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

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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.

 

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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.

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.

Are Public School Students Too Dumb (Or Scared) to Pass UPCAT?

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“Kung gusto, palaging may paraan.”

If there is a will, there is always a way.”

When people say such things, they most of the time mean that if one really wants to achieve something, nothing should stand on their way. I believe this. Yet, taking into consideration that in the most recent UP College Admission Test results, only 12% or 467 out of the 3,913 who passed are public school students, and according to the Philippine Collegian, while 50% of UPCAT passers came from private schools, and 20% are from public science high schools, only about 30% from public general and barangay schools, does this mean that the poor don’t want UP education as badly as we expect them to?

That must be some kind of fallacy. In fact, according to a group study done by members of the UP faculty, this low representation of public school students among those who pass the UPCAT may be attributed to “discrimination” in the formula applied by the UPCAT in determining which students must be allowed to enroll.

Other groups speculate, however, that it is not the UPCAT’s fault that the poor aren’t getting in. In fact, the UPCAT shouldn’t adjust to the alleged shortcomings of basic and secondary public education, which cause its students to not be as competitive as their counterparts in private schools.

A classroom of 70 students is, as far as I'm concerned, not a big problem. I love these guys.

A classroom of 70 students is, as far as I’m concerned, not a big problem. I love these guys.

This position, of course, must be further validated by statistics. Yet, considering the problems encountered by the public education sector: from the lack of teachers, classrooms, to increasing drop-out rates and allegedly worsening budget policy on education, it is easy to see why such explanations for the decreasing number of public school students entering the national university arise. However, when we accept such explanations without putting much consideration on how we perceive students, higher education, and education in general, we become prone to forming dangerous conclusions.

One of these dangerous conclusions is that at their present state, the poor are not competent enough to get in UP without some form of affirmative action.

It should be noted that insufficient data has been produced for us to logically conclude this (not that all acceptable arguments depend on data and statistics, of course). While we have seen data regarding how many public school students pass the exams and consequently, given a clear picture of how many of them do not, we have yet to see how many, of all the general public school students in the Philippines actually take the exam. Focusing on the results and the decisions made by the students after the results are made public leaves us blind to decisions made before even taking the exams.

For example, it may be that while those from general and national high schools, or more specifically, the poor students from such schools, are competent enough to pass, most of them are filtered out from even taking the UPCAT due to the fear of not being able to cope with it, anyway. Even before the gods of the socialized tuition schemes, be it STFAP or STS, decide which bracket a student gets into, there is already a bracketing system in place: it is called “ang mahirap, mas mahihirapan” (the hard-up have it harder). Considerations like this are not brought into the picture after UPCAT, but pre-UPCAT. And such considerations have nothing to do with the intelligence of public school students: it only has to do with their financial capability.

"Papasa kaya ako sa UPCAT?"

“Papasa kaya ako sa UPCAT?”

Lack of Initiative from the Poor?

To this, some may respond: But should poverty be a barrier for someone who sincerely and wholeheartedly wants something? Perhaps the poor don’t really want to go to UP. Or at least, they do not want it as badly as those richer than them.

People who share this position would back their argument by saying that there are in fact, ways to secure a UP education even while being poor. One can be a working student, for example. Or one can look for scholarships that would cover for his or her financial needs. Failure to exhaust all means before being discouraged may signify a lack of initiative, or will, to do something. This implies that it is not one’s economic condition which is the ultimate determinant of one’s success in life, but strength of character and determination.

I am not one to argue against the importance of courage and spirit in achieving success, but I am one to argue against our tendency to let the ideals we subscribe to keep us from relating with the conditions of others. It is true that a strong will is needed for one to have a just existence in the individual level, but how can the heart be strengthened when the mind is restless with matters of the stomach?  “If because of hunger, of misery, you have no stuff in your body,” says Feuerbach. “You likewise have no stuff for morality in your head, in your mind, or heart.” It is not that there is no will to study in UP, it is just that there are more pressing, immediate concerns which those who are poor would need to forego attending to in order to pursue such an education.

First, it must be said that those students who work to sustain themselves and those who struggle to acquire and maintain scholarship aids are admirable, but let us not be deceived by the assumption that everyone can acquire jobs and scholarships. If you aspire for a degree in the liberal arts, for example, you do not have as many scholarship opportunities available, unlike those who aim for hard sciences.  For the poor student aspiring to be a Political Scientist or a Linguist, it would be either a compromise in his or her part to get a course he or she does not want (which, let us take note, one has lower chances of passing due to the number of students vying for them), or not go to UP at all.

Let us now consider if a student from a poor family is fortunate enough to find work. Even so, it would still be a heavy choice to make to use his or her salary to fund his education in UP, as it is still costly. Why not just work and not study? Why not just study in a more affordable school? If one considers working now and studying later, would it not be economically wiser for somebody poor to just focus on working and save for more immediate necessities, like food and shelter? The choice to go to UP indeed becomes available for a student who can work, but it is still a difficult choice to make if education there remains financially unreachable.

Again, we admire impoverished people who find the drive to find other means to cover the cost of their tertiary education. But let us keep in mind why they are commendable: because in spite of all the structural impositions and the easier choices they could have made, they still chose to study. This act is supererogatory, meaning it is exceptional when we consider the norm. But why should the poor have a higher standard to beat? The rich do not even have to consider these things; they just have to pass.

Wills and Ways

While it would be difficult for us who have enough to live and study in UP to identify with these conditions, we should take into consideration that most of the time, in the present form of society, to have a choice in things is considered to be a privilege. The choice to study in UP, without the burden of not having to help your family in your expenses, and not having to pursue your dreams without people you love making sufficient sacrifices for your sake, cannot be afforded by the poor.

This is why we want changes, not just in the mindset of UP regarding the poor, but also in the institutions which keep them out of UP and prevent them to have the will to even want to enter the University. We want UP education to be a choice for the impoverished. One they could reject not because they have to, but because they choose to.

It is here true, that If we really want something, we will find a way. Kung gusto talaga natin, may paraan. If we really want the University to be a place wherein excellence will be rewarded regardless of class or financial capacity, we will remove policies which hinder deserving students of the education they are qualified for. For in lieu of discriminatory, profit-oriented pseudo-socialized tuition schemes, they are denied UP education, even before they have the chance to prove themselves “competent”.

If we really want the poor to be willful enough to pursue higher education in the University, we will help in changing the excluding, discriminating image of the University which equates poverty with incompetence by making it more accessible to those impoverished. If we really want a UP for the masses, for the People, for Goodness, Truth and Excellence, we will contribute to developing a greater, more holistic and just understanding of the human condition through our academic contributions: for by this, we shall make progress just and justice, real. And ultimately, if we really want to help the poor, we will contribute in the struggle to remove the conditions which keep them from rising from their oppressing conditions.

But at this point, I am inclined to think that we really don’t want to do those things. I am inclined to think that we don’t really want to change things: otherwise, why hasn’t anything changed yet?