Cultural Intelligence

I. The Fundamentals of Cultural Intelligence

Cultural intelligence is a matter of one’s sensitivity to the dynamics and mechanics of social convention which includes a particular society’s ethos, mores, and taboos. It is something that comes naturally and hence automatically or spontaneously in the case of a native inhabitant as s/he develops her/his consciousness–and self-consciousness as well–in the course of her/his physical growth and mental maturation.

Cultural intelligence manifests itself in one’s ability to adapt her/himself in a society’s regular states of affairs. To be culturally intelligent is to be normal in the context of one’s social location. Normalcy, in this sense, is measured in terms of how a person “toes the line” of accepted standards of social behavior. To be accepted, i.e., to be normal is to be correct in the performance of public acts. Correctness is, therefore, a condition that promotes cooperation and harmony in one’s relationship with the rest of the people in society. In other words, it is a situation where one shows a careful attitude of not getting involved in controversial actions that generally tend to rock the boat of society, so to speak.

One facticity that stands out in the present consideration is the reality that humans are not born to start a society, much less create a new culture. The truth of the matter is, we are born in a society that has long been in existence and whose cultural apparatus has likewise been functional with a high degree of stability for a considerable period of time.

II. Appropriating Cultural Intelligence in a Non-native Milieu

The most realistic situation where cultural intelligence is very much needed and thus useful is when one gets into a social encounter in a community where s/he is basically an outsider, whether as a short-term guest or a migrant. This state of affairs requires both sensitivity and the ability to fully understand certain social behaviors and practices that define the culture of that community. In this connection, one needs to exercise her/his sense of adaptability and get into the process of actually fitting her/himself into the socio-cultural context of the community. What recurs at this point is the objective to establish harmony with the local folks and avoid as much as possible actions that could rock the boat and at worst court disaster.

When one is a non-native and s/he wishes to linger longer in a community, it is her/his significant duty to blend well with the locals and do her/his best to win the confidence and goodwill of people who are generally closest to her/him in regular encounters. The locals while getting confident with you in their presence is proof enough that you are accepted and respected and could even end up to be a favorable point of treating you as one of them. You are therefore successful in getting integrated into the community and you owe this to your cultural intelligence.

Failure to pragmatize one’s cultural intelligence leads to isolation. This condition is not only true in the context of an individual person but could be observed in a wider context as in the case of a “ghettoized” sub-cultural group. These are immigrants who simply want to live their own lives and settle in a society that is basically alien to where they originally came from. In the present location, they have brought with them their own unique traditional beliefs, practices and standards that are by and large incongruent to the cultural infrastructure of the new social setting. Conflicts within a spectrum of events from the pettiest to the most hostile, even violent, are not an impossibility because it is expected every now and then that provocative behavior on both sides of the contending parties can erupt.

III. Rationality in the Exercise of Cultural Intelligence

Cultural intelligence is not totally and absolutely couched in unquestioning obedience and silent acceptance. The issue of social adaptability as an exercise of cultural intelligence should always be reckoned within the parameters of the rational and more practically, the reasonable.

This particular point of interest is raised because there are certain cultural beliefs and practices in various societies that defy and reject rationality. Their existence since time immemorial doesn’t give an iota of justification to say that they are morally right. Using the universal criterion of human flourishing, cultural intelligence draws us to test such cultural beliefs and practices in light of the following factors:

1) Amelioration of suffering
2) Resolution of Conflict
3) Promotion of Happiness

When a cultural belief or practice doesn’t match up with at least one of these norms, cultural intelligence dictates that such belief or practice is worth rejecting. Among these are sadly found in Islamic culture like child marriage, harsh and inhuman punishments like hand amputation in cases of robbery, 100 lashes in cases of adultery and fornication and decapitation and stoning to death in cases of what their so-called Shariah court has determined as heinous crimes. These are all social control measures within the ambit of Islamic culture that capitulate rationality and ought to be denounced. Female genitalia mutilation is another dehumanizing practice in some African societies that has to be likewise condemned and absolutely declared immoral.

IV. Conclusion

In the final analysis, cultural intelligence is an exercise of one’s innate ability to respect the morally right beliefs, practices, and standards of certain social orders. Moreover, cultural intelligence is also an active use of human rationality to judge which cultural beliefs, practices, and standards ought to be preserved and which are candidates to be thrown out in the garbage bin of ill-refute and condemnation.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 26 February 2019

The Power of Words

There are words that when uttered have the capacity to release power-packed blows that can make or break a person’s life. There are words whose potentiality can lead people to act decisively or to get discouraged in the face of impending peril. There are words endowed with creative capability while there are those predisposed toward destruction. In simple terms, certain words have the power to effect goodwill whereas others tend to perpetrate evil.

Words do not necessarily have to constitute a sentence to elicit power. Single or double words forcefully uttered–or to the utmost, hollered–can move people to action or otherwise: “Fire!” . . . “Run!” . . . “Jump!” . . . “Dive!” . . . “Go!” . . . “Climb!” . . . “Come!” . . . “Stop!” . . . “Hold it!” . . . “Shut up!” . . . “Don’t move!” . . . “Step aside!”

Single or double words of approval and agreement motivate people: “Indeed!” . . . “Absolutely!” . . . “Great!” . . . “Certainly!” . . . “Congratulations!” . . . “Attaboy!” . . . “Got it!” . . . “Love it!” However, there are those aimed to discourage and at worst hate-packed and intended to slap an insult: “Stupid!” . . . “Bullshit!” . . . “Dammit!” . . . “You nitwit!” . . . “Knucklehead!”

But over and beyond these short stabs, so to speak, there are fully developed concatenations of words that shape statements with the power to inspire and lift the human spirit. This is the landscape where I wish to locate the power of words in the present discussion, for real sustainable power flourishes in the positive and creative terrain of human existence. Conversely, destructive power is self-stultifying and self-annihilating as it is invariably more likely to implode and dissipate in thin air at its most advanced stage. At the end of the day, power is nowhere found. And I suppose this is the kind of power that Lord John Dalberg-Acton referred to when he quipped, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

History is witness to powerful speeches of distinguished statesmen that rallied people to united action against tyranny and totalitarianism. One famous quote is from a passionate speech delivered by the wartime British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the House of Commons that roused a whole nation to take courage and unrelentingly fight the aggressors:

“Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”

Even in time of peace when people generally have the most propitious moments to enjoy life in an atmosphere of affectionate relationships, the power of words plays a significant role in the initiation of intimate affinity that at its most successful realization ends up punctuated with a “fairy tale” finale, “and they lived happily ever after.” In most instances, such moments are conjured up by the magical strings of well thought out words woven into exquisite poetry whose lines oft times transform spontaneously into lyrics of love songs whose hypnotic power inspires not only a generation but an era. As the lines of a BeeGees hit song “It’s Only Words” (released in 1977) passionately convey:

Talk in everlasting words
And dedicate them all to me
And I will give you all my life
I’m here if you should call to me
You think that I don’t even mean
A single word I say
It’s only words, and words are all I have
To take your heart away

Something that transcends reason and logic has the power of inspiration. It is real life and hence empirical. Nobody questions such power despite the fact that in a lot of instances, it gets blind, so to speak. “Love is blind,” as the title of a song claims. Love doesn’t necessarily listen to the voice of reason for it seems to be a perennial human tendency to prioritize and romanticize feelings whose enormous power finds a channel in the passionate lines of poesy where words defy logic since “the heart has its reason that reason doesn’t know” (with apologies to Blaise Pascal).

Along this line of thought, the inherently powerful character of a sound (and thus, valid) logical argument is drowned and rendered insignificant by the articulate and spontaneous cadence of impassioned words that emanate from the heart. The battle between heart and mind seems to be endless. Powerful words are used in both spheres which are almost always at odds with each other.

Moving away from this incongruent platform, we find ourselves along a path where truth is set aside to give way to powerful words that wonderfully alter the mind frame of a self-negating personality–someone whose self-image has suffered so much from a constant bombardment of discouragement, alienation, and disempowerment. Now enters a high-spirited and glowing motivator armed with a life-changing formula to generate Pygmalion Effect in the mental constitution of a self-convinced loser and incorrigible pessimist. The process doesn’t aim for the truth for truth is either hiding or has lost its way. But the stimulating words of the motivator magically work and create a totally different human entity, now self-assured, inspired and ready to face courageously the challenges lurking here and there while treading a complex path to living a more meaningful life.

We have here a living witness of someone whose dramatic life change is through the power of words, perfectly crafted, meticulously concatenated and expertly delivered regardless of whether the ideal qualities they impart is accurately true or not. The simple objective in the entire gamut of the process is none other than to generate radical change in the life of a person through the power of words.

However, the situation is not always rosy for there are sectors whose practitioners have mastered the art of deception using the power of words. These are basically motivators but they have taken advantage of the weaknesses of people whom they are supposed to serve or minister to. More than pure and simple motivators, they have evolved to become manipulators and many of them operate in the religious sector more particularly on the side of the so-called evangelical and charismatic/Pentecostal variety. These are multi-millionaire preachers with regular TV programs that earned them the monicker, tele-preachers. To mention some names in this category, we have the likes of Joel Osteen (net worth: $40 million), Benny Hinn (net worth: $42 million), Rick Warren (net worth: $25 million), Pat Robertson (net worth: $100 million), and Kenneth Copeland (net worth: $760 million), among others. Through their preaching, they have used the power of words to gather more and more followers from whom they have been extorting the tenth part (in this sector’s language game, the term they use is “tithe”) of each of these hapless parishioners’ earnings. This is the power of words using religion as a platform to dupe unsuspecting people through a promise of eternal bliss in a perfect place they call “heaven” when they bid goodbye to their earthly existence.

As a parting shot, let me quote the distinguished French theologian AndrĂ© Dumas (1918-1996): “There comes a point when words are useless commentary. Immodest babbling beside the hard reality of suffering.” With this in mind, we are face-to-face with the reality that even if we have witnessed time and again the power of words in vigorous and potent ways, there are certain moments in time when words capitulate to the power of silence.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 19 February 2019

Knowing Other Minds

Introduction: The Reality of the Mind

The more basic issue to settle at the outset is the concept of mind. To put it in question form, we ask: What do we mean when we say “mind”? Furthermore, we hope to know if the mind is something that necessarily connects with the neural system–both central and peripheral. I think, affirming the latter point is the most scientifically sustainable position. And holding this assumption will give us more solid grounding to tackle the philosophical issue at hand.

On the basis of this presupposition, the mind as a concept is the faculty of awareness that gives me the power to consciously experience the world around me and signify this experience in thoughts and feelings. Of this, I am absolutely certain for I am experiencing what I experience now and I am thinking what I think at this very moment as I am feeling what I feel right at this point in time. This is how I understand myself and my mind and this is the very framework that justifies my use of the concept of mind. In other words, I have a mind which is basically subjective but not totally so for science has confirmed to me once and for all that all these occurrences in my mind are not possible without the functioning of the neural system in my biological totality.

This conception of the mind is not a recycled version of the Cartesian formulation because I am not heading toward a dualism that differentiates body (brain and the neural system) and mind. Besides, I am not developing an argument to sustain solipsism, i.e., the belief that only my mind can exist on the basis of my knowledge of it while other minds can never be known to exist. However, I fundamentally foster the notion that it is prime and foremost to establish first the terra firma of the mind’s being before we get to the issue of other minds and the strongest of which is the very own affirmation of my knowledge of the being of my mind. In other words, the epistemological condition of the mind’s being is satisfied and well secured in my knowledge of my own mind.

The Being and Reality of Other Minds

The analogical inference supporting the being and reality of other minds and thus the possibility of knowing them is founded on the assumption that there are some non-negotiable general properties that characterize humanity. One of them is, of course, the neural system in every human being. On this basis, what I subjectively affirm earlier as the mind without a shadow of a doubt is likewise subjectively affirmed by other human beings, in fact, by all of humanity under normal circumstances. It is an inalienable fact that I have the faculty of awareness as other human beings have. Moreover, as this faculty gives me the power to consciously experience the world around me so does it perfectly gives them the same. And as this faculty signifies my experience in thoughts and feelings so does it to theirs.

I may not be able to literally enter a person’s mind to know her/his thoughts exactly absolutely. Nevertheless, a person-to-person encounter with her/him spontaneously reaches a certain convergence point in the social sphere that gives me the opportunity to confirm once and for all that s/he has a mind of her/his own. Following the trajectory of this epistemological dialectics obviously leads me from the subjective territory to the intersubjective terrain as I free myself from the elementary assumption of my mind’s being and my own exclusive knowledge of which. Now, I affirm the being of other minds as real and this affirmation totally dissolves the prospect of solipsism. What is initially established here epistemologically is my knowledge of the being and reality of other minds

The Knowability of Other Minds

Knowing other minds is essentially knowing the “contents” of other minds. Simply put, it is knowing what transpires in the mind of another person, i.e., the thoughts and feelings which are exclusively the other person’s. We may say that the starting point of this whole process is realistically a matter of approximation. In this sense, one’s initial encounter with another by way of a conversation cannot be expected to yield an absolutely certain knowledge of what transpires in each other’s minds. This is a situation where the most important aspect of knowledge comes in and we call it “understanding”. Understanding is the key to transcend approximation and get to a substantial knowledge of each other’s minds. In this connection, confidence, coherence, and consistency play vital roles. In the course of a conversation, these three factors give each of the conversants the assurance that in the end, they know each other’s minds.

However, understanding understood in this sense doesn’t superficially mean propositional understanding, i.e., simply understanding the meaning of the statements uttered by each of them. The criteria of confidence, coherence, and consistency do not intensely function under such circumstance. Human encounter that gets to the point of knowing the minds of those involved in it transcends epistemic knowledge as epistemology in this sense simply means noesis (the person who knows) – noema (the object of knowing) experience (with apologies to Edmund Husserl as I appropriate these two technical terms extensively used in his variety of Phenomenology). There is a profound version of understanding that goes beyond epistemic knowledge and we call it “relational knowledge”. This kind of knowledge is over and beyond mere experience; it is more accurately called an encounter–a dialogical meeting of conscious human beings endowed with minds capable of grasping the thoughts and feelings of each other. More than anything else, this conception further strengthens the notion that the mind does not only constitute the intellectual aspect of being but endows equal importance to the emotional strand of human existence.

Conclusion

Knowing other minds is therefore principally grounded on knowing one’s own mind. And knowing other minds can only be effected in a relational encounter. In such a dialogical event, absolute understanding based on confidence, coherence, and consistency yields the most certain knowledge of other minds.

Borrowing some important ideas from the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber’s dialogical philosophy (based on his monumental I-Thou), the world is twofold: the epistemic and the relational. The former is a world of pure experience where the knower (the subject who knows) is in the presence of the known (object known). This is epistemology where knowledge by experience (empirical knowledge) is absolutely established and confirmed. Buber calls it the “I-It” sphere of being. However, the latter is a world of human encounter. None of the protagonists–if the goal is to know each other–is treated like an object known. Buber calls it the “I-You” sphere of being–a dialogical encounter of minds where confidence establishes the terrain and everyone’s relational knowledge of each other is confirmed in terms of coherence and consistency.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 11 February 2019

Is Euthanasia Ethically Correct?

Introduction

The question is obviously limited to the ethical but may also be considered in the area of morals and thus revise it to, “Is euthanasia morally correct? I do not intend to get into a hair-splitting discussion since, in a lot of instances, ethics and morality are used interchangeably. However, to look at the matter more closely, there is actually a significant difference between these two concepts. In terms of what is considered ethical, there is not only a single universal ethics. Ethics constitutes a body of rules in a particular field of concern like business, medicine, sports, pedagogy, and religion among others. Each of these fields has a set of principles or codes of conduct formulated, agreed upon, and instituted by people that are officially considered members of a field of concern. In this sense, no outsider can ever have a say or influence by way of an agreement or rejection on whatever the ethics of a particular field states and promulgates.

Meanwhile, morality depends on an individual human being’s personal principles as to what s/he thinks is good or bad, right or wrong, for her/himself. With this in mind, it is the individual who establishes his own morals with the caveat that in so doing, s/he doesn’t step on other people’s toes, so to speak. Morality is therefore basically subjective compared to ethics which is fundamentally objectified by consensus and hence could finally be rendered truly objective within the confines of a specific domain among many. However, the dialectical connection between ethics and morality traverses the trajectory where the common morals of a group of like-minded people provide the ground to formulate ethical codes and principles, i.e., rules of behavior, within their shared context. Moreover, the latter condition can most likely influence the personal morals of an individual without necessarily getting into the same context.

Euthanasia Simply Understood

“Euthanasia” is the Greek for “good death” (“eu” which is the Greek for “good” or “well” and “thanatos” which is the Greek for “death”). The etymological essence projects a positive signification that departs from the dysphoria of death. In other words, there is nothing morbid in euthanasia. It categorically entails a way of looking at death as something desired or wished for, with a sense of gladness. In fact, its theoretical character could even be translated as a celebration of death. Taking it at its face value, there is nothing wrong in euthanasia, anyway all of us alive now will ultimately get to that point of time when “the crossing over” is definite, i.e., inevitable.

As we experience life around, we have seen deaths of people and the circumstances surrounding them. On one hand, there is a death that is calm and quiet, tranquil and blissful. But on the other, there is a death that is agonizing and painful, violent and excruciating. If death could be decided on–and surely it could be–then who wouldn’t opt to have it in serenity and quiet, in tranquility and stillness? If such kind of death is possible through euthanasia, why can’t one avail of it when her/his condition in life is one of suffering in anguish and pain while being tormented and tortured by an incurable affliction?

Zeroing closely into the technicalities of euthanasia, it has two fundamental varieties: voluntary and non-voluntary. The present discussion is specifically focused on the voluntary variety, though, the non-voluntary kind may merit some reasonable attention if such is administered with the full consent of the patient’s close relatives. Meanwhile, voluntary euthanasia has the absolute consent of a conscious and rational human being who has decided once for all to end his life due to immeasurable suffering caused by an incurable infirmity. This death procedure, if you will, is performed professionally by medical practitioners assigned by a legitimate medical institution–a hospital or medical center, for that matter. This makes voluntary euthanasia a methodology wherein a qualified medical practitioner assists the termination of a human being’s life on the basis of the latter’s conscious decision. “Assisted death” is how euthanasia is dubbed.

Furthermore, euthanasia–voluntary or non-voluntary–may either be active or passive. Active euthanasia involves the introduction of lethal substances into the physical system of a person to enhance death. Passive euthanasia is a condition wherein all life-giving support systems and medically-administered treatments for the continuance of life are totally and finally withdrawn.

The Morality of Euthanasia

As a matter of individual human concern, the morality of euthanasia depends on one’s personal disposition as a rational and moral agent. There is nothing immoral when one believes that considering the possibility of a calm death is a realistic aspect of the principle of human flourishing. This basic principle which is the solid foundation of morality is generally all-encompassing since the beneficiary is not necessarily the person who has decided to undergo euthanasia.

Human flourishing in this context applies to the loved ones–both close relatives and friends– of the patient who have given their own shares of sufferings while attending to the material, emotional and psychological needs of the latter who has been experiencing torment and excruciating affliction in a state of an incurable sickness. Simply put, euthanasia administered to the patient will, on one hand, make her/his “passing over” tranquil and serene and on the other, free the laboring loved ones from the anxiety and pressure that have interfered for a long period of time in their own gainful endeavors to make their own lives better and more liveable. This is the essence of human flourishing which is essentially intensified by the notions of (1) amelioration of suffering, (2) resolution of conflict, and (3) promotion of happiness.

Having all these considered from my own personal orientation, there is absolutely not a single iota of theoretical postulation that morally contradicts the administration of euthanasia where such procedure has been deemed imperative on the basis of a patient’s voluntary resolve. Euthanasia is therefore moral from my perspective and does not transgress the generally accepted ethical codes or principles of my socio-cultural location.

The Ethics of Euthanasia

Ethics, as we have previously defined it, is characterized by certain rules of behavior, i.e., principles and codes of conduct established within an institutional framework. In this case, there is not an all-inclusive, across-the-board ethics of euthanasia since on one hand, there are groups that consider it wrong while on the other, there are those that are more flexible to declare that euthanasia is ethically correct.

Religions in certain societies have their own different ways of looking at this phenomenon which could either be accepting or rejecting. Nevertheless, Christian religious denominations in varied hues and colors are generally of the opinion that euthanasia is wrong. Their fundamental premise is the proposition that all human life emanates from God and only God can take it away from its present possessor. No human being is therefore given the right to decide to terminate life whether it is hers/his or of another.

Conclusion

With all these considerations in mind, the question, “Is euthanasia ethically correct?” does not lead us to a single unified answer. From the viewpoint of one group it is ethically correct while from that of another, it is absolutely wrong. As has been suggested previously, the more realistic ground whereon euthanasia may be handled more philosophically reasonably is in the area of morals where the question, “Is euthanasia morally correct?” is the better issue. Again, from my perspective, it is.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 6 February 2019