Archive for the Reflection Category

On Reason and Gut Instincts

Posted in Composition, Culture, Essay, Politics, Reflection on February 13, 2012 by theburningpulpit

It’s a cardinal rule–from the courtroom down to the Scooby-Doo detective shows–that evidence be presented to determine and penalize the culprit. This comes not only from the Roman idea that the prosecuted should be considered innocent until proven guilty, but from the fact that, as beings given reason, we demand to see the links between cause and effect: we need to see the cause so that we can understand the effect. No effect is manifest without a cause, and a different cause might not produce the same effect. There can be no water without oxygen and hydrogen, and sodium cannot produce water. It follows, then, especially in our contemporary institutions, that for something to be acknowledged as being there, as real, as the truth, then there must be some concrete thing that can attest to it, and nothing more. However, more often than not, such a simple cause-and-effect relationship cannot be found lying upon the ground. Evidence may always be misplaced, concealed, or destroyed. And this is the problem with many cases, from legal to fictional. The prosecuted cannot be convicted; a suspect cannot be arrested. And yet at the same time, the prosecutor or the detective (and sometimes, even the audience) is very much sure that the one facing trial, or the one sitting quietly by the scene of the crime, is the guilty party. And yet, where does this surety come from? A mere guess, perhaps. Or some vague psychological clue. The suspect’s face, or his aura. Intuition, gut instinct–all the sort of things that institutions cannot accept because beyond the realm of reason. Sherlock Holmes says that guessing is a shocking habit, abhorrent to the rational mind. That much is true. But does that make the gut, per se, inferior to rational inference? The judge and the chief of police might say so. But how about in real life, that is, life as we live it every day, chaotic as it is, full of surprises, full of uncertainties, full of lies and deceit and people whose money can change even the shape of evidence, of criminals whose intelligence can daunt or misdirect the detective? And not everyone can be a detective, not everyone can be a lawyer. But in many cases, gut instinct (or whatever we might want to call that which is outside of reason) can set everyone else better upon the right path. Take the masses, for instance. Yes, the uneducated, uncultured masses. They do not hold a J.D. or a Ph.D. or a F.A.W.T.H.A.L.D. but sometimes, they’re just right when it comes to certain issues. Collective unconscious? Maybe. Or take the novice chess player. In a chess book I once read, the author, a GM, was astounded by a rookie player discovering an easier way to win a certain case-game, much easier than what the chess authorities taught. Now, it may be too radical to clamor that our governments and our sleuths abandon reason altogether, throw the idea of obtaining evidence aside, and trust their gut instincts. For one, intuition is double-edged, and two, a thin line separates unadulterated gut feeling from whim. However, assuming the mantle of reason, making economic advantage corrupt it, and using the slowness of the process of obtaining evidence to their advantage, are all too often tools employed by the culprits, those who are powerful and wise. And those who are weak and meek have nothing but the sense that they are correct. So things must always be, perhaps. The good wise men, those like Holmes who advocate pure reason for the greater good, are either powerless, or still in school, or too few, or nonexistent save in novels that people cherish precisely because they have achieved impossible feats–good, but impossible nonetheless. And until the light of pure reason illuminates humanity’s way, or until humanity has fully grasped Divine Revelation, gut instinct must, we suppose, suffice.

The worst thing one can do is to dream for oneself.

Posted in Reflection on July 31, 2011 by theburningpulpit

And the second worst? To pursue that dream.

In our locale, there is an idiom: dreams are for free. (“Libre ang mangarap.”) It absolutely false. To dream, in itself, is its price, especially if that dream is yours,yours alone, and not any others’.

“Follow your dreams,” many say; have we not heard of it in the media? But what the media forgets is that the “your” in the said sentence is open to contention. To follow your own dream, that which is yours alone, is tantamount to selfishness. You pursue what you want—and when you pursue something, you, necessarily, leave something behind.

When you follow your dream, chances are you will come into conflict with someone else’s. Everything in this world is limited: Economics teaches us that. And so are the slots available for teachers, for police officers, for doctors, for lawyers. So when you pursue your dream to become one of these, you are bound to deprive another, are you not?

Even worse, when you follow your dream, you might run counter to the wishes of your family, especially when necessity is on the line. Family is precisely doing what you do not like to do, after all: a mother does not like to wake up early, cook breakfast, and enslave herself for eight hours—but she does it for her children. So what right have you to follow your dreams, when mothers do not?

Follow your dream and fulfill your own wishes—be prepared to ruin someone else’s and abandon bonds of relationships. Stand by your family’s side and be a dutiful child, a dutiful friend, a dutiful citizen—and humble yourself, break yourself into pieces. This is, alas, what life is. We are, sadly, not the masters of this world. Someone once noted that the price of freedom is too steep. And it is true.

In the end, then, hone your talents. Develop yourself. But remember that you do not do these things primarily for yourself. You do these for others. And, by doing good for others, consider yourself rewarded. It is enough.

On Soaps and Prayer Scenes

Posted in Culture, Reflection on April 12, 2011 by theburningpulpit

Despite my father’s protestations, no one in our family can deny that we’re Kapamiliyas–that is, we subscribe to ABS-CBN shows, especially its nighttime soap operas. That said, I am more or less aware of what’s currently happening in Mutya, Minsan Lang Kitang Iibigin, and Mara’t Clara. (There was a time when I was also updated on Imortal, but these days I’ve acquired the habit of sleeping early.) And what I’ve noticed about these shows–besides the unnecessary streams of consciousness and the killing sprees–is that our favorite TV shows often feature scenes of prayer.

Prayer. As in the major characters kneel down before an altar, often with rosaries in hand, and say a word or two to the Poon/Papa Jesus/Bro.

As a Creative Writing graduate and someone with a love-hate relationship with religion, I initially cannot but be irked with such scenes. First, I think that such scenes only waste time, time better spent developing the characters and the plot. In Mara’t Clara, for instance, Gina Pareño’s prayer scenes (probably the product of her package as, well, Gina Pareño) are unconvincing because her character was supposed to be an inveterate gambler who just did not have it in her to be a good grandmother. True, one may say that the events in the soap have pushed her along the road to redemption and maybe even salvation. Okay. But I still cannot readily accept that she would acquire good habits–praying!–almost overnight.

Another problem I have with the prayer scenes is that they oversimplify everything–and sometimes, even the “effect” of prayer, even in this oversimplified mode, does not truly redound to the act. The primary example to this, I think, is May Bukas Pa. The relationship between “Bro” and Zaijan Aranilla (that child actor I really cannot stand, no thanks to his roles) comes across as unnatural and distorted: unnatural, because even theologians will say that a man who claims he can talk directly to God is either of the first order of saints or is terribly deranged–and Zaijan’s character is definitely more of the latter sort, as since when do we really and naturally see a kid as mature and as altruistic as he is? And the relationship is distorted because the representation of Christ as “Bro” in the soap is, as I believe, skewed: we see a detached and faceless entity telling the boy to just be nice and to put a smile on his face and wait for that pie in the sky, and hardly the historical Jesus who frowned at injustice and urged for the establishment of the Kingdom on earth as in heaven. Stretching this point, wouldn’t it be more to “Bro’s” character to urge Zaijan to actively tell Albert Martinez that what he is doing is wrong and that he should “repent and carry his cross” rather than just fading into the background, only there to give the boy a pat, or a smile, or some ephemeral advice? And going back to the act of praying (kneeling down before the altar), doesn’t the depiction in TV reduce it into a mere means of asking God for boons, or of giving Him a smiley and a spiritual thank you card? Does it not take away from prayer’s true nature: a deep communion with God, an act that truly exposes oneself in all his or her weakness, an act of pain and solace, of humility as well as humiliation, hoping that in the act of praying God will intervene and give him or her not this or that, but His own Self?

Ultimately, the misrepresentation and oversimplification of prayer in soap operas irk me a lot because I find prayer as unrepresentable and complicated. I must admit that I myself–I, who pride myself to know a lot of things!–do not know how to pray, and that unlike Jesus’ disciples, who, in asking the Lord to teach them how to pray, which is already in itself a prayer, I am yet unwilling to expose myself and to surrender my weaknesses to Someone I cannot see and cannot fully understand. (I do not even like exposing myself to those who I think I know and understand!) I cannot allow the media to represent the act of praying so banally, so trivially, and in so commonplace a manner because I believe it should be approached by everyone else with the same awe, the same trepidation, the same caution as I do. Prayer should be taken seriously. And to be taken seriously, prayer should be taken as something Other, something too immense, something beyond us.

Or should it?

TV shows are the products first and foremost of business; and for a business to be effective, it has to take into account popular demand. If prayer scenes exist and thrive in ABS-CBN at least, this is most probably because these are demanded and found pleasing by the viewers and subscribers. And what can we say of the viewers and subscribers? Who are they? We may, for the purposes of this reflection, lump the bulk of these viewers and subscribers into one category, and that is the masses. And who are the masses? In our country, the masses are the working class, those who live somewhere from a little above to a little below fifteen thousand pesos a month, those who are for the most part simple Roman Catholics who go to Mass every Sunday. TV, then, by incorporating these prayer scenes, cater to these viewers and subscribers, and so hope to reflect their realities, their aspirations. And their reality is the simplest of prayers: give us this day our daily bread.

Perhaps, just perhaps, I am wrong. It is we who are wise who are at fault. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, one of the greatest of the Russian writers, has implied that truth comes not from the intellectuals with their complicated and Westernized knowledge, but from the simple country folk with their simple and honest beliefs. God, after all, has overthrown the mighty, confounded the wise, and exalted the lowly ones. And so, in Crime and Punishment, we do not find truth and vitality in the intelligent but unnerving Svidrigailov, nor in the ridiculously socialist Lebezyatnikov, but in the simple and warm Sonya and the endearing drunkard Marmeladov. In the latter’s words, especially, we find a simple, almost peasant-like, but nonetheless profound and heartfelt declaration of faith:

“…And He will judge and will forgive all, the good and the evil, the wise and the meek . . . . And when He has done with all of them, then He will summon us. ‘You too come forth,’ He will say, ‘Come forth ye drunkards, come forth, ye weak ones, come forth, ye children of shame!’ And we shall all come forth, without shame and shall stand before him. And He will say unto us, ‘Ye are swine, made in the Image of the Beast and with his mark; but come ye also!’ And the wise ones and those of understanding will say, ‘Oh Lord, why dost Thou receive these men?’ And He will say, ‘This is why I receive them, oh ye wise, this is why I receive them, oh ye of understanding, that not one of them believed himself to be worthy of this.’ And He will hold out His hands to us and we shall fall down before him . . . and we shall weep . . . and we shall understand all things!”

Though we may contest the contents of Marmeladov’s declaration, we cannot deny that he believes this so truly and so purely. And this is perhaps more, so much more, than what we, we who are wise, can say for ourselves. The simplicity of the masses, of the peasants and their pure peasant beliefs–can we scoff at these things and merely dismiss them as the whims and deluded fantasies of a half-lettered folk? Returning to the issue at hand, shall we be irked and shall we be incensed whenever we see prayer so commonly and so simply depicted on TV? How dare we raise our eyebrows, we who are wise, we who are proud, when our lowly brothers and sisters nod their heads and accept these scenes as realities, when they applaud the telenovelas for showing things as they themselves experience them in their lives? Shall we deny them the affirmation of contact between themselves and God, of a God who is simple and loving and who, in turn, loves those who are simple in loving Him?

Maybe it is we who are wise who should learn from the masses. Maybe it is we who sat on our white thrones inside our white towers who should go down to the fields and listen, listen, listen. Folk Catholicism? Simplified Christianity? Are these what our brothers and sisters have? Almost certainly. But then, perhaps their hearts are in the right place–at least, more so than ours. Perhaps there is something to their reality. And speaking of reality–isn’t art, first and foremost, a reflection of reality? Granted, art does not and should not mimic what is. But must art ignore it altogether? Sinners exist. Psychopaths exist. Sex beasts exist. Ivan Karamazov, Smerdyakov, and Svidrigailov all exist. But so do the simple masses. So do the Sonyas and the Marmeladovs, the Father Zosimas and the Alyoshas. And let us not altogether take this one simple thing, this one simple prayer scene, this one simple reflection of their existence, away from them.

On the Philippines: Order and Progress?

Posted in Culture, Politics, Reflection on April 1, 2011 by theburningpulpit

An indirect response to a scintillating read.

It has always been said, and by very perceptive minds too, that the Filipino people need be disciplined so that Philippine society can progress. Rizal in returning from Hongkong encountered some friendly Italian friars, who said that the Philippines could be a paradise if only it were governed properly. Some of our old-timers reminisce about the “good old” martial law days, saying that back then, people have discipline. And on one hand, I must nod and agree on our terrible lack of discipline. I hurt whenever I say this, but we Filipinos do need a little more lesson in not going beneath and/or beyond the rules. We have yet to develop a good system of national ethics, like Japan with its honor code and America with its ideal hardworking self-made man. And yes, we must already go beyond the blaming phase. The colonial Castillan, the bad friar, the oppressive dictators… in the end, they are not the ones who constitute and drive the Philippine nation–we are. And so, there is a grain of truth in the homies’ lingo: suck it up and push forward.

But questions popped into my head as I read this very interesting article. First, do we really want this discipline, this progress? And what do we mean by “progress?” By “discipline?” Are we capable of discipline? Is it desirable? How do we propose to instill this discipline into our people? Once we have this discipline, will progress ultimately follow? And once we attain progress–and is it, too, desirable?–then what?

Let me first reflect on the word, “discipline,” which I believe is the easier concept to grasp. To be disciplined is, at its root, to be a disciple–to be a follower. That which the disciplined person follows is the “rule of law,” a common standard set by a leader or by consensus. I hesitate to say “a leader” alone because, if this is the case, then discipline only works as a ruler-ruled dynamic, and is only a step away from encouraging an enlightened despot from seizing totalitarian power in the name of discipline and progress. This is, perhaps, what many among us Filipinos fear. Having been ruled (or, perhaps, having perceived ourselves as ruled) for 400 years by such tyrants and strongmen, we are naturally averse to having some new dictator impose his own will upon us. We would rather have a country run like hell by ourselves, than a country run like heaven by someone else (and us surrendering our independence), as President Manuel Quezon said. We value our freedom, our independence–but, again, what do we mean by these terms? During the Philippine Revolution, the upper classes sought independence from retrogressive Spanish colonial policies, while the masses and the peasants sought kalayawan, license after three hundred years of submission. And so things stand today: we cringe whenever our rights of speech are trampled upon; we want to spit and litter. And the common denominator is that we do not want other people, the authorities especially, from getting into the way of our fun.

But as I have earlier said, the “rule of law” is not only the product of an enlightened despot. As Immanuel Kant says, in man is the innate ability to legislate for himself through the exercise of reason. In man is the ability to engage in dialogue with his self-interests and the interests of society at large, with himself as well as his fellows, and so arrive at a “rule of law” drawing its enforcing power not from one ruler, but from institutions built up by the society for the greater good. And yet, we Filipinos seem even more reluctant to build and uphold institutions than to hail strongmen and leaders. We Filipinos gravitate toward personalities (Magsaysay, Noynoy, Nora Aunor) more than groups (Tagalogs, Kapampangans, Azkals, Barangay Ginebra) more than institutions (the AFP, the PNP, government as a whole, the Philippine nation). Why is this so? Why do we shy away from long-standing institutions and policies set in stone and place our trust in the tribal units, in the people whose terms last only six years? This is probably the “heritage of smallness” Nick Joaquin speaks of. We Filipinos, since our precolonial days, have always settled on the small things: bamboo over wood over stone, raid over pitched campaigns over conquests of unification, clan over confederation over nation. We are afraid of big things because we are a small people used with small things. It took the Spanish 300 years of rule and influence to build stone cities out of the villages of nipa huts, to forge a Philippine identity out of the scattered tribes. And even then we Filipinos have not yet truly learned the lesson: our stone and cement cities still do not reach for the stars, and our national unity is pro forma only: Tondo still quarrels with Cavite, Cebuanos still hate the Tagalogs, Moros still claim to be a different nation. ‘Rule of law’ through national consensus still seems to have a long way to go.

How, then, do we inculcate discipline to ourselves and our people while at the same time avoiding the terrible despot and the intimidating institutions? We must, inevitably, choose one route or the other. The best possible action for us, if we profess ourselves democratic, would be to get over our fear of big things and create standing institutions and policies, those which will enforce the common good and last for ten thousand years. If we believe in totalitarianism, we must find the strongest iron fist in this country and submit all our wills to him. We have had the chance with a dictatorship in, say, President Marcos. In the end, however, we revolted and threw him out. We have had the chance with democracy in the People Power Revolution and the constitution–and even as we speak we go over and/or under these institutions.  We may speak of a third route, and that is the home, the supposed building blocks of society. Yes, it is true that discipline can be learned in the home, in the school. A “rule of law” exists in these things. But what happens outside, where our parents and principals (the strongmen) and the school rules and regulations (the institutions) do not and cannot enforce authority? It is apparent that before discipline can be taught at home and in the school, the youth–and we Filipinos in general–need first to find the ability to respect the strongmen and/or the institutions that create this “rule of law.”

So much for discipline per se. But here another question emerges: do we really want, do we really need, this discipline? Yes, we are at once tempted to say. But why? For progress, we blurt out immediately. But what sort of progress do we want?

We can cite many examples of progress in the so-called progressive countries in the world today: the European countries, the United States, Japan, and China. Each of these countries have large economies matched only by their tall buildings. Their people may live more comfortably than most of us do. They have highly technologically-advanced tools. And they also have problems of their own. And perhaps, their problems stem from their common denominator: unchecked–and that is to say unlimited and uncritical–progress.

In Europe, the center of the Industrial Revolution (and culture and fashion and all “nice” things), we see a people with a growing sense of ennui, a sense of postmodern directionlessness. Europeans are party people with lots of beer and spirits and healthcare and social services, but why do they experience a high suicide rate? (Interestingly, European nations also have high levels of atheism, though here I speak as a Catholic who wants to have a religion than as a social analyst who makes correlations between high suicide rates and religion–I have yet to assume a relationship between the two in this article.)

In the United States we find a solipsistic nation, one that views its own interests and its own culture as the primary, if not only, one in the world. In Hollywood as well as in its international economic policies, the United States centers more on itself, and it injures racial-cultural sensibilities (see Aladdin, The Mask of Zorro, and The Last Airbender for criticisms) and other countries’ interests (see the Imperiyalistang Kano).the United States, after all, is the country that discriminates African Americans and Mexicans (and Filipinos) and still thinks immigrants are out to get their jobs, and that the Chinese are Japanese.

Which brings us to the Chinese. China is the economic wonder of the late 20th-early 21st century: from the backwater and war-ravaged country of Chairman Mao, China has become the second largest economy in the world. But at what cost? China also has one of the highest pollution levels. China’s prosperity is, for the most part, limited to its big cities on the Eastern side–the countryside, I’ve heard, still has those legendarily terrible toilets. And who wants to live in a country that keeps its Nobel Prize winner in prison, erects the Great Firewall, and basically does not regret Tienanmen Square?

And the Japanese–the one country the linked article praised–is a nation that has yet to learn from its history. Dr. Shinzo Hayase in his book, A Walk Through Memories in Southeast Asia, implies that the Japanese still has to recognize the terrible atrocities its military government committed in the Second World War. In Japan, they do not remember the comfort women and the forced labor; what they remember is the glorious honorable patriotism of their soldiers and the Bombs destroying Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (And to think that people–and authors!–like Yukio Mishima want to renew the old bushido, the same system that plunged Asia into the war!) And so the Japanese, in their non-knowledge, come across as insensitive whenever they enter into economic relationships with the Southeast Asian nations. Many Southeast Asian nations, up to this day, still hurt whenever the Japanese Prime Minister still visits the Japanese war dead shrine. Japan’s progress, then, ultimately sits on the shaky foundation of callous forgetfulness.

And so we see that progress, when unchecked and unreviewed, can be quite disordered. Progress can bring about as much trouble as benefits. In the name of progress, kings and even populations have been killed: from France to Russia to Germany to China to Japan, and to many more. I am not saying that progress per se is bad: I suspect Nick Joaquin, my idol, to be quite the progresista with large-scale enterprises in mind. After all, he comes from the tradition of the Ilustrados like Rizal and Luna, whom he admired as Promethean geniuses. And yet, we must bear in mind that we cannot and should not pursue progress so blindly. People from the same Ilustrado class, in their desire to wrest power from retrogressive Spain and bring enlightenment in the Philippines, also committed and condoned atrocities in the Philippine Revolution. The innocent friars were abused along with the guilty. And it was the masses had to fight and die in their wars. And when the Revolution faltered, they were the first ones to abandon it. Progress, if it is to be true, has to be well-rounded: everyone has to be a part in it, and everyone has to benefit from it. The country, in the end, should not suffer further because of it, but rather, be all the more enlightened and benign.

In the end, we must agree with the article: we want, we definitely want, order and progress for the Philippines. That much has been clear to us since the dawn rose over the Spanish galleons in 1521. But we must ask ourselves: what kind of order and progress do we want? And, just as importantly, how are we going to get there?

Muling pagkamulat: Isang Pagmumuni

Posted in Reflection on February 4, 2011 by theburningpulpit

Napag-iiwanan na tayong mga Pilipino sa larangan ng edukasyon. Kailangan nating aminin ito.

Bago kami tumungo sa aming mga immersion areas upang magsagawa ng school profiling para sa ACED (Ateneo Center for Educational Development), inasahan ko na ang mga paaralang aming oobserbahan ay katulad ng mga paaralang paminsan-minsa’y ipinapakita ng mga dokumentaryo sa TV: malayo sa kabihasnan, binabaha, butas-butas ang mga haligi, sira-sira ang mga upuan, at sobrang salat sa mga pasilidad. Pinaghandaan ko ang ganitong sitwasyon: tinibayan ko ang aking loob at ipinangakong magpapakatatag. Naisip ko kasi na kung ako’y malunod sa kalungkutan ay manghina ang aking loob at, sa kawalan ng pag-asa, ay mawalan din ako ng ganang gawin ang school profiling. Ano ba ang aking magagawa, wari ko, ako na isa lamang hamak na mag-aaral, upang maiangat ang mga paaralang matagal nang sadlak sa kahirapan?

Subalit hindi ganito ang aming naratnan.

Pagdating naming sa DARS (Don Alejandro Roces Sr. High School) ako ay napahanga sa aking nakita. Malaki ang paaralan, sapat ang mga libro sa kanilang silid-aklatan, at marami silang mga practice house para sa pagsasanay ng mga mag-aaral sa kanilang mga pipiliing bokasyon. Mahuhusay rin ang kanilang mga guro: nang kami ay dumating sa DARS ang paaralan ay kakatapos lamang ng periodical exam at nasa gitna ng item analysis, subalit ang inobserbahan kong guro (Araling Panlipunan) ay naghanda pa rin ng lesson plan at mahusay na tinalakay ang Rebolusyong Industriyal. Suportado rin ng mga magulang ang kanilang mga mag-aaral: ang napanayam naming magulang ay talagang titik sa mga takdang-aralin ng kanyang mga anak, at hindi niya hinahayaang mag-Facebook ang mga ito bago nila matapos ang kanilang mga gawain. At laking gulat ko na lamang nang nalaman kong anim sa mga nasa ika-apat na baitang ay nakapasa sa Ateneo, at pito sa UP Diliman.

Nalagpasan din ng KNLHS (Krus na Ligas High School) ang aking mga ekspektasyon. Ayon kay Meeyo, ang gurong kanyang iobserbahan ay sadyang mahusay sa pagtuturo ng agham—wika pa nga niya’y tila higit pang na malinaw at kaaya-ayang magturo ang naturang guro kaysa sa mga nadaanan niya sa kanyang high school. Masigla rin ang press sa KNLHS, at sa katunayan ay natunton kami ng kanilang mga reporter at kami’y ikinapanayam. At higit sa lahat, napakalinis at napakaputi ng kanilang mga palikuran.

Sa madaling salita, nasaksihan ko ang mga munting bunga ng pagsusumikap ng mga pampublikong paaralan tulad ng DARS at KNLHS. Subalit, dahil din dito, lumilitaw rin ang isang katanungan: kung maayos at masipag ang principal at mga guro, mga magulang at mga mag-aaral, bakit tayo napag-iiwanan sa larangan ng edukasyon? Oo nga’t mataas na ang DARS at KNLHS sa iba sa resulta ng nakaraang NAT (National Achievement Tests)—subalit hindi pa rin umaabot sa 75 bahagdan ang kanilang mga marka. Bakit marami pa ring hindi na ipinagpapatuloy ang kanilang pag-aaral? Bakit hirap pa rin ang mga paaralang makalikom at makahingi ng pondo mula sa pamahalaan?

Totoo’t sa kabila ng aking karanasan sa ACED ay bumamalik na naman ako kung saan ako nagsimula: sa isang malungkot na pagkilala sa kakulagan nating mga Pilipino sa larangan ng edukasyon. Marahil may kabilugan nga ang ating sitwasyon. Ngunit sa aking palagay, mayroong isang bagay, isang napakahalagang bagay, na dumagdag sa aking kamalayan. At ang bagay na ito ay ang pagkamulat sa isang sitwasyon. Kung si Sobrino ay namulat sa kawalan ng pagkatao sa lipunan, maaari ko naman sigurong sabihin na ako ay namulat sa pagkataong namamayani pa rin sa kabila ng kawalan ng pagkatao sa lipunan. Totoo’t hindi nito naisasantabi o naikukubli ang kasadlakan sa ating lipunan, kagaya ng mga bituwing nagniningning sa kabila ng dilim ng gabi. Subalit hindi kaya ito isang hudyat, isang panawagan, na nagsasabi sa atin na maaari pa ring mabago ang lahat kung kikilos tayong lahat?

The Happy Polis: Aristotle and Ethics (Ph 104 Paper)

Posted in Philosophy, Reflection on January 4, 2011 by theburningpulpit

Perhaps one of Aristotle’s greatest imports in the field of ethics is his assumption that the moral life is a pursuit of happiness. Happiness is the highest human good (final, self-sufficient, and attainable), and is “an activity of soul in accordance with perfect virtue”—that is, happiness for man is adhering to his rational principle, his rational function, and so developing the excellence of his reason. Morality for Aristotle leads to both the contemplative and the political lives, both of which exercise human reason. In a word, the practice of philosophical and practical wisdom, the intellectual and ethical virtues, fulfills the human function and lead to happiness.

Aristotle’s idea of ethics seems to say that, to do the good, one must have the desire to do the good; doing the good presupposes the desire for happiness. The claim “a moral person is a happy person” is difficult enough to examine and prove in view of everyday life. But even more unsettling is the implication that not everyone can attain happiness: before happiness, the end of all human activity, can be achieved, one must reach the excellence of reason. But how can one reach the excellence of reason when he or she is hungry, or without the means for education, or mentally impaired? One can sense this anxiety even from Aristotle himself:

[A happy man] needs the external goods as well; for it is impossible, or not easy, to do noble acts without the proper equipment. …there are some things the lack of which takes the luster from happiness, as good birth, goodly children, beauty; for the man who is very ugly in appearance or ill born or solitary and childless is not very likely to be happy…

In the end, must one conclude that happiness—and morality—is the province of the privileged alone? Are those with resources the only ones fully capable of living the moral life?

And in our everyday experience, one gets the impression that, indeed, the unprivileged do not have in their hands the full capacity to live a moral life. Right outside our home, just on the adjacent street, a psychologically impaired woman cannot but cause scandal by shrieking and badgering by-passers. Along Taft Avenue we hear of people having their purses snatched; common knowledge would say prostitution happens in the nightclubs and bars. Even if we assert that their actions could not be excused—they could have explored alternative means, such as peddling or, say, working as street sweepers—in the end, the underprivileged do these things so as to satisfy the basic needs that they could not meet through normal means. Can we say, then, that due to the lack of nutrition and growth (the vegetative level of Aristotle’s hierarchy of functions) or perception and motion (the animalistic level), these people are deprived of happiness, of a moral life, and even of humanity?

Perhaps the answer is yes. But then, that such a state of crippling poverty and inequality exists speaks volumes about the neglect of the privileged. For Aristotle, after all, man is a political being “born for citizenship”—a being of the polis, the city-state: the public life is a properly human domain. Again and again he emphasized that happiness and the moral life is not turned in upon a single person; that happiness is self-sufficient does not mean that it is “sufficient for a man by himself.” Moreover, moral excellence for Aristotle lies on the relative mean between excess and deficiency. So we may ask ourselves: can the privileged, those who meet the basic functional levels, who live in plenty amid great want, be truly moral—and truly happy—in such a society as ours? Are they exercising excellence of reason any more than those who are hungry or are blind or crazed? Or, by forgoing practical wisdom, by living in excess, by forgoing the affairs of the polis, are they not as misguided, as inhumane, as the rest?

I do not mean to say that this was what the historical Aristotle had in mind when he proposed his ethical theory. However, it is possible that he could have considered this even as he addressed his Nicomachean Ethics to those who have the advantage, the “proper equipment.” Could it be that his theory is an exhortation for the privileged to enter the realm of the polis, to care, to “do noble acts” for the welfare of the state and all its citizens? Could it be a call to go beyond the basic and properly vegetative and animalistic functions of nutrition, growth, sensation, and locomotion, and to search true, lasting, final happiness in doing the good? We do not know for sure. But maybe we, especially us in the Ateneo, can read Aristotle in this light.

So we come at last to “reading,” that is, education and instruction. Aristotle places emphasis on the development of arête—and informed intellect, philosophical and practical wisdom, is one such good that needs development. Aware that we are, as Aristotle teaches, political beings, then the development of intellect (that is, education) cannot end in our own selves; self-enlightenment is no longer enough. We must teach our society as well, especially to the underprivileged. How can we do this, even as Ateneo students? One tangible opportunity is the immersion experience: those sponsored by OSCI as well as ACED, among others. We can view these not merely as another requirement to endure, but as a political exercise: literally, contributing to the development of the polis by developing tomorrow’s society.

And there is also the moral function of reason, which is developed to excellence by choice and habit. One must choose to do the good. Again, taking into mind our political nature, we must exercise our good choices and habits outward, directed not only to achieve a self-sufficient “inner glow” of moral satisfaction, but also to succor and to improve the rest of society. Our response here cannot be anything less but our daily life—and that life we must lead not only for ourselves, but also for others. The Ateneo has termed this life as “professionals for others,” which simply translates to doing the best one can in his specific field, his ergon as it were, for the sake of the other. As seniors approaching the start of our careers, this calling is particularly relevant for us. We are called to be good and honest businessmen, hardworking scientists, and truthful writers—for the betterment of society.

Earlier we have put into question the generalization, “the moral man is a happy man.” But now we may get a glimpse of what Aristotle could have meant by stringing the moral life with the happy life. For could the world be anything but a happier one if it becomes more just, a society where all support each other towards the common goal of the final good, the final happiness?

Religion and Faith Revisited

Posted in Philosophy, Reflection on January 2, 2011 by theburningpulpit

Earlier, the fact that we Filipinos go to Sunday Mass in droves and participate in the ceremony suddenly struck me. Based on my experience in the US (and from what films like Sister Act show), only we are capable of filling churches over and beyond their capacity. And so I was reminded of what a high school alumnus once wrote in our newsletter: that the greater majority of us Filipinos are men and women of religion.

Which leads to his question–are we men and women of faith?

Many wiser minds have already pointed out that, despite our love of pilgrimages and observance of rituals, Catholicism in the Philippines is a folk religion, a mingling of the watered-down Roman rite and the local paganic superstitions and beliefs. Hence, the semblance of anito-worship in the veneration of saints, the co-existence of Buddha and the Christ-child in sari-sari stores, and so on. Thus, many have concluded, as Epifanio San Juan does in his reading of Nick Joaquin’s Cave and Shadows, that we Filipinos still remain pagan at heart, and that Western Christianity–the religion of many in this country– has never been and will never be at the core of our faith.

But I beg to disagree.

It is true that there is a distinction between religion and faith: as our alumnus said, these are two sides of a coin. And yet there is no need to pit one against the other. Faith and religion do not stand opposite to each other–they still constitute one and the same coin. The person of faith is and should be a person of religion–for what is faith if it is not expressed? And the true person of religion might, just might, have trouble with the Faith–but that he or she keeps holding on to the rites and perseveres through the dark night, not out of material or political gain, is on the right track. As Nick Joaquin implies, the very struggle to find faith in religion is the Faith.

Alas! Perhaps it is unfortunate that we who are learned have to struggle so much, to learn so much, only to remember our faith! We have to go through a lot of theories only to reaffirm what we believe. And for some, what they see even pulls them out, disenchants them, as it were, from the Faith.

So now we go back to the common people filling the churches every Sunday. True, they might be simple folk who do not fully understand our religion. This, of course, should be amended. True, they must be educated. But does that make them anyless Christian? Does the folk nature of their religion make them any less Catholic? Is their faith any less than us learned people?

Dostoyevsky admired the simple faith of the poor and the peasants in Russia. True, they do not have the enlightenment of theory, but their pure, simple hearts are in the right place. One may draw a parallel between Dostoyevsky’s peasants and the Filipino Catholic masses. They believe in engkantos and overemphasize miracles, but deep in their hearts they quite possibly understand God more than we do. They understand that He is the God of the poor, the downtrodden, the needy, the oppressed–and that He sympathizes with them. Though they lament God’s sleeping, they understand that He is with them, that He does not approve of the evils and injustices in this world, and that someday He will set things right, and He will welcome them, the common, the poor, the small ones, with open arms. And that is the core of the Christian faith, the Christian hope, is it not?

And perhaps this is what the Lord means when he demands us to be meek, to be humble, and to be childlike in the name of the Faith.