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Archive for February, 2015

Joy in Breathing

breathing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 25 February 2015

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moderate

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

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

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

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

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

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 18 February 2015

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What is Success?

success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 11 February 2015

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On Minority Rights

 minority

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

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

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

I. Some Clarificatory Words

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

II. The Indigenous Ethnic Minority

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

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

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

III. The “Outsider” or Migrant Ethnic Minority

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

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

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

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

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

IV. Conclusion

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

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 3 February 2015

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