Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Art of Science (redirected from Rj's Friendster Blog)

The Art of Science

In the back of mind, I have a hazy collection of images of my life as a toddler. Most of these are jumbled together with images that have been lifted-- not from the actual memories that I once upon a time experienced-- but from the pages of old family picture albums. However, though the mind's eye may have difficulty recalling the physical realities of that time, I find that it's easier for me to remember the sort of ideas of the world I held then. Memories of what I was thinking are clearer than the images of the life I was living at three years of age. One might say that this is an illusion, and yes, it very well may be. But its a better illusion than most.

What strikes me about those days was my fascination with the pursuit of science. Perhaps it was the childhood growth into a love of animals and the natural world they represented. It could have been something subconsciously implanted by the presence of my father, a scientist himself. Or maybe it was something as obscure and superficial as Indiana Jones, the adventurer-academician. Whatever it was, what consumed me was the singular pursuit of KNOWING as much about something that I fell in love with. For me, there was a sort of crazy pleasure to be had when I could tell exactly what sort of dinosauria was illustrated in my books, along with it's approximate placement in geological history and probable behaviour: Triceratops Horridus, common name "Triceratops", a successful species of the mid-late Cretaceous period, two prominent brow horns, single nose horn, distinct from other Ceratopsia by a solid bone frill protrusion from the skull. Evidence of herd behaviour and probable organized defense. Underdeveloped eyesight suggests near-sightedness, much like today's rhinos. Side-placed eyes suggest evolution as an herbivore, confirmed by large stomach area and prominent molars. Beak suggests diet of woody shrubs, probable ecology in lightly forested areas with an abundance of shrubs, and space for a herd of possibly up to fifty animals, each weighing around the area of three tons.

Of course, I wouldn't have said it with that sort of language when i was three, but the propositions were the same. What this points to is the way I know that when my heart was set on something, the end I wished to achieve was knowledge.

This desire for knowledge led me to the field of science. Science itself is something much more broader and interesting than the textbook "systematic, empirical, quantitative inquiry of phenomena through repeatable procedures to arrive at rational conclusions". That's easy to understand, and anyone who's gone through all those science classes and labs can get a brain-vomit just thinking about it. But what I'm talking about is outside the laboratory, outside the research and the statistics. What I'm talking about is the rational mind as a state of self. What I'm talking about is the pursuit of knowledge as life unto itself.

There's an interesting statement in the NBC television series "Heroes", in the episode titled "Six Months Ago". In the episode, the character of Dr. Chandra Suresh is speaking to a man who would later be known as the villain Sylar. Suresh, a geneticist, says that everything is found in the brain. The statement piqued my interest, because it led to the idea that everything about a human being is found in knowledge. This idea may seem dehumanizing and a bit abrasive in its disregard of the realm of the emotion, but its not too much of a stretch to say that emotion itself rests on knowledge. Everything in the human experience is driven by knowledge and the working of the mind. Consciousness itself is an act of engaging the mind with the world around it.

The oracle at Delphi said "know yourself". Socrates says that to know oneself is really the device by which one cares for oneself. The "self" is said to be the soul, and the "soul" is the synthesis of spirit and consciousness, spirit being the velocity of the soul, and consciousness its body that moves and develops. I acknowledge this may seem a bit abstract, but this has a lot of bearing upon what the scientific life is really concerned about. Science is how we come to know and understand things. It is the tool of this desire to care for oneself. A change in what we know is the fundamental change that leads to the development of the soul.

Jesus said His was the "Way, the Truth, and the Life; all who believe in Me shall be saved." Look at the interrelationship of the three words: way, truth, life. It pretty much sums what humans beings are about. Life is always about finding one's way through it, a progression. The purpose of which is to determine a truth, to arrive at a certain knowledge. The operative word of the second statement is belief. Belief in itself is also a knowledge.(the talk about faith/belief being a valid sort of knowledge is a debate that this entry doesn't intend to go into; rather, the basic point is that knowledge is the core of any human endeavor.)

That is where I place science-- in the field of the human life spent seeking a path of truth.

What makes science so beautiful is the way that it unlocks the world and presents it to our minds as a likely truth, rather than as a construction of the imagination. It presents something reasonable, that people can agree to agree or disagree upon. It is articulates something that society can be based upon, even though its individuals are swayed and biased in so many different ways. Science is a level field for the discourse of rational society, where the nuances of the individual give way to the predominance of societal rationality. It is a sort of knowledge that asserts itself, not as an absolute truth, but as a reasonable truth. It is the sort of knowledge that does not lay claim to objectivity, but unabashedly and with amazing integrity displays the limitations of its subjectivity on the table of scrutiny. When I think of science, I find the most humanizing of all fields of study. And in the end, all fields of study inevitably tie back to science.

And of course, thinkers like Foucault like to confuse us even more (and present us with a deeper way of giving our souls two-cents worth of attention) by presenting a scientific inquiry into science.

This is, to me, what being a human is: it is the art of knowledge,the art of science.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Origins of Science and its Development through Deep (Christian) Faith (Part 1 of 2)

(This was my response in our class with Dr. Malayang regarding the question about whether it was possible for a person of deep faith to exercise science...)

As far as we have known through the (limited) achievements historyand archaeology, we can say that science "began" about six hundredyears before Christ with the Greek philosophers who sought non-theological answers for such fundamental questions as concerning theexistence of life and the underlying principles of the world and ofreality, which were previously dealt with in Greek mythology.

Although we have the misfortune of having to learn about them inmere fragments and citations from other subsequent philosophers andhistorians, I would say that the first ignition towards science as we know it today is owed in no small part to the Pre-Socratic Greekphilosophers, not inasmuch as they had the right answers but becausethey posed the right questions: From where does everything come? From what is everything created? How do we explain the plurality ofthings found in nature? How might we describe nature mathematically?

This paved the way for someone like Socrates to kind of set thearena for subsequent intellectual pursuits from then on through histwo assumptions of philosophy, that: 1) the unexamined life is notworth living; and 2) although reason may often bring sorrow andalienation, it is also a source of comfort and assurance (Pojman,2004, The Quest for Truth).

Plato came into the picture as Socrates' student and a proponent ofwhat could be the first philosophical prototype for all idealism,saying that the substantive reality around us is only a reflectionof a higher truth. He believed that ideas were more real thanthings. He developed a vision of two worlds: a world of unchangingideas and a world of changing physical objects.For example, a particular tree, with a branch or two missing,possibly alive, possibly dead, and with the initials of two loverscarved into its bark, is distinct from the abstract form of Tree-ness. A Tree is the ideal that each of us holds that allows us toidentify the imperfect reflections of trees all around us(

Reacting against the deeply rationalistic and highly speculative approach of his teacher Plato, Aristotle placed an increasinglystrong emphasis on what is received by the senses, that is, on aposteriori observations (Macmillan Encyclopedia ofPhilosophy. "Development of Aristotle's Thought", vol. 1, p. 153ff,1969). Using inductive reasoning to arrive at categories andprinciples based upon sense data, this was in sharp opposition toPlato's theory of forms, which was very heavily dependent on apriori assumptions, or "innate" knowledge. Aristotle also stated thecore empiricist tenet that human knowledge of reality is grounded insense experience (Sorabji, R. 1972, Aristotle on Memory).

However, the Greeks never developed anything like modern science.Otherwise, we might have had the nuclear and space age in 100 B.C.The Greek mind simply looked at the natural world primarily as anexercise for the magnificent Greek reason. The world was not to be changed; it was to be understood, and not used. So they applied their ways of reasoning to nature and came up with many great andinteresting philosophical contributions. But it never developedinto "the scientific age" (Kennedy, 1994, What if Jesus Had NeverBeen Born?).

Why didn't the Greeks go further in their potentially scientificqueries? Authors like Dr. Malcolm Jeeves point out a unique blend ofGreek thinking with a specific strand of Christianity—namely, theReformed faith—birthed modern science. He writes:It was with the rediscovery of the Bible and of its message at thetime of the Reformation … that a new impetus came to the developmentof science. This new impetus, flowing together with all that was best in Greek thinking, was to produce the right mixture to detonatethe chain reaction leading to the explosion of knowledge which beganat the start of the scientific revolution in the sixteenth century,and which is proceeding with ever-increasing momentum today.(The Scientific Enterprise and the Christian Faith, 1971)

Not only did science not develop with the Greeks, but it is also true that science would not likely have originated among the Hebrew people—it did not and would not—for the simple reason that to theHebrews, the natural world was simply an occasion for praise to the Creator: "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork" (Psalms 19:1).

Nor could modern science ever hope to progress among the Arabs, because of the Muslim religion. Aristotle's writings, when lost tothe Western world from about A.D. 500 to A.D. 1100, were kept by theArabs of North Africa and finally reintroduced into Europe in the 1100s and 1200s.

Aristotle—unlike Plato—had a philosophy that would lend itself tothe scientific type of study because it was more inductive than Plato's deductive kind of reasoning. Plato would get a universal ideal and deduce all manner of things from it. Aristotle would tend to look at the particulars and induce principles from it.

Because of the Aristotelian thought they had access to, the Arabs generally made greater scientific and mathematical advances than the Europeansduring the Middle Ages. But during all of that time the Arabs never introduced nor evercreated any real science. This is due to the fatalism that dominatesthe Muslim religion. Since everything is fatalistically determined,obviously there is no point in trying to manipulate the naturalworld to change everything, because all things are unchangeable.

Science could also not have come from among the animists of central or southern Africa or many other places in the world since experimentation in the natural world would be sacrilege.

Dominant schools in Hinduism and Buddhism teach that the physicalworld is unreal and that the only reality is that of the world's soul and that the greatest thing anyone has to learn is that thephysical world is not real. There would have been no point, therefore, in spending one's life fooling with that which had noreality in the first place.

It took the rise of Christianity to come and weave the different strains of knowledge to produce the phenomenon we know as modernscience. Christianity allowed that there is, first of all, arational and ordered world. This have rise to the possibility ofscientific laws (Kennedy, 1994).

more to come..

- Nigel Uno

Monday, July 9, 2007

An Evolving Morality

One of the first ideas taught in the study of human culture is the idea of social norms. Sociologists define these norms as an agreement between the individuals of a particular culture as to what sort of behavior is accepted and what sort of behavior is not. The members of the society must conform to these agreed standards or risk being excluded or marginalized.
It is possible to point to two levels at which social norms are articulated: the first level is the most obvious one, the level of formal law. A society’s laws display the prescribed modes of behavior that are legally acceptable. Deviation from legal behavior is dealt with in a severe manner, with consequences commensurate to the deviation committed. The second level is the moral level, where the rules aren’t as concretely stated as in the formal law, but rather in the insubstantial conventions of culture. Although the language of morality isn’t as clearly imposed as the language of law, it remains—to a certain extent—just as condign and severe. The peculiar thing about morality is that it doesn’t necessarily have to be reasonable. For example, a moral standard that opposes the presence of an alternative-gender organization will deny its recognition as an official student organization simply because of its being against the “moral sensibilities” of the community, which has nothing to do with the actual formal rules that exist to define the requirements for recognition that any other student organization would have to complete. In other words, even if the particular organization complied in full with the formal requirements, the community as a whole would still attempt to keep it from existing because of its violation of “moral sensibilities”.
This moral law, like its legal counterpart, is changeable. The evidence of this is found in how moral law varies between different cultures and different historical periods. Of course, one can argue that there are certain actions that have always been considered to be “bad” like murder, or “good” like being honest, but these probably stem from the deeper, more fundamental roots of human altruism. But one can recognize the difference between these basic laws governing human behavior, and the derivative moral laws that deal with the grey areas of human relationships, such as certain lifestyles, art, or ideas, which have no direct harm on the human condition, but are seen as harmful by some because of how they “erode social fabric”.
But one has to understand also that the anatomy of social fabric is also constantly changing. At the end of the day, the point is this: there is no such thing as a fixed moral code; once cannot fortify oneself in the illusion of unchanging moral values.
There are two ways that moral codes can be viewed. The first is that they must be constantly upheld and maintained in favor of a consistent cultural identity; or that they can evolve and change according to the changes in society. The reason why this column favors the latter view is because of the idea that development occurs through change; improvement is found in constant development, rather than rigid adherence to a singular mode of morality. For example, if social morality hadn’t evolved from generation to generation, there would still see clear demarcation between the mestizo and the indio. People would still be measured and valued according to the color of their skin. Of course, vestiges of this sort of absurd morality are part of the undercurrent sentiments of contemporary culture, but its fading indicates an evolution of culture.
If it is assumed that morality is evolving, then the question of “To what end?” could be asked. That is, what then would be the end goal of this evolution? In nature, evolution’s goal is survival of the species. This parallels moral evolution: the society must survive. Culture has to power to make or break a society. Some moral conventions can bring harm to a society, rather than edify it. Harm in the sense of real physical harm and violence on the human condition. This measure of violence could include psychological and emotional trauma as well. Moral development, in moving away from the “nasty, brutish, and short” existence, must seek to lessen and eventually remove from human society the sources of harm, such as exclusivity and imbalanced power-relations.
However, not all the results of moral evolution can be seen as beneficial. “Mutations” as a result of unchecked moral development could be just as harmful to society as an unchanging moral code.
It is then necessary to use a critical framework to examine current morality and guide it towards a more beneficial result. An understanding of social commentary such as those found in the social philosophies of feminism, socialism, religion, atheism, post-modernism etc. provide perspectives on what sort of moral code would be best for the society. Understanding the differences and identities of the various views enables the student to determine a more beneficial course for the evolution of morality. But before any growth in understanding can be achieved, it must first be recognized that morality is a dynamic and changing facet of human society, not the absolute code that some would have us believe.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Through the Looking Glass of Language

The story that pretended to be real and in the end, destroyed reality and became a waking, walking, breathing figure all unto itself; the Story that breathed itself into existence, slaying the author.

The idea of the simulacra isn't a new one; Jorge Luis Borges wrote his fiction using this idea as the fulcrum of the narrative. Baudrillard coins the term in his theory of language.

Of what significance is such an idea to human existence? Why bother with an exploration of meaning and language?

I think there are a number of simple ways to answer these questions: simple stabs in the dark by ones who think simple questions are easy to answer. But of course, these one-liner answers-- "Because of curiousity," "Because we want to understand language," "Because it makes us more aware,"-- are insufficient. They do not begin to tackle the beautiful complexity that underlies the process of human inquiry. I revolt against the quick and easy answer for the reason that the knowledge I seek is that of the explorer, the adventurer who plunges into the wildness of thoughts, the brambles of contradiction and seeks, not answers, but understanding.

And so, what then of the significance of how arbitrary language can be (that is, at least from one perspective)? If one had to trace the pattern, and follow the meandering logic of the statement that "the meaning of language is arbitrary", it leads to a curious road. Language is comprised of symbols-- the entire pantheon of symbols, from the physical edifices of political power to road signs and Euclidean geometry-- which are representations of meaning. In themselves, they contain no meaning. The meaning behind them comes from our society's agreement or convention on what meaning must be attributed to what particular symbol. Borges speaks of an arrow, "pointing the way", which I presume to be some sort sign to give direction, as a symbol that has "mutated" from one of iron and wood, from the object that clouded the skies at Thermopylae and pierced the skin of Harald. In other words, Borges sees the mutation of meaning; the symbol remains unchanged, but the arbitrary meaning given to it by social convention has morphed from that of an object of terror and death to the harmless thing of streets corners and detours (which, in turn, may also give another meaning to one who has been mugged on the street corner, or has experienced being stuck in traffic because they followed the arrow).

Which leads to another disturbing thought. Mathematics is actually a science of symbols and their definite relationship to one another. The relationships between the digits, between the numbers, are there by social convention, by our articulation of meaning through the symbols of the arabic numeric system. "1" and "200" do not hold any meaning on to themselves; We, the readers, give them their meaning. And even the concept of "1" on its own, is not very useful. What disturbs me is the idea that numbers are consistent and precise, meaning that the convention of meaning has reached such a level that a thousand different people can arrive at the same conclusion using the convened operations of mathematics. This has made mathematics an extreme application of the arbitrary, to the point where we take it for granted.

George Berkeley, the English thinker, would argue otherwise, that mathematics belongs in the realm of the abstract, which exists apart from humanity's arbitrary meaning. However, I'm not quite ready to simply accept this enshrining of mathematics as apart from human interpretation. What makes more sense is that all symbols represent an abstract ideal that can never be articulated, because in the process of articulation, they lose their abstract nature and become-- to stick with Berkeley's classification of realities-- mental, that is, merely part of the construction of human experience. I say "merely" in the sense that through interpretation, whatever meaning is given is now arbitrary. The abstract remains an unattainable sublime, and our attempts to approximate the abstract result in its reduction.

If mathematics cannot be trusted-- in so far as its being real rather than useful-- then in a sense, there is no reality behind logical thinking; "logic" is another victim of arbitrary meaning, and reason is non-existent, except of course, in the minds of those who claim to possess it or wield it.

At the end of this discussion, we arrive at a bleak outlook: a world in which reason is only an illusion, windmill that we thought was a dragon, a barmaid who we thought was the Lady Dulcinea. It is an existence of collective madness, where everything is as we agree it to be, rather than what it actually is. And yet, we call ourselves sane and reasonable, and we thrust our reason upon others. Isn't this the core of conflict? This expectation that we are more correct than the other, as if there is some absolute standard to measure ourselves against? As if our language, our meaning, is fortified in unquestionable "rightness"? That's the madness of human civilization, a quest for meaning that really cannot be found.

Which leads us to Don Quixote, whose madness came from his inability to dissociate the symbol from meaning, the language from the reality. But, as he comes to his sense, Alonso Quijano realizes that his pretended reality has begotten itself in the form of actual reality, and that he must now defend this new reality with the same fervor that created it.

Yes, language and its arbitrary meaning can be only pretend realities; but, if Baudrillard's ideas have weight in this matter, there is a faint shadow of hope. Our pretend realities can become actual realities because that is how we have constructed them to be, and the conflict an irremovable facet of the imperfection of our articulation of meaning. Language is therefore, the vehicle of reality rather than its destroyer; or rather, in the process of developing a reality, it destroys the old ones. And this, at least for me, is less troubling, because it indicates a meaning that is evolving, growing, fearlessly facing its contradictions and lending itself to destruction and reconstruction. That could very well mean progress, which is an encouraging thought.

Significance of inquiry? In this case, the failure of words to capture significance seems appropriate.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Soul Survivor

Philip Yancey is presently THE Christian writer for me. I've never bought so many works by the same author in so short a time, given my meager student allowance. And even if I’m now on my 7th book by him, he never fails to inspire, enlighten, surprise and refresh me with each new book and article I get my hands on.

Here's a really short and wanting biography: He’s a journalist who serves as editor-at-large for Christianity Today magazine. He has written twelve Gold Medallion Award-winning books, including Where is God When It Hurts?, Disappointment with God, and The Bible Jesus Read. The Jesus I Never Knew and What’s So Amazing About Grace? were both awarded the Christian Book of the Year. He is also the author of Reaching for the Invisible God. Four of his books have sold a million copies each, and, fortunately, he also happens to be found everywhere from Cang's Inc. to National Bookstore. Articles by him can be found at, and a personal website,

Given the sensitive nature of writing Christian books, I noticed that he never writes about anything that he doesn't really know about, except when he writes to admit that he doesn't really know much about a certain subject. Seemingly an act of copping out, it is his remarkable authenticity that affords his writings a sense of dispensation of truth and grace that any reader readily appreciates, without compromising, of course, an exceptional writing caliber. A culture-savvy Christian, every stroke of his pen is not without a clear sense of literary purpose:

"Every writer has one main theme, a spoor that he or she keeps sniffing around, tracking, following to its source. If I had to define my own theme, it would be that of a person who absorbed some of the worst the church has to offer, yet still landed in the loving arms of God. Yes, I went through a period of rejection of the church and God, a conversion experience in reverse that felt like liberation for a time. I ended up, however, not an atheist, a refugee from the church, but as one of its advocates."

What allowed him to ransom a personal faith from the damaging effects of religion? It takes a whole book to answer that. Entitled Soul Survivor, that book profiles thirteen unlikely "mentors" who went a long way toward answering that question. These mentors range from the scatterbrained journalist G. K. Chesterton to the tortured novelists Tolstoy and Dostoevsky to contemporaries such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Annie Dillard, and Robert Coles. He teases:

"If I were invited to a convention full of skeptics, or representatives of another religion, and asked to explain my faith, these are the companions I would want along. I could simply point to these strong witnesses and say, 'Christians are not perfect, by any means, but they can be people made fully alive. This is what they look like.' Each stands at the top of his or her field, and they credit personal faith as one of the reasons why."

Perhaps I am especially drawn to Yancey through my own bitter experiences with the church, or more aptly, certain church people, whom a well-meaning friend of mine once bluntly dubbed as church a-holes.

Everyone has different grievances against people claiming to be ambassadors for Christ. These range from bad and unkindly relationships, physical assault, emotional harassment, dishonest conduct of finances, hypocrisy, and even sexual violation.

Yet however much I can accuse people, I can but justly point the questions back to myself and ask how many times have I myself misrepresented the one whose name I religiously bear, in both my public and private life? If I claim to be a victim of and an activist against church politics and hypocrisy, am I actually assuming to be on a better moral standing than my perpetrators? In recovering from church abuse, have I failed to heed W. H. Auden's warning that "those to whom evil in done, do evil in return"?

Yancey reminds me that against the backdrop of God’s glaringly perfect holiness, I'd actually look no better than any other person standing beside me, whether Mother Teresa or Adolf Hitler. I know that for every wrong act that I can observe from fellow Christians and especially from certain church leaders, I am just as accountable and guilty as them for my inner, subterranean struggles and sins every day, running along the lines of pride, arrogance, lust, unforgiveness, et cetera. For instance, in writing this seemingly "spiritual" blog entry, as well as anything that can get published, I get cephalomegaly in actually having written it, expecting a pat on the back or two.

Personally, it is one such (rather stubborn) struggle to dispense love, grace and mercy to a church that, I witness, never fails to churn out spiritually wounded patients more than anything else. It is just insufferable to someone who knows that it is.

My thoughts drift into how God would run the infinite distance between God-ness and humanity through Jesus Christ, to be butchered and slain for sins even as seemingly inconsequential as a stolen penny, a careless whisper or a smug twist of the shoulder; all in the ultimate act of loving forgiveness. I often waver between holding my grudges and letting them pass—to forgive freely, as I have been forgiven in the same manner.

Apparently, God isn’t done with me yet.

Largely, the church that I was born into has, for all its contributions, terribly lost its sense of urgency and relevance in this generation. And it only goes to show that the Church (I am now referring to the collective institution wherein affiliation entails being called a Christian), as in all human organizations, is understandably flawed and imperfect. And with its over 1 billion strong membership, failure rates will unsurprisingly soar.

And like Yancey, I write this as one seeking to redeem those experiences that gave me reasons to step out of Christendom, and hopefully turn them into words of assurance to save another soul just a little bit of trouble.

If I were to write my own Soul Survivor in the far future, the name Philip Yancey would easily make it to the top my “mentors” list.

-Nigel Uno

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Futurist Thoughts on Mass Communication

Look at this blog. It's not very popular, most of the people who read it are people we know personally. But it wouldn't be very difficult to make it go "mainstream": all it woudl take is to re-name it with a few searchable keywords, strategically narrow our posts to something with a characterisable niche, and then comment on other people's blogs. Maybe add a bit of multi-media content to attract the ADHD crowds of the web world. Then the blog becomes a true form of mass media.
We live in a world where mass media in it's traditional forms is simply not sexy anymore. "Sexy" isn't a superficial qualification, by the way, not in our generation. Noel kept telling me about how looking good is so important, sometimes even more important than actually being good. I can't disregard that anymore, the evidence is overwhelming. However, in my mind, you can't cross the line of ethics. But I'm digressing from my point. Traditional forms of media are not sexy in that they are no longer streamlined and attractive to today's generation. Chuck Palanhiuk, author of Fight Club talked about our attitude towards television on a lecture on YouTube (spot the wit :) He said that we are so sick of reality shows, especially those damn house-switch decor things that seem to be on every channel. Two hundred channels on cable television and we can't find anything to watch, because the simple truth is that we've seen it all.
Aside: I'm liking "Heroes" because it's unpredictable and the characters the interesting and blended right. Who would anticipate String Theory, a guy who can paint the future, and... don't want to spoil it for those who haven't seen any of the episodes yet.
Communication, information, ideas. Entertainment, self-realization, education, socialization... the core processes by which the human mind develops are undergoing a rapid and fundamental change. I say I live in my head, don't we all? Because if you really think (hehe) about it, our perceptions are our realities. We live in worlds constructed in our minds. Those worlds come about through the information we imbibe as we develop. This idea is an unholy alliance of Kant and Dev Psych. Ain't it cool?
So what is so drastic in the difference between a kid who grew up watching television, radio and comics-- and a kid who grew up with Wikipedia, YouTube, Google, Friendster, YM and BitTorrent? The difference is in the fundamentals of communication.
The older paradigm is a one-way process, a single channel of some big institution (like the government or a media company) generating content and communicating it to a mass audience. The biggest restricition of this sort of communication is the peculiar way that information becomes dumber the wider you spread it. A television program can only be 30mins long, interjected by a mess of 10-30 second commercials. Another set-back is that you can't customise content. It's very capitalist, all these companies screaming at you trying to get your attention to look at them. But you can only get whatever they give you.
The new paradigm changes this. I can search online for content that I want; if it's not there, I can generate it myself. Think TIME magazine's person of the year for 2006: YOU. It's about the individual. It's not about plugging a faceless audience to a profit-driven company; it's about connecting one individual to another. Everyone has their own space, their own personality. Just look at those Friendster profiles. When you deal with people online, it's not a mass; its a friend network. When people comment on YouTube, you see their faces, you know their tags. It's a different society, and suddenly, information is liberated and placed at the fingertips of the users.
If you want a glimpse into society, human organization and politics of the future, I suggest you look at the blogsphere. This collection of online geeks are the future.
So there.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

300 Misrep

The movie "300" gives a highly stylized account of the battle of Thermopylae fought in 480 BC by three hundred Spartans under the leadership of King Leonidas. I don't need to go into the details of the battle itself, or even the description of the movie; what I want to focus on is the sort of message the movie sends. Throughout the film, there are constant reminders of the value of freedom.

"It is not a question of what a husband, or a Spartan, or a king should do. Instead ask yourself, my dearest love, what would a free man do?"

"We are with you sire! For freedom! For Sparta!"

"When this battle is over, the world will know that few stood against many, that free men stood against a tyrant, and that even a god-king can bleed."

"This is the dawning of a new age, an age of freedom. And all will know that three hundred Spartans gave their last breath to defend it."

Freedom and fighting against tyranny (in various forms: mysticism, subjugation, corruption) is the basic idea behind the film. While I have always believed in personal freedom, I also believe in honesty. And here is where "300" begins to tread on dangerous ground. Your average movie-goer may not understand that the whole point of why Spartans made a culture out of warfare was because of the vast slave population that drove their economy (the Helots, as their were called in Sparta). The city-state of Sparta was fed by slave labour, slaves who were fellow Greeks. It's ironic to think that Spartans would be fighting for the idea of freedom, when they themselves were the most active slavers in ancient Greece.
One can argue that the point of the film isn't really about being historically accurate, but presenting something entertaining. But I think this is beside the point. In the culture of today's generation, film is a powerful medium for expressing information; its persuasive power makes it very political (the idea is Foucauldian), and its even more dangerous because it isn't overtly political, but it masquerades as "mere entertainment". As a student of communication, I've come to the realization that nothing on the media channels is mere entertainment.
The falsehood of Spartan ideals in the film "300" is further reinforced when the film presents the Persians as the ultimate slavers, worshipping a megalomaniac god-king, bound by superstition, and completely opposed to the values of freedom, democracy and equality. This isn't a misrepresentation per se, because the Persian Empire wasn't really known for free elections or participative governance; but to use it as a contrast to a western culture that is made out of be one based on "reason" and "justice" is highly misleading. If anything, the ancient Greeks were just as unreasonable and unjust as the ancient Persians.
Today, we still have that outdated and ancient mode of thought that dictates our identity along geopolitical borders: East vs. West. A lot of the discourse on religion, governance, economies, and philosophies are divided and opposed along these geographical demarcations. This idea of a divided world is part of the problem of terrorism, neo-imperialism, and the sort of close-mindedness that has hindered development and conflict-resolution. What a film like "300" does, with its packaging and message reinforcement, is to catapult a discourse of division into the minds of the audiences. What makes it especially eye-brow raising is that we celebrate this movie as a valuable contribution to our culture.


Friday, April 6, 2007

Philosophy Bites

Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known by his stagename Molière was a 17th century French dramatist, director, theatre manager and actor. In one of his plays, a man discovered one day that he had been "speaking prose" all his life without knowing it. Similarly, implies GSU professor Mark Woodhouse in his Preface to Philosophy, all of us have been doing amateur philosophy all our lives. In a sense, philosophy is just hard thinking about the important issues of life. Look at the following illustrations and try to see how virtually every human activity has philosophical implications:

1. A neurophysiologist, while establishing correlations between certain brain functions and the feeling of pain, begins to wonder whether the "mind" is distinct from the brain.

2. A nuclear scientist, having determined that matter is mostly empty space containing colorless energy transformations, begins to wonder to what extent the solid, extended, colored world we perceive corresponds to what actually exists.

3. A behavioral psychologist, having increasing success in predicting human behavior, questions whether human actions can be called "free."

4. Supreme Court justices, when framing a law to distinguish obscene and nonobscene art forms, are drawn into questions about the nature and function of art.

5. A theologian, in a losing battle with science over literal descriptions of the universe (or "reality"), is forced to redefine the whole purpose and scope of traditional theology.

6. An anthropologist, noting that all societies have some conception of a moral code, begins to wonder just what distinguishes a moral from a nonmoral point of view.

7. A linguist, in examining the various ways language shapes our view of the world, declares that there is no one "true reality" because all views of reality are conditional and qualified by the language in which they are expressed.

8. A perennial skeptic, accustomed to demanding and not receiving absolute proof for every view encountered, declares that it is impossible to know anything.

9. A commissioner, while developing new zoning ordinances, begins to wonder whether the effect or the intent (or both) of zoning laws makes them discriminatory.

10. A BIR director, in determining which (religious) organizations should be exempted from tax, is forced to define what counts as a "religion" or "religious group."

11. A concerned mother, having decided to convert her CPP-NPA communist son, is forced to read the Communist Manifesto and to do some thinking about Marxist and capitalist ideologies.

We could continue the list indefinitely. But already you can see that given a particularly relevant problem, even the "nonphilosopher" is lured into a modest amount of philosophical thinking. In examining possible responses, that person will probably discover a commitment to certain philosophical theses.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Heroes: A Sword to Protect

What makes the hero? A quick analysis of this question would reveal that in every hero story, there is someone who, sometimes by choice (like Achilles or Bruce Wayne) or by uncontrolled circumstance (like Frodo or Peter Parker), is forced to rise above the ordinary and go beyond the limits of those around him or her. A hero/heroine is someone who has dared to fly, to live for something greater. This is our common idea of the hero/heroine. Joseph Campbell, the guru of mythology studies, talks about the archetype "hero" in terms of a formula: the Challenge, the Journey, and the Return. The hero identity, according to Campbell, fulfills each step in this formula in one way or the other.

However, the question of "What makes a hero?" is, in my opinion, neither formula nor feat. At the core of every true hero is a driving force, a power behind the true Hero, that brings an individual to reach into the stars. It is the motive energy that fuels the feats of greatness that set the Hero apart from everyone else.

Himura Kenshin, fictional swordsman of the Meiji era. Unparalleled prowess in combat, he became known as the legendary "battousai" or man-slayer. But for all of his skill, Kenshin is not a hero simply because of the lightning speed of his sword. Behind that sword is a belief, a philosophy, a motive power.

Peter Parker, free-lance photographer for the Daily Bugle of New York City. Because of a freak accident of radioactive energy, Peter Parker gained the amazing powers of a set of super-spiders: a proportional strength, lightning reflexes, the ability to leap great distances, an almost psychic "spider-sense", and the ability to produce super-strength strands of spiderweb from his wrists (some people say its natural, others say Parker developed them artificially). But for all these fantastic powers, they are not the core of why Peter Parker believes that with great power comes great responsibility.

Luke Skywalker, the last Jedi. At the end of the trilogy, Luke faces his father, now the twisted Sith Lord Darth Vader. The Emperor, Darth Sidious, watches the final battle between Luke and Vader with amusement: it is apparent that the Force is even stronger in Luke than in Anakin, and soon, Darth Vader is begging for mercy. The Emperor bids Luke to kill Vader, and complete his transition to the Dark Side. But Luke finds a strength within himself, a hidden power that overcomes the overwhelming influence of the Dark Side. Instead of cutting Darth Vader down with a final blow, Luke turns to the Emperor and throws away his lightsaber, the symbol of a Jedi's skill in combat and the constant conflict that rages between the Dark and the Light. He tosses it, and proclaims his identity as a Jedi, and becomes a hero.

I could probably go further with illustrations from heroes in pop culture (Cloud from Final Fantasy VII, Leonidas from 300, Al Simmons from Todd McFarlene's Spawn comics), but let's stop with the three I've already discussed.

It wasn't simple power or skill that truly made them heroic; even the bad guys have power and skill. Neither does ideology make a hero either: Kenshin had his philosophy of samurai honor, Peter Parker has the whole "with great power comes great responsibility" mantra, and of course Luke is a Jedi, a Star Wars Knight's Templar. My point is that anyone can develop a skill, and anyone can hold on to a philosophy. Something else is at work here, something deeper.

Kenshin fought, not because of his ideals, but to protect those he loved. Peter Parker, constantly leaping from his window, everyday comes back to Mary Jane. Luke, for the love of his sister and his father, found the strength to resist the Emperor.

It was because of a developed sense of selflessness and love that drove these characters to become great. Not everyone understands the concept of love; take Anakin, whose love was actually based on selfish possessiveness of Padme. It takes trial, it takes persistence and time for love to truly become the power behind the hero.

Love is ultimately the core of what makes the Hero different from any other great individual. The title of Hero is a title of someone who has done something because of love.


Politics by Lottery: A modest proposal

One of the first complaints to be heard by anyone familiar with the institution of Philippine government is that our government structure is simply borrowed from the United States, without addressing the peculiarities of the native Filipino culture. Of course, this disparity between our governance system and our local political culture has given birth to a web of corruption and inefficiency, a network of thieving bureaucrats and a properly sabotaged public trust. In thinking about ways to close the gap between the cultural norms of the Filipino public, and the expected attitudes articulated in our government’s constitution, we must examine what particular “pinoy” traits can be incorporated into our body politic. I have a modest suggestion.

Gambling is part of the national consciousness. From cockfights to sweepstakes, Filipinos love the uncertainty and excitement of a good bet. A deeply religious culture, the idea of swerte or luck in the Filipino mind is equated with either the blessing or curse of God. The national cliché of bahala na is a bright neon light displaying the national belief in the will of the Divine.

This gambling nature of the Filipino could be easily incorporated into the national election system for the selection of a President. How?

By using the randomness of the lottery machine. My proposal is as follows: after a normal election via popular vote, the COMELEC selects the top three contenders (three is a magic number, and much more diplomatic than a simple binary) whose names are put into a lottery machine, with all the little spinning plastic balls. Now, it’s a question of the will of God. Whoever gets selected in this final stage of the election can then truly claim that God placed her there, without all the hubris of self-proclaimed Divine will.

Now, it is understandable that this may seem a bit loony. But if we think about it, it actually begins to make more sense. The top three candidates are democratically chosen, by having garnered the majority of the votes. The policy of a gamble also ensures that candidates cannot guarantee their victory by simply spending more than their opponents; you can’t buy swerte. And last of all, it means that the deeply religious (perhaps even superstitious) Filipino public can trust that God was the final part of the decision of who is to become the leader of our country.

And of course, one cannot create an Opposition to the will of God.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Unity of Study

After briefly reading the first few chapters of a textbook on urban sociology (by Dr. Efren Padilla of California State University Hayward), it struck me on how the process of learning, particularly that in university, could be geared towards something more thematic rather than specialist. In Silliman University, where I'm studying right now, we divide the departments according to their different fields, such as engineering, history, computer science or management. Although this is a good model for producing engineers, historians, computer scientists or managers, it's not exactly the best arrangement to produce people who can integrate, innovate and basically move the body of knowledge further. What if an engineer understands how physical structures impact the social arrangements within a city? What if the historian can articulate a new paradigm of historical thought based on quantum mechanics? What if the computer scientist integrates biological principles into a program? What if the manager has a firm grounding on ethical philosophy and its relationship to public relations? What if students are constantly challenged to break through the limits of their fields of specialty and approach learning-- not as a rote discipline of mechanistic obedience to the doctrines-- but as a playground of ideas and a melting pot of exploration?

A unified approach to knowledge is more powerful, because it goes beyond the status quo. It gets people to change the way they think, to change their approach.

As a student in the College of Mass Communication, I've found myself trying to break through the barriers of my field. It's common enough to equate my college with journalism, but even this can be taken beyond its usual focus on training a "journalist". Communication is an exciting theme that invades so many other fields of thought: language, economics, philosophy, physics, computer technology, urban society, psychology and more. If I had to approach communication as an integrated course, i'd be enrolled in more classes than the students of the College of Nursing and Allied Health Sciences. And at the end of my four years here, I'd be on the path to being educated, rather than having simply recieved vocational training.

To make knowledge relevant in this post-modern world, we need to integrate and unify, instead of remaining within the comfort of our little exclusivist niches of specialization.

- Quark

The Prestige (in a literary sense) and Neil Gaiman

Every great magic trick consists of three acts. The first act is called "The Pledge"; The magician shows you something ordinary, but of course... it probably isn't. The second act is called "The Turn"; The magician makes his ordinary some thing do something extraordinary. Now if you're looking for the secret... you won't find it, that's why there's a third act called, "The Prestige"; this is the part with the twists and turns, where lives hang in the balance, and you see something shocking you've never seen before.
Cutter, played by Michael Caine, from the movie "The Prestige"

In the same way, this is how speculative fiction works. I don't want to say much about other genres that I'm not familiar with, but the principle of The Prestige may very well apply to them. What I find interesting is that successful speculative fiction sets up quite similarly to a magic trick. Let's take an example from Neil Gaiman's short story about the Holy Grail from the book Smoke and Mirrors. He presents us with something ordinary, in this case, the old woman buying something antique. The turn comes from the realization of the fact that this is the Holy Grail she has purchased and it is being sought after by young Sir Galahad. But the prestige occurs when we, the reader's, realize that this whole story is simply one of a probably many, with the magic lamp hiding in the antique shop.

However, the truly beautiful prestige at the end of a story is a prestige that goes beyond mere entertainment or escapism. I believe that what makes a work truly great is the use of the prestige to articulate a deeply human truth, a philosophy of sorts. There is something a bit disheartening about the way Gaiman ends his stories, specifically Stardust and Neverwhere. At the end, when Yvaine is staring up into the skies, or when Richard Mayhew is completely cut off from his former existence and he turns back to the underground world, the reader is left with a sense of alienation, enstrangement and a sense of longing, as if the alieantion itself is a loss. Contrast this with Camus or Dostoevsky, where enstrangement is part of existence itself, to be wrestled with but not regreted (more Camus than Dostoevsky).

Gaiman's "prestige" is hollow in this sense, it doesn't fill the reader with a new insight, instead offering a look into the immersion of the subject in an escapist world.

I think that speculative fiction can be more than mere escapism or entertainment. Presenting something wierd and wonderful is cool, but not intellectual or fulfilling. To break into a more cerebral plane, speculative fiction must present a truth in the veil of fantasy.

I like the example on the blog of my friend "Trivial Inanities", the entry The Golden Stair. It's a statement about the uselessness of believing in fairy tales, about the futility of chasing ideals that really don't have a real end.

That's what fiction is about; it's presenting a sort of magic trick that, in the end, really isn't about magic at all, but about the audience, the reader.


Social Upheaval

This country is going to implode. If we examine the trend of how the socio-politico institutions of the Philippines are increasingly self-defeating and being mired in the tangle of corruption, the immediate future isn't exactly a nice one. Let's cut through the elaborate lines of bullshit the pundits, the government, the academe and the revolutionaries are talking about in the discourse of today's headlines. Let's cut it down to the simplest and stupidest message: our society does not work. Social injustice is socially tolerated, even accepted, even institutionalized. We have dedicated ourselves to the pursuit of truth and reason for only as long as they are our own truth and reason. This is our country, and its going to the shitter.
If i were to make an analogy, it's like a computer. Its software, originally intended to do something good has been corrupted by a virus. What was once a useful and operational program has been infected and is now destroying everything else, left and right. It is so deeply imbedded that the hard drive itself is gone. Anti-virus programs have been overwhelmed and incorporated into the evil-ware. What needs to be done is a complete overhaul of the programming. A wiping of the hard drive. Every symptom our country is experiencing, although not as bad yet, is pointing in this direction.

Why is it like this? Does it have to be this way? The posited idea comes from G.F. Hegel. If we have to analyse this dialectically, the status quo is actually breeding the very forces that will bring about its destruction. The very instability that the Administration is railing against today is actually their own creation, with their inability to face the light of sincere governance.

It's not a question of whether there will be a fall or not, or even when it will happen. It's going to happen, and it's going to happen sooner than later. The question is, how violent will the upheaval be? And how long will the violence last? And how widespread will the violence be?

These are the question of someone who sincerely doubts a positive near future for the country.

However, that's not to say that our country is doomed; because the clash of paradigms, the conflict that brings about the downfall of one order creates a new one. But there must be a conflict and a shift first. We cannot go on with the status quo, and the upheaval is simply part of the overall evolution of our society. Painfully, dangerously, but life goes on. There will always be a Philippines, but as with every other nation in the world, it will have to go through some very acute growing pains. We, as a nation, must struggle with ourselves.

But I also see an alternative to this violent upheaval. However, this alternative is merely part of an exploration of historical possibility rather than historical consequence of present realities. My alternative is one of dissolution and an enlightened dismanteling of the present institutions in favour of new ones. It is only possible when people with sincere intentions of finding solutions to the problems of our country start to act, not as part of any ideology or movement, but with academic neutrality and careful, systematic methods. It requires a setting aside of personal ego in favour of finding something truly good for society. That's something I would like to see. That's something I dream about. When people are bound, not by statute, tradition, societal norms, ideology or economic interest, but by reason and a desire to do something right. Of course, such complicated ideas as "reason" and "right" are still so fuzzy and philosophical, but by struggeling with these, we know that we are on the path towards them.

But whatever model we follow, violent upheaval or enlightened change, there will be a change. The status quo, by its very unintended consequences, will dissolve, and change, and only then will this country move forward.

-9th Wanderer

The Low-Down on Wikipedia

Wikipedia is probably one of my most accessed sites, if not the most accessed site (aside from my email account). For the past three years of college life, i've relied on Wikipedia to help me find more information on what I need. More than once, i've praised its example of free information, and the theory of user-generated/regulated content. But what if, its not all that? What if i'm being misled?

We live in a world of information, i've said it time and again. It's the real currency of our lives. In my life, which is being geared towards an almost fanatic pursuit of information, it is vitally important to be as sure as possible of the integrity of information. Intellectual honesty, now more than ever, is the primary value in my career. No student worth calling herself a student would willfully be haphazard about research and the sources she uses. Once its on paper, once its published, that's it, its out there and it's attached to the writer's name. A single lie, a single slip, and no one will believe your work. No university (at least the ones that matter) will work with you. In this business of science, truth, information and publication, I firmly adhere to the belief that integrity is the ONLY value. Make mistakes because your human, but at least be honest about them. An honest mistake is better than a dishonest success.

A lot of students, in all levels, use Wikipedia. The problem is when they use it as a source in their research. Wikipedia just isn't reliable enough. I got the idea from Ian Casocot, Palanca awardee and a teacher of research writing here in Silliman. He said that there have been instances where information taken from Wikipedia either was wrong or outdated. What solidifies this allegation in my mind is the human element that really is the core of Wikipedia. And people make mistakes, individually and collectively.

I guess the whole point i'm trying to build up to here is that Wikipedia isn't an end source. Its a jump-off for research, giving you ideas of what to look up. The most reliable internet sources remain those with a .edu attached to their URL. Wikipedia provides links to these, and that's where the endeavoring student needs to look.


Monday, March 12, 2007

Blazing Glory

Wow. When it comes to hair-brained schemes, this one really worked. The old cliché of “That’s so crazy it just might work,” was brightly illustrated in flaming highlights with the fire that consumed the COMELEC building yesterday early morning.

One of the first things that popped into the minds of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward when they were investigating the burglary at the Watergate Hotel was that there were just too many coincidences. In the same way, the burning of the COMELEC building last Sunday is peppered with coincidences.

The very first is the proximity to the elections in May. In the politically-charged atmosphere, it’s not too much of stretch to imagine those in power going to great lengths to protect themselves.

The second is the convenient destruction of all the controversial documents and evidence pertaining to the 2004 elections, as well as the automated election machines that were to help counteract the effects of cheating in the upcoming elections. Millions of pesos in tax money quite literally went up in smoke.

The third is the disappearance of the Marine security detachment assigned to protect the building two hours before the fire started. This was reported in the Philippine Daily STAR.

The fourth, as reported in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, was the delay of the fire-fighters whose station was mere blocks away from the building. Apparently, they “received the call too late.”

And now, the very first to pipe up with the need for a speedy investigation is the Palace. Who will conduct the investigation? People appointed by the Administration.

Now, I don’t want to pre-empt any official decision, but this situation is VERY controversial because of all the coincidences attached to it. By no means can it be left to only a single sector to examine. There needs to be an independent, truly independent investigation by several sectors, to counteract the effects of politics. If the government had even the slightest hand in this burning issue, the implications could be the very thing that will bring the flaming sword of truth to our shadowy and untrustworthy government.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Kabataan Party: A Critique of Revolutionary Discourse

The formula for revolution is frighteningly simple: tell the people what they want to hear. The slogan of the Kabataan Party is lifted off the banner of the League of Filipino Students: “Nationalist, Scientific, Mass-Oriented Education”. With ideals like that, they pretty much cover the values of the entire bloc of Filipino youth. Activist, student, and downtrodden—everyone gets a mention. Combine this with their list of demands for subsidized public education, and the whole idea can be very seductive to a young mind. Blanket statements like “Who among you here wants Gloria to remain in power?” and “Dapat tayo magkaisa para sa bayan,” forward a mindset of non-thinking. They make some rather grand assumptions that, in the discourse of the revolutionary, are not to be scrutinised: The Administration is evil; the people are oppressed; the solution is a system overhaul. These are not ideas to be examined or critiqued if they truly reflect the realities of Filipino society. Instead it is a discourse that treats everything as in terms of a binary conflict: us versus them, opposition against administration, people against the government, the oppressed against the oppressor. This sort of portrayal is easy to understand, and it is easy to communicate. But is it really the sort of discourse that will lead to real solutions for our country?

There are some serious contradictions that exist within the discourse of the revolutionary youth. The first is the idea of equality and freedom. Basic political analysis shows us that the values of equality and freedom are essentially at odds with each other. A people who are all equal are not free to be better than others. A people who are all free will not be equal, because some will possess more opportunities, better skills or just plain dumb luck. In espousing freedom and equality, one must ask the question of which is to be valued more than the other.

Another contradiction is the discourse of the reversal of power-relations. The revolutionary wants to replace the elitist power institutions of the status quo with power institutions that will be truly representative and mass-oriented. But this misses the point of simply replacing one power institution with another: the society is still divided between the institutions and the mass.

Lastly, let’s go after the specific contradictions that arise in the list of values of nationalism, science, and mass-oriented policy. Again, at face value, these are very convincing; these values are what the people (you and me) want to hear. Unfortunately, there are basic contradictions that arise from the combination of these values: what may be scientific may not necessarily be mass-oriented. For example, the protection of fishing areas to maintain sustainable levels of fish populations will necessarily mean that local fishers will have to go further (spending more money for gas) to reach viable fishing sites. Nationalism can also be in contradiction with science, which recognizes the benefit of humanity as a whole, rather than the petty lines of geopolitical borders.

At the end of the day, we don’t find anything wrong with a desire for change, with a desire for improvement. In fact, the need for a positive change is crucial to our survival as a nation. But what we need is more than just the blanket rhetoric of ideological discourse. What we need is a focus on finding carefully thought-through, stringently scrutinised and intelligently critiqued solutions.


Saturday, February 24, 2007

Talk about Talk: Discourse-Oriented Analysis

Language. Among all the creatures that inhabit our planet, humans are the ones that take the fore with the ability to express themselves on a scale that far outweighs anything else we've come across. One of the prerequistes for the idea of "intelligent" life is the ability to communicate through language, through signs and sounds that signify ideas. Language-- mathematic and linguistic-- has enabled civilization. Writing and mathematics: these were the foundations of empires. The progress of history, the marvels of engineering, philosophy, the Bible, Google, the ideas of Jacques Derrida, the United Nations... all possible because of our ability to community. When one really considers it, language truly is a powerful thing; it is the vehicle of ideas, the expression of personhood. It can be used as a weapon, it can be used to create weapons. Take a National Socialist Party (Nazi) rally in 1939. The words of one man turned an entire country into a weapon that forced the world into global war. On September 21, 1972, President Ferdinand Marcos used words to bring about some of the darkest days of the Filipino people, and a regime that lasted nearly fifteen years, and until now manifests its insidious influence on our economy and government. Words can bring people together as well. The writings on the UN Charter have created the first sustained attempt to bring the countries of the world together against the barbaric action of war. The teachings of Mahatma Gandhi brought about the impossible dream of a revolution without blood, laying the foundation of what is today one of the fastest growing countries in Asia. Words express the very human quality of love in the poems of Pablo Neruda. This power isn't limited to linguistics; another form of human expression is found in the abstractions of mathematics. Arithmetic forms the baseline for economic operation. Algebra lets us explore the relationships of energy and matter in the physical world. Calculus lets us create aircraft, and Chaos math and phase-space models let us explore the uncertainty of the real world.

But lets not get too lofty with the whole discussion of language in general. It's enough for us to realize that what people express has the ability to influence or even create realities that will not be immediately apparent from the face-value of what is being expressed. It is important to understand, not only what people are saying, but the nature of its discourse, that is to say, the way the ideas are crafted, expressed, understood and the organic way in which discourse evolves in the process of its transmission.

An example of this sort of analysis is present in the lectures of Michel Foucault in his lectures on power and war at the College de France in 1975-76 (transcribed and published in English as the book "Society Must be Defended", by Picador publishing). In his lecture dated 28 January 1976, Foucault talks about the binary of historical discourse: the discourse of power, and the discourse of the enslaved. He uses the example of Roman history for the former, and the Biblical account of the Hebrews for the latter. What makes this distinction interesting is the conflict that arises between the two, antithetical histories. The discourse of power seeks to maintain the status quo, perpetuating the insitutions of power by establishing historical precedence as well as surrounding present institutions with a sort of razzle-dazzle cloak of myth and greatness. This sort of history, according to Foucault, creates and is challenged by the discourse of of the enslaved, of the hidden, which arises in the language of the revolution, of the reversal of power structures.

I think that one should begin to realize how important it is to characterize and be critical about the sort of discourse that is present in a society. On one hand, it is an indicator of realities that are. In other words, realities in the present state. I think that the discourse of Filipino political culture reveals certain themes that reflect realities of Filipino politics: its irrelevance to day-to-day life, its corruption, its unreliability, its inability to respond to the basic needs of the people. However, not only does an examination of discourse reveal present realities, but evolving realities as well. Again, I refer back to the idea of Filipino political culture. Here, we see two discursive forces in conflict with one another, one of power and one of enslavement: the former is that of apathy, resigned acceptance, as well as the want for stability and unity. On the other hand, we see a discourse that seeks reform, change, and participation. It's the sort of talk that takes the fore in the idealistic setting of the university and in the columns of indignant writers.

I think that it is important to approach discourse with a critical mind, taking into account the power of language. Again, like I've written about before, our world is a world of information. The vehicle of that information is language. It is important for us, those of us who wish to find the best solutions to the problems of our country, to be able to differentiate and critically approach the things being said by the people around us.


Friday, February 16, 2007

Misrrepresenting Support

A United States House of Representatives, under the leadership of Democrat Nancy Pelosi, has recently shot down the proposal of President Bush for an increase in the number of troops in Iraq, as well as increasing military spending in Iraq with an additional $93 million. So far, 3,100 American servicemen have been killed in the continuing conflict. For the full story, click here.

One of the main criticisms for any sort of measure that stems the finances or number of American troops in Iraq is the commonly quoted "Support the troops!". Americans romanticize their warriors. They portray them as heroes, away from home, fighting for ideals across the seas. The servicemen and servicewomen are seen as "citizen-soldiers", kids from next door who went to church and joined up so they could get money for college. These are kids from Anytown America, serving their country.

However, the idea behind "Support the Troops!" is that if America supports the troops, it should also support the war that the troops are fighting. This is a dangerous misconception, and a very forced linkage of two different concepts.

Because what soldier really wants to go to war? Philip Caputo, in his personal account as a young lieutenant in Vietnam, wrote "Anyone who understands the reality of war will do anything to keep from going to war." What is this reality? It's a reality of uncertainty, of being faced with violent death or mutilation every day. It's the reality of seeing human suffering up close and personal. It's the reality of watching friends die, of seeing things that no one back home will understand. War is not something that people look forward to. The best thing for a soldier, is to go home in one piece, knowing that they've done their best, and that they're country is proud of them.

No one says the men and women serving America in Iraq have done less than their best; they're bleeding and dying over there. We've lost 3,100 brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters in Iraq. To the American people, the price is paid. But to the politicians, to the decision makers, it's not enough.

The reality of the decision to stay or pull-out of Iraq is a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation. Eventually, the Americans will have to pull out, and Iraq will have to find its own equilibrium in the post-Saddam world. The question is how many more Americans have to die.

I like to liken the situation in Iraq as being a pendelum that has been released into space. Before it was released, it was stable and predictable, held in the iron grip of Saddam. The problem was that this iron grip did not allow for any sort of change, positive or negative. However, upon removing that hold, the pendelum swung into open space, and it has to settle into a new sort of balance. Right now, America or not, Iraq will be unstable, and America hasn't the strength (or the unethical/barbaric power) to control Iraq the way Saddam did.

Get the troops out, leave the Iraqis to settle their own problems. America decided to force change in Iraq; they got it. The real way to support the troops is to bring them home.

-the 9th_wanderer

Saturday, January 20, 2007

On Mr. Walden Bello's "Globalization in Retreat"

To view Mr. Bello's full article from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, click here.
For a counterpoint from Sebastian Mallaby of the Washington Post, click here.

There is an honest sentiment among neo-marxist thinkers that globalization is a bid to further the ends of the global capitalist. The Communist Manifesto makes a clear and prophetic description of the way that capitalism will cross national borders and create the sort of world that we see today. It could be frighteningly prophetic, but it skips out on some major points that are transforming the world in a very different way. As a result, Mr. Bello's article fails to do justice to some of the finer (and I believe more relevant) points of what globalization is all about.

When Marx and Engels published their theories on historical materialism, they were operating from the premises of polarization between the bourgeosie and the proletariat within the context of institutionalized oppression, and of economic activity as the singular force that drove the progress of nations. They described a world of a global conflict, between the few bourgeousie owners and the mass proletariat. They saw a globalized world as a world of globalized industry. Communication, they argue, would serve as a catalyst between the scattered proletariat, to unify them in their struggle against the oppressors.

This entire thought is based on the assumption that turn-of the century industrial society (with its technology, philosophies, communication and culture), would continue unchanged. However, it didn't turn out that way. We are seeing a globalized world that is being driven by a lot more then just transnational industry. Information is not merely about coordination; it's about empowerment. People are using global information to expand their choices. People are taking advantage of the tools-- not in an effort to overthrow power structures-- but to become part of the power structures. A middle class, that Marx and Engels foresaw and dismissed as allies of the proletariat, are increasing and effectively neutralizing the polar conflict between proletariat and bourgeousie . Instead, the middle class are engaged in what I call mutual exploitation. They live satisfying lives by working, both for themselves and for their employers. For themselves in the sense that labour both gives them a place in society, and gives them an income that is liquid in the economy, constantly trading hands, paying for goods, services and information. The oppressed proletariat seeking liberation from the chains of the selfish industrialist is a thing of the global past. Instead, society is flattening at its own accord, finding an equilibrium in a larger middle class: some on top (like Donald Trump and the Texas oil barons), some on the bottom (slums in Mexico City and Southeast Asia) and a lot in the middle (you, me, everyone else who lives a 9-5 schedule, commutes to work, complains around the water station, reads Dilbert and has a life online). We're not the "bourgeousie" that Marx and Engels were whining about. We're just normal people.

Conceded, in developing countries, there is still a large number of people living in destitute situations, who are exploited, who are oppressed by regimes that still operate on feudal or industrial paradigms of thought. But put into a global context, the trend is towards moving the population curve to the middle of the income demographic. China, India, Singapore, Korea, Japan, Malaysia... all moving towards the middle, moving into the 21st century not on the backs of oppressed citizens, but on the efforts of unified, increasingly information-based economies.

Mr. Bello's point of a receding globalization is correct, if globalization is simply the action of a few institutions (IMF, WTO) with vested interests. But that is globalization 2.0 (Thomas Friedman, The World is Flat). Globalization 3.0 is what is happening today, and that is happening, not on the efforts of a few, but at the fingertips of the many, within the context of culture, not industry. The "nation-state" is still relevant today; but as the concept of "nation" is deconstructed, and the idea of "state" is superceded by regional institutions, the 17th century creation of the "nation-state" will no longer be as powerful or as persuasive. That's real globalization, and Marx and Engels never saw it coming.


Tuesday, January 9, 2007

On Dawkins, Faith and Religion

The author of the book "The God Delusion", Richard Dawkins, makes an articulate and sharp-toothed case against the claims of religion, both as a basis of moral behaviour and the existence of God. Faith(belief in something contrary to evidence), argues Dawkins, provides the slippery slope into divisiveness, prejudice, and violence. Even though I am a Christian, I cannot deny this observation. History is littered with the evidence of how religion has worked against peace, tolerance and progress. Even today, the great "War on Terror" is at its heart, a religiously motivated conflict, a consequence of the battlelines drawn in the sand of Jerusalem between the Muslims and the Jews. In the heart of America, religious fundamentalism is also giving fuel to the actions of the right-wing politicians. On the documentary "The Root of All Evil?", Richard Dawkins confronted Ted Haggard, then pastor of the New Life Church. Haggard explained that the greatest issue facing the next generation will be the Islamification of Europe. *note: Haggard recently resigned as pastor of New Life because of allegations of sexual abuse and drug abuse.

Haggard doesn't think AIDS is a problem; he doesn't think climate change is an issue; Education in Third World countries doesn't get much merit either. The biggest problem is Islamification. From the point of view of an atheist, the whole religious conflict is really about two deluded parties arguing about who's delusion is better. And unfortunately, millions of people around the world buy into this pointless debate.

Furthermore, religous groups around the world are systematically engaged in, according to Dawkins' view, amounts to a Hitler Youth Camp-type indoctrination of children. In his essay, "Viruses of the Mind" he premises on the idea that children are programmed, by evolution, to be impressionable, and that religion takes advantage of this by setting up their false world view and teaching it as truth to the next generation of faithful, perpetuating the myths upon minds that havn't yet developed the capacity to think critically and weigh evidences.

Dawkins has a point about the consequences of religion. As the "faithful" categorically deny other perspectives as truth, assert their own beliefs as true, and perpetuate this absolutism, our society becomes polarized between religions. This has done the world no end of serious, bloody, and horrible conflict.

But what about Dawkins' arguments on the existence of God? His arguments are a highly articulate packaging of the same arguments atheists have used the world over: science, evolution, quantum theory, the lack of empirical evidence, cultural epidemiology. The case made with reason is overwhelmingly convincing.

But I believe, despite all the evidence and cuss me if you want, that God is out there and here. I don't have any reasons for why I believe that, but I do. And that's about as much as I have. It's enough for me. So what if its not enough for others?

I am not in the business of asserting my faith over others. That perspective is the slippery slope towards bombs on the tube, suicide bombers and restricting condom use in Africa. Trying to argue that my belief should be true for everyone else is the debate that leads to hatred and violence.

Faith is, on its own, nothing bad. For some, it's a delusion, for others, it's truth. However, what happens when a society begins to choose one truth over the other, and assert it without reason, without consideration, without acceptance, without critical thinking? That is where the danger lies. No one should dispute what you believe, but they can dispute how that belief is articulated and whether or not that belief should be the basis of how society will decide to act or how society should percieve one thing over the other.