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Archive for July, 2014

On Vacation

vacation

“Every person needs to take one day away.  A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future.  Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence.  Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.  Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.”

― Maya Angelou, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now

“A vacation is what you take when you can no longer take what you’ve been taking.”

— Earl Wilson

“Every man who possibly can should force himself to a holiday of a full month in a year, whether he feels like taking it or not.”

–William James

It has become traditional that people employed in companies/institutions doing their respective jobs and responsibilities in the office or out in the field at least forty hours a week are given time to relax and recreate at least some days (that might even extend to a month or two) within a year. Even students in schools of all levels are entitled to this provision of vacation holidays. In industrialized societies, this matter is something legislated and has to be provided by legitimate companies/institutions as a benefit for employees. Vacation has been established as an important mechanism within the general corporate system operational in an industrial social landscape. Basically, it is viewed as something necessary.

Vacation holidays may be spent in a variety of ways. People may go out of town to the countryside to savor the ambience of rural life which of course is not a common thing for them while busy in their city jobs. The more adventurous ones would even go camping for several days up in forest mountains and re-establish their so-called affinity with Mother Nature. The wide expanse of beaches either along the mainland shorelines or on exotic islands are inviting magnetic fields for sea lovers overwhelmed by tremendous exhilaration while being embraced by chains of aggressive waves or enthralled by the magical spell of the sea breeze while watching in reverie the majestic sunset. None beats human creativity to think of the best way one would want to make her/his vacation holidays most exciting and memorable–but of course, within the limits of her/his logistics, so to speak.

In affluent societies, vacation holidays are generally enjoyed by those corporately employed, both white-collar and blue-collar varieties. These are societies where the gap between the middle class and the proletarian class is narrow. In such societies, labor exploitation of the latter class is nil and the dignity of the workers’ humanity in the workplace is well-respected, duly appreciated and properly remunerated. These are societies where job skills and professional expertise are genuinely acknowledged and accordingly paid. So that in this particular context, those who are so-called administrative and management executives on top of the corporate ladder do not have the illusion that they are way more important than those under them. In fact, in many instances, they treat each other as equals and ignore in the process their nominal titles.

However, there are also less affluent societies where the gap between the more and the less economically well-off is wide.  This context presents a less rosy condition of the working class where exploitation and oppression are a reality in the workplace: industrial workers being forced to work beyond the legally prescribed hours while being paid off-the-scale wages besides the fact that no fringe and welfare benefits are extended to them. In this situation, it is already a given that vacation holiday is not only an impossible provision but an alien concept to them. Only the well-paid and the more powerful at the top echelon of the corporate hierarchy in these societies are said to be the more privileged ones entitled to enjoy vacation holidays.

Vacation holiday, being a particularly modern phenomenon in a distinctively industrialized civilization, was non-existent in the preceding agricultural era. Such a reality may still be true even to farmers, agricultural workers and peasants of the present modern era who most likely do not have the concept of vacation holiday operative in their minds. Night respite in the comfort of a poor man’s cottage is the more realistic event in a farmer’s life. Farm work is a regular daytime responsibility and the approaching dusk signals the beginning of a much needed rest until the first glimmer of the sun’s ray appears on the horizon to start once more another busy day on the farm.

In an industrial setting, vacation holidays are not only viewed as a reward but more as a sought-after necessity that ought to be granted to the exhausted corporate workers after months of hustling  and bustling over boring routinary chores either in the comfort of an air-conditioned office or in the discomforting heat of a manufacturing plant. In an agricultural setting, though, vacation holidays are no big deal if not considered as an absolutely negligible matter at all.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa 23 July 2014.

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welfare

“Anyone who can walk to the welfare office can walk to work.”
–Al Capp

“Programs that are labeled as being for the poor, for the needy, almost always have effects exactly the opposite of those which their well intentioned sponsors intend them to have.”
–Milton Friedman

“One of the consequences of such notions as entitlements is that people who have contributed nothing to society feel that society owes them something, apparently just for being nice enough to grace us with their presence.”
–Thomas Sowell

Situation of poverty varies from one society to another. Poverty could be widespread in one society–i.e., the general condition of the people–while only limited in another. In countries where the majority of the people are poor, their governments are commonly the culprit as massive graft and corruption prevails in all levels from the local to the national. There is rampant exploitation of the common people to the point of utter disempowerment by fascist and para-feudal leadership in both the political and economic fronts. In most instances, government is in a conspiratorial relationship with big businesses whose owners themselves are very much involved in the political arena. In fact, this unholy collusion breeds bureaucrat capitalism where powerful people in government use the financial resources of government as business capitals for personal enrichment at the expense of the people’s social well-being.

In a predominantly impoverished society, social welfare is a non-operational formulation. Such a society’s government could have an existing Department or Ministry of Social Welfare with all its high-sounding programmes peppered with technical terms, loaded with comprehensive plans of action and allocated with budgets in hundreds of millions–even billions–of pesos or dollars but no tangible projects actually operate as the said allocations have already been pocketed by big-time thieves well-placed in positions of power. In this sense, social welfare is simply a meager chip-in or a pittance if not a total illusion that has long escaped the imagination and expectation of the poor for whose benefit such social welfare is theoretically intended.

However, efficient government is fundamentally an obvious factor in a society where poverty is at the minimal. Such government has high-level transparency which almost precludes graft and corruption and empowers the people as respected critics of government matters and worthy participants in the democratic processes. In this condition, government leaders are honest-to -goodness public servants and do not act  like fascist taskmasters and/or feudal overlords. It may be argued that efficient government and economic empowerment do not have necessary connection but empirical exposures have confirmed in practically all instances that governments of economically stable societies are basically democratically efficient and hence citizen-empowering. In studies done by experts, both academe- and non-academe-based, Scandinavian countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland) as well as British commonwealths like Canada, Australia and New Zealand are all economically strong societies where governments are highly efficient  and citizens are genuinely empowered as robust participants in all areas of democratic exercises.

It is also important to note at this point that in each of these countries, the government’s social welfare component has long been in active operation. With this particular aspect of public service, society’s poor are not forsaken in the dark nor left out in the cold, so to speak. Their basic needs are met and sustained by government in an official capacity to make sure that they don’t become eyesores on the street while fending for food and begging for money from passersby or walking aimlessly in dirty and stinking clothes or making the gutters or sidewalks spaces to sleep at night. In these societies, social welfare is a well-managed concern considering the fact that poverty which it mainly addresses is not a prevalent issue. Nevertheless, at a certain point beyond its fundamentally positive objective to help the poor, social welfare has its downside and may also be negatively viewed as an instrument to perpetuate dependence. In other words, with all the provisions delivered to society’s poor for an indefinite period of time through the social welfare mechanism, government is not really empowering the people to exert efforts to become self-reliant and productive citizens who should be working their way out to support their own and their families’ needs.

Such a problem may be a negligible one in the more economically stable countries mentioned above but is considered to be serious in some other countries with similar social welfare component whose economies are either not as stable or way off the scale at a more critical level and whose governments are not as efficient and transparent. In this condition, the welfare system operates with all conceivable difficulties expected while attending to the basic needs of more poor people whose state of disempowerment has driven them to a deeper level of destitution and desperation. This situation is perceived to be critically detrimental to both government and the poor who rely solely on government assistance via social welfare.  In most cases, government is likewise disempowered and helpless to create long-term job and employment opportunities for the poor and the scenario of long queues of able-bodied unemployed people continues as these people remain absolutely dependent on social welfare provisions.

Social welfare, in that case, could be negatively taken as a disempowering factor itself. It may be construed that social welfare is an  agency that in some ways further weakens and narrows down the productive prospect of otherwise creative human beings endowed, on the one hand, with conscious minds to think of better and viable plans of action and with physical strength, on the other hand, to put into action the most practicable plans s/he has been able to conceive. In view of this, social welfare at the most extreme point of the present context perpetuates dependence, desensitizes creativity, deactivates productivity, sustains disempowerment and in the final analysis, protracts and institutionalizes poverty.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 16 July 2014

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justice

 

The virtue of justice consists in moderation, as regulated by wisdom.”

–Aristotle

 

” If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?”

–William Shakespeare

 

“There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supercedes all other courts.”

–Mahatma Gandhi

 

“Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”

–Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

“It is essential that justice be done, it is equally vital that justice not be confused with revenge for the two are wholly different.”

–Oscar Arias

 

The issue of justice is one of ethics and is basically founded on the human sense of fairness. It is something desired in every act or circumstance that respects the value of meaningful life both human and non-human. Justice is the very principle that sustains the condition of existence in its spontaneous flow towards higher and greater levels of refinement. It is supposed to be the fundamental standard that bestows dignity to humanity. As such, human dignity is inalienable, inviolable, and thus, non-negotiable on the basis of the moral principle of justice.

Justice promotes human flourishing which in a more comprehensive sense ties up and connects with ecological flourishing without which human flourishing doesn’t make sense at all. If ever there is a summum bonum or the highest good of morality, justice should stand as the uncontested beacon that gives direction to a more reasonable and proper understanding of the virtues of compassion, courage, freedom, honesty, humility and responsibility, among others. In the light of justice, these virtues transcend their theoretical configurations and hence take their respective concrete forms of pragmatic expression in actual Sitz-im-Lebens. Justice, therefore, gives credence to and protects the essences of these virtues. From such condition, justice itself draws its legitimacy as a supreme virtue that in turn should likewise be protected by the human agents who uphold and value it over and above the others.

Justice–as it is represented by the blindfolded woman holding up a weighing scale at the façades of halls of justice and supreme courts–is impartial and does not subjectively look at the superficial aspects of persons, things and events. The weighing scale definitely represents the analytical character of justice with the “syllogistic” potency of a cold logic that takes its ethical signification as the major premise: “If x then y. And x. Therefore, y.” Or, “If x then y. And not y. Therefore, not x.” In other words, the “logic of justice” takes the same rational path trodden by a logical argument where something meaningful has to be proven (technically, the conclusion of a formal logical argument) through an orderly presentation of reliable evidences (technically, premises in a formal logical argument). As in the application of the formal logical procedure in true-to-life circumstances, the full satisfaction of the “logic of justice” is not simply hitched on an argument’s validity but more on its soundness.

All these matters henceforth considered, justice is by and large a virtue that transcends subjective perception. In this connection, there is supposed to be nothing emotional in the process of rendering justice to whom justice is due. Justice, as we have seen its objective configuration, follows a logical trajectory whose premises exactly lead to their inevitable conclusion. The true essence of absolute justice which is devoid of subjective feelings and emotions is re-confirmed in us: “If x then y. And x. Therefore, y”. Or, “If x then y. And not y. Therefore, not x.” With this in mind, not a single matter of feeling or emotion may ever be construed to trigger an act of justice. Having the character of cold logic, the procedural path that leads to justice cannot emanate from a sensation of anger or elation, hatred or affection, sadness or pleasure.

Turning now our attention to the question, “Is justice revenge?”, one important issue to focus on at this point in time is the basic idea that highlights an understanding of revenge. We may start off with the question: Does it emanate from rationality or is it basically a feeling fired up with hatred? In practically all instances, revenge is loaded with a highly aggressive feeling of resentment and loathing. It is characterized by a strong drive to retaliate– and to retaliate viciously–towards a specifically defined adversary. But can revenge draw a supportive push from reason? In certain instances, people would justify the reasonableness of revenge (or vengeance). In the process, a flurry of opinions could be developed as considerable factors that make revenge seemingly reasonable and hence could be construed as an act of justice. But this manner of looking at the issue at hand distorts the logic of justice. The confusion created by putting revenge within the range of justice and vice versa desecrates justice and elevates revenge at the level of the virtuous. This is a case of making a mess out of the ethical landscape where justice is held supreme. Having true rationality at the core of justice, revenge cannot truly emanate from it for the conceptual components of revenge rest on one’s feeling of hatred and abomination.

A god acting on the basis of revenge is not a just god. The logic of justice cannot operate in such statement as “Vengeance is mine says the Lord.” However, knowing the theological background that triggers contradictory statements which put the god of believers on the spot does not cast any negative notion about such a god if he really exists for such statements of conviction are only mental formulations of people who have never really known the mind of the god they say they believe in but merely imagined ideas such a god they have conceived would say according to their wishes and desires.

A case in point where an act of revenge had been made to appear like an act of justice was in the impeachment trial of the Philippines’ Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona a couple of years ago which was maneuvred by the President of the Philippines himself, Benigno Cojuangco Aquino, III. It was more of an act of revenge than of justice as Aquino had an axe to grind against Corona who had previously approved the Supreme Court’s order to parcel and distribute to farmer-tenants farmlands of the expansive Cojuangco-Aquino`s feudal estate. The impeachment process was conducted by the legislative branch of government to create a semblance of justice. But it was a case of utter railroading for the majority of the legislators were members of the president’s coalition block. More serious than this is the information which very recently leaked through the media exposing that the President himself paid the legislators hundreds of millions of pesos from government funds just to effect the plot of revenge he masterminded against the erstwhile Chief Justice.

Justice takes a logical trajectory sans any feeling of hatred or loathing. At the end of the day after justice has been rendered to whom it is due, victims of previous injustice would certainly have a feeling of exhilaration and triumph for in the most superficial sense, their cause has been avenged. But one thing is very clear: they finally achieved the justice they long sought for not on the basis of hatred and revenge but through the “logic of justice” whose major premise is drawn from the “ethics of justice”.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 08 July 2014

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Image

“A person is not merely a single subject distinguished from all the others. It is especially a being to which is attributed a relative autonomy in relation to the environment with which it is most immediately in contact.”
–Emile Durkheim

“The deepest problems of modern life derive from the claim of the individual to preserve the autonomy and individuality of his existence in the face of overwhelming social forces, of historical heritage, of external culture, and of the technique of life.”
–Georg Simmel

“Human rights are a fine thing, but how can we make ourselves sure that our rights do not expand at the expense of the rights of others. A society with unlimited rights is incapable of standing to adversity. If we do not wish to be ruled by a coercive authority, then each of us must rein himself in…A stable society is achieved not by balancing opposing forces but by conscious self-limitation: by the principle that we are always duty-bound to defer to the sense of moral justice.”
–Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Rebuilding Russia: Reflections and Tentative Proposals

Personal autonomy is basically “political,” not in the ordinary sense we use and understand the term as in leading a nation or governing a country. However, the notions of governing and leading are important aspects of it. More than these, we could add more like planning, organizing and controlling, among others. But in personal autonomy, all these are specifically “operationalized” by the agency of the self within the confines of one’s own individual personal context. Personal autonomy is an issue strictly focused on the capability of a moral agent to manage her/his life, administer rules of conduct to make her/his existence worthwhile and decide on whatever s/he wishes her/his life to become.

As a philosophical concern, personal autonomy starts off with fundamental questions one should ask her/himself as: (1) Why am I here? (2) What must I do? and (3) What can I hope for? Nobody has the ultimate power to realistically respond to these questions except the one who has posed them for these questions are not asked by someone to another but to her/himself alone. These questions put the issue at hand in its proper perspective and simultaneously affirms that personal autonomy is prime and foremost an existential matter.

In Sartrean terms, the existential paradigm is founded on the notion that existence precedes essence (cf. Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Existentialism is a Humanism”). As far as the meaningfulness of one’s life/being is concerned, there is no pre-ordained/pre-conceived doctrine or principle except the reality of a human person’s being here and now. This is the begin-all of the world which is characterized by meanings, i.e., perceptions, interpretations and conceptions, that emanate from the conscious minds of its human denizens. There are therefore no overpowering, transcendent and supernatural forces through which the meaningfulness of this world and existence in this world has been eternally pre-determined before the emergence of the self-conscious and intelligent homo sapiens sapiens on planet Earth. In this sense, Plato’s Realm of Universal Ideas is nothing but a delusion.

In a significant sense, we say that this world inhabited by us humans is a human world. But in another sense of equal worth, each of us is also a self-constituted  “world” whose depth of personal circumstances can never be fully accessible to any other human being except to the individual self and to her/him alone. In a lot of ways, certain decisions we make as well as certain acts we do are solely our individual selves’ own and thus cannot be delegated to others. These decisions and acts range from the physico-biological to the socio-cultural. These are events that constitute the reality of personal autonomy.

But personal autonomy has its limits. We are not only self-constituted individuals but likewise components of a bigger and wider reality  called society. Within the social context we have a culture shared with the other members of society. Many of our decisions and actions concern others and not only ourselves. We may assert in full force our personal autonomy on the one hand but the reality of human relations and the importance of moral responsibility to respect the humanity of our fellow human beings, on the other hand, is of equal importance. This reality puts certain limits to personal autonomy.

Using the dialogical language of the Hasidic philosopher, Martin Buber, the human world is not only an “I-It” state of affairs but more importantly, an “I-Thou” (or ” I-You”) reality. The human world is not only an epistemological realm but a relational sphere. In this condition, we, the knowing subjects (noesis), do not only connect with the known objects (noema). We are self-conscious subjects that relate with fellow self-conscious subjects in a personal way. Even at this point, we realize the fact that the existential doesn’t necessarily end outside of personal autonomy but spontaneously extends to its limits at the level of the relational.

Appropriating Sartrean existentialism once more, we say that as personally autonomous individuals we are “beings-for-ourselves”. The responsibility of signifying our own existence is nobody’s task  except ours. We basically create ourselves in the sense of making our lives meaningful and essential. We are not complete and perfect entities incapable of change. We are open-ended beings whose lives and individual meanings depend on how we make them. We are in a continual process of change and all factors that relate to such process is within the scope of our personal autonomy.

However, an affirmation of our co-existence with fellow humans widens the range of our being. We are not only “beings-for-ourselves” but also “beings-for-others”. This reality puts limits to personal autonomy without desecrating and relegating to insignificance the inalienable worth of the personal. We remain at the same platform of human dignity but with due respect to the person of the Other. In the process, we submit ourselves to the rules of proper social engagement that uphold and promote the principles of human rights. Having this in mind, we are morally bound to decide and act without violating the basic human rights of other people. Personal autonomy works well within the subjective bounds of one’s own concerns but may also intersect with the concerns of another person. Yet, we ought to always be cognizant of the fact that in the course of such possibility, we don’t step on another’s toes and be the cause of the desecration of the latter’s very own personal autonomy.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 2 July 2014

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