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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 curved, 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 astringent 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

Joy in Breathing

breathing

“Breathing easily and fully is one of the basic pleasures of being alive. The pleasure is clearly experienced at the end of expiration when the descending wave fills the pelvis with a delicious sensation. In adults this sensation has a sexual quality, though it does not induce any genital feeling. The slight backward and forward movements of the pelvis, similar to the sexual movements, add to the pleasure. Though the rhythm of breathing is pronounced in the pelvic area, it is at the same time experienced by the total body as a feeling of fluidity, softness, lightness and excitement.”
― Alexander Lowen, The Voice of the Body

“Breathing involves a continual oscillation between exhaling and inhaling, offering ourselves to the world at one moment and drawing the world into ourselves at the next…”
― David Abram, Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology

While modern science provides us with several instances that prove the existence of life in all forms on planet Earth, ancient Jewish mythological tradition highlights human life as the centerpiece of one of its creation stories. It especially focuses on how some mighty powers (take note: it is in the plural as the Hebrew word elohim–which is erroneously translated as “god”–is in the plural) bestowed life on adam (humanity) by “breathing into his nostrils the breath of life, and humanity became a living creature.” The theopoetical (take note: not theological) implication of this mythological (take note: not historical) story is the existentially fascinating connection of life and breath. The most obvious substantiation of life on Earth is hence in  the presence of breathing physico-chemical entities (called animals which include human beings). We spontaneously breathe the “breath of life” as we naturally draw it from  the atmospheric source which right at the very beginning of the Jewish mythological story is called ruach elohim, i.e., “air or wind emanating from mighty sources” (again, erroneously translated as “the spirit of god”). Quoting a portion of my essay “On Spirituality” (https://ruelfpepa.wordpress.com/2014/01/05/on-spirituality/)

“A more detailed study of the Hebrew concept of ruach leads us to its most basic meanings as ¨wind,¨ ¨air,¨ and ¨breath¨ which is not alien to the concept of force, power and energy. Whether we take it theistically as in the Jewish scripture or non-theistically/atheistically by a semantic understanding, ruach in the physico-naturalistic sense as breath, wind or air, or in the philosophico-metaphorical sense as spirit (i.e., force, power, energy), one incontrovertible issue stands out and that is the fact that ruach as such is necessarily connected with life. The spirit is therefore not only life-giving but may logically be construed as life itself for life manifests energy. In contrast with this conception is a life that treads the path of death while its energy is fading away.”

The whole scenario creates the notion of how life is inextricably connected with breathing: a uniquely special process that may only be realized in the context of a natural atmosphere which provides the suitable air we ought to breathe to sustain life. This is the joy of breathing. We along with the rest of the living organisms on Earth are alive because we are located on a livable planet that sustains us with “the breath of life”  provided by the Earth’s atmosphere. This particular notion further leads us to the realization that earthly life is inextricably connected with the ecological mechanics and dynamics that constitute the very source of the life we breathe. With this thought in mind,  what becomes crucially important is not only human life or the lives of the rest of the living organisms but more so, the “living” Earth itself (or herself, if you will) that sustains the very “breath of life” we all have.

There is joy in breathing as long as we breathe the proper and health-giving  air in the Earth’s atmosphere. Such joy in breathing is the very essence of spirituality we have thematized in our consciousness to signify the worth of life–both human and non-human–on Earth. In other words, our spirituality is basically grounded on the principle that we are lovers of life. Again, from my “On Spirituality”:

“A spiritual life is an energetic life. In this sense, spirituality is more meaningfully understood in its inalienable correlation with life itself. Further stretching this line of thought brings us to the notion that spirituality is life-promoting, life-loving, life-appreciating, life-empowering, life-preserving. A spiritual person is therefore a committed defender of life.”

This is the heart of spirituality limelighted in the ancient Jewish theopoetical mythology that connects and identifies “breath” and “air” with the spirit. Life is spirit because this spirit is the very breath of life breathed into the living organisms through the life-giving atmosphere which in the ecological sense could be symbolically construed as the overpowering deity called Gaia in pagan mythologies much more ancient than the Jewish tradition.

But breathing in certain parts of the planet may no longer be joyful in this age as we have continually been witnessing the wanton destruction of the Earth’s atmosphere. Pollution in all forms has been wrecking havoc not only in the air we breathe but likewise on the Earth’s terrain and water systems. The entirety of our planet’s ecological system is in peril. Despite the technological discoveries, inventions and  innovations the age of industrialization has generated on the one hand to make human labor much more convenient than in the preceding age, it’s most serious downside on the other hand is “the culture of death” reflected in the horrible enviromental destruction it has unabashedly perpetrated.

Let me end this treatise with a short passage I wrote some years back, “The Earth is Alive” (http://originalblessing.ning.com/profiles/blogs/the-earth-is-alive?xg_source=activity):

1.0 The Earth is alive . . . yet.
1.1 The Earth is alive and yet she is in a very serious condition.
1.2 The Earth is alive, yet she is likewise dying.
1.3 The Earth is dying and unless we do something imminent at this point in time, we shall surely perish with her.
2.0 This is the most pressing and present reality we face in the 21st century. Unless we reverse this tragic flow of events, we are heading toward disaster.
2.1 A foreboding atmosphere of impending devastation dominates the landscape for we have gradually systematically poisoned the Earth: prevalent pollutions of the air and waters; holes in the ozone layer; massive destruction of the flora and fauna. We—Earth and humans—are in the worst of times.
2.2 Through generations, we have failed to acknowledge the fact that the Earth is a living Super-Organism—a macro-mirror of our own delicate humanity that should have been taken extra care of with the best of our tenderness and protected with the resoluteness of a kindred spirit always ready to defend one of its flesh and blood.
2.3 The Earth has always faithfully sustained the most basic of our needs, wishes and desires. The Earth has constantly been a trustworthy patron of our sacred humanity making her the source of that very sacredness.
3.0 Yet, we have not positively responded to her loving kindness with sincere gratitude. Instead, we have become purveyors of abuses and exploitative acts. In the modern era, humanity has declared war against nature.
3.1 In the process, modern technology has been harnessed for exploitative purposes leading to heavy environmental devastations and ecological imbalance to the detriment of the human species.
3.2 In the final analysis, we humans are at the losing end.
4.0 Now is the most fitting moment to reconcile with nature.
4.1 Now is the most proper chance for us to bow down in humility and accept the magnitude of our misdoings with repentant hearts and total mindfulness of a new worldview that will at last redeem us from the mire of an impending destruction.
4.2 Now is the era of a new world order pushed and carried by a responsible humanity with all the willingness to renew what is yet renewable on Earth.
5.0 The challenge before us therefore is to work together and let a new Earth—now an eco-system where humanity becomes a part of nature—evolve and metamorphose to create a new humanity that does not only appreciate the spiritual but also the natural for they are not two but a unity.

Then and only then can we fully experience in a genuine sense joy in breathing.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 25 February 2015

 

moderate

Honest-to-goodness activists are hearts and minds deeply involved in the cause that they are fighting for. Their indefatigable commitment to what they believe in is witnessed on the street, online, on the air, in print and in whatever opportunity they can get into to express the urgency of their issues. In most instances, they are the voices of the inarticulate, the abused, the neglected, the oppressed. Activists operating in unison within a broad geographical spectrum during the darkest moment of a nation are a force to be reckoned with for they are possessors of a revolutionary inspiration bound to alter and topple a loathed political order and its anathemized leadership. Authentically devoted activists are therefore intrepid essentials who jolt people in their deep slumber while being hypnotically exploited by the powers that be.

One asset that makes activists esteemed is their ability to get to the roots of problems in particular social loci. In this sense, an activist is supposed to be radical whose relevance is measured in terms of her/his realistic analysis and evaluation of circumstances raised to the level of imminent issues of national–even global–importance. A more significant distinction that makes an activist genuine is her/his decisiveness to act responsibly and thus effect necessary change on what has been deemed to be seriously problematic. More than being formers of ideas based on thoroughgoing inquiry, real activists are active and substantial transformers of states of affairs that demand radical change. In the language of the eminent Brazilian philosopher of education and pedagogy, Paulo Freire, bona fide activists are purveyors of “conscientization” which highlights the crucial importance of an extensive understanding of social and political contradictions in society as well as the pertinency of being able to act responsibly to level off such contradictions. (cf. Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed . . . https://libcom.org/files/FreirePedagogyoftheOppressed.pdf)

In this light, reflection and action are the two necessary factors that define a genuine activist, no more, no less. In other words, true activists are tenacious thinkers and performers of actions deemed necessary to ameliorate a disempowering condition of social importance. With such a balance of reflection and action, we could say that real activists are individuals of moderation who are not prone to act out of impulse but of well-thought plans. In this understanding of the concept of moderation, sensible activists are necessarily moderate and moderate activists are both keenly reasonable in thought and sharply strategic in action. Moderation as being calm, composed, cool and rational is a fundamental character of a competent and impressive activist. Moderate activism is therefore  of the essence if one is carefully resolute to achieve optimum results in a transformational action heading toward better life conditions.

However, there is a stereotypical understanding of the concept of moderation which means being less energetic and hence basically lackadaisical or passive. Combining this connotation of moderation with our understanding of activism leads to the concept of “moderate activism” which could be construed at worst as an oxymoron for how could honest-to-goodness activism be disinterested and apathetic? But the truth of the matter is we find in many instances people who call themselves activists and define their activism as moderate. These are people who want to grab the limelight by getting themselves superficially involved in discussions of emergent issues of socio-political importance. They could come up with a series of synthetic theories arrived at through reasonable analysis and evaluation but offering obscure opinions and equivocal notions as resolutions laid down on hazy platforms that appear as workable plans of action. Nevertheless, they are actually deceptive ploys to conceal the half-hearted commitment of these so-called “moderate activists” to the crucial issue at hand.

Moderate activism in the light of this commonplace understanding is by and large a disingenuous maneuver employed by self-proclaimed “activists” for the sole purpose of grandstanding. They are called “moderate” because of their less impassioned statements and seemingly neutral analyses that waterdown the focal points of critical issues that need to be addressed and acted upon decisively. Moreover, when these “moderate activists” are cornered, they have the automatic tendency to project an image of calm, restrained and reasonable agents of tranquil change considerate towards the two contending sides of the issue under consideration. Unmasking “moderate activists” is getting face-to-face with a bunch of counterfeits who in reality are nothing but armchair revolutionaries and fence-sitters scared to death to get themselves involved right at the middle of a controversial circumstance while at the same time disappointingly creating a public impression that they are sincere and wholehearted in their farcical activism. For them and for their egostical purposes, such an effort is not an exercise in futility but for us who know the true color of their skin, listening to them is a waste of time.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 18 February 2015

What is Success?

success

Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
― Confucius

“Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value.”
― Albert Einstein

“It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.”
― Herman Melville

“The worst part of success is trying to find someone who is happy for you.”
― Bette Midler

“Anyone whose goal is ‘something higher’ must expect someday to suffer vertigo. What is vertigo? Fear of falling? No, Vertigo is something other than fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves.”
― Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Success is a state of achievement–a fulfillment of one’s endeavor and its related objectives. It manifests in human experience in varied forms and degrees of importance. Success inspires life amid struggles, problems and difficulties. It could be personal and hence subjective or social/public and thus intersubjective. Success gives us a feeling of exhilaration. Pleasure in this sense is an inherent accompaniment of success. With all these notions in mind, there seems to be no other concept to describe success but goodness. Success is good and therefore a most meaningful reason to celebrate.  And if it is good, does it necessarily follow that success is ethical?

By and large, success within the full range of human experience is beyond good and evil (with apologies to Nietzsche). Its so-called goodness is a matter of feeling. In other words, it is good because one feels good after a successful realization of her/his plan. The plan might be beneficial and thus good but it could also be malevolent and therefore evil. We ourselves have witnessed in this world myriad of events successfully effected to the detriment and destruction of particular human circumstances, both in the individual and the social contexts. From a relativistic viewpoint, success could be construed as “morally good” only by those who have benefitted in the achievement of a goal without assessing more deeply the implication of such achievement to other people who have been adversely affected by such a success. In this case, one’s success is defeat to another and this seems to be a natural stuff of life in this world.

Success outside the parameters of the ethical is fundamentally an existential issue. From the perspective of subjectivity, an individual has the sole predisposition to set her/his agenda and the standard of its successful attainment. A plan is conceived with all its practicable details relevant to actual implementation along with the measurement tools to evaluate all performances and landmarks of progress until the final moment when everything is done at last according to plan. That is success which in this particular context is uniquely predetermined, influenced and guided by no one but the planner her/himself. It is her/his idea, dream and endeavor–an airtight project whose success or failure rests on her/his sense of seriousness and determination alone, no more, no less. Nobody from the outside (as s/he has never allowed anybody) has ever dictated her/him on this matter as to what ought to be her/his standard of success in the realization of such a project. An overwhelming feeling of utter fulfillment and satisfaction is all that matters; a”spiritual” reward that transcends the material and the pecuniary, so to speak.

But in a lot of instances, the individual existential predisposition is undermined (as people in most cases allow it to be undermined) by the standards of social conventions even in matters associated with how one should view, evaluate and judge success. Society “dictates” us with the signposts of success and all the material circumstances that surround it. Being submerged in and swallowed by all these social indicators detaches and alienates us from our personal signification of success. In the process, we develop within our cultural apparatuses a sense of success which in reality is nothing but a case of toeing the line of what society defines as success. But society is not as simple as how it is defined in sociology. Through time, society has achieved the prerogative to dictate what success is because there are “power-brokers” that have set in motion certain institutional components within society whose activities need to be primed and constantly sustained to maintain the stability of and hence continually empower these power-brokers. They are the actual dictators in society that have set for us standards of success we should be swallowing hook-line-and-sinker to be called successful. We find them in government, in the corporate world, in educational institutions, in commercial business establishments and of course among the middle-class who are their most effective “advertising agents”.

Success in this sense becomes more of a show and display of one’s status in life; something that other people ought to see. At its basest form, success is measured in the clothes one wears as well as in the ostentatious display of jewelry and other material status symbols like the car one drives, the food s/he eats and the social circle s/he is associated with. Success in the corporate world is exemplified by an executive who has risen through the ranks and is now earning a five-figure monthly pay commensurate to the high-level post s/he occupies in the corporate ladder. Society in general has been sort of brainwashed by this kind of mental framework and movements within it has been transformed into a rat race of people trying to outmaneuver each other regardless of whether one does it smoothly on a clear alley or stepping on others’ toes in a highly competitive condition.

Within the academe’s faculty components, success is measured the same way. One has to have at least a master’s degree and at most a doctorate to be called successful for such an achievement entails a higher paycheck. In fact, these people so visibly flaunt their graduate and post-graduate degrees around as if such is the end-all of the success they’ve achieved and for which they should be given the highest respect on campus. In many instances, however, their success is a farce because more than their degrees, they have nothing to boast of. No worthwhile research studies; never published in refereed prestigious journals; no citation of published works in scholarly treatises. Their only claim of success is in the degrees they have and in the theses or dissertations they allegedly wrote which in many cases are notorious plagiarization of portions of the hundreds of references they used. We find these obnoxious academics in second-class and third-class universities–which are actually “legitimized diploma mills”–anywhere in the modern world. Nevertheless, this is a non-issue in honest-to-goodness prestigious institutions like the prominent ones in Great Britain and the Ivy-League universities in the US, among others in other parts of the world. Success is measured more in terms of the distinguished academics’ scholarly achievements through the valuable research studies they have done and not in the paychecks they of course are entitled to.

In the final analysis, I’d rather value success more as a celebration of life in the silence of my heart. It is not something that the dictates of social conventions set for me. I measure my success in the pleasure of doing what I want to freely do. My success doesn’t depend on other people’s evaluation and judgment. It is not something shown and displayed ostentatiously to be admired, praised and hailed publicly. My success is in the attainment of certain wishes and desires projected in the past and are now a reality. Being a poor man with just enough to sustain my daily needs and enjoy the comfort of a normal life, it could be a no-brainer thing for the modern materialistic world to judge my condition more as a failure than a success. Past failures and tragedies still haunt me in solitude but life has somehow opened small pockets of beautiful things to feast and celebrate on in the silence of my heart which no money can ever buy. This for me is success.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 11 February 2015

On Minority Rights

 minority

“It is unnatural for the majority to rule, for a majority can seldom be organized and united for specific action, and a minority can.” –Jean-Jacques Rousseau

“Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth.” –Mahatma Gandhi

“Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.

I. Some Clarificatory Words

As an initial point of clarification, the present subject matter in this discussion is about ethnic minorities. They are almost everywhere in modern societies.  They are called minority in contradistinction from the majority. The issue of their human and civil rights is of serious importance for in a lot of instances there seems to be a disparity in the rights that they and the majority enjoy. Had it not been so, there couldn’t have been a legitimate problematization on such an issue. Further clarification leads us to two types of ethnic minority: (1) the indigenous ethnic minority and (2) the “outsider” or migrant ethnic minority. Let’s start off with the indigenous minority.

II. The Indigenous Ethnic Minority

As a matter of general perception, indigenous ethnic minorities in almost all societies where they are found are seen to be less empowered than the dominant majority in terms of political participation, economic importance and social involvement. In these areas of consideration, the majority luxuriate to the fullest extent in a wide range of opportunities that the indigenous minority by and large don’t have. The indigenous minority are said to be marginalized and hence disempowered. They don’t enjoy as much freedom as that which the dominant majority relish. In instances when the call for justice is of the essence, the majority get it much more easily as it is almost denied to the indigenous minority.

In other words, human flourishing as the most basic principle that covers both human and civil rights is not only less fulfilled in the case of the indigenous minority but is often denied in a variety of ways. Worst-case scenarios even highlight the predator-prey relation between the majority and the indigenous minority in certain societies. In simple terms, it is always the majority that call the shots; never the indigenous minority. It is not however suggested here that the minority don’t have any right at all to exercise. The burden of the present problematization rests on the reality that the indigenous minority are not equal possessors of the same amount of rights the majority possess.

The voice of the indigenous minority to express imminent concerns relevant to essential issues that affect their lives as a people is more often muffled and prevented by the dominant majority to be heard through both legal and illegal means. Just to satisfy the monitoring media in many instances, they are allowed to present their issues but in a controlled environment where what is supposed to be seen by the watching public are the edited versions. Everything is all a superficial display of a semblance of the indigenous minority’s human and civil rights. In Emanuel Levinas’ words, the indigenous minority constitute the Other and their otherness is the very factor that diminishes their rights in a social milieu managed and controlled by the dominant majority. The whole situation is therefore not simply a case of local disempowerment but of blatant dehumanization.

III. The “Outsider” or Migrant Ethnic Minority

The issue on “outsider” or migrant ethnic minority is a little complicated matter. There are societies where there is an across-the-board infringement of their rights by the dominant majority which is not dissimilar at all from the previous discussion on the indigenous minority. However, there are societies where they are extensively powerful in the way they exercise economic ascendancy over and above the majority. The term used for the powerful “outsider” minority by the distinguished Harvard legal scholar Amy Chua in her highly acclaimed bestseller World on Fire is “market-dominant minority”.

They include multi-millionaire (even multi-billionaire) Chinese capitalists operating collosal commercial and industrial business conglomerates initially in southeast Asia but are now all over the world. We should also mention equally powerful Jewish business moguls with business empires in Europe and the Americas. In pockets of more particular instances, we have the multi-millionaire Hispanic “insulares” minority in control of large-scale business investments in various parts of central and south America. In various parts of the African continent, they are the European–both British and continental–tycoons who have long been dictating the economies of the countries they are located through their direct involvement in local agricultural, commercial and industrial enterprises. We can go on and on and get more specific about the many other powerful “outsider” minorities in control of both the economy and the major political players of government in different countries all over the world. Amy Chua remarks:

“Market-dominant minorities can be found in every corner of the world. The Chinese are a market-dominant minority not just in the Philippines but throughout Southeast Asia. In 1998, Chinese Indonesians, only three percent of the population, controlled roughly 70 percent of Indonesia’s private economy, including all of the country’s largest conglomerate. More recently, in Burma, entrepreneurial Chinese have literally taken over the economies of Mandalay and Rangoon. Whites are market-dominant minority in South Africa–and, in a more complicated sense, in Brazil, Ecuador,Guatemala, and much of Latin America. Lebanese are a market-dominant minority in West Africa. Ibo are a market-dominant minority in Nigeria. Croats were a market-dominant minority in the former Yugoslavia. And Jews are almost certainly a market-dominant minority in post-Communist Russia.”

These market-dominant minorities are however grievously detested by the envious and incensed majority. Among the more serious cases of hate campaigns we are very much aware of was the one launched not too long ago by president Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe against the “white” dominant minority who had long been in control of his country’s economy. In fact, Amy Chua’s World on Fire is a comprehensive research study on how these market-dominant minorities have long been the leading supreme economic manipulators of sundry societies and nations in the age of what we now know as globalization. In this light, Amy Chua says and I quote:

” . . . In the numerous countries around the world that have pervasive poverty and a market-dominant minority, democracy and markets–at least in the form in which they are currently being promoted–can proceed only in deep tension with each other. In such conditions, the combined pursuit of free markets and democratization has repeatedly catalyzed ethnic conflict in highly predictable ways, with catastrophic consequences, including genocidal violence and the subversion of markets and democracy themselves. This has been the sobering lesson of globalization over the last twenty years.”

IV. Conclusion

In conclusion, the issue of  minority rights is not a monolithic one. On the one hand, there are the indigenous as well as the “outsider” minorities disempowered in societies whose dominant majority  either put some significant limitations or totally prevent them to fully exercise some of their human and civil rights. On the other hand, there are the “outsider” minorities who are in paramount command of a nation’s social and even political order basically because of their broad-spectrum ascendancy over the general economic affairs of societies where they operate as big-time capitalists.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 3 February 2015

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