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Archive for May, 2013

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“Show me a man or a woman alone and I’ll show you a saint. Give me two and they’ll fall in love. Give me three and they’ll invent the charming thing we call ‘society’. Give me four and they’ll build a pyramid. Give me five and they’ll make one an outcast. Give me six and they’ll reinvent prejudice. Give me seven and in seven years they’ll reinvent warfare. Man may have been made in the image of God, but human society was made in the image of His opposite number, and is always trying to get back home.”
― Stephen King, The Stand

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We humans are animalia socialis—social animals. We live with fellow humans in a community. We interact among ourselves in that community. We forge alliances with other community members on the basis of certain particular interests deemed to sustain specific concerns that we think would give more meaningfulness to our individual existences. As much as possible, we members of society want our lives to be in harmony with each other. There could be some varieties in views and opinions that we express as well as differences in some activities we do. Nevertheless, we try as much as possible to avoid serious conflicts that could lead to relational damages and at worst violent hostilities. We try to extend our patience and tolerance up to a certain point where the consequences would only get to the level of a multiplicity of states of affairs reckoned to increase the vibrancy of social life. Under normal circumstances, we do not want to rock the boat. Within the framework of rationality, sober thinking and level-headed deliberation, we don´t want to create trouble in society. The more responsible inhabitants of a social community would always tend to immediately find viable alternative solutions to level-off or neutralize a conflict that could be anticipated to loom into a bitter clash of physical proportion. Mutual agreement is always the ideal in social interaction.

But reality is evidently on the contrary. Conflicts among community members seem to be commonplace. There are disagreements and differences of varied proportions and magnitudes here and there; disintegration of alliances and infringement of conventions; breach of contracts and broken promises. At worst, we have witnessed the geographical partition of societies; the secession of a sub-community from a larger social arrangement; the collapse of a previously stable union; the dissolution of a coalition; the ¨balkanization¨ of a regional community due to long-brewing cultural divergences. In the final analysis, it could come out to be a strong theory to assume that what is generally normal in society is the fundamentality not only of divergences among individuals and sub-groups within it but more intensely discords, conflicts and clashes. In other words, the animalia socialis are basically not creatures of harmony and agreement but of hostility and antagonism.

Yes, we have seen how alliances are formed and pacts signed; how cooperation is generated and collaborations developed. But none of them are certainly considered permanent. Even an apparently long-running status of agreement is always threatened by—if not often at the brink of—ultimate termination. On the one hand, societies are transitory at best and precarious at worst, whereas on the other hand, new societies are spontaneously and continually formed from the constituents of ones that previously dissolved. With this, another strong theory could be formulated: Societies come and go but humanity cannot continue to live meaningful lives in this world without society. In other words, societies cannot die nor fade away; they are simply reformulated and in a radical sense, transformulated to suit the interests of their ¨transformers¨ which as a political matter could be more sensibly described in terms of the location of power concentration and hence could technically be either democratic or autocratic.

Now, the question, ¨Do we have the society we want?,¨ comes into being. The key factor lies in initially considering who the so-called ¨transformers¨ of society are and this matter is actually of a political nature. Individual members of a particular society who belong to the ¨transformer¨ class are endowed with the power to generate social changes and are therefore active participants in the reformation and transformation of a society that they want. In an ideally democratic political landscape, the majority of the populace are theoretically the ones who call the shots and hence constitute the ¨transformer¨ class. Even as we think of the varieties of democratic rule (direct or participatory, etc.), the focal point always boils down to the people who are supposed to be the ruling power in a democratically governed state of affairs—the power-brokers, so to speak.  A society is shaped and re-shaped, formed and transformed on the basis of the power-brokers´ collective interests. In the context of this theoretical implication, it is therefore assumed that the society these people have is the very society they essentially want.

But is this the case in reality? The volume of the preceding discussion is, as we have emphasized, ideal and theoretical. The same question—and we don´t even have to reformulate it—becomes particularly focused and directed to us at this point in time: Do we have the society that we want? To be honest with ourselves, there are aspects of our present society that suit our interests on the one hand and there are those that we abhor and wish to get rid of, on the other hand. We are naturally inclined to applaud and speak well of certain social conventions and procedures, customs and practices that we don´t only observe on a regular and routine basis but actually do ourselves as we live normal lives in such a society wherein we are bona fide members.

However, we are likewise caught in the current of social life characterized by the actuality of despicable circumstances that if we only have the power to do away with, we will automatically wipe them out right here and now. At this point, a very crucial question arises: Why, in the first place, are we presently impotent to effect what we want to immediately do? The reality is we are not able by a sheer reliance on our limited individual competence. But the most glaring fact we have to acknowledge is we basically don´t have the IDEAL society we desire and dream of. We consistently deal with social circumstances that challenge in different magnitudes of complexity our emotional endurance and mental limitations and along the way, we have committed ourselves to constantly preserve our most esteemed sanity. At the end of the day, we tell ourselves that we are in fact living in a crazy society—a human organization that we want to make better if we only have the opportunity and the power to do so. And another important question crops up: Why are we not instantly endowed with such a capacity to transform a society that suits our idealism?

We are not born in this world to start a society. The incontrovertible fact is we are born into a society. Under normal circumstances, we are nurtured in the most basic unit of society we call family. Then after some years, we are exposed to a wider realm of more human interactions in more expansive social institutions and in the process enlarge the scope of our social connections. We get used to the cultural life of the society and we are in certain ways required to toe the fundamental norms cherished in that particular social setting since time immemorial. We are therefore caught in the vortex of a socio-cultural reality where we at the beginning have no power at all to defy and resist. But as time goes on, we gradually get into conflict with the very society that has raised us and has given us the qualities of the persons we are now. We increasingly get impatient with some occurrences that run contrary to what we perceive are necessary steps to take to make the present condition better and more liveable. We start to see defects and flaws in certain social structures about which we even tend to expand to the point of vehemence our criticism toward those who have long been around before our advent. And we tell ourselves, what we have is a society we do not want.

Social change is technically encompassed by a complexity of mechanics and dynamics generally reckoned in political terms. In this consideration, we get rid of the ideal and we face the reality that even in the most so-called democratic state of affairs, the power of the people is an abstract matter. Reality dictates that there is always a power block in any political circumstance regardless of whether such is democratic or autocratic. The issue of whether we want or not the society we have remains a personal matter about which nothing can be done unless we get to the point of mustering a substantial number of convinced and hence principle-driven people to constitute a strong alliance to seriously inaugurate a committed endeavour. Without the opportunity to concretely achieve the possibility of such precondition, the ideal changes we wish to happen in a society we have conceived to be a better one will just be a figment of our imagination.

© Ruel F. Pepa, 28 MAY 2013

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FEAR

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¨What doesn´t kill you makes you stronger.¨

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

-Nelson Mandela

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Experiencing the world is the most basic stuff of life. Or perhaps, we should rather say, the most basic human reality is living our lives in this world of experiences. Unlike the earth, the world that we inter-subjectively share has been conceived, shaped and signified by our very own humanity. We are the creators of this world of fleeting delights and sorrows, of momentary satisfactions and disappointments, of transitory elations and desolations, of ephemeral triumphs and defeats. Each of us has the cultural fiber of this world which we face moment by moment in a complex landscape dominated by problems and difficulties, anxieties and despairs, apprehensions and pains. Before all these, the human will is deemed to stand courageously to confront the challenges and get into the struggle.

But with all the limitations that characterize our humanity, how far can we sustain the courage within to emerge triumphant? How thorny is the way that finally leads to a better plane after making calculated steps to overcome the scattered obstacles? Is there a more certain appraisal of what could most likely happen ahead? When is the most proper time to move on and get engaged in the impending battle? Are we marching on now or we need to rehearse once more the battle plan?  The future does not seem promising. There are silhouettes of uncertainty here and there. There is no available instrument to efficiently reckon high probability of conquest. Most likely, we are heading toward disaster. And in the nick of time, fear creeps in.

We are creatures of fear as a matter of habit. The anticipation of the unknown is the locus that substantiates fear. The conscious mind is so fertile to weave and unweave scenarios both optimistic and pessimistic in large-scale magnitude. In cases wherein pessimism dominates the circumstances, imbalance sneaks in, fear commences and the highly probable aspect of the upside collapses and dissipates in limbo. The rule of the game—the ideal—is to give the rein to the will where courage emanates to heighten the resolve to move on and fight. But the sense of uncertainty blurs the horizon and fear manages to crush the essence of courage and call it recklessness at least and at worst a sheer impulse of irrationality. At the end of the day, fear is in control of the terrain. Seemingly guided by careful analysis at its inception, fear is however overtaken later by the same incalculable surge of irrationality that operates in reckless courage. Fear is hence blown out of proportion steered by an imagination of anticipated disaster of the worst kind. Fear becomes an oversized monster called dread and the whole imagined condition gets to the boundaries of reason where reality achieves a new configuration through the lens of terror.

Yet, fear could be viewed from a variety of perspectives and one factor generally stands out in the final analysis: Fear in its most fundamental state is a life-preserving mechanism of the mind to neutralize an anticipated danger. Conventionally called an ¨instinct¨ (though the Cambridge biologist Rupert Sheldrake will surely disagree for according to his Theory of Morphic Resonance, there is no such thing as ¨instinct¨ but only habit), human beings do not have the monopoly of fear. ¨Hierarchies¨ in the animal world determine the relational status of one species with another so that an animal is both a prey and a predator. As a prey, an animal is naturally expected to avoid, even run away from, the presence of a perceived predator´s threat. One conditioning in the lifestyle of a prey is its fear toward known predators. One´s avoidance of a threatening situation is in recognition of an anticipated harmful experience and such anticipation is spontaneously triggered by none other than one´s feeling of fear.

The same feeling extends to the human species whose status of being a prey or a predator is conditioned in the context of power relations. We are not talking here of a stronger species undermining a weaker one. We are talking here of human beings and their multi-polar levels of existence wherein one stronger individual is able to strike fear in the heart of a weaker counterpart. In this condition, fear triggers in the mind-set of a weaker individual the seemingly automatic decision to avoid a possible trouble which if unabated could escalate to a full-blown violent state of affairs. Like in the animal world, human beings, under normal circumstances, move and act to preserve their lives. If it could be avoided, we don´t want to fight in a ¨fight-or-flight¨ situation.

At a certain point of dealing with the intricacies of this world of experiences, fear is a positive signal not to pursue an objective known to be characterized by some degree of hazard that threatens one´s life if worse comes to worst, so to speak. In this sense, we are in a lot of ways grateful having been ¨wired¨ with a nervous system that automatically calls our attention in the face of impending peril. Fear is hence a natural ally and with this, we pursue a serious endeavour with a wider visual scope to explore which of the many alternative paths offers the least risk along the way. Fear therefore provides us with the instrumentation to set up the limits of our very own safety and well-being. In this sense, we find fear within the confines of what is generally reckoned as normal, rational and hence acceptable. Fear saves and maintains one´s sanity within the range of the positive and the natural. This is the upside of fear.

But fear beyond the boundaries of what we have considered as natural and positive in its normal and rational configuration is a negative factor that wreaks havoc to one´s integrity as a human person. A fearful disposition to suspend and thus fail to effect a defensive action in the face of a clear and present assault offensive to one´s particular worth as an individual person is a case of shrinking down to a sub-human level of being that in the final analysis besmirches not only him/herself but the very dignity of human existence in general. In the context of human power relations, exploitation, oppression and manipulation are connecting events wherein the so-called powerless are pushed either to the edge of a ravine or to the suffocating walls of a dark dead-end. Either of them is a life-or-death instance where only the fearful gain their lives long after their humanity has lost its meaningfulness. But those who have not lost and hence been able to preserve their sense of human respect are the ones capable of defeating fear and facing death courageously.

I believe that fear is always basically present.  But there are challenges in our lives when we have to defeat fear in the face of death. An ideal that we know we have to uphold despite the fact that no propositional explanation is readily available in the face of another challenge which is short of a mockery when it seems no one is willing to believe that another can actually stand her/his ground and fight for a noble cause even to the point of sacrificing her/his very own life.

I likewise believe that there is a concretely realistic space over and beyond fear whose path has been trodden by courageous individuals of past generations though uncharted by us who are yet less-challenged by life-and-death events in our own personal circumstances.

© Ruel F. Pepa, 17 May 2013

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