HORIZONTALISM AND THE CULTURE OF TRUST: A New Direction in Post-Modern Leadership



Our era is known in the intellectual circle as ‘the post-modern age.’ And the zeitgeist of this age has encompassed practically almost all–if not all–sectors of our life on this planet. The earth has ‘shrunk’ and we are literally living in a small world. From the primitive past of traveling ‘short’ distances in days–even months–through the ‘crudest’ means of transportation, we can now encircle the globe in hours. From the days of pony express in the U.S., surface mail, par avion, and telegram, even communication has come of age in this era of electronic mail (e-mail), ‘chatting,’ and teleconferencing through the magic of information technology (IT). The second wave civilization or the era of industrialism brought forth by the spirit of the age of modernism has not only ‘impersonalized’ society but likewise ‘depersonalized’ humanity through standardization and massification. But the paradigm shift from the modern age to the post-modern has brought human relations to the commanding heights of ‘ultra-personalization’ of society and ‘super-personalization’ of humanity. In the language of the social critic Marshall McLuhan of The Medium is the Message fame, ours is a ‘global village.’ This is the post-industrial era; the stage of humanity’s progress which the futuristic sociologist and philosopher Alvin Toffler (1990) calls ‘the third wave civilization.’

The Paradigm Shift

The spirit of this age has been seriously reckoned now as a strong influencing factor that enlivens and ‘reengineers’ structures, organizations, and processes in the political, civil, and corporate sectors of society. Old structures are being collapsed, different paradigms are introduced which according to the reengineering guru of the 21st century, Michael Hammer, is ‘the fundamental rethinking and radical redesign of processes to achieve dramatic improvements in critical contemporary measures of performance’ (Hammer and Champy, 1993).

Six major fronts (Beatty and Burkholder, 1996) have been observed as actual events indicative of such a paradigm-shift in organizations:

1. Attention to the primacy of the constituency as the focus of service.

2. The drive to ‘reengineer’ processes.

3. More concise (or flatter) organizational structures and a widespread use of self-managed teams.

4. Cross functional integration of activities.

5. An altered relationship between ‘superiors’ and ‘subordinates.’

6. Greater emphasis on innovation.

This paper is an attempt to explore these events: discover the elan that animates these events and make known this elan in definitive and unequivocal terms. For present purposes, this paper generally focuses on organizations of the contemporary era as they are made to respond, adapt, invent, and innovate in the context of post-modern climate, conditions, and processes. Specifically, horizontalism in organizational leadership is the highlight and concentration of this paper’s discussion. Horizontalism in organizational relationship promotes a paradigm of leadership that aims to create, develop, and sustain flat organizational structures where there is proportionate or equitable sharing of management and administrative power.

Leadership Styles in Flux: Toward a Culture of Trust

‘Great leaders through out history have used a number of styles: personal bravery (Alexander the Great), fear (Attila the Hun), eloquence (Churchill), charisma (T.E. Lawrence), coalition building (Franklin Roosevelt), autocracy (Patton), and ideas (Martin Luther).’ (Beatty and Burkholder)

General George Patton, as a case in point, was a model of leadership considered among the most effective, successful and admired in the annals of world military exploits. Patton’s significance for our present purposes lies in the fact that he was not actually a born leader as there is very little evidence to back up the claim that true leadership is an inherent quality, rather than acquired through will and effort in the locus of experience. Certain accounts of this great general’s life inform us that Patton ‘transformed himself from being a soft-spoken, mild-mannered person, into the fiery dynamo whose name became legend among his troops and his opponents. While he may have lacked a winning personality, there is no denying his effectiveness as a military leader.’ (Beatty and Burkholder, p.48)

Patton’s autocratic flair used to be the dominant model of effective leadership in modern organizations. Such style of leadership aimed to direct people to accomplish what had been determined by such leadership as a necessary end to accomplish. It was configured in a setting where one individual issued orders while others were deemed to follow such orders. That was autocratic leadership: domineering, tenacious and unrelenting. Difference in view or opinion was construed as an affront to authority. Leadership of this category is preoccupied with the serious thought and effort of maintaining the distinct boundaries between superiors and subordinates. Contrary views, dissimilar opinions, departures from the rules and instances of clashing principles and agenda are looked upon as ominous challenges to the established order and to the authority of the powers that be. In technical terms, this type of leadership, which is of military origin and character, is called bureaucratic and hierarchical. The animating factor of this type of leadership is the spirit of fear and selfishness in a culture of suspicion.

Now, in the age of post-modernism, the paradigm shift has effected a redefined leadership role.

‘The role is changing from the old autocratic model based on fear to one proposed 2,500 years ago by Lao Tzu: “To lead the people, walk behind them.” Today, motivating factors other than fear must be taken into consideration. People’s need for competency, for recognition, for meaning and dignity have become overriding considerations. People today have enlarged capacity to be self-motivated. It is up to business leaders to develop and nurture this capacity for self-direction, creativity and talent in their work force. This model of leadership depends less on direction from the top than on providing a vision for others to follow, and on inspiring others to do their best in the pursuit of that vision. It is a leadership model that is more in keeping with non-hierarchical organizations of today than with the command and control organizations of the past.’ (Beatty and Burkholder)

This is horizontalism in leadership whose animating factor is a spirit of vitality and courage in a culture of trust. A leadership that perceives the need to empower its constituency to maximize and optimize the ‘capacity for self-direction, creativity and talent of [its] work force’ is operating within the confines of a culture of trust. A leadership cannot share ‘a caring, respectful, and responsible attitude’; cannot have ‘flexibility about people and organizational structure’; cannot utilize ‘a participative approach to management and the willingness to share power’ (Beatty and Burkholder) unless such leadership is shaped by the instrumentalities of a culture of trust.

In his insightful discussion on the issue of the changing styles of leadership, Harvard professor John Kotter observes in his powerful book A Force for Change: How leadership differs from management that exceptional leaders make it a point that an organization maintain a definite and meaningful path toward a desired end goal by facilitating the communication of a vision to all levels and sectors of the organization as an act of intensifying the people’s sense of meaning, responsibility and commitment. (Kotter in Gibson, ed., 1997) For a leadership to accomplish a Herculean task like this, it is deemed that the arena of its successful operationalization be permeated by the floodlights that can only emanate from a culture of trust.

The prominent leadership guru, Warren Bennis, comments that the communication of a vision requires more than words. He says:

‘It’s not a question of giving speeches, sending out memos, and hanging laminated plaques in offices. It’s about living the vision, day in day out–embodying it–and empowering every other person in the organization to implement and execute that vision in everything they do. In other words, you have to anchor it in organizational realities, so that it becomes a template for decision making. If ever there was truism, it’s that action speaks louder than words.’ (Bennis in Gibson, ed.)

Bennis goes on to say that another significant aspect of vision communication is generating trust:

‘Leadership will have to be candid in their communications and show that they care. They’ve got to be seen to be trustworthy human beings. That’s why I believe that most communication has to be done eyeball to eyeball, rather than in newsletters, on videos or via satellite broadcasts. The leader will have to be able to generate and sustain trust and that also means demonstrating competence and constancy.’ (Bennis in Gibson, ed.)

The logical source, therefore, from which the materials to construct a culture of trust in an organization is its very leadership.

Reengineering guru Michael Hammer defines a leader,

‘…not as someone who makes other people do what he or she wants, but as someone who makes them want what he or she wants. A leader doesn’t coerce people into change that they resist. A leader articulates a vision and persuades people that they want to become part of it, so that they willingly, even enthusiastically, accept the distress that accompanies its realization.’ (Hammer and Champy)

The realization of this view of leadership can only happen and thrive in a horizontal organization whose working principles of leadership are firmly grounded on a culture of trust.

The Dynamics of Leadership in a Culture of Trust

The essence of leadership in a culture of trust is a ‘principle-centered leadership.’ This type of leadership transcends the ‘human relations’ and ‘human resource’ model whose main concern is treating people well and then using them well. Principle-centered leadership goes beyond the said earlier model because it is more focused on the issue of facilitating people to find meaning and fulfillment in what they are doing. Inherent in this model is the objective to create an empowered work force motivated by a shared sense of meaning and vision within the confines of a value system that is grounded on principles.

In the era of post-modern realities, efficiency and effectiveness, or productivity and creativity cannot simply be realized if the leadership paradigm is not located, nurtured, and enhanced in a culture of trust. It is this very culture that fosters trustworthiness throughout the organization. And trust can only emanate from principles.

The principles which are the focal point of this leadership model are actually the basic universal principles useful and time-tested in all human relationships and organizations; the likes of justice and fairness, honesty and integrity, trustworthiness and impeccability. These principles operate like natural laws, i.e., whether we obey them or not. They are principles with which no one dares argue. Humanity’s sense and understanding of them is universal.

The leadership and human relations authority, Stephen Covey comments:

‘The great value of a high-trust culture is that it brings together idealism and pragmatism. It becomes the basis for both empowerment and quality. How are you going to get people empowered if you don’t have high trust? When there’s low trust you’ve got to use control. You can’t empower people in a culture like that, otherwise you’ll have loose cannons all over the place… They don’t have a common vision and a common set of values based on principles that they all buy into. You also won’t get quality, because quality requires that everyone up and down the entire process has quality in their heart and in their mind. They have to really believe that “quality begins with me,” and they need to make their decisions based on the right principles and values. So empowerment and quality are totally integrated in a high-trust culture. Trustworthiness precedes trust which precedes empowerment which precedes quality.’ (Covey in Gibson, ed.)


The paradigm shift discussed in this paper requires enormous patience for its process has to work from inside out. Post-modern horizontal organization leadership generates change right in the hearts and minds of people. The culture of trust which provides the right climate for the leadership to grow is likewise enhanced by the dynamics of that very type of leadership. Besides, it is important for us to be constantly reminded that even a principle-centered leadership is brought to its realization through the recognition of a trusting people who have entrusted the well-being of their organization, their society, to such leadership. Post-modern horizontal organization leadership in a culture of trust is in itself a trust which is sacred and has to be protected and faithfully observed.


Beatty, Richard H. and Nicholas C. Burkholder. The Executive Career Guide MBAs: Inside Advice on Getting to the Top from Today’s Business Leaders.     New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 1996.

Gibson, Rowan (ed.). Rethinking the Future. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.     1997.

Hammer, Michael and James Champy. Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution. New York: Harper Collins Publishers. 1993.

Toffler, Alvin. The Third Wave. New York. Bantam Books. 1990.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa

The Role of Emotion in Decision-Making

decision making

“All learning has an emotional base.”
— Plato
“The heart has its reason that reason doesn’t know.”
–Blaise Pascal

We are in a world of human possibilities where decisions are made at any moment of wakefulness. Decisions range from the most casual to the most imminent with the majority of them being in any shade of their degree of importance in between. As a matter of habit, we always seem to believe that decision-making is generally a  function of the rational mind. We decide on something and we want to give the impression that the process involves a thorough logical deliberation so that once a decision has finally been made, we want others to believe that it is the best of all possible options. With this in mind, we have gotten used to the idea that decision-making is supposed to be a function of reasoning and knowledge and not simply of spur-of-the-moment resolution. The best decisions are therefore well-thought of in the most logical or critico-analytical sense of an intellectual operation.

However, a decision is made not just for the heck of coming up with a decision. Every decision is geared towards action. One is expected to act on the decision s/he has made. In this sense, a decision-maker is cognizant of the fact that the real meaningfulness of her/his decision lies on its actual operationalization. A decision not acted upon is a failed endeavor which in effect makes the process of decision-making itself an exercise in futility. As a matter  of realistic experience, within the ambit that constitutes decision-making and operationalization is a crucial interspace that magnifies the role of emotion which at the outset is not even apparent but tended to be choked off by the predominance of cerebral rationality and the desired analytic process. The push–or the will–to act on a decision made is not singularly one of rationality but more a case of emotion. Within the whole gamut of decision-making and decision-operationalization is an interplay of rationality and emotion. This is reflective of the human dynamics where reason and passion are fundamentally inseparable.

Emotion in particular could be construed as a human person’s sensitivity of varying levels of intensity that emanates from her/his state of affairs, temper or interactive relationships with other persons. It is however understood in general as an integral and spontaneous perceptiveness fundamentally distinguished from rational and epistemic awareness. Etymologically, the term “emotion” is of Old French origin, i.e, from emouvoir, meaning “to stir up,” which is further traced back to the Latin emovere, meaning “to move out” or “to remove” or “to agitate” which lead to the idea of having “a strong feeling”. (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/emotion) By and large, emotion stands on a subjective platform as distinguished from analytic rationality which operates on premises unanimously accepted within a certain set of norms generally held by human convention as objective. On the one hand, we have reason and on the other, emotion. At the initial phase of the decision-making process, emotion is seemingly yet inert and hence non-functional (though extensive scientific studies have later proven otherwise). The rational mind at this point takes the driver’s seat in the identification and “materialization” of a series of valid options and supporting factors that lead to the formulation of not one but several doable and sustainable prospective decisions. Afterwards, the one single outstanding decision is taken with a determined commitment to act on it which at this point is no longer within the province of reason but of emotion. The leading issue at this juncture of the process is therefore one’s emotional readiness–one’s integral sensitivity or spontaneous perceptiveness–to prefer to act on a particular decision at a certain level of her/his intense commitment to a cause where such a decision is deemed necessary and thus relevant and proper.

Nevertheless, a closer and more in-depth look into the initial phase of decision-making process reveals the reticent role of emotion. The very act itself of identifying options and supporting factors within the problematic context at hand is primed by the decision-maker’s emotional state, i.e., her/his present circumstance, temper and relationships which actually constitute her/his integral and spontaneous sensitivity on the matter here and now. This condition is an affirmation of the plenary constitution of normal humanity realized in the balanced interplay of reason and emotion. In other words, this is humanity within the dynamics and mechanics of normal life in action. Even the very “primal” instance that goads and leads one to get to the process of decision-making is basically not a purely rational operation because the occurrence of necessity in whatever form and event is an emotional circumstance. There is no way that decision-making which is a fundamental stuff of wakeful life is outside the sphere of human emotions and this proposition is not merely a speculative concoction on the basis of some superficial observation but something that is cogently validated and justified in and by scientific studies  particularly in the area of neuroscience.

The distinguished Portuguese-American neuroscientist Antonio Damasio did a series of extensive and in-depth pioneering studies on patients with some damage in the brain part where emotions are effected. His studies yielded a surprising result that despite the damage, none of the patients’ cognitive intelligence tested by way of their logico-analytic rationality was adversely affected except the disturbing fact that all of them are absolutely incapable of making even the simplest decisions required in certain real-life situations. Such a major imbalance in the reason-emotion scale abnormally sharpens the rational side of the brain which heightens the logico-analytic profiency of the affected individual at the expense of emotional sensitivity.  This situation unconditionally drives the person to a seemingly endless and exhaustive train of critically focusing on the rationality of the pros and cons of a particular action to be taken in a specific problematization which totally precludes a functional decision. In the final analysis, Damasio conclusively reiterated in his studies that emotion plays an absolutely crucial role in a human individual’s decision-making capability.

In Damasio’s discussion of the case of one of his patients identified as Elliot in Chapter Three of his 1994 ground-breaking bestseller, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain (http://bdgrdemocracy.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/descartes-error_antonio-damasio.pdf), titled “A Modern Phineas Gage” (page 34-51), Damasio initially gives the pre-problematic background of Elliot as a productive, responsible and extraordinarily intelligent individual. Then, later Elliot developed a brain tumor which after a series of tests turned out to be meningioma which, quoting Damasio, is a benign type of tumor:

“Meningiomas are generally benign, as far as the tumor tissue itself is concerned, but if they are not removed surgically they can be just as fatal as the tumors we call malignant. As they keep compressing brain tissue in their growth, they eventually kill it. Surgery was necessary if Elliot was to survive.”

The tumor was successfully removed by “an excellent medical team”. Further quoting Damasio:

” . . . As is usual in such cases, frontal lobe tissue that had been damaged by the tumor had to be removed too. The surgery was a success in every respect, and insofar as such tumors tend not to grow again, the outlook was excellent. . . .”

But something turned out unexpectedly. Damasio continues:

” . . . What was to prove less felicitous was the turn in Elliot’s personality. The changes, which began during his physical recovery, astonished family and friends. To be sure, Elliot’s smarts and his ability to move about and use language were unscathed. In many ways, however, Elliot was no longer Elliot.”

The operation done on the frontal lobe of Elliot’s brain to remove the damaged tissue resulted to an irreparable detriment: the total loss of his emotional faculty. In view of this, Damasio observes:

“His knowledge base seemed to survive, and he could perform many separate actions as well as before. But he could not be counted on to perform an appropriate action when it was expected. Understandably, after repeated advice and admonitions from colleagues and superiors went unheeded, Elliot’s job was terminated. Other jobs-and other dismissals-were to follow. Elliot’s life was now beating to a different drum.”

In the final analysis, Damasio conclusively remarks:

” . . . I began to think that the cold-bloodedness of Elliot’s reasoning prevented him from assigning different values to different options, and made his decision-making landscape hopelessly flat. It might also be that the same cold-bloodedness made his mental landscape too shifty and unsustained for the time required to make response selections, in other words, a subtle rather than basic defect in working memory which might alter the remainder of the reasoning process required for a decision to emerge.”

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 25 December 2014

On “Keeping ‘Death’ In Mind”


“Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death. If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present. Our life has no end in just the way in which our visual field has no limits.”   — Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 6.4311

“Dialogical” Death

There is some real significant sense in rehearsing Heidegger’s conception of the Dasein in thematizing death as “my death” (from my viewpoint) or “someone’s death” (from her/his viewpoint). However,  if I may appropriate Emanuel Levinas in his Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence,  there is a more dialogical way of discussing the issue of death which brings out the importance of  “the death of the Other” that haunts and disturbs an individual who has witnessed the death of someone personally close to her/him. As a  matter of my own thoughts about the possibility of my own death, it is not  haunting or disturbing at all. Thinking of my death is “autheticizing” to me and that’s precisely why I can unhesitatingly sacrifice my life for a noble cause. This, I think, could be another instance to signify Heidegger’s notion of “befriending” death. But it is the thought of the death of the Other that is haunting and disturbing to me.

It is therefore the THOUGHT of death (mine or anybody’s)–which is an acceptance of the radicalness of finitude–that we can talk about as it is presently thematized by us who are still living. In this case, the signification and hence the “authenticization” of death once it is actualized is no longer within the purview of our consciousness (for death’s actualization deprives us of consciousness) but in the consciousness of the living particularly those who know us.

The Death of an Individual in the Context of Community

In Alfred North Whitehead’s process philosophy, physical death is the cessation or extinction of one’s life that dissolves the future into nothingness. Whitehead further asserts that a metaphysical understanding of this notion leads us to an interpretation of death as a self-fulfillment or self-realization in the larger context of a social community. In this sense, death is understood as an event where a community of living entities can come together to be inspired by the death of a member of such community and in the process project a new vision of a desired future. This point may be better understood if a human individual’s existence is viewed as the polar end whose opposite is the community. Here the individual’s consciousness is but a tiny iota in the community of a myriad beings.

But taking the Whiteheadian issue in a more true-to-life sense is simply a matter of superficial imagination. If we pursue the Whiteheadian trajectory, we lose the “authenticizing” signification of the thought of death which is actually radically realized in the context of the individual. From the Whiteheadian perspective, the thought of death simply plunges into the narrative–even the metanarrative–of a community and therefrom lands in the cold rhetoric of empty romanticism.

I do not however deny the dialogical reality achieved in community interaction. Nobody can sensibly refute the facticity of human interface specifically realizable in the context of a community. But human authenticity emanates from the reflective competence of the human being in the individual dimension without necessarily naively revisiting the graveyard of Cartesian solipsism.

Nevertheless, it is important to reflexively affirm the fact that the participating agencies in the human community are uniquely differentiated individuals that constitute an inter-subjective reality. Considering the dynamics of social change, a community could get extremely ascendant (and hence dominant/domineering) to the point of tyrannizing the individual. This is the major problematization in most of Levinas’ writings: When the community gets ascendant, the Other is pushed to the margins. In the process, the meaningfulness of the indvidual is imperiled and human authenticity loses its grounding.

“Existential” Death

Having said so much about individual death in the context of community, more focus should be taken now in talking about death as an existential event. But can we really talk about death? Well, perhaps as a concept: “death”. But death as “death” isn’t death at all, existentially. But can we get existential about death? Let’s get experiential about this issue. But can we really get experiential about death? Death cannot be experiential at all. But death is supposed to be experiential as a matter of human event. Now, the question is, can we really talk about “experiential” death when actually, death is the cessation of experience? Even the dying moment in the experience of a human being is not death yet and no one lived to tell that experience. Funny to even consider this matter at all.

We don’t get sad, much less terrorized, when we start to reflect about “our own death” because such is not reality as yet. But can one’s death be a reality to her/him? It is what I call “death”. We even tend to get philosophical about it in the existential sense. We can only imagine the sadness; not our sadness but the sadness of those who love us. When we die, such sadness is the “unique” experience precluded to us. It is the death of another that makes death saddening and even terrifying in certain tragic cases.

Death is not within the purview of the subjective experience of the living. Death as a matter of experience is “death” for it is the death of another person that we experience. And “death” as such makes us sad depending on the degree of our closeness to the departed.

“Death” is the only possible way whereby we can talk about death.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 17 December 2014

“Social Justice Warriors” vs Genuine Social Justice Activists


“Power in defense of freedom is greater than power in behalf of tyranny and oppression, because power, real power, comes from our conviction which produces action, uncompromising action.”

–Malcolm X

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

–Martin Luther King, Jr

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

–Archbishop Desmond Tutu


Justice in general and social justice in particular are serious matters to deal with. It is fundamentally important to focus on certain socio-political forces that operate in the whole gamut of human interactions–forces that have been internalized in a society’s cultural apparatus through time. Basic to all these is the long-running economic disempowerment to which the common people have been subjected for generations and has in the process created conditions that have spawned social injustice.

The world has witnessed real, true-to-life and action-oriented social justice and civil rights activists and revolutionaries in recent history, i.e., before the advent of the Internet. The likes of Rosa Parks in mid-1950s along with Martin Luther King, Jr, Andrew Young and Jesse Jackson among many other African-Americans who prominently figured out in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in the US. On the side of the more radical African-American social justice revolutionaries, I’d be cursed if I wouldn’t mention Malcolm X of the Black Panthers.

Then we also remember the exploits of white Americans on the “silver-screen” side like Jane Fonda, the late Marlon Brando and Canadian Donald Sutherland who actively stood up in the defense of native American rights in the 60s and 70s along with real eminent native American leaders like Russell Means, Wallace Anderson, Fred Hampton, Rainbow Coalition and the distinguished academic Oren Lyons among others.

On the other side of the globe, Mahatma Gandhi of India and Muhammad Ali Jinna of Pakistan stood tall in their respective capacities as heroes of social justice and human rights on behalf of their peoples. In South Africa during the infamous apartheid era, we had Oliver Tambo, Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu and of course, the legendary Nelson Mandela.

In the contemporary Internet generation, we have the American Christian pacifist Shane Claiborne and his group called The Simple Way [http://www.redletterchristians.org/shane/]. On the side of activists who do not only write but actually and actively participate in social justice movements in various parts of the world, it is an honor to be associated with and to mention here my friend and colleague, the Haitian journalist, scholar and News Junkie Post (NJP) co-editor-in-chief Dr. Dady Chery along with the other friends and colleagues  in NJP like editor-in-chief Gilbert Mercier and co-EIC John Goss as well as my co-correspondents-writers Ruben Rosenberg Colorni and Imtiaz Akhtar of India among others. They are not only accomplished and powerful writers but also active participants in social action movements tackling issues of justice and human rights in the context of their respective geographical locations.

It is likewise worth mentioning and definitely an honor to be associated with contemporary Filipino social-justice and human-rights activists like my friends Adelbert “Ka Matt” Solana of Friends of Migrante; Connie Bragas-Regalado and Garry Martinez of Migrante International; Norma Biñas of AMISTAD and BAYAN; Paul Galutera; Mac Ramirez; Atty Jobert Pahilga of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NULP); husband-and-wife Raffy and Lu Baylosis; the Filipino nationalist poet, Prof. Roger Ordoñez; National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) Secretary-General, Fr. Rex Reyes; Prof. Ferdie Anno of the Union Theological Seminary (UTS-Philippines); US-based husband-and-wife academics, Drs. Sonny San Juan and Delia Aguilar;  Utrecht-based Rev. Cesar Taguba and Fidel Agcaoili of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), among others.

I can go on and on enumerating social justice and civil/human rights activists both past and present who in this particular context were, have been and are real activists on the street and in movements who have committed their lives, talents and resources for the advocacies, principles and ideologies they passionately believe in, stand for and are ready even to give their lives for, come hell or high water, so to speak. More than the writings of the “wordsmiths” among them are  their actual participation in movements, rallies, demonstrations and marches which makes them genuine social justice activists and partisans–revolutionaries, if you will–and not simply hideous and abominable counterfeits of the “armchair fighters” variety.

In a much clearer sense, we are not talking here of “social justice warriors” in the pejorative sense who have flourished and flooded the cyberspace and the information super highways in the last decades or so. To quote an entry from the Urban Dictionary website [http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=social%20justice%20warrior], a “social justice warrior” is

an individual who repeatedly and vehemently engages in arguments on social justice on the Internet, often in a shallow or not well-thought-out way, for the purpose of raising their own personal reputation. A social justice warrior, or SJW, does not necessarily strongly believe all that they say, or even care about the groups they are fighting on behalf of. They typically repeat points from whoever is the most popular blogger or commenter of the moment, hoping that they will “get SJ points” and become popular in return. They are very sure to adopt stances that are “correct” in their social circle. The SJW’s favorite activity of all is to dogpile [a group of people jumping on other people and creating a tower of people while crushing the people at the bottom]. Their favorite websites to frequent are Livejournal and Tumblr. They do not have relevant favorite real-world places, because SJWs are primarily civil rights activists only online.

In view of this, the term “warrior” is used in a more sarcastic sense for none of this kind of people is authentically committed to what they are spewing out. The most we can say is they are pure and simple trouble-makers and “intellectual masturbators” who could criss-cross from one side to the other of whatever politically controversial divide is on hand (or perhaps more properly “online”).

For those friends and colleagues I mentioned above as well as for those my memory has failed me to mention but nevertheless are of the same genuine category, I’d rather use the more appropriate and conventional pre-Internet-age term “activist” at least and “revolutionary” at most. To this, I can robustly and truthfully attest for once I walked with them on the street  sometimes under the heat of the sun and in other times rain-drenched, unmindful of risks and adversities amidst hunger, thirst and exhaustion. To the social justice activists and revolutionaries of this generation, I doff my cap. To the so-called “social justice warriors” of the cyberspace age, GET LOST!

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 10 December 2014

Life Doesn’t Follow The Agenda


“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
— Joseph Campbell

“I was not sure where I was going, and I could not see what I would do when I got [there]. But you saw further and clearer than I, and you opened the seas before my ship, whose track led me across the waters to a place I had never dreamed of, and which you were even then preparing to be my rescue and my shelter and my home.”
— Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain

“Life doesn’t work out the way we plan, but maybe it works out the way it’s supposed to after all.”
— Kristin Harmel, The Sweetness of Forgetting

“All human plans [are] subject to ruthless revision by Nature, or Fate, or whatever one preferred to call the powers behind the Universe.”
— Arthur C. Clarke, 2010: Odyssey Two

A list of what one has deemed necessary to accomplish is basically future-directed. Some important things one needs to do to achieve pre-determined objectives. The act itself of deliberating on these matters is a thematizing of what one has considered to be ideal. Every agenda is therefore constitutive of notions and planned actions still in the conceptual stage; some things yet in the mind that need to be acted upon.

The human mind in a lot of times and ways tends to be so ambitious and such tendency in most instances is matched optimistically by creativity which is likewise a fundamental aspect of humanity in normal circumstances. We think of doing a lot of things and we seriously plan to make them a reality. This whole process which generally leads to a deep moment of creative reflection makes each of us a temporary solipsist–someone who regardless of other conscious beings around believes that s/he alone exists and the fullness of reality is solely the world of her/his conception. The world is my world and hence I have all the power to re-arrange and modify it. I am my world and I am in full control of it.

Though almost entirely unassailable if taken into the arena of formal argumentation using the instrumentality of logic, there is certainly something ontologically wrong with the platform of solipsism. At a closer look, solipsism is flawed and will not stand in the context of multiple intersubjective encounters. There is more to life than the unilateral, highly subjective  and narrowly conceived world of my “solipsistic” musing. Viewed more reasonably, such a world is simply my own agenda spiced up with my own hopes and dreams, wishes and desires. A sober realization and acceptance of this more enlightened reality rationally explains to me why in so many instances the path I tread on is fraught with dissatisfactions, disappointments, frustrations, despairs, even tragedies in most extreme cases.

Life in its macrocosmic state has its own course independent of human conception. Yes, it is a given that my agendas are future-directed but so is life. We want to capture the future with our own conception of it but such is actually a grand human illusion. Life creates itself and moves on towards a state totally inaccessible to our limited consciousness which is only fundamentally endowed with the power of memory to ascertain the past and the power of tactical intelligence as well to cope with the exigencies of the present. The future is something else: boundless and incmprehensible at any point of the present. We may only have a glimpse of a myriad of future possibilities but nobody has an absolute certainty of what will actually happen in such future time.

In a more precise–though hilarious–way of describing the future from the point of view of the present, it is nothing but nothing. There is only the macrocosmic life that “mysteriously” leads us on a “historical” trajectory towards such future and invites us to a deeper sensitivity  of almost–if not totally–“mystical” character to comprehend “the signs of the times” at every signpost along the way. In this sense, we finally get to a realization that life will never ever follow our agendas. Instead,  it is our agendas that need to follow the leadings of life. With this in mind, we are at last unburdened with the spectre of false hopes that meet despair, disappointments and frustrations that have haunted humanity since time immemorial.

Life, my individual life, is what I make it. But life, the macrocosmic life of immense breadth, is the expansive and overwhelming ocean where my life is just a trickle.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 2 December 2014