Is There Really Freedom in a Democracy?

Introduction

Obviously, “freedom” is a big word that stares us in the face as we try to make sense of it, connect it later with the concept of “democracy,” and finally come up with a meaningful response to the question at hand. “Freedom” which is generally defined as the state of being free triggers a more definitive question: What concrete situation elicits such a state? In other words, when do we say that someone is in a state of being free?

There are a lot of particular instances whose contexts could instantly provide us with a casual understanding of being free. One is said to be free in doing what is prohibited by an authority when such authority is absent and hence unable to see and monitor the prohibited action being done. Conversely and in a broader social context, one is free to do anything that is not outlawed by authority. In another instance, the revocation of a decree, law or policy that forbids a certain action and renders it criminal on the basis of such decree, law or policy gives people the freedom now to do what used to be forbidden.

A different context we could mention to exemplify freedom is when someone has been released from jail and can now breathe the air of freedom after serving her/his prison term. A related case is a person abducted and held captive by criminals for a period of time but was later able to free her/himself by eluding her/his captors and escaping from their lair thereafter. These are all instances where freedom as the state of being free could be understood in simple terms. In fact, we can cite myriads more of instances depicting freedom that range from petty experiences with defined limitations to “no-holds-barred” cases that directly assault and in the end self-annihilate freedom itself. Thus, at its worst, freedom pushed beyond its limits and getting off scot-free like a snake that begins to swallow its tail is doomed to self-destruction.

Freedom in Society

But seriously looking at freedom in various circumstances of human interaction in the social context, certain prevailing ethos, mores, and taboos are pre-established and hence impossible to ignore. Simply put, society establishes the dynamics and mechanics of freedom within its well-defined scope and limits. By and large, dwellers in a particular society are free to do certain things but forbidden to mess around in other areas of concern. Looking at freedom in this sense plots its location within the ambit of what is acceptable and unacceptable, what is tolerable and intolerable, what is desirable and undesirable.

Nevertheless, the social condition is not as simple (or perhaps, simplistic is the more appropriate term) as we look at it at this stage of the present discussion. There are complexities that override such social condition as we focus more on the stratification that characterizes society and defines on that basis the roles of its inhabitants. In this consideration, we get aware of the reality that certain segments of society are granted the freedom to do certain things while other segments are not. People of one category that are given particular responsibilities and duties are likewise granted the freedom to get involved in specific activities but not in others, whereas people of another category are free to do the latter but not entitled to the same freedom enjoyed by the people of the former category. In this sense, society through its conventions and leadership defines the parameters of freedom and prohibitions that constitute what is considered as law and order.

Freedom in society is never “no-holds-barred” and thus safeguarded from self-stultification. Freedom in its social context is therefore characterized by certain limitations so it does not defeat and annihilate itself. Freedom in this sense is considered legitimate and transgression of such legitimacy is met with a commensurate sanction, even retribution at the worst. Established within the framework of social control, there is hence no such thing as unrestrained freedom for even if it is not a contradiction in theoretical terms, it is, by all means, a contradiction in practical terms whose end is self-destruction.

The Reality of Democracy

The main bone of contention in this area of consideration is not the theoretical meaning of democracy as the “rule of the people”; it is rather the actual practice of governments which call themselves “democratic” and thus depict themselves as purveyors of the ideals of democracy. The most pressing problem at this point of our present discussion is the equivocal status of the term “democracy”. Why? Because “democracy” is used arbitrarily for the convenience of government entities of varied and even diametrically opposed political hues and colors. In this connection, we ask the question: Which of these governments in the world that call themselves “democratic” is the genuine paradigm of the ideals of democracy and the true expression of its theoretical principles? None. And again we ask, Why?

Democracy is a figment of the imagination. The concept of people ruling in the political order of a society is an illusion, a fantasy. Ruling a society or a nation, if you will, is effected by a cabal of dominant personalities who call themselves leaders. In the modern world of so-called civilized societies, these leaders are put into office by the citizens–who are technically called the electorate–through a process called election which is generally and unanimously understood and accepted as the most basic instrumentality of democracy. This process has the fundamental aspect of democracy as the people in a particular social location participate in choosing what they deem to be the most qualified and capable to lead the political order of their social community. Yet another question pops up: Does this whole event entail democracy, i.e., rule of the people? In other words, once the electorate has placed in power their chosen leaders, is it proof enough that it is they who are ruling their state of affairs as a social community, as a nation? Once the elected government leaders are all in place, is this what we call democracy, i.e., the rule of the people?

Once the elected government leaders are in power, that is the moment when the short-lived democracy–effected by the electorate through the ballots–ends. These government leaders now in power are the bearers of the interests not of the people who elected them but of their own personal agenda and those of the patrons in the realm of big businesses who financially and logistically supported them on their campaign trails. Huge chunks of evidence have proven once and for all that the most notorious criminal and corrupt government leaders have emerged from countries which are generally known to be the most “democratic,” and many of them have even successfully run away with their loots.

Freedom in a Democracy?

At this point, it is already irrelevant to touch on the issue of freedom in a democracy. It is rather more relevant to affirm the reality of freedom within the pragmatic parameters we have previously established even if a society is not democratic (since there is no such thing as a democratic society). What is real is there are of course pockets of freedom that we experience and such pockets are specifically defined in terms of certain particular instances that constitute our existential condition as human beings. However, freedom as a universal factor in theoretical terms that ontologically and axiologically connects with “free will” as something inherent in the constitution of our humanity is another case of fantasy and illusion–a figment of the imagination. In the final analysis, real freedom is dependent on actual experiential events and not on the non-existent “free will”.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 28 January 2019

Making Decisions

by Ruel F. Pepa

I. Introduction

What are the philosophical concerns surrounding the issue of “making decisions”? To start off, it is important to locate first the focal points of the inquiry: Is it on the making of decisions or on the decisions themselves that are made? Considering the “making” aspect, on one hand, the focal point is on the process: How is a decision made? On the other hand, considering the decisions themselves brings us to the focal point of quality: What kind of decision has been made? These two focal points are of the essence to capture the meaningfulness of a philosophical examination of decision-making.

In its most superficial state, making decisions is a very general terrain. A decision could be made in whatever way a decision-maker wants it made. And this is the reason why a lot of decisions made cover a spectrum that ranges from the most successful and beneficial to the most devastating and disastrous. The orientation of this consideration that focuses on the process of making decisions inevitably connects with the quality of decisions made. In other words, the process involved in making decisions has a direct bearing on the quality of decisions made. Whether we can draw a necessary connection or simply a constant conjunction is beside the point (with apologies to David Hume).

Judging the exact nature of the philosophical inquiry on the issue at hand brings us to the classical philosophical fields of methodology and axiology. In terms of methodology, epistemology stands out while in terms of axiology, ethics is the major player. Making decisions which involves a process enters the domain of epistemology while the decisions made which are characterized by their respective qualities are the responsibility of ethics.

II. Appropriating Epistemology in Decision-Making

Knowledge is the key factor in epistemology. Its most basic condition is hitched on the following questions: (1) What can I know?; (2) How do I know what I can know?; and (3) How do I know that I know? Making satisfactory decisions involves a significant aspect of epistemological consideration because logically, we can only adequately decide on the basis of what is knowable. Properly deciding on a certain matter requires a knowledge not only of the matter under consideration but more importantly the states of affairs that constitute the surrounding environment where such matter is located. Then we answer the question, “What can I know?” Furthermore, it is likewise vital to be equipped with the necessary tools–both material and mental–to carefully and conscientiously explore the situation once the possibility of knowing its condition has been determined. Then we satisfy the question, “How do I know what I can know?” And at a certain point in time when we have told ourselves that we know the entire gamut of everything within the domain of the knowable, we have to reach the level of full justification and absolute certainty that our knowledge of the matter is concrete and incontrovertible thereby resolving the question, “How do I know that I know?”

The field of business management has some useful and potent tools of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation that equip decision-makers. One of them is called SWOT analysis which is an acronym for a kind of systematic analysis exploring the factors of “Strengths,” “Weaknesses,” “Opportunities,” and “Threats” in consideration of a proposed business project. This is a concrete case where we find honest-to-goodness philosophy utilized in business. SWOT analysis in decision-making involves both the subjective and objective factors of reality. The subjective factor takes into consideration the inner capability of a business entity–a company–for that matter. The objective factor lies in the outer environment where the proposed project is intended to be located. It is objective because its rigid nature is outside the control of the human will power.

The same dynamics work if applied in a more personal context of decision-making. We make decisions on the basis of what is doable as far as our personal capabilities are concerned. In this area, we take into consideration our own personal strengths and weaknesses. In other words, there is an aspect of a decision that relies on these factors. So that, I could say on the one hand that I can effect this decision because I have the strengths to do it. But on the other hand, I likewise know my weaknesses and these will surely hinder the successful achievement of the objective anticipated when the decision has been pragmatized. The whole situation, however, depends on the subjective power and persuasion of the decision-maker because of the reality that a weakness may be transformed into strength. If there is a will, there is a way, as the saying goes. The important point here is that we are in control of our capabilities–of our strengths and weaknesses. And by way of an epistemological consideration, such strengths and weaknesses may be revealed in broad daylight, so to speak. Having this in mind, a relevant, practicable and logical decision may be tentatively reached at the end of the day.

But the process is not yet through. The objective factor is out there and such is not within the sphere of our whims and wishes. The objective factor appears in two scenarios: opportunities and threats. We are inspired by the opportunities and whatever strength we have in pursuing a decision to its practical implementation is pushed and driven to take advantage of the visible opportunities. But that is just one side of the coin because there are threats lurking on the sideline. We cannot push through “full speed ahead” because doing so would definitely be an act of suicide. Here enters epistemology once again because we need a full knowledge of the threats. We need to explore the anatomy and the motion of these threats. It is epistemology that will lead us to get to an intermediary decision on whether it is possible to neutralize the threats by certain methods or if they are too tough to be confronted head-on the only recourse is avoidance by looking for alternative routes that will ultimately lead to the desired objective.

III. Locating the Value of Decisions in Ethical Terms

Decision-making that draws its life-blood from philosophy cannot ignore the vital role played by epistemology in getting into a process that leads it to its final rational conclusion. At this point, we amplify rationality and understand it axiologically as reasonability. In this particular connection, high-quality decisions that contribute to the enhancement of particular human experiences and human life, in general, is of utmost importance. With this in mind, we are now ready to consider another important philosophical deliberation which is in the area of ethics as we highlight human flourishing which is fundamentally characterized by (1) amelioration or alleviation of suffering; (2) resolution of conflict; and (3) promotion of happiness.

In ethical terms, we don’t basically distinguish between good and right decisions and conversely between wrong and bad decisions. Good decisions are generally considered right and bad decisions, wrong. However, a closer look into this issue will bring us to a realization that once again the subjective and the objective get into an interplay. Good and bad are subjective classifications while right and wrong are objective. A decision is good or bad depending on a person’s subjective impression while a decision may be right or wrong as a matter of universal implementation. A decision or an act may be good as far as the people in a particular socio-cultural arrangement are concerned but bad in another setting. However, a right decision is right and a wrong decision is wrong on the basis of the multifaceted factors that influenced their formulation without considering strictly parochial presuppositions ensconced on the unquestioned platform of a culture. Something is considered right if its ethical substance is universal and hence universalizable. Simply put, it is right in all angles whether it directly assaults a cultural practice deemed to be good in the context of a particular society. The sole criterion of this so-called objective morality is the universal principle of human flourishing. In a sense, we could say that a right decision may not be good and vice versa. Conversely, a wrong decision may be good and vice versa.

IV. Conclusion

Making decisions is a very broad topic but a philosophical treatment has somehow led us into a streamlining process that finally takes us to its more refined variety in both epistemological and ethical terms. In the final analysis, we have reached a realization that what truly matters is the making of knowledge-based decisions that are not only good but more importantly right. Nevertheless, it is one thing to get into a discourse of an issue like the one that we have here and it is another to actually pragmatize the merits of an ideal. Whatever the ideal is, we can be sure that people will continue to make bad and wrong decisions and the world will continue to experience problems and difficulties big and small, simple and complex, because of them.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 14 January 2019

Is Modern Education “Robotizing” People?

I. Introduction

First things first. We need to get into a “clearing house” to shed light on certain operational concepts in the question at hand: (1) modern; (2) education; (3) “robotize” / “robotization” / “robotizing”; and (4) people.

1. Modern: It is the general condition of states of affairs going on in the present era. Other more “hair-splitting” philosophers might disagree and prescribe the notion that the present era is more accurately called “post-modern” (or, “postmodern”). But I don’t intend to get into a complicated discussion on how the “modern” is distinguished from the “postmodern”. By pure simplification (without sounding simplistic), I’m using in the context of this essay the term “modern” within the range of events that didn’t belong to the time when life in a civilized milieu didn’t have yet the facilitation provided by the cyber technology which we now have in the form of sophisticated computers, smartphones, DSLR cameras, speed trains, social networks, auto-parking cars, IoT, among others. In simple terms, these are what I mean by modern–no more, no less.

2. Education. In simple terms, education involves teaching (in all its forms, so that it could be a learner teaching her/himself or an entity other than the learner that is the source of matters to be learned). It is, therefore, a facilitative process of learning aimed toward the acquisition and development of skills, values, habits, and knowledge. However, getting more deeply into the etymological origin of the term, it is fundamentally associated with the verb “to educe,” i.e., to effect the emanation and flourishing of potentialities embryonically hidden or yet untapped in the cognitive network of a normal human being. However, in the context of the present discussion, the term “education” may be used in a more inclusive sense so that it may not only be that particularly formal situation strictly confined within the four walls of a classroom. Where there are teaching and learning, there is education. Education may happen anywhere and experience has proven to us once and for all that its most effective occurrence is in the daily run of events in life both basic and complex. In other words, the potentiality of being perennial learners flows in our veins whether we like it or not and whether we actually take advantage of it or otherwise.

3. “Robotize”/Robotization”/”Robotizing”. It is a neologism or a coinage, if you will, which is derived from the term “robot”. A robot is basically a human-programmed machine capable of automatically performing tasks both simple and complex. Robots are conceived and used to facilitate activities that are otherwise difficult and complicated within the scope of limited human–and even animal–capabilities. In the present context, “robotize”/”robotization”/”robotizing” refers to a characterization of how a human being could be in a state of mechanical efficiency while performing certain activities without exerting even a minimum amount of “brain power” or considering the value of certain decisions which are of moral importance by simply relying on available programmes and ready-made systemic procedures. A fundamental characterization of a robot is that of a vassal with which manipulation is necessarily associated. In this sense, “robotization” is a situation wherein a human being is in a way dehumanized because s/he gets to a point where s/he de-signifies her/his inherent potentiality, creativity, disposition, and free will.

4. People. In the present discussion, “people” may not only refer to students in a situation of formal schooling. It generally refers to all learners under normal circumstances and this context is taken in the light of what is previously pointed out in #2 where the inclusive application of the term education is given emphasis.

II. The Attributes of Modern Education

Modern formal education in highly civilized societies is distinctively marked by the predominance of tools, implements, and devices whose main operational condition is literally right at the tip of one’s fingers. Most of these so-called cyber tech gadgets are essentially digitalized and a simple touch on the screen of an I-pad, I-pod, tablet or smartphone or a flick on the soft-touch keyboard of a laptop or notebook brings one to a seemingly endless information superhighway and a panorama of exciting scenarios via the Internet. This could even be construed as the realization of the “Global Brain” metaphor that constitutes what the late Russian cyberphilosopher Valentin Turchin called “Social Superorganism” in the comprehensive knowledge network he called “Principia Cybernetica” (http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/). This so far is the highest monumental achievement of humanity in the modern age. And the entire gamut of this virtual universe has revolutionized practically all aspects of the reality we know at this point in time.

In the particular field of education, the Internet has opened up myriads of seemingly inexhaustible windows through which the flow of information gives the impression of an eternal fount. The cyber world has provided humanity with a teacher utilizing a totally new pedagogical methodology. On one hand, this state of affairs is beneficial to all learners because the process of learning doesn’t any longer require a Herculean effort to achieve. Research sources–both academic and non-academic–have been made easily available and research studies may be done mostly online with no sweat at all, so to speak. For the more seriously discriminating and hence in-depth learner engaged in both academic and non-academic pursuits, the importance of critical inquiry is the leading demand to come up with an honest-to-goodness study which has been made less stringent by an array of sources made available online. In this case, education is still in the right direction.

On the other hand, however, the more attentive observers among us have noticed some flaws along the way. There are also Internet beneficiaries whose only intent is to promote a unilateral line of thought in the supposed “investigative study” that they do and in the process draw supportive notions and theories from sources whose trustworthiness they never even try to verify for the sake of consistency and integrity. In other words, such a study lacks the critical element present in a more credible treatise on the basis of an in-depth erudite theoretical investigation. In this sense, the person engaged in such a haphazard and superficial endeavor defeats the very essence of learning and hence of education. What we find here is someone who has unwittingly anesthetized her/his critical faculties by simply following the queue of like-minded “puppets” fabricated by the pied pipers of the Internet networks. We, therefore, have here a “robotized” individual who has lost his critical ability, decision-making power, and proficiency to distinguish between right and wrong.

III. But is There Really Such a Thing as “Robotizing Education”?

The concept of “robotizing education” is a contradiction in terms. Authentic education brings out and enhances the hidden potential of a human person. In the course of time, real education liberates the learner from “Plato’s cave” and provides her/him with unlimited space for the unraveled potential to grow and flourish. In this connection, honest-to-goodness education can never be a “robotizing” agent. When someone puts her/himself in a learning situation, s/he is confronted by and hence in the presence of a facilitating agent called a “teacher” in whatever form it takes. While it could be the traditional human teacher, in the modern context, it could also be a virtual facilitator that utilizes the instrumentality of the cyber world called artificial intelligence (AI). Considering all possibilities, the risk basically lies on the side of the teacher with all the available pedagogical methods at her/his/its disposal. That is the area where the “robotizing” effect is generated. But getting “robotized” or not solely depends on the learner.

Drawing our line of thought from the above considerations brings us to the notion that there isn’t such a thing as “robotizing education”. If it is education in its truest sense, it isn’t deemed to “robotize” because the latter is the rejection of the former. They cannot go together especially if we bring to mind once again the idea that education promotes learning and learning liberates human potentiality and enhances the critical ability and the uncoerced facility of the human person to decide for her/himself. If a system is “robotizing,” it is absolutely not educating. But regrettably, such a system exists under the guise of education. This is the very circumstance that has created tremendous confusion and anomaly that has tarnished the honor and nobility of genuine education. And may we not subside to the level of forgetfulness and think that this anomalous system of so-called “education” has just been recently inaugurated in the modern era. We have had this aberrant system of “education” for so long so that the petrification process that seeped into its incongruous pillars has established a lasting foundation of manipulative–even exploitative–“educational” institutions we have now. These institutions constitute the powerful factor that aligns toward uniformity the trend that organizes and establishes unquestioning, uncritical, passive and line-toeing denizens of a social order under the hegemony of its unscrupulous and guileful leaders. This system of “education” is the irreconcilable antithesis of true education. This is the counterfeit education that has “robotized” people and transformed them into servile vassals of the system who have not been equipped to critically put forward challenging issues and queries to generate worthwhile social progress to make the world a much better place to live in.

IV. Conclusion

In the final analysis, it is not honest-to-goodness education–modern or not–that “robotizes” people; it is rather the flawed system of instruction that erroneously calls itself “education” which instead of facilitating learning has promoted indoctrination with the final aim of creating dogmatic and subservient sycophants of a society programmed and run by the powers that be. The current continuously goes on in the present modern era with increased intensity as the instrumentality of manipulation and exploitation is ably provided by and acquired from the modern limitless domain of cyber technology.

Is modern education “robotizing” people? No, definitely not. Modern honest-to-goodness education with all the facilities of modern technology is exhilarating, liberating and empowering. It is the digressive system of institutionalized instruction in the guise of education–and hence antithetical to the essence of authentic education–that “robotizes” people.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 8 January 2019