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Archive for March, 2014

escape

“Reality doesn’t impress me. I only believe in intoxication, in ecstasy, and when ordinary life shackles me, I escape, one way or another. No more walls.”
Anaïs Nin, Incest: From a Journal of Love

“Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotion know what it means to want to escape from these.”
T.S. Eliot

“To write poetry and to commit suicide, apparently so contradictory, had really been the same, attempts at escape.”
John Fowles,The Magus

 

A “saying-No” to life? But where to escape?  Is there really an escape? How does one escape from reality? And say, one has really escaped from reality, where is s/he now? Or perhaps it is a meaningless attempt; just a way to turn one´s back from what s/he experiences now.

Is there a way to get to the meaning of “escaping from reality”? It could just be an illusion so that there is actually no escape at all. Or perhaps, to make better sense of this issue, we should take it figuratively. And then, we get into the depth of human experience in this world which we call reality. Which world? Which reality? Are there varieties of reality . . .varieties of world?  Perhaps we are treading now on a path that leads to nowhere. Then let´s simplify.

Reality  . . .life . . . world. A common reality our human lives share in this world is out there. Objective, quantifiable, verifiable, knowable. What I perceive with my basic five senses is what the others likewise perceive with theirs. This is reality that we commonly share and for cognition´s sake, we call it “paramount reality”. From this reality, there is no way to escape and still be found alive. Death is the ultimate escape from paramount reality. What one may call “escape” from paramount reality should rather be taken figuratively. In certain cases, it is a circumstance where one “enters” into a “different reality” not identifiable with the paramount variety. At this point, however, there is already a subtle process that has occurred to get to another meaning of “reality” distinct from what we earlier identified as “paramount reality”. This “reality” is no longer out there. It is a reality within an individual person´s mind.

But doesn´t a human individual have this variety of reality even right at the dawn of her/his consciousness? Of course, in concurrence with the basic presupposition of philosophical empiricism, we become conscious of that which we experience in the world out there—the Cartesian res extensa. Against Cartesian rationalism though which presupposes the being of ideas innate in the mind—res cogitans—the empiricist assumes that all we have in the mind is the result of what we perceive—or experience—in the world out there. Yet the process doesn´t stop but goes on from perception to conception. Ideas are conceived along the way and a world not necessarily identical with what is perceived out there is created. And if we take note of the fact that there is not a single human conceiver but myriads, we therefore have millions—even billions—of worlds, realities, in the minds of all the conceivers on earth.

Of course, there are intersecting worlds for the human condition is in a lot of ways interactive and hence relational. In this sense and in many instances, these intersections even evolve to become convergences. At a certain point of time, the world out there—that which we have called “paramount reality”—has become less significant in comparison with the “inner” worlds that have been individually created and spontaneously intersecting and converging to constitute a new formation which could be called the “human world” or “human reality”. This is where we human beings are located now. This is the world—the reality—that we have created. Call it society—in fact, there are many societies—or convention. Perhaps culture—and there are likewise varieties of culture—sums up such a reality which on a larger scale constitutes a civilization.

We who are now in this reality—or more correctly, in one of these realities—didn´t get on earth to start it. At the dawning of our consciousness,we simply discovered ourselves in the warp and woof of a convention or a way of life with all its structures, demands and standards. We are caught within the pre-conditioned scope and limits—the ethos—of a “reality” where we are now. The “growth factor” automatically operates upon this realization and we find ourselves doing balancing acts to satisfy certain exigencies. At the onset, we don’t want to get into controversies and the more important option is to toe the line. We, in effect, become the so-called good citizens.

But conflicts don´t just remain at the tolerable level. They become intense. We get to the point where we can no longer hack the social pressures as the hostility between them and personal individual needs builds up. At the end of the day, we are face to face with the problem that the amount of burden has grown to be coercive and oppressive. And the six-million-dollar question is: Is it a common instance that a simple and ordinary individual human being is especially endowed with the massive strength and power to engage in a winning battle with the system of reality that constitutes what we call convention? There are stories of intrepid individuals battling it out with the system and emerging as victors. But more are the tragic protagonists who emerged as victims at the closing of a gruelling struggle.

It is the wounded spirit that moves to escape “reality”. An “escape” has to be decisively effected whether in death with its irreversible finality or in the weaving of a “new reality” as a way of survival that totally opposes and blatantly contradicts the conventional one which in the course of time has ruined an aspect of one´s personal stability, individual dignity and self-respect. With a complete sense of resignation and total disregard of harsh judgments commonly expected and actually employed by the generally self-righteous “conventional reality,” the “escapee” erects and fortifies her/his “new reality” which in the simpleminded understanding of the general public within the context of its“reality” is commonly called schizophrenia—a distorted view of “reality” or being out of touch with “reality”.

A distorted view of reality?. . . Being out of touch with reality?  But, from whose perspective?  An “escape from reality” is not an act to free oneself from “reality”. It is more of a radical movement from one reality to another. With the sober mind of an outside observer, nobody has the monopoly of a higher moral sense to pass judgment that one´s “escape from reality” is a retrogressive passage that makes her/him fit for the mental asylum. In the final analysis, a gifted “Ubermensch” (with apologies to Nietzsche) could pass by and render humanity the judgment that all of us are fit for the mental asylum and whether we like it or not, the truth of the matter is, we are actually living in a global cuckoo´s nest.

© Ruel F. Pepa, 25 March 2014

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And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.”

–Kahlil Gibran, “On Friendship” in The Prophet

 I believe there is a much more basic question than this and it is: “What can friends reasonably expect from me?” In matters of axiological importance like this one, it is always better to start from oneself. Now, it has become an issue of what I can reasonably do to a friend (or friends) who is (are) expecting something from me. I think it is much fairer to get into self-introspection first before minding what we can expect from friends in reasonable terms. Considering human limitations taken individually, every person can only do certain reasonable things to a friend. In other words, it can never always be the case that I can do something reasonably favourable to the needs of a friend.

Values are the foundation of the genuineness of an act. I can only do so much in behalf of a friend within the limits of my values. If I would see some areas where my values would be violated in doing a friend a favour, such is precisely a condition wherein I would not lift a hand to help a friend. In this sense, I expect a friend to be reasonable in whatever s/he expects from me with the presupposition that being a friend, s/he more or less knows my values and what I am capable and incapable of doing. Without these considerations, I don´t think there is so much sense in signifying what true friendship is.

We therefore put more weight on reasonableness (or reasonability, if you will). The question focuses more now on what is reasonable and what is not. This is a very important consideration because in many instances, this concept becomes equivocal if not absolutely distorted. And a major distorting factor is a person´s unilateral and narrow-minded attitude towards someone whom s/he is supposed to treat as a friend. In the process, one expects too much from the other without considering the limitations of the latter and still believes that her/his expectation is reasonable. A supposed friend who expects too much from me without having the sensitivity and sensibility to read my limitations, preferences and “otherness” is in reality unfair, unreasonable and disrespectful of my individual personhood.

The reasonability/reasonableness of expectation is a two-edged sword: On the one hand, I expect a friend to be reasonable in her/his expectation from me as s/he expects me to be reasonable in my expectation from her/him. Reasonability/reasonableness is not a morally tough norm for its most straightforward measure is a person´s sober assessment of his attitude towards her/himself and towards the other person. With this thought, I´d venture to equate being reasonable with being fair. As a humanizing basis of one´s goodness towards another, a reasonable expectation is infused with the notion of respect towards the other person. It is an attitude conditioned by one´s resolve to renounce any thought or act violative of the personhood of the other.

It is not necessary for us to site specific instances of reasonable expectation from friends. It could be anything on any occasion in any location. What really matters after all is the conditioning of the event wherein no one gets in an offensive posture towards the other. An expectation becomes offensive in the form of a concealed demand. It is a situation wherein one tends to unnecessarily oblige another about a certain issue despite the fact that the latter doesn´t actually have an obligation to the former. A reasonable expectation cannot therefore take the form of a demand.

In capturing the true essence of friendship, expectations should always be reasonable. A person who feels that something is unreasonably expected from him by another who is supposed to be her/his friend is on the track to suspect the sincerity and hence the genuineness of such so-called friendship. A friendship sustained by fairness, understanding, respect and honesty is one deemed to spontaneously get stronger as time passes by and this kind of friendship is airtight from the contamination of unreasonable expectations.

In conclusion, let´s altogether drink from the wisdom of the great Lebanese philosopher Kahlil Gibran as he expounds in one section of his immortal treatise, The Prophet, the meaning of authentic friendship:

Your friend is your needs answered.
He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving.
And he is your board and your fireside.
For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.


When your friend speaks his mind you fear not the “nay” in your own mind, nor do you withhold the “ay.”
And when he is silent your heart ceases not to listen to his heart;
For without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed.
When you part from your friend, you grieve not;
For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.
And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.
For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery is not love but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught.

And let your best be for your friend.
If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.
For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?
Seek him always with hours to live.
For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.
And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.

© Ruel F. Pepa, 18 March 2014

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The Masks We Wear

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“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”
― William Shakespeare, As You Like It

Persona (the plural form is personae) is the Latin word for the mask worn by an actor in a stage play. This is the etymological origin of the word “person” we have now in English. The meaning though has changed through time so that the superficial—and hence, skin-deep—persona has evolved to the concept of person which is the defining factor of a human being´s individual existence. Every individual human being is a unique person, so to speak. It is on the basis of the essence of personhood that we have the principle of individual differences which states that no two individuals are exactly alike. Even identical twins are never exactly alike.

Personhood is therefore substantial, i.e., deeply rooted. The person of an individual is “the real thing,” no more, no less.  It is the subjective stuff of who I am—something that I experience within; something that I feel and know about myself whose reality cannot in whatever way be absolutely known by anyone that is not me. This is my person as another human being has her/his own whose essence I can likewise never absolutely access. In this sense, it is unambiguously understood that the person of an individual human being is not necessarily her/his persona that is outwardly perceived by other human beings.

It doesn´t however mean that one´s person cannot be known at all. Two intimate friends or siblings perhaps, even a parent and a child or a husband and his wife may fearlessly and very spontaneously claim that they know each other. But such knowing, as we have mentioned earlier, can never be absolute. The most that they can say is they know each other so very well and much more than their acquaintances—i.e., people who are not really very closely related to them—are able to approximately know them. The so-called much lesser knowledge of the latter is generally based on their limited encounter and/or experience with the other person and we describe this knowledge as superficial, being simply outward and shallow and in a reasonable sense only an approximation. In other words, much deeper type of knowing each other is achieved in the meeting of persons while in the case of a shallow, surface encounter of acquaintances, only the personae are made known.

Human interactions in society are multi-faceted, even multi-level. We don´t just deal with people all the same way while applying a homogeneous approach across the board. The social terrain is highly complex and the cultural landscape requires more sophisticated discernment and a more viable and efficient “plan of action” as well. People in various social contexts have their respective expectations and even we ourselves find us in many of these contexts whose varied flows influence us and draw us to develop the same expectations. We, in so many ways, are deferential and compliant to conventional practices of these social contexts and we just go with the stream.

By and large, we do not have the courage to sail against the current for we do not want to rock the boat. We act and present ourselves according to expectations as we are in the same way culturally shaped to have our expectations of others. We do not want to shock people. As much as possible we want to be acceptable as we demand others the same. And in the process, what is crucially highlighted is the kind of persona—the type of mask—we have to wear in a particular occasion. Different folks with different strokes have different estimations and different expectations. In their presence, we want acceptance and approval, even admiration and commendation.  The least we intend to do is to berate them. This whole imagined encounter requires one type of mask. Another type works in another instance with the same intent to please a different group of personalities. The basic definer, therefore, of the mask to wear is the context.

In this world of myriads of expectations and petitions as well as of demands and pressures, a variety of masks are necessary as occasions require them. It is an acceptance of the fact that in a lot of instances, fiction is not only incorporated into reality but reality gets so suffused with fiction so that fiction and reality become one. Shakespeare thus makes sense in his “All the World´s a Stage” with the following lines:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,

His acts being seven ages. . . .

We are all actors and actresses acting out our parts as protagonists in plays performed in this world being our stage. Every occasion is a stage play in a particular theatrical genre: action, adventure, comedy, erotica, fantasy, romance, satire and thriller among others. As protagonists in a variety of performances, we have an array of personae—masks—which we put on depending on the call of the moment to achieve high level of accomplishment where reality is overpowered by fiction wrapped in a system of social ethos that once and for all blurs the distinction between what is real and what is not.

Perhaps, this is the macrocosmic reality of the human condition where there are many times when we are not being true to ourselves otherwise we fuck up the whole system and make a mess out of the world that expects us to be nice and pleasant and civil and refined. It is only in solitude at the end of the day when the stage curtains have already been dropped to the ground that we can slump onto the corner couch, throw aside the mask, breathe our deepest and passionately holler, “Dammit! . . . All of these are bullshits and nothing but bullshits! At last, I´m done with all these assholes that have made my world one hell of a mess!”

© Ruel F. Pepa, 11 March 2014

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“It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot. Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, to absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.”
― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

“Sex” and “gender” though associated with each other are not the same. The former is biological while the latter is cultural. On a very superficial plane we tend to confuse the two categories as identical. However, as a fundamental consideration, we can accurately say that in the case of gender and sex, the cultural has in some definitive ways developed around the biological without of course creating the absolute implication that the biological necessarily leads and hence logically defines the cultural.

Sex as biological is given. No scientific or technological process may ever be availed of and brought into play for the purpose of essentially and substantially altering one´s sex.  Female is female and male is male. The so-called “sex change operation” does not make a male female and vice versa. It is only appearance that changes. As far as the biological functions inherent in one´s sex are concerned, no amount of exceptionally sophisticated medical and surgical processes may ever be performed once and for all to absolutely alter its essential properties. To menstruate is certainly female. To get pregnant and bear an offspring is definitely female. It is undeniably female that a mother lactates to feed her young.

Natural (being a universal circumstance in the animal world which includes humans) sexual intercourse—also known as penile-vaginal copulation—is a fundamental process in reproduction (though the connection between sexual intercourse and reproduction is not necessarily bi-conditional) that highlights the issue of sexual differences. Animal (and human) sexuality thus presupposes the distinction of sexual roles as a biological reality.

As a matter of ontological consideration, the female and the male principles which are called yin and yang, respectively, in the Chinese thought system are the two necessary components of being that create and maintain cosmic equilibrium. In fact, this reality is not only of biological significance for even in the dynamics of the electromagnetic field we have the opposing positive and negative polarities. In other words, the cosmological assumption that the dynamicity of being (and existence for that matter) is regulated by The Universal Principle of Opposing Forces which as Newton´s Third Law of Motion states: “To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction: or the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal, and directed to contrary parts.” (Actioni contrariam semper et æqualem esse reactionem: sive corporum duorum actiones in se mutuo semper esse æquales et in partes contrarias dirigi.) [Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy)]

Sex identity is either female or male while gender identity is either feminine or masculine. At the most basic instance of its socio-cultural signification, gender roles have been reckoned on the basis of the scope and limitations of abilities defined in terms of sex identity. There are general social conditions where women qua women are able to more effectively function than men qua men and vice versa. In primitive society, this state of affairs inaugurated the notion of “division of labour” which is basic in the context of social productivity. It is generally believed that the balance of gender distinction had been constantly maintained during the earliest—or the primitive communal—stage of the development of human society which brought into being the prototypical—or the most primordial—tempo of economic life called “pre-agricultural” or pre-first-wave” by Toffler in his periodization paradigm (cf. Alvin Toffler´s trilogy: Future Shock, The Third Wave and Powershift).

However, the said gender balance was “desecrated,” so to speak, at the inception of slave societies which inaugurated the political (power) components of social life at its most primitive stage. From then on, masculine gender roles had by and large been more highly regarded than those of the feminine until the vigorous emergence of the feminist movement in the 60s and 70s. Prior to that, masculine ascendancy had been the uncontested power baseline of slave, feudal and capitalist socio-cultural formations through time. The masculine role model had been acclaimed and homogenized as the sole standard bearer of what was desired and vital to continually maintain and strengthen the economic, political, and cultural fibres of society. In the process, the feminine gender roles had been unceremoniously relegated on the sideline of less importance.

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

Masculine roles are not ideals to be desired by women who have come very closely face to face with the realization of their femininity as something equally on the same plane as masculinity. Masculinity therefore is not the convergence point that unites men and women. Masculinity is one thing and femininity is another. In fact there are no ideals at all. In this connection, femininity has to stand and maintain its stability on an equal par with masculinity where one does not dominate the other.

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

© Ruel F. Pepa, 04 March 2014

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