On Food

Food is for both nourishment and enjoyment. The physical existence of living organisms is sustained by food. Animals–both lower and higher (i.e., human)–rely on food for physical sustenance necessary to do activities, both productive and leisurely. Food is, therefore, necessary stuff of life. Life may be reckoned in various ways and means but without food, it is doomed to perish. And food depends on the species that avails and partakes of it. In other words, a kind of stuff which is food for a species may not be food but rather a poison for another.

Focusing our attention on the animal world, it is only the higher form, i.e., homo sapiens sapiens, who has the capability to process food in various ways. Like their lower form counterparts, humans eat raw foods like fruits and vegetables. But unlike them, humans are equipped with a highly evolved brain capable of concocting a variety of food ingredients and come up with a dish that is not only cooked to satisfy hunger but whose palatable taste gives delight to the hungry consumer.

Under normal circumstances (i.e., in a healthy state), we humans are insatiable eaters. Our appetite demands so much that we want variation in our food intake. In fact, hundreds of thousands of recipes have been prepared, tested and made into actual dishes by thousands of traditional cooks, celebrated chefs and gourmets, published in tens of thousands of cookbooks made available in thousands of bookstores all over the world. Food concoctions have developed and evolved into exquisitely delectable dishes through generations and ages in various parts of the modern world. In the process, a new aesthetic field has been added to modern culture: culinary art.

In a lot of instances, spices are the secret of savory dishes. Among the most common ones in a typical kitchen pantry are garlic powder, chili powder, ground ginger, dried oregano, dried rosemary, dried thyme, smoked paprika, curry powder, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, black peppercorns, vanilla extract, and of course, salt. Add to the list taste-enhancing liquid blends like soy sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce, and Worcestershire sauce among others. Expert chefs are the master mixers of spices and in every cooking event, what they primarily have in mind is the satisfaction of their prospective consumers’ palates. Putting themselves in such a demanding condition, they are not only competing with the others of their kind; they likewise compete with themselves and in the process, continually improve their expertise towards higher refinements. This makes culinary art an exciting and challenging field of professional interest.

Good food is therefore associated with the good life. In this connection, people in the comfort of their stable condition are generally the ones who can fully understand how the good life is associated with good food. Partying is a common event among them and their discriminating attitude towards food and drinks is more expressed in a parlance that is seemingly exclusive to them. They are the certified judges of their class identity. In an exorbitantly budgeted party, guests mill around an expensive array of specially prepared cuisine on a long table.

However, taking this line of thought is just one side of the story. Corollary to this is the other side that in reality, life in this world is not all good. A big chunk of the populated Earth is home to disadvantaged people whose conditions are besieged by the forces of oppression, violence, even death. What we see in this situation are emaciated bodies of victims of inhumanity. Men, women, and children at the brink of death because of hunger and sickness. These are human beings who have long been forgotten by those who enjoy the good life. The good life is so anesthetizing that they who have long been enjoying it doesn’t care at all about the sufferings of those on the other side of the planet. These are human beings who do not ask for delectable cuisine but simple food that could fill their empty stomachs.

In almost all instances, these are victims of destructive wars exported to their geographical areas by the powerful nations of the west where their citizens enjoy the amenities of the good life. We have seen these hungry and sick victims of imperialist wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Palestine, among others. These are people who have lost their sense to distinguish between good food and otherwise. What they wish to have in the kind of hapless situation they have been experiencing is not to enjoy delicious food but to satisfy their hunger even with the simplest nourishment they could avail of.

We have been so engrossed with the good food we regularly enjoy at home, at expensive restaurants and exclusive parties that we have actually forgotten the reality that there are hungry human beings in war-torn countries whose aggressors our respective governments support so actively in terms of logistics, personnel, and armaments. These are no big deal matters to us simply because we do not care.

Eat, drink, be merry, for tomorrow we die.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 29 May 2019

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Inefficient People

“There are only two qualities in the world: efficiency and inefficiency; and only two sorts of people: the efficient and the inefficient.”
— Josh Billings

The norm has been established and the machine is set in motion. High productivity is the name of the game. The objectives are clearly posted and the goal ascertained. This is an honest-to-goodness test of efficiency. At the end of the day, the operation stops and the evaluation of performance is released. Perfect. Everybody is satisfied. The goal has finally been reached. Once again, the system has been proven efficient. The best use of time, effort and resources is graded excellent. Expanding this scenario to the level of actual life on a daily basis, we call it an accomplishment of a tall order, i.e., of a high calling.

However, this storyline remains to be an ideal whose practical realization requires a herculean endeavor. What we see in reality a lot of times is its diametrical contrast. Substandard quality performances that mess up objectives and crush goals. An entire project getting completely demolished and vanished into oblivion. Large-scale wastage of big-budget resources that simply go down the drain in the wink of an eye. This is the aftermath of large-scale inefficiency perpetrated by reckless practitioners entrusted with lofty responsibilities and expected to discharge high-quality accomplishment.

But whose fault is all this fiasco? Does the blame go solely to the people directly involved in the project? Fault-finding becomes the main issue at this point and scapegoats are pinpointed in every corner where weaker personalities are found by the stronger ones. Those who have been categorized as the powers-that-be cannot be accused of inefficiency on the basis of this game rule. As if there is an overarching mandate that those in power are not capable of inefficiency. The brunt of blame generally goes to the people on the bottom rung of the corporate ladder. They are the culprits. They must be condemned. Their inefficiency is epic. But are they really the wrongdoers? Is it just to heap all the fury of condemnation on them?

Efficiency or its opposite, inefficiency, has to be viewed within the totality of a system. On one hand, there is a generally exceptional performance of tasks within the whole range of an undertaking because the dynamics that engulf it are characterized by a system of total efficiency. Efficiency is the power charge that trickles down the line from the top echelon to the workforce on the ground. Within these dynamics are the mechanics that are responsibly discharged at all levels and in all sectors by capable and well-trained practitioners endowed with a high sense of accountability, reliability, and credibility.

On the other hand, inefficiency becomes the pattern of events in a particular state of affairs fundamentally because of the pervading system of inefficient leadership. The tracing of the roots of inefficiency–as in tracking down the source of efficiency in the previous discussion–goes uninterruptedly upwards to the quality of administrators on the topmost stratum of the organizational pecking order, so to speak. Having this in mind leads us to infer that though the most visible cases of inefficiency are witnessed on the ground level, the real culprits of gross inefficiency are those that occupy the top-level posts.

Inefficient government employees in villages, towns or cities are the exact reflections of the inefficiency of their immediate superiors while the inefficiency of the latter is a replication of the same that characterizes their immediate superiors. The tracing moves on and on and on upwards until the last point at the uppermost level is reached and this obviously is the leader of the national government. This condition is the basis of the principle of command responsibility which works most distinctively and effected most effectively in the organizational structure of the military sector.

On the basis of the military chain of command, the inefficiency of top-ranking officers trickles down to the inefficient performance of foot soldiers in the field. Any stupid activities committed by a soldier is, therefore, a reflection of the stupidity of the immediate superior. The bucket does not stop at this point because the situation calls for the question, “Why is this officer stupid?” The most definite response is because he has never been properly monitored by his own immediate superior officer and the tracking order goes on and on upwards.

Under normal circumstances, the military system cannot tolerate inefficiency. The same applies to private business companies. Inefficiency in the world of business means wide-ranging–even sweeping financial–losses that most likely end up to bankruptcy. In contrast, national governments can afford inefficiency. In fact, a lot of governments in various parts of the world are unabashedly inefficient and such is the major factor that makes the nations of these governments economically, politically and socially weak under the pervading culture of corruption perpetrated by the inefficient government leaders themselves.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 22 May 2019

The Law of the Jungle

Neither physicochemical nor legislated, this law manifests itself within the primal dynamics of the human condition but whose rootage is the animal strain in our collective unconscious (with apologies to Carl Gustav Jung). It is characterized by spontaneous reactions driven by the complexity of events that occur within a sphere of existence basically defined in terms of survival and competition. There is no logic through which the whole gamut of its operation may be explained, reasoned out or argued.

In its most primitive and fundamental manifestation in the animal world, it is particularly depicted in the predator-prey encounter and the predator-predator competitive engagement as well. In the human realm, this law takes effect in practically similar conditions where one individual tries to dominate over the other by way of both psychological and physical maneuverings. “Dog-eat-dog” world is the common expression in English that describes the domain of this law. It is therefore preconditioned by the notion that the strong dominate over the weak. Nevertheless, the wind can always change and turn round toward the opposite direction pushing the weak to rise up and wax stronger with the resolve to fight back and defeat the adversary.

This is the law upon which the real world operates. There are persistent and seemingly unsolvable problems, difficulties, sufferings, and tragedies in the human realm generally because of the uninterrupted and constant power of the law of the jungle regardless of the sophisticated lifestyle we have gone through in the modern (even post-modern) world. In this sense, we could realistically say that we’ve never been modern at all (with apologies to Bruno Latour). The law of the jungle is the law that operates in a lot of instances where the leading objective is always to get ahead, take over, dominate and control situations, events, and people.

Though there seems to be a thematic pattern that manifests this law, experience has brought us to the conclusion that such is only a semblance of what may reasonably be tracked down since the underlying factor that evinces this law is purely instinctual and hence non-thematic. The very essence of this law is, therefore, a matter of habit embedded in the depth of the animal instinct that remains operational in the human genetic apparatus. This whole condition creates a natural ambience to the point of even forcing reason to capitulate under its power. In other words, the law of the jungle does not respect reason for it has “its own reason that reason does not know” (with apologies to Blaise Pascal).

In conclusion, it could be rightly surmised that the law of the jungle is the motivating force underlying cyclic events in reality wherein the perennial motion of human desire to predominate over situations, events, and people is the non-negotiable rule of the game. In this connection, it is now reason’s high calling to look for its reason to be and convince humanity that reason will rule the world very soon. The truth of the matter is, it has never been so and I remain pessimistic about reason’s bright future. The law of the jungle rules and remains triumphant in the macrocosmic reality of human existence.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 15 May 2019

Sense of Humour

Having a sense of humour is basically human (with the exception of the laughing hyena in the lower animal realm). Besides, the phrase “humorous human” is a case of alliteration and alliteration is a literary device used by wordsmiths to add an element of humour to a written piece. With acquaintances and friends in light moments and relaxed conversations, humorous punch lines and stories are common, in fact, even anticipated. More than being a homo socius (social being) and a homo loquens (talking being), homo sapiens sapiens is also a homo ridens (laughing being)—whether s/he is a homo or a hetero, it doesn´t matter. We want to crack jokes without necessarily appearing like crackpots. We want others to tell funny stories regardless of whether they are true or almost true (but not quite in many instances).
Ruel F. Pepa, “The Humorous Human”

https://ruelfpepa.wordpress.com/2014/02/06/the-humorous-human/

 

A good sense of humour is what we are looking for in a person who talks whatever the occasion is. It could be in a simple and casual conversation, in an office meeting, or in a formal gathering where someone delivers a speech before an audience. Being a rare talent, not everyone is gifted with this sense but those who are, have gained the moniker, “live wire” of the group. In fact, we who are coming from different backgrounds and persuasions know that in each of our groups–both formal and informal–there are individuals with an engaging sense of humour and they definitely stand out. And it is normal and common among us who have not been gifted with the same range and span of such sense of humour to recognize, acknowledge and compliment them. They are a rare breed.

We may lack such a talent as a source but being able to understand and appreciate humorous punchlines produced by another is enough proof that we ourselves have some sense of humour up to a certain degree. It also takes a real talent to capture the essence of a humorous line or gesture embedded in a speech or an action respectively. However, there are also those shallow humorous situations that do not necessarily require us to think more deeply and these are commonly exemplified in the performances of comedians both professional on the stage or the cinema and amateur in comedy bars.

Humour could range from the most vulgar slapstick to the most sophisticated witticism. The former is the most common and categorized as the shallowest form while the latter is the rarest and characterized by its depth which requires some decoding, so to speak, to be fully captured and appreciated. And there are so-called automatic decoders because it’s either they know and are used to the style of the source or they’ve gotten used to the dynamics and mechanics of the witty patterns by way of cultural orientation.

One’s sense of humour could also find a literary expression by way of what we call satire or sarcasm wherein humour takes the form of irony or hyperbole intended to expose by derision or mockery the stupidity of individuals or group of individuals. It may likewise be mentioned that this is also commonly used and found in modern democratic political circumstances where freedom of speech is guaranteed. In other words, humour could also be a destructive tool to ridicule somebody and put her/him in an extremely ludicrous situation. Nevertheless, such a case does not exclusively occur in politics alone but also in other areas where there are contending parties involved in arguing on explosive issues.

At this point, toilet humour is also worth mentioning. There are people who have gotten used to this basest kind of humour–if we can still honestly call it humour–and have even developed the silly boldness to go public in exposing their stupidity mouthing out jokes that range from the filthy sexual kind to gutter-level obscenities. And it is not impossible to find this kind of individuals even among people occupying important positions in government. A case in point is the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Roa Duterte, who has mastered the filthiest brand of sexually oriented jokes shouted out in public before thousands of spectators whose majority are his followers and supporters. Like him, these people have been wallowing in the filth of sheer obscenities and have practically lost their good sense of humour as they have gotten used to praising with total approval the immoral degeneracy, insanity and stupidity of their president.

However, putting aside the notoriety of filthy humour and focusing more on the positive character of a good sense of humour, the single most important aspect that makes it stand out in some individuals is the fact that they have exercised it as a necessary element of their existence to cope with the struggles of daily life despite all the difficult challenges regularly and continuously encountered along the way. Borrowing a key term from Henri Bergson’s magnum opus, Creative Evolution, we could surmise that the élan vital (i.e., the basic principle of human creativity) is where one’s sense of humour is lodged and rooted. It may not be well developed in some individuals but for those who have mastered its power in a variety of circumstances, they have demonstrated once and for all that life is bearable and therefore worth sustaining.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 08 May 2019

Listening to Others

“The most fundamental concept of all good conversations (and life in general) is the ability to listen. It’s the hardest thing to do but it’s the most important. When I’m talking, I’m in control. I don’t have to hear anything I’m not interested in. I’m the center of attention. I can bolster my own identity. Buddha said, and I’m paraphrasing, ‘If your mouth is open, you’re not learning.’ You are listening to understand, not just reply, and it’s something that’s often, but should never be forgotten.”
Celeste Headlee, “Ten Ways to Have a Better Conversation” (A TED Talk)

Listening as an important aspect of communication may be taken in several ways: (1) when a piece of advice is given, a suggestion is made or a recommendation is offered; (2) when a story is told or an explanation is stated; (3) when a pleading is voiced out, a complaint is uttered or an appeal is brought across; (4) when a command is issued or a request is spelled out; (5) when a speech is delivered, a sermon is preached, or a lecture is rendered. This list is not however exhaustive; more instances could be thought of.

But the question is, Do we really want to listen? or, Are we ready to listen?

In a serious situation do we have the desire and patience to listen? Or would we rather talk than listen? In a lot of cases, we only pretend to listen but the truth of the matter is, we are basically spaced out, so to speak, while formulating in our minds something we want to say once the speaker is done. The point is, we are more interested to be listened to than to actually listen. But if this is a common tendency across the board, then the basics of communication break down. There are only “talkers” but no listener at all. If people only want to talk and not seriously listen, then talking is an exercise in futility.

In certain circumstances which we simply dismiss as negligible, we lose the concentration to listen. We tend to think of other things unrelated to what is being talked about. We don’t pay attention at all to what is being said. We are in a different world which at that very moment is more important than the topic being discussed.

The art of listening–if we may call it as such–is difficult. There are times when it is easily done while there are other times when it is more like a struggle. We tend to be selective on what we want to listen to. We don’t listen to everything and to everybody. In fact, on the basis of the credibility issue, we avoid some people who want to communicate what’s in their minds. They won’t convince us this time because before, they never did. Listening is the most difficult aspect of communication because we all want to say something and unless that something is expressed, we won’t have peace in us.

In another instance, we don’t want to listen to people expressing views different or at worst diametrically opposed to our most cherished beliefs. We have been comfortable and secure holding a particular belief and a different view challenging such a belief is taken not simply as an assault not only to that belief but more than anything else, against our very own person.

But generally, listening to others is not only important but necessary. Regardless of how long we have been living in this world, there is and will always be things both old and new that we need to be aware of, know and know by heart. We may have mastered some few experiences in life but this world continually changes and if we don’t constantly upgrade ourselves, we will surely be left out not only in the dark but more so in the cold, so to speak. In this sense, we need to affirm every now and then the reality that we are perennial learners and it is just impossible for us to learn everything in an instance. The realistic pace is we learn and do things step by step, one moment at a time. It is one significant attitude we have to accept that there are experts more knowledgeable than us in matters that will help us cope with certain complexities and difficulties and thus lead us to a better condition of being.

Corollary to that notion is, under normal circumstances, we are also knowledgeable–and perhaps, even experts–in other areas of concern. In the same vein as what has previously been brought up, we likewise have the desire and willingness to share what we know to others who show interest in what we want to say. That is the time when we start to talk with the expectation that those before us are willing to listen and listen with enthusiasm to every idea that we articulate.

The basic notion of communication is couched on the principle that it is two-way traffic and listening is an exclusively important aspect of it. The essence of communication is defeated and crumbles under the rubbles of confused and confusing hollers when there is a breakdown in a supposedly educated, orderly and sober discussion of a particularly interesting topic. And it can only happen because everybody wants to talk but nobody wants to listen.

At the end of the day, failure in communication leaves a situation in disarray and in many cases, a compounding of misunderstanding that ultimately leads to animosity and at worst even physical violence. In this connection, whatever our premises might be, we conclude with a high degree of certainty that despite the importance of talking in communication, much more extraordinarily significant is listening and listening intently which definitely leads to a better understanding of whatever issue we have on the table.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 01 May 2019