Empowerment by Capitalism

Standard

Capitalism also is for gender equality, but for gender equality among consumers. Traditional gender roles mean only men can buy products ‘for men,’ and only women can buy products ‘for women.’ Such norms diminish profit.

However, there still lies the hypocritical contradiction: if some capitalists truly are for gender equality, why even produce ‘gender-exclusive’ products?

It is weird how some magazines cater to women who want to feel ’empowered’ by posting ‘feminists’ doing ‘feminist’ stuff and in the succeeding issue (or perhaps even in the same issue) feature articles promoting the gender roles in question.

Hello Void.

Standard

It seems it’s just you and me again. It’s a wonder how we only get to talk whenever I have so much going on my head and have so much to do.

Not a lot’s changed since we last talked. I still am growing that beard. I still am trying to avoid contact with most people. I still am “trying to find myself” in times alone. And I still think it’s doing nothing to make my life any better.

But I recently realized that I have no choice, Void. For a brief time in spite of this self-imposed exile, I have tried to reconnect with old friends, and rekindle old ties. All this, however, to no avail. It seems as if they have moved on properly with their lives without me, which is fine and only fair. I am not so deluded that I would think the universe revolves around me and I should be embittered that everybody else is doing just fine without my presence.

It feels, though, that in my times alone I have lost all ability to properly relate with other people. It has been so long since I have had a conversation which moved beyond small talk. I used to be so lively and interesting. I used to have a lot to say about a lot of things. What happened?

I feel detached from everyone else. I feel as if there’s this invisible barrier of I don’t know what keeping me from enjoying where I am at present. I am like a superimposed picture, poorly photoshopped on to the landscape. I do not know how to respond to emotions I can’t tell apart. I do not know how to initiate meaningful exchanges with people I know to have a lot to say. I perceive the beauty and fire that it is in the people I meet, but somehow it pains me that I am so far away from its truth and warmth.

Don’t ask me when it started. I do not know. But somehow it reached its peak when I was confined in the hospital. The forgivable and tolerable state of loneliness was made worse by the grim possibility of my life ending there. I certainly would not die alone and unloved, but then I feared that I would die ignorant of what was wrong with me in my last days, that I can’t properly reciprocate emotions that come my way, that I keep searching for intimacy in the wrong places, and that sometimes I find it more bearable being alone.

I want so much to have someone to share my thoughts with. But that’s exactly the problem. I don’t know how to share anything. I ‘m so afraid for my thoughts emotions to be rendered irrelevant and conceited and self-righteous, though I know they are sometimes. I’m scared of being shoved aside as unimportant. I’m terrified of the prospect that no one might understand, as I am terrified of the idea that I can’t express myself well enough to be understood.

Which brings me to you, Void. You are the only one I can get myself to talk to right now. I’m afraid of everyone else. I don’t want to be lonely anymore. But loneliness, at least for now, feels safe.

Hold me, Void. I want so much to feel something else. Anything else.

Gender, Politics and Comedy

Standard

Earlier, I have once again been subject to a series of skits performed by groups of fellow students in a large class. Being in my senior year, I have grown used to these and I have seen my share of good, creative and undeniably funny ones. However, I’ve also been witness to a lot of uninspired, obviously rushed ones.

I’m not one to talk about what makes good class presentations, but I do know what I don’t like especially if it’s meant to be comedic in nature. I love comedy. And I take it very seriously.

This is why you should know I’m serious when I talk about this particular bit which is almost always present in “funny” skits: the straight macho guy turns out to be gay bit.

I used to think I found it bad because it was offensive to gay people. But then again, I’m not gay so I don’t think I am in any position to preach about it. Also, I too find offensive jokes funny. And I also believe that comedy is also a way to acknowledge that a particular group or person has a significant contribution or is a significant part of society. You know you’ve made it, that you matter, that you have power, when you’ve been turned into a punchline. This means – at least as how I see it – making jokes about gay people is a form of acknowledging them as a group and somehow empowers them.

That being said, jokes should still be tasteful. This means people should still think about how groups and people are portrayed, not just for the sake of political correctness but for the sake of the joke itself. Jokes which have tired punchlines which have been used over and over again become dated and unfunny. Jokes which portray certain people in manners which are out-of-touch, using stupid festering stereotypes, while it may solicit a few laughs and chuckles here and there, are forgettable and seem as if they weren’t given enough thought and effort. They’re cheap. And they take for granted comedy as a tool for reflection about real things and people.

Such is the nature of the straight-macho-guy-turns-out-to-be-gay punchline. It’s funny because most of the time being “gay” is portrayed as being ridiculously sex-crazed, unrealistically iffeminate and borderline stupid. Not only is that stereotype untrue, it also feels as if the joker only knows gay people from Bubble Gang episodes. From the 90’s. By the way, Bubble Gang? Ugh.

I think we should start thinking about comedy seriously. And that consists of taking our society more seriously, thinking about its people more realistically so thay when we offer witty, funny insights they actually move us forward as a people through reflection.

Standard

It’s so hard to be passionate about things and find out that they mean little to other people. It feels as if you’re living in an imaginary world, where the hierarchy of importance things have are messed up. And when you’ve little self-esteem, you doubt whether they truly matter in the first place.

Made to Be Ruled: The Philosophy Behind Loki’s Plot from The Avengers

Standard

In a particular scene from the 2012 Avengers movie, Loki lets out a profound speech about human nature, freedom and politics. “Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state?” said the god of mischief. “It is the unspoken truth of humanity: that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power. For identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.”

Of course, not a lot of people would respond, “The Avengers” if asked what their favorite political film is. Loki’s political philosophy is hardly the film’s selling point. To be honest, I wasn’t actually very moved by this speech during the movie, I was kind of looking forward to the usual stuff people expect from summer blockbusters.

However, I wanted to write something about Plato’s The Republic, arguably the first great treatise of Western political theory and I thought Loki would be a good starting point. Particularly, I want to talk about the modern liberal worship of individual freedom, or liberty, in our society.

Needless to say, Loki is not the protagonist of the story. And I doubt whether he even means the philosophy contained in his speech (although it’s not entirely his fault, the movie had little to no intention of expounding upon Loki’s motivations). Ever since his first on-screen appearance, Loki’s desire for power has been portrayed to stem out of “childish need.” But I think this is why I found the speech so intellectually appetizing: it shows how the smartest people among us are so capable of justifying their motives and actions through profound, philosophical speeches and rhetoric, no matter how questionable those actions are morally.

Regardless of whether this was just an inconsequential expository scene to show the audience how evil Loki is, or as I would like to believe, an attempt of some Marvel writer to contribute to political discourse on modern Western ideas, it cannot be denied that Loki’s speech comes from a particular perspective on the nature of man and society.

Our Natural State

A number of thinkers about society have talked about the life of man before society. Most of them described this as “the state of nature”. Thomas Hobbes, for example, believed that before the creation of society, members of the humankind were trapped in a perpetual state of war where life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” While people enjoyed absolute freedom from laws and rules, there was chaos all around as there is nothing keeping humans from stealing, killing or enslaving each other. Because there was then no greater power ruling over the population, humans were under the mercy of other humans, especially those endowed with superior natural gifts like physical strength.

So in a sense, Loki was right: freedom indeed diminishes our life’s joy “in a mad scramble for power.” In a war of one against all, peace somehow seems impossible. That is why being beings of reason, according to Hobbes and other theorists, it occurred to humans that they would be better off cooperating with each other rather than competing. And so they set up a society based on a social contract: wherein some rights are to be given up in order for most of the population to be secure. For example, the freedom to hurt another person is relegated to a small group of people (police officers or soldiers) in exchange for the notion that they will only use it to protect the rest of the community, the freedom to steal is given up in exchange for the guarantee that the government will protect one’s property and the right to property is diminished in the form of taxes for the government to exercise these duties.

Although different social contract theorists, as they are called, differ in the extent of the powers given to the body ensuring security for the greater community, they all agree that the society stems from the rational nature of human beings. That it somehow is reasonable to give up some freedom for some security. This notion exists until today. In fact, there have been a number of movies and stories which have the particular issue of just how much liberty should be given up for security.

Next time: Captain America and the Freedom-Security Dillemma

Social contract theorists, however, also differ in the kind of government they propose is best out of this origin of society. Closest to Loki’s speech is the philosophy of Hobbes which says that it is the rule of an all-powerful Sovereign which suits society best:

“The final cause, end, or design of men (who naturally love liberty, and dominion over others) in the introduction of that restraint upon themselves, in which we see them live in Commonwealths, is the foresight of their own preservation, and of a more contented life thereby; that is to say, of getting themselves out from that miserable condition of war which is necessarily consequent, as hath been shown, to the natural passions of men when there is no visible power to keep them in awe, and tie them by fear of punishment to the performance of their covenants.”

This Sovereign, while possessing all political power cannot be held accountable by its citizens (aptly called subjects instead). The Sovereign rules by brute force, has the sole power of declaring war or peace, is not bound by law, has the freedom to extend rewards and honor to whomever he seems fit and other tyrannical features modern minds find hard to grasp.

Interestingly, while these attributes seem so evil to us, there was a time when absolute authority of a single person was the norm. And even today, we still espouse the desire for a leader who has the “political will” to effectively execute decisions regardless of opposition. In some ways, the value we place to strong, terrifying leaders are preserved, even as we simultaneously desire freedom and liberty in our society.

It is a curious notion, therefore, what Loki proposes: not because it is new or unthinkable, but because it seems as if he has a point. Is it natural for us to look up to a higher power who will subject us to the threat of punishment and promise of reward depending on our actions? It seems totally legitimate whenever we look at how gods are portrayed in our mythologies, even in present religions. Perhaps we were made to be ruled. Perhaps it is indeed our natural state.

The Scramble for Power and Identity

Plato, in The Republic, seems to agree with the idea that we are made to be ruled. Some of us, at least. In his treatise, he proposes by using Socrates as a mouthpiece the truth hidden in the Phoenician myth of metals: that some are born with golden souls, silver souls and bronze ones. Our identities, naturally endowed to us by the earth, determine where we should be in society. The myth is in support of the proposition that it is specialization which is the foundation of human society, and therefore, we do ourselves and society justice whenever we “mind our own business,” that is, whe we unquestioningly do the tasks society has assigned us based on our natural attributes.

Therefore, in the ideal society, Plato claims, there is a class which rules and the class which is ruled. The class which is ruled is the producing class: the artisans, farmers, fisherfolk, among others, and the class which rules is the class of the Guardians. They rule through a third class: the class of soldiers which are called “auxillaries”, the appendages of the Guardian’s power.

While it seems as if this power structure is inherently oppressive, it seems to solve one of life’s greatest existential problems: it dismisses man’s endless search for identity, one’s place in the world. The modern liberal mind is not a stranger to this problem. In our society, there’s always this pressure to “find one’s self.” And we are made to believe that it has nothing to do with the society around us. I frankly disagree. Philosophers have asked about the meaning of life since time immemorial, but it is only in the rise of industrialization and democratization that whether life has meaning at all. It seems as if democracy and technological advancement has led us to a point where we can do almost anything we like. In fact, the range of things we can do is so wide that we don’t know what we need to do to actually fulfill ourselves. College students know what I’m talking about.

This is what makes Loki’s version of society seem beneficial: the will of a higher power imposed upon us largely simplifies our lives. It acquits us of the unbearable weight of responsibility freedom puts upon our shoulders. Most of the decisions which would shape our lives, if not all, are decided for us. We are free from thinking about a lot of things and are thus also free from the guilt wrong choices would bring us (though not the possible suffering which comes with it).

It also frees us from the burden of always wanting to be in control, as there are specific people whose job it is to keep things in their proper order. As to what degree the influence of such people have in our lives, though is another thing. However, in a society of strict hierarchy in political power, it is clear that we are secure in the most complete sense of the word. We are secure because most of the power which enables others to hurt us, and us to hurt them, is removed.

This is also the defense of most tyrants featured in dystopian novels and movies.

Made to Be Ruled

So were we made to be ruled? Is freedom a lie? It seems as if I’ve spent a lot of words saying that we are and it is. But rather than talking about my side of the argument, I would just present things we could think about in answering these questions.

First, I think The Republic does not only talk about the ideal society when it presented the idea of three classes: the ruling class, the appendage of the ruling class, and the ruled class. There are perspectives which contend that modern society also comprises of these components. Some Marxists, for example, would liken this threefold distinction to how capitalist society works: there is the class which has the ruling interest (the bourgeoisie), the class which is oppressed for the sake of this interests, which is also incidentally the producing class (the proletariat), and the set of institutions put in place to oppress them (the State, or the government). This is not a dystopian society from some novel, but our own present society. In saying, therefore, that we are free because we do not live in an autocratic or authoritarian society may not really be the case. We may be less free than we think. We may not need tyrants like Loki for us to be enslaved.

Next, while we may be iffy about talking about less freedom when it is in the context of national politics and social justice, some of us express the desire to be ruled in other realms. Christians and Muslims, among other religions, profess their desire to be dominated by a Deity’s supreme will in their faith. Our statements about love also seem to highlight a certain willingness and want to be subjected by another’s will. For example, Kundera, in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, presents the desire to be dominated sexually as inherent in our humanity. While we may be reluctant to accept the notion that we were naturally ordained to be ruled, and furthermore, that deep down we really want to be overpowered, there are still cases where we express the converse.

Finally, we must reflect on how we think about hierarchy: rarely do most of us talk about abolishing the system which makes up our daily lives. Perhaps this too is an oppressive illusion implanted upon us by ideological institutions. Even so, whenever we speak about making society better, we talk about changing the rules in place rather than demolishing them altogether; we speak about changing the people or the interests which govern us rather than abandoning the concept of government altogether.

Hierarchy, it seems, cannot be done away with. Our reason does not permit it. And as this is so, this may point out to the fact that deep inside each of us lie the indestructible belief that there must be something above us all in order for us to live harmoniously: though it may not be necessarily a person, but a set of standards which sustain themselves without relying on brute force or strength, like morality or standards of justice. This is perhaps why we associate arrogance and entitledness to characters like Loki, because in their assumption that they deserve to rule above all else, they equate themselves to the standard of justice and righteousness which all assume should prevail above all things and above all people.

Maybe.

 

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Loving As We Are

Standard

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.

Her: Parable of A Disembodied Soul

Standard

My girlfriend makes me do a lot of stuff. Among them is watching movies which slip through my very limited attention span. I trust her with my time though, and so far, her taste has not failed me yet.

I have recently watched the movie Her, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson. I have found it to be both emotionally-touching and intellectually-arousing. The movie is about a man who lived in a time when technology has advanced to a point where our electronic devices are ran by operating systems (OS) which are self-aware, or have their own personal identities and consciousness. This man eventually falls in love with his OS. That, of course, raises a lot of questions. And I think that’s what makes the movie so good. The movie Her got me thinking about a lot of things: what constitutes humanity, what constitutes committed relationships, what happiness truly is about and how valuable are sincere gestures of affection, especially in a time when the boundaries of the virtual and the ‘real’ become blurred. I don’t intend to deconstruct the movie to find the answers to the questions. Even if the answers were or weren’t there, I think the movie has done its part in making us think about it. Watch the movie. I recommend it.

Anyway, a theme that stands out for me in the movie is the phenomenon of people growing apart. This, I think, is a sad and inevitable truth. The fact that we are separate individuals experiencing different things from different points of view leads us to grow more into different individuals in the passage of time. However, being human entails that we are subject to the idea of relying on other people for our needs. And that comprises of demanding that people do not change too much. In romantic relationships, for example, we choose to share our lives with partners who will be with us for better or worse. If we think about how much we can change in a given period of time, we would either realize how relationships are unrealistic and self-destructive or how important a decision entering one is.

Of course the difficulty growing apart presents is not only present in romance. Our relationships with our parents, friends, as well as our lovers are all complicated by the fact that we can’t truly and fully rely on our idea of other people as they, as well as us, are subject to change. Sometimes, even, the change in a person is so drastic and feels so unlikely to happen that we find it hard to resolve if we ever really knew that person. In such cases, we feel betrayed: we wish to have found out earlier about the things we deem to have known too late.

This is not a rare scenario. A lot of failed marriages, broken friendships and divided households are based on things a party has kept from another, be they intentional or not. This leads us to question the whole point of relationships: why trust fickle people? Why love people who are not transparent about their every flaw and imperfection until it is too late?

Here I find the importance of one of the many things which the movie communicated to me: the importance of physical presence in any relationship.

By physical presence, I do not mean how we physically appear, but rather the very act of appearing itself. And perhaps not just “appearing”, but actually being in a particular place at a particular moment physically. Some people might disagree that it is of much importance in a relationship, as people can be physically present but remain emotionally distant at the same time. I do not deny this. Perhaps most people would prefer partners, parents and friends who may not be physically there, but are emotionally and intellectually involved in their lives. But I think it cannot be denied that a simple touch of comfort and warmth can sometimes soothe our most profound sorrow easier than any combination of words may attempt. An embrace, a pat on the shoulder, a kiss: these are not to be shoved aside as unimportant. Human beings, after all, are not just souls, they are also bodies.

We are told that the universe is continually expanding. Things, by and through nature, drift away from each other farther and father apart, perhaps for eternity. The same is true with our minds. For this reason, people grow apart and become more and more different from one another. It is inescapable, yes. But I do not think that this only hinders relationships to thrive, but rather, they also provide the context in which relationships are needed. The fact that people “grow apart” is exactly why we need other people. the more other people become alien to us, the more they may complement us in our inferiority, in the same way we complement theirs. Experiences we spend together, while turning us into different people as we may perceive them differently, also enable us to realize where we stand and where we are needed in the lives of other people. So Woody Allen was right: a large part of succeeding in life, as well as in relationships, is merely showing up. Love, for the most part, is simply being there.

The presence of the people we love: the fact that they are with us, though their minds might be fixed someplace else or their hearts might be feeling things other than genuine love for us is a valuable thing, especially when we consider that they can leave anytime. The fact that they choose to stay and grace us with their bodies is what makes relationships so valuable. They are sacrificing moments and time they can never take back. And somehow, that is more valuable, I think, than having someone who “wishes you well” but is really absent. Or who cries for you when you are sad, but is never there to wipe your tears. We don’t need mere audiences. We need love.

Physical presence is what we may cling to when they seem to be grow farther and farther from our first impressions of them. This is what Samantha could not offer Theodore in the movie even if she tried: the assurance of growing old together. Our bodies are equally as important as our minds and hearts in entering a relationship, as their presence signify the choice to stay and, although one may grow apart from the other no matter how near they may be in proximity, grow old and wear out with another.

We are trapped in time. And experiencing different experiences, knowing different pieces of wisdom at different paces, our minds can go an infinite distance from each other. We cannot help but move farther away from everyone else. But our bodies, we can control. While separating us from one another’s identity, our bodies also enable us to express our longing and desire to be one with another. It may sometimes be hard to control, but it is the only thing we are capable of controlling. And through controlling it right, we are able to inhabit the moment with the people we love, with eyes fixed on theirs, even as our minds drift away farther and farther from them. They can at least rely on our bodies being there, wasting away with them.