obligation of obedience is a matter of personal loyalty within the area of accustomed obligations. In the case of charismatic authority, it is the charismatically qualified leader as such who is obeyed by virtue of personal trust in his revelation, his heroism or his exemplary qualities so far as they fall within the scope of the individual’s belief in his charisma.

In Weber’s view, the “charismatic authority” in personality cult is something positively taken as a necessary factor in exigent historic moments of national significance. Charismatic authority inspires people to solidify their commitment to a noble cause and goads them to act courageously regardless of conceivable risks. In such circumstance, personality cult shines on and enriches the cultural memory of a nation.

However, personality cult is not always a promising condition. In the modern world dominated by mass media, personality cults have been generated and blown out of proportion by media propaganda with all the manipulative  components they intend to spell out  Such method of exaggerating the personal character of a projected hero is aimed for the purpose of raising an agenda  that promotes the chief interest of an emerging political group or alliance. This type of personality cult endeavors to condition the minds of people to toe the political line of the sponsoring party until the majority of them have been brainwashed to the hilt. Propaganda fraught with lies and deceptions is the most effective tool to advance a personality cult and once such is already firmly established on the political landscape, the state of affairs begins to get bad and then worse in gradual phase. Absolute obedience to the personality cult becomes the order of the day to the extent that the exploitative forces behind such cult resort to atrocious means to fully control the people who at this point are no longer treated as allies but vassals.

The downside of personality cult is in the formulation of a narrative that praises a fabricated hero with all the distinguished and illustrious characters of an ideal one despite the reality that such substandard personality doesn’t measure up to the qualities of the ideal. The superficiality of this type of personality cult reveals in time all the recognizable flaws of an incompetent leader whose acts of national magnitude are generally inimical and hence detrimental to the people’s overall circumstances. Lessons of history present to us personality cults that didn’t actually emanate from the people but were pure “contrivances” of political sectors whose chief objective was solely to dominate the national political landscape. In the final analysis, we have seen personality cults emanating from the people as well as those who just emerge out of nowhere and people only get to know them as they are rabidly pushed, sponsored and promoted by interest groups. This in my opinion is the most obvious frontier that distinguishes the positive type of personality cult from the negative.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa 12 March 2015

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