Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Loving As We Are

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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is, without any hesitation, my favorite film. For us to watch it in class and make a review of it is more a blessing than a task. I have been putting off reviewing it for a long time.

The most beautiful thing about it is the fact that its beauty is multi-faceted, almost inexhaustible. There are just so many layers to it and therefore, so many things to be learned from it. It is a hopeful, tragic love story. It is an inquiry to the human mind. It is a letter to science. It is an insight to the human experience.

At the surface, it shows the seemingly overused theme of how love prevails. It prevails over time, circumstances and personal burdens. It prevails over adversary: internal and external. It is a classic trope. In fact, don’t all good movies show that? It perhaps does not give justice to the film to reduce it to a story about how “love prevails.” But if we gain a deeper understanding of what love is and how it prevails, it may be just the review that it needs.

First, however, we digress by looking at it from the Cartesian dualist paradigm (which is the assignment at hand). Looking deeper into the film, we can see an element of Cartesian dualism with regards to how we exist and function as human beings. Descartes believed that there is a divide between the body and the soul, that while we are indeed both soul and body, the body is something external rather than internal. It may be seen in how it degrades as the mind improves through time. It may also be deduced from how some physical urges are beyond our human will, an aspect of humanity which may be more attributed to the mind than the body.

Joel and Clementine, as well as other participants in the Lacuna process, are embodiments of this theme. We spend the entirety of the film inside projection of Joel’s thought processes which he cannot entirely control but merely observe. It is as if Joel’s brain, apart from his mind which responds to the process with emotions of regret, happiness and anger, is a whole different world: a world which, much like ours controlled and manipulated by machinery.

The film, beyond its insights on love and romance, gives us an impression of how we, or at least those who are ardent believers of scientism, view technology and science: they are tools for subjugating nature. And the brain and its thought processes, being part of nature and subject to its rule, can be dominated as well through these means. Through technology, we can manipulate our thoughts, rid ourselves of bad memories and leave rays of eternal sunshine, rendering our minds spotless slates of good and tolerable thoughts.

However, inside the film is also a crtique of this belief. As Dr. Howard Mierzwiak in the film described, the process is “technically brain damage.” Within the film we see the recognition that while technology has endowed us the ability to dominate nature, what we do is in fact perverting it technically. As we manipulate trees by first cutting them down, or cook animals by first killing them, it is by damaging our humanity that we gain control over it.

This is what makes the character of Mary important: she was the one who realized that there is much cost in tampering with the brain and the memories it houses. By giving back the mementos to the patients, she hoped to restore the sanity which precluded pain and bad memories to people like her. In the case of Joel and Clementine, it provided for a chance for them to confront the reality of change and accept each other’s flaws: a epiphany which could not have been possible in a world where we can rid ourselves of memories we don’t fancy.

The movie provides a clear view of how knowledge is presumed to be acquired in a world of science: memories and emotions are triggered internally by association to external objects (another manifestation of the Cartesian dualism) and once those links have been removed, the memories and emotions die away. There is an element of positivism: it is by removing the conscious observer from the observed as far away as possible that the observed, becoming obscure beyond comprehension, becomes irrelevant.

Yet in the end it provides a critique to the paradigm: the thought process, which still exists inside a real independent world, cannot be manipulated independent from the external world. If the universe operates in a way which cares not for the pain we feel, if it moves us forward regardless of our emotions, it will have its way whether we quit halfway through. Joel and Clementine will still end up together, no matter if they find escape in brain damage. It is simple and romantic, and yet tragic and complex: how souls are structurally ordained (in this case, by the story) to be together regardless of how much pain they have caused to each other. And while they may be weeping in the night, there can be joy in the morning.

This may relate to how we perceive life: we are not its center. We, like other things, are moved by it. And to “move” life into a road which better suits our fancy is futile. Science which yearns to manipulate is futile; we are cogs in a machine, granted with a consciousness which enables us to perceive the beauty of the gears moving together in a cosmic harmony.

And when we describe love as just that: a beautiful cosmic force which binds us and moves us in a certain way, we are bound to conclude that love, in fact, always prevails. And “to love” simply means to move as we are made, in relation with others and the world, all the way back to the force which set the gears on course. To believe this enables us to look to the future more hopefully, to the past more respectfully and to the present more realistically: without pretension or the desire to survive or dominate. Scientism, which denies us that by believing that we can move the world in a different direction, determined by us alone, is a lie which distracts us from being in awe of how the world truly works; of how in the end, we progress by merely being true to ourselves: our flaws and shortcomings as well as our perfections and potentials.

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Immovable and Fragile Objects in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart

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Murderlands

The most significant similarity between the Igbo and Filipino culture is that they are both either dead or a parody of what they once were before.

Of course there are striking similarities such as the commodification of women which people often mistaken for respect, women are only valued for their function in society in both cultures (or perhaps I am exaggerating). Masculinity is affirmed in the rituals and invoked, as if resembling manly features automatically makes an act right.

In both cultures, spirituality is part of nature, and both human societies organize their ranks in imitating nature and the will of their ancestors who are one with it.

But the similarities are not only present in the pre-colonial past. In their depictions in contemporary, post-colonial times, they are portrayed by Westerners, and sometimes by the people themselves who can no longer identify with their old culture as parodies, exaggerations and overplay their eccentricities and exoticism.

Thus is the reality of pre-colonial culture in post-colonial times. And it is through this lens that we may say that the culture has died. The original essence has gone, though some finer details resemble them. The ends are different: what was once done in respect for tradition is now done for the sake of profit. Tourism, rather than the preservation of heritage, is the end.

In this sense, it may be said that the colonizers have altered the culture of their colonies beyond repair. As the poem goes, things have fallen apart. And like a mirror, even if the people of the now put them back together, they can never reflect the light of the ages as it did before culture fell apart.

In all this however, we see a significant character which shows us what happens amidst the falling apart of things, when some refuse to be moved by change. This character is Okonkwo.

Because of his eccenticities and atrocities, we are inclined to ask whether Okonkwo was the story’s hero or villain. The most obvious answer, of course, is that he is a hero. He is made known to the reader from the beginning of the novel. And while he has attitudes and beliefs which make him hard to sympathize with (thus, making him more accurately an antihero), he is the character whom we watch developing (or not developing) throughout the story.

But arguments can be made from the other side as well. Firstly, rather than “saving the cat,” a trope wherein the antihero does an act deemed “good” to make him more sympathizing, he literally wrestles a cat, Amalinze. This probably is supposed to signify the differences in culture between the Western colonizers and the Umuofians, wherein one can see an act admirable while another can’t.
It holds however that Okonkwo remains the main character of the story. And thus, if we so humbly allow ourselves to be, mirror who we are in reality.

Okonkwo  was never a representative of his culture, or at least, not deliberately from his part. He has time and again been seen as manipulating the interpretation of their traditions and practice to forward his own agenda, which most of the time involves reaffirming his masculinity. He is not, then, that much of an original character. Most of us are guilty of only subjecting ourselves to tradition when it suits our fancy. And this, I think, is Okonkwo’s strength and fatal flaw.

Okonkwo is more realistically a representative of the hubris and pride fostered by being a privileged member of society. In his fear of societal disregard built from his experience with his father, he has engaged in acts of valor and bravery, and has thus earned his due. All his life he has lived for that and that alone. And so, when society finally turned its back on the values he has fought so hard to emanate, his proud heart refuses to give in and start from scratch. He saw suicide as the only cop out: who cares if it was deemed feminine? Masculinity was never the issue. The issue was acceptance and reverence, and since he has been estranged from his society, like a lost falcon estranged from its falconer, what he does means nothing now.

The tragic hero of the novel is the realization of what happens when an unstoppable change meets an immovable object: one of them falls apart. In this case, unfortunately for Okonkwo, the unstoppable force won.

Kafka’s Modern Vermin

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“One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin,” the story goes. A question pops out: in the story’s universe was it all metaphorical or is it literal? And yet my initial reaction is, does it matter in our appreciation of the story?

If it were a mere literary device espousing how low Gregor has fallen from his humanity because of the dehumanizing working conditions imposed upon him by his job, or if he really turned into a pest, a cockroach, with segmented torso and plant-like limbs, does it weaken or strengthen the  sympathy we feel for Gregor as his family’s dependence and admiration turns into disdain and ignorance of him and his situation?

I do not think it affects the appreciation of the novella, nor do I think that if it were one or the other, the message or the essence of the story would be removed: one day, a man married to his job in order to provide for his family as its sole breadwinner became incapacitated: whether he suffered a stroke, or suddenly just went lazy and disillusioned about the future does not really matter. The conflict is dependent upon what implications there would be in a modern household.

Throughout the story, we are not made more familiar with how Gregor changed. We are given that fact the first paragraph. Rather we see the changes manifesting in the characters around him: the power struggle among the supposed “providers” for the family, their treatment of Gregor as he is indisposed and dependent of them, and more importantly, the changes of personality occurring inside the mind of his sister, whom at first was affectionate and concerned about his brother, but then grows to be a efficiency-obsessed, entitlement-obsessed young woman.

It is not the story of Gregor’s metamorphosis. Or rather, not his metamorphosis from human to insect. We behold the changes which occur in the lives of human beings, specifically of the human family, within the context of modernity and industrialization.
We behold Gregor’s metamorphosis from a respectable member of humanity to a worthless piece of trash which feeds upon the fruits of other’s labor, because he can’t do otherwise.

We behold his sister’s metamorphosis into a capable, useful individual to the household, but has drifted away increasingly from her former dreams and aspiration. It is ultimately captured in the final scene wherein her parents has seen her to have grown into a human be ready for marriage.

“The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation. “
– Marx, The Communist Manifesto

Svidrigailov and the Society of Extraordinary Suicides

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Amidst the squalor of Crime and Punishment stood a dark figure who was Svidrigailov. He appears after the main character, Rodya Raskolnikov realized that he was not an extraordinary man, exempted fro,m the rules than govern the affairs of the common man such as morality, decency and religion.
Svidrigailov treads the line between a villain and a sympathetic character. In this sense, he seems to be one of the most complex and enigmatic character’s in Dostoevsky’s Crima and Punishment.

The complexity of his character is manifested in the acts he undertakes through out the novel. He is presented as a generous benefactor to Sonya and her family when her parents died, yet the reader would know that this is only a ploy in order for him to get closer to Rodya, brother of the object of his lust, Dunya. It is unclear whether he is absolved of killing his wife, and it is even more unclear whether it is mere lust or is it a much deeper love which propels him towards asking Dunya’s hand in marriage. His motivations, tainted by base desires and his means, two-faced and vaguely suspicious lead the reader to think that he is a clever mastermind who is ready to do anything to achieve the object of his desires.

However, this theory of an enigmatic but one-dimensional villain becomes weak when one considers the point of the novel. I have already established in a previous article that one of the possible aims of the novel, Crime and Punishment, is to criticize the Nietzsche-an theory of the extraordinary man, a human person who is naturally exempted from the constraints imposed upon him (or her) by society through its rules of morality and propriety. Seen in this light, Svidrigailov may be viewed as the realization of Nietzsche’s hypothetical person.

Svidrigailov, much like Raskolnikov, seems to not be incapable of doing “good” things. The readers see this in his final actions before he “goes to America.” Here he had nothing to gain. He had already been turned down by Dunya, and in no way does this benevolent act help him achieve any diabolical goal. Perhaps, one may say, it is appeasement to his battered conscience. But up to the last moment, we see no regret or remorse in the part of Svidrigailov. We only see a gun in his mouth and his finger pulling the trigger.

Svidrigailov is shown to be a lot of things in the story: a villain with his own motives and clever means, a slave of desire… But in all this, it cannot be denied that he exhibits full responsibility and agency for his actions. Unlike Rodya, he does not turn to some philosophy of some greater good in order to justify his perverse goals and actions. To do so would man he is still subject to some code of morality. He does not even harbour an insecure urge to prove himself above others, unlike the main character. Rather, it seems that he has fully and unapologetically exemplified this fact in his actions. As far as he is concerned he is above it all. And we do not hear from him a monologue justifying how he is. He just straight up does what he wants to get what he wants: disregarding morality and decency in the process.

This is what makes Svidrigailov more of an ubermensch than the main character. But what does his development as a character tells us?

It may tell us that even with his transcendence of the codes that govern human society, the ubermensch is still not an island. The fact that his independence is dependent upon how he exerts power over others means that his overman-liness is dependent upon the individuals he dominates and subjects. This point is seen through how Dunya’s rejection led to Svidrigailov’s eventual demise. The overman’s life and power does not exempt him from his necessity of other people. And in failing to subject other people to his will, in failing to fulfil the point of his very existence, there is no executioner more worthy nor more capable of punishing impotence, the overman’s only possible crime, than the overman himself. Ultimately, Svidrigailov kills himself, for in failing himself, he has commited a crime to the only authority he deems worthy: himself.

Here we may find significant differences in the characters of Rodya, the insecure pseudo-overman, and Svidrigailov, the epitome of the ideal overman. I have already said that while they both have perverse intentions and undertake evil acts to pursue their own ends, Raskolnikov felt the need to appeal to a conception of a greater good., while Svidrigailov seems to be absolved of this. But more importantly, in being thwarted, they both contemplate suicide. They both realize that this is the ultimate punishment for their failure to fully transcend the shackles of humanity and dependence. But only Svidrigailov followed through. Rodya found himself to weak to do it, and in doing so he further proves to himself that he is not an extraordinary man.

Rather than an expression of weakness and defeat, Svidrigailov’s suicide is the culmination of his transcendence over traditional morality. It is his final expression of triumph over the world of the weak. Here we find the ultimate consequence of the overman’s philosophy of relying on himself for a standard of truth, goodness and happiness: self-destruction. And Dostoevsky hits this point even harder with Raskolnikov’s dream.

Raskolnikov’s final dream, like the one he had with the tortured horse, is his soul trying to make sense of the implications of his philosophy, without the insecurity and pride which he is blinded of when he is awake. In his sleep, he sees a society wherein everyone was the final authority on their own versions of truth, and fought tooth and nail to impose it on others. Everywhere was war and chaos and disunity. In a society where there is no morality but one’s own interests, where everyone is exempted from the constraints of decency and propriety and are thus free to pursue their own goals, might makes right (if there is such a thing as right), and things fall apart.

The dream leads Rodya to realize that the independence of the overman cannot be reconciled with the mutual interdependence imposed upon everyone by external circumstances. The overman cannot exist as true master and tyrant over the people on whose existence his power and will is dependent upon. And if everyone aspired to be tyrants, to be masters of our own fate and captains of our own soul, we will all aspire to be lords over other lords, which would only lead to a state of war.

On a personal level, Rodya is reconciled with humanity in realizing his need of external forces, of other people, to fulfil his longing for love and salvation from the tyrant which is his own pride and selfish interest. He is not an ubermensch. He cannot live like an ubermensch. He realizes his limitations and needs and his own hypocrisy, and thus begins his journey back to humanity, the paradise he lost. And the journey begins in repentance.

On Exemptions from Crime and Punishment

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“‘In his article all men are divided into ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary.’ Ordinary men have to live in submission, have no right to transgress the law, because, don’t you see, they are ordinary. But extraordinary men have a right to commit any crime and to transgress the law in any way, just because they are extraordinary. That was your idea, if I am not mistaken?'”

This was Crime and Punishment’s main character, Rodya Raskolikov’s belief, as articulated by his primary accuser, the magistrate Porfiry Petrovich, who was investigating the recent murder of a shrewd old pawnbroker.
Rodya, of course, was responsible for the crime, and is in fact haunted by his guilt at the time, when Porfiry, who was rightly suspecting him, confronted him about an article Rodya wrote as a student in the University.
This statement was an admitted oversimplification deliberately made to put Rodya in an uncomfortable position. However, without losing his cool, the antihero was quick to correct the detective in doing so:

“I don’t contend that extraordinary people are always bound to commit breaches of morals, as you call it. In fact, I doubt whether such an argument could be published. I simply hinted that an ‘extraordinary’ man has the right… that is not an official right, but an inner right to decide in his own conscience to overstep… certain obstacles, and only in case it is essential for the practical fulfilment of his idea (sometimes, perhaps, of benefit to the whole of humanity).“

The philosophy of Raskolnikov is reminiscent of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s belief in the ubermensch or the overman (or superman, in other translations). Nietzsche believes that naturally, there are people who excel everyone else in terms of their ability, resilience and will to dominate others. However, compared to ordinary people, they are quite few in number. Thus, finding strength in numbers, the ordinary men bound together to form ideas such as morality, the law and God to create a semblance of equality among otherwise unequal human beings.
These power structures, at least based on my understanding of Nietzsche, are contrary to what nature has preordained. And so he says that naturally, the overman has the natural right to transcend the obstacles provided by such constraints.
There are minor deviations made by Raskolnikov in his articulation of the philosophy behind the extraordinary men. Perhaps because on the outset, it is really hard to embrace the radical idea of Nietzsche of inequality and domination as the proper state of affairs, and Dostoevsky, while disapproving of the thesis, is just enough to provide a rational justification for believing in such a way of life.
The most significant deviation is that the overman is only allowed to “overstep” the hindrances provided by societal norms and codes in so far as he is moving humanity forward. Overmen, therefore, are really like Siegel and Schuster’s Superman, whose benevolence leads the people to see him as a symbol of hope rather than fear.

“I maintain that if the discoveries of Kepler and Newton could not have been made known except by sacrificing the lives of one, a dozen, a hundred, or more men,“ Raskolnikov explains, “Newton would have had the right, would indeed have been in duty bound… to eliminate the dozen or the hundred men for the sake of making his discoveries known to the whole of humanity.”

Of course this would be more sympathetic than the murderous, tyrannical overlords we picture from Nietzsche’s philosophy. But the idea remains the same. As Raskolnikov explains further: “I maintain that all great men or even men a little out of the common, that is to say capable of giving some new word, must from their very nature be criminals—more or less, of course.”
Of course we know that this is coming from a man who just murdered an old woman. And perhaps, he was just passing the blame of the cruelty of murder to nature, as anyone of us would. Following the story of Raskolnikov, we know that he murdered the pawnbroker and her sister not for money, but to express his transcendence of the moral laws that govern ordinary men. We see his insecurity and shiftiness after the crime, and how he is led to the conclusion that these “weaknesses” manifest because he is not, after all, an extraordinary men.
This leads us to inquire further about the philosophy of the overman. Raskolnikov has said that his thesis was not new, and has been professed a thousand times before. Not only to extraordinary men, but to ordinary men as well.
It has been told to people over and over that they are allowed the right to set aside morality to somehow “push humanity forward.” But even if it were true, that such overmen exist, how is one to know that he is one without trying to exercise his will over others? What if ordinary men believe that, like the overmen, they have the natural right to kill, steal and rape for humanity?
This is not far from reality. We have seen people who act as if they were above the law, as if their interests were to be pursued at the expense of others. In the novel, we see Rodya, who was not driven by the natural urge to ascend to power in killing, but rather the fear of being ordinary.
The belief that there are such people, overmen, urges the power-hungry, proud and insecure germ in us to question whether or not what we have is enough, and whether or not we are entitled for more. And it gives us the license to appeal to nature whenever we overstepped the limits dictated by morality and conscience. And even if most of us think that this is too ridiculous to be true, we know from experience how the animals in us would rather turn to lies and be satisfied, than be confronted by reality and find themselves to be inadequate.
Perhaps there are overmen. Perhaps not. But even if there were, I would much rather live in a world where everyone were gods and had no idea, than live in one where everyone believed themselves to be gods when they are really not.

Huwag Mo Pa Rin Akong Salingin: Kanser ng Edukasyon Noon at Ngayon

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Sa huling pagsusulit namin sa aming kurso ukol sa buhay at mga akda ni Jose Rizal, kami ay naatasang maglahad ng isang sistemang panlipunan na nabanggit sa nobelang Noli Me Tangere na nagpapatuloy pa rin magpasa-hanggang ngayon. Ang aking napili ay ang problema sa sistema ng edukasyon at sa propesyon ng pagtuturo na nailahad sa kapitulo ika-19 ng Noli na pinamagatang “Mga Kinasapitan ng Isang Maestro sa Escuela.”

Nabanggit sa kabanatang ito ang paghihirap ng isang guro na gampanan ang kanyang bokasyon dala ng mga problemang kanyang kinakaharap sa pagtupad sa kanyang tungkulin. Sinasalamin ng kanyang mga sinapit na problema hindi lamang ang mga kinahaharap na isyu ng sektor ng edukasyon hindi lamang noon, kung hindi magpa-hanggang sa kasalukuyan.

Una, ang pagnanais ng guro na turuan ng wastong paggamit ng wikang Kastila ang mga bata ay hinahadlangan ng impluwensya at pangbubuska ng prayleng si Padre Damaso. Ang klase ng maestro ay isinasagawa sa isang kwarto sa kumbento, katabi ng silid-pahingahan ng paring Pransiskano. Hindi na iba sa pari ang pagalitan ang mga mag-aaral, pati na ang guro kapag naiistorbo ang kanyang paghilik sa kanyang silid. Sa kasalukuyan, maaari itong ihambing sa mga hakbangin ng Simbahan na tutulan at harangin ang mga repormang pang-edukasyon, maging sa mga mga sekular na pampublikong paaralan, kapag ang mga ito ay tumututol sa Kanyang turo, gaya na lamang nang ipanukala ng Reproductive Health Law ang mandatoryong sex education sa mga paaralan. Katulad ng pag-aalala ng maestro sa pagtingin at paggalang sa kanya ng kanyang mga mag-aaral, sa bawat pangmamatang nararanasan niya mula sa pari, nakababahala ring masdan ang integridad at pagiging makabuluhan ng institusyon ng edukasyon na hindi makapiglas sa impluwensyang pulitikal ng Simbahan.

Ipinakikita rin sa kabanata ang dimensyong pulitikal ng paggamit ng wika sa konteksto ng edukasyon. Iminungkahi ni Damaso sa guro na “magkasya na lamang sa sariling wika” nang ito’y nangahas na kausapin ang pari sa wikang Kastila. Makikita rito ang mataas na pagtingin sa wikang dayuhan bilang, ayon nga sa isang kolumnista ay, “wika ng mga aral.” Sa kabila ng sinserong hangarin ng maestong Indio na ituro ang “nakatataas” na linggwahe sa ikagagaling ng kanyang mga kamag-aral, tinapakan ng pari ang kabutihang-loob ng guro sa pagpapahiwatig na tila ilang piling tao lamang ang nararapat na matuto ng wikang mistulang kabanal-banalan. Maihahalintulad ito sa klase ng sistemang pang-edukasyon na nagtatakda na iilang seksyon lamang sa pampublikong paaralan ang nararapat na mag-aral ng mga piling asignatura, samantalang ang iba ay nararapat na lamang magkasya sa nababagay sa kanila.

Bukod rito ay ipinamalas rin ni Rizal kung paanong hawak sa leeg ng mga nasa kapangyarihan ang mga tao sa loob ng institusyon na naghahangad ng reporma mula sa kanilang kinalalagyan. Nang dahil sa pagkapako sa maliit na sahod at hindi kasiguruhan ng tenyur, hindi mailahad ng maestro ang hindi pagsang-ayon sa mga alituntunin at ideyang isinasampal sa kanya ng pari:

 “Anó ang aking magágawâ acóng bahagyâ na magcásiya sa ákin ang áking sueldo, na upang másing̃il co ang sueldong itó’y aking kinacailang̃an ang “visto bueno” ng̃ cura at maglacbay acó sa “cabecera” (pang̃úlong báyan) ng̃ lalawigan; anó ang magágawâ cong laban sa canyá, na siyang pang̃ulong púnò ng̃ calolowa, ng̃ pamamayan at ng̃ pamumuhay sa isáng báyan, linálampihan ng̃ canyáng capisanan, kinatatacutan ng̃ Gobierno, mayaman, macapangyarihan, pinagtatanung̃an, pinakikinggan, pinaniniwalâan at liniling̃ap ng̃ lahát? Cung inaalimura acó’y dapat acóng howág umimíc; cung tumutol aco’y palalayasin acó sa áking pinaghahanapang- búhay at magpacailan ma’y mawawalâ na sa akin ang catungculan co, datapuwa’t hindî dahil sa pagcacágayón co’y mápapacagaling ang pagtúturò…”

Dagdag dito’y hindi lingid sa kaalaman ng maestro na ang klase ng gurong kinalulugdang asal ng Simabahan at Espanya sa mga kaguruan ay ang “matutong magtiís, magpacaalimura, huwág cumilos,” hindi ang pagiging marunong at masipag magturo. Sa kasalukuyang panahon ay matatanaw natin ang kakulangan sa tamang pasahod na laan para sa mga guro, at ang malawakang kontraktwalisasyon sa sektor ng edukasyon na hindi lamang nagpapahirap sa kalagayan ng mga kaguruan, kung hindi pumipigil sa mga ito na tumayo at lumaban para sa makatarungang reporma sa sistema ng pagkatuto. Sa sumunod na pahayag ng maestro, makikitang naisip niya na ring lumisan nang tungkulin at maghanap ng ibang trabaho, katulad na lamang ng mga gurong mas pinipiling tumigil sa pagtuturo at mangibang-bayan upang matustusan ang kanilang pang-araw-araw na pangangailangan.

Tinalakay rin sa kabanata ang ilang mga alituntunin sa pamahalaan na hindi lingid sa kaisipan ng mga mag-aaral at guro ng kasalukyan, kagaya ng isyu ng pagpapataw ng korporal na pagpaparusa, na natutunan ng maestro na imbis na makatulong ay nakahahadlang pa sa pagkatuto ng mag-aaral ay patuloy pa rin na namamasdan sa panahon ngayon sa porma ng pagsatsat ng buhok na hindi ayon sa pamantayan ng paaralan, pagbabayad ng multa sakaling magsalita sa wikang sarili imbis na Ingles at pamamahiya sa mag-aaral. Ang maestro na napiling hindi magpataw ng ganitong uri ng pagdidisiplina dala ng kanyang pag-aaral sa epekto nito sa batang mag-aaral ay ang mismong nakatikim ng panglilibak mula sa Simbahan at sa mga galamay nito. Sa pagtalikod ng sistema ng edukasyon sa progresibo, siyentipiko at epektibong pagtuturong ginagamit ng maestro, hindi lamang pinaghinaan ng loob ang guro, kung hindi pati na rin ang mga mag-aaral.

Ang pagbagsak ng bilang ng mga mag-aaral dulot ng pagbalik sa lumang sistema ng pagtuturo ay maihahalintulad rin sa palaki nang palaking drop-out rates na nararanasan sa kasalukuyan. Ang kahirapan sa pagkatuto, na dinaragdagan pa lalo ng kahirapan ng buhay ay isa sa mga dahilan ng pagdami ng bilang ng mga batang wala sa paaralan sa kasalukuyan. Sa ngayon, dagdag na pasanin sa mga naghihirap na mag-aarala ang hindi maka-estudyanteng polisiya na nagkakait sa kanila ng kanilang karapatang matuto at mapaunlad ang sarili.

Ang nakalulungkot na kawalan ng pagbabago sa sistema ng edukasyon ay makikitang sintomas ng kawalan ng malawakang pagbabago mula pa noong panahon ni Rizal. At kagaya ng iba pang dimensyon ng kalagayan ng lipunan, nag-uugat ito sa paghahari ng iilang interes sa pag-unlad at pamamalakad ng mga institusyon at batas. Nararapat na kung bibigyang lunas ang mga sintomas ng kanser na ito na pumapatay sa edukasyon bilang instrumento ng pagbabago, ay bigyan ng mas mainam na tuon ang sakit sa likod ng sakit, nang sa gayon ay hindi lamang mag-ibang anyo ang mga maliliit na sintomas na nasusupil umano ng reporma.

Crime and Punishment: Cruelty, Justice, and Simple Arithmetic

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If an act needs to be justified, does it mean it is inherently wrong?

If an act needs to be justified, does it mean it is inherently wrong?

“Kill her and take the money so, so that afterwards with its help you can devote yourself to the service of all mankind and the common cause: what do you think, wouldn’t thousands of good deeds make up for one tiny little crime? One death for hundreds of lives – it’s simple arithmetic! And what does the life of this stupid, consumptive, and wicked old crone mean in the general balance?”

– Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment

It was as if the world wanted Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov to do it. It was as if the universe wanted the young man to hack old Alyona, the spiteful pawnbroker, dead with his axe. Just when he had almost decided to let go of his plan to murder the old woman and scurry away with her money, he overhears two men at the pub contemplating whether killing off the crone would be just.

Of course, like most discussions and debates concerning justice, this one arises from an acts moral ambiguity. We do not argue over acts which are self-evidently and undeniably good, like dying for one’s neighbor or country or paying one’s taxes. We argue over the justice of acts which seem to be evil at first glance, like not dying for one’s neighbor or country or not paying one’s taxes. This is because almost all of us know and accept that sometimes a lesser good may be sacrificed for a greater good. Questions of justice are questions which ask whether the goodness of an act relative to a greater cause necessitates and justifies sacrificing a particular lesser good. In this case, the question is: Can one kill an indecent human being if it is done as a favor to mankind?

The lesser good to be forgone according to the speech given by the student is the life of an old, rich, and nasty, pawnbroker, while the greater good would be the redistribution of her wealth to several poor, dying families. If one is believes in utilitarianism, the problem seems to be indeed, simple arithmetic, for the goodness of an act ultimately depends on the amount of pleasure it creates. The happiness of one may indeed be sacrificed for the happiness of many others, if one is to follow this line of thinking. An underlying problem, of course, being disregarded or taken for granted I think by most utilitarian thinkers is whether human life is in fact as dispensable as other goods. But utilitarianism is not on trial here. What this article aims to shed light upon is how the problem may be resolved in the novel itself.

Prior to hearing the conversation, Rodya Raskolnikov was contemplating on whether to kill the Alyona the pawnbroker. Being a reflective, insightful University dropout, Rodya puts much thought into first, whether it is plausible and executable, and then whether it is just. What almost drives him significantly to have at it was that it was in fact executable, as he overheard that the pawnbroker’s sister, her only companion, shall be away for a while. But then he was shaken when he received a letter for his mother regarding her sister, who was to be married off to a rich though unlikeable man for his and his mother’s sake. Holding on to his love for his sister and his own ego, he could not let this be so, and yet he could find traces of his own reasoning and motivations in the letter regarding the murder of the pawnbroker: a woman’s life and worth being given up to satisfy the needs of others.

This was reinforced by the dream which followed. In it, Rodya pictured himself as a little boy witnessing the beating of an old mare to death by its owners. He could not stand this. While it may be said that the horse was old and useless, and its beating was causing entertainment for its owner and his friends, the sight was simply too ugly and cruel to behold. One could easily say that the horse was Alyona the pawnbroker and he was the mare’s master. But I think the dreams profundities do not simply end there.

The conversation between the officer and the student ended with the officer asking the student if he could in fact kill the woman. The student, saying that the point was not whether or not he would do it, but if it was just if someone did, said no. Of course. Everyone likes the idea of a war, a revolution, of just desserts. Yet nobody wants to get their hands dirty. No one wants to clean the dishes.

We talk about the justice in murder and killing that we oftentimes forget how ugly it is. In talking about the death penalty, for example, we do not consider how cruel a feeling it would be to be the one strapping down a criminal in the electric chair, or the crucifix-shaped bed where he or she would await the lethal injection. We do not even consider if the one to be punished is someone whom we loved. Or if it were us in the receiving end of such punitive justice. Objectively, we claim, it is just to kill murderers and predators. But what we do not see is that we are blind to the cruelty of “an eye for an eye.”

Of course, some have the cold adamant sense of justice that would tell them that such cruelty to be experienced by the criminal, whoever’s son, daughter, father or mother it might be, is well deserved. But even they, if only they would honestly consider the amount of mercy and grace they receive for the little acts of evil they get away with, would question whether mercy and grace should be extended to the individual as well. Such is the wisdom Jesus exhibited when he asked which one of the sinful woman’s accusers were qualified to cast the first stone.

This is the first thing the dream tells us. It is that violence however we may justify it is violent. Torture is always ugly. Killing is always cruel. We may turn to philosophies and ideologies to say which acts of violence are justified, but their justice does not exempt them from their evil. It does not wash the blood away.

Secondly, though it may have come before the dilemma, the dream answers the question posed by the conversation of the student and the officer. A thousand good deeds will not justify a tiny little crime. A thousand happy people does not make the torturing of a mare any less brutal. Good acts and bad acts, no matter how complimentary they may seem, are isolated from one another, just as the act of beating the horse dead and entertaining the people watching it are isolated. The inherent badness of lying is not negated by any end it was done for. “Justification” is a matter of whether or not such badness may be forgiven. And one does not forgive right things, only wrong ones.

Ultimately, the dream teaches us that we are hypocrites. While the mare may simply signify Alyona, it may also signify Rodya’s sister who was being betrothed to a man she does not love for their family’s sake. While Rodya was blind to the evil of killing the pawnbroker, a similar evil was visible to him in the case of his sister. And that evil, the evil of a victim tortured for the satisfaction of others, was incarnated in the dream of the tortured mare. Most of the time we see things as morally ambiguous or gray because we try, like hypocrites, to detach emotions and humanity in our judgment. We are hypocrites because we do not do this in cases which involve those whom we love. We turn to utilitarianism, relativism and subjectivism when it wins the argument. But when lives are at stake we appeal to conscience, authority and objective morality, the very things we deny in our moments of intellectual masturbation.

Our actions and their morality matter. This is why we philosophize about ethics and morality. But when we care about ethics and morality and philosophizing about them more than we care about what we actually do, we become something less of a human. When we value what constitutes a just murder more than what constitutes a good life, which is I think all we ever talk about these days, we become something less of a society.