Archive for May, 2012

May 27, 2012

Tongues of Fire, Heidegger, and the Possibility for Understanding

Word’s going around regarding the recent controversies in the Vatican. With all of these rather disappointing and depressing news, it now seems difficult, if not absurd, to celebrate Pentecost Sunday. Why, in madness, proclaim that the Holy Spirit is very much alive with humanity, sharing its pains and yet remaining in hope, despite the fact that the very institution that proclaims this message of love is itself steeped in controversy, not to mention sin?

In keeping abreast with today’s festivities – I belong, after all, to the Parish of the Lady of the Pentecost – and keeping in mind the reality of the sins of the Church, especially in times like these, let us together reflect on what it really means to be “touched by the Holy Spirit.”

Almost everybody knows the Pentecost narrative – the Apostles hiding for fear for their lives, then suddenly, tongues of fire appear and rest on their heads, and suddenly they speak in different languages, inspiring them to go out of their hiding place to proclaim the Good News of the Lord – but do we really understand what the narrative tries to tell us?

Surely, it might have been absurd that the Apostles were granted, as if my magic, the ability to speak in different languages immediately; though it is of no question that they were touched and inspired by the Spirit, I would have doubts at a literal understanding of the passage.

Perhaps beyond the literal reading of the passage, we can also say that the Spirit imbibed within the Apostles the gift of understanding – and permit me to insert Wittgenstein into the whole discussion – the language of other cultures and traditions. For language is only learned once one is in the think of dialogue, so to speak – the Apostles could never have known how to speak the different languages of the world in an instant: they must have been given the gift of understanding. And frequently we hear of the Holy Spirit’s gift of understanding that we may see the truth: as with Heidegger’s conception of the Greek word orthotes, or correctness of vision as co-essential with the unconcealment of Being, which is the moment or the event of appropriation, the Apostles’ eyes were opened.

Understanding is something a lot of people within the Church, sadly, have a lack of. It is sad that some elements within the hierarchy perceive the Church as having a mission to “cleanse” or rid the land of whatever is that does not agree to the institution. I equally detest people who insist on their worldview at the expense of the different rationality of other people, or even of other social classes.

Perhaps this is the underlying message of Pentecost Sunday: to learn to understand. Understanding is humble enough to recognize the limits of vision, to respect the reality of alterity, and yet despite this radical alterity, strive to speak with them. Only with this correctness of vision will we be able to truly proclaim the Good News: to recognize the radical difference of the richness of other people and other cultures, and yet consider this alterity as a condition of possibility for just institutions, or in more religious parlance, the Kingdom of God – to live in harmony with different languages of Truth.

Indeed, this is a difficult undertaking, especially with people whose conception of Truth gets entangled with purity; I guess this is the reason why the Holy Spirit still guides us and gives us hope, especially on this day: to remind us that the work towards the total liberation of the human race starts with language, when we learn the language of understanding. For indeed, understanding is a sui generis form of life.

Looking back at the Church of which I am a member of, I cannot but be sad at the recent controversies surrounding it. But in hope and in understanding, I trust in the work of the Spirit fully alive in the hearts of those who genuinely aspire not to know the Truth, but to understand it.

A blessed Pentecost Sunday to everyone. 🙂 

May 13, 2012

Differing Worlds

It has been quite a while since I wrote for this blog. Work and deadlines have caught up, and I, insofar as the moral law dictates me, have been dutifully bound to these self-imposed attempts at orderliness.

In more ways than one, I have been witness to a sufficient amount of experiences, adequate enough in number to be shared. And now, I finally have the opportunity to sit this down and write them down.

The past weeks have been a hectic to-and-fro between the computer screen and field work. As I have said in earlier blogs entries, the work – an IPC (Institute of Philippine Culture) – headed project, funded by the World Bank, is a study on the relevance, importance, and the impact of the rice subsidy program of the Philippine Government. The outcome of the project will hopefully be passed on to the government, in order for them to somehow restructure the rice subsidy program.

In many ways, the Focus Group Discussions held with members of both the poor and the non-poor sector yielded very conclusive data regarding the relevance, importance, and the impact of these social protection programs here in the Philippines. But the most valuable data that were mined out of these FGDs were those that pertained to the perception of the government’s social protection initiatives, specifically the rice subsidy program.

Perception figures very importantly in the study, especially since the effectivity of these social protection programs are contingent to a particular class or group. Perception forms and informs the connexions and relations of data in a particular field. For example, if I perceive the program to be very ineffective because of corruption, I will only look at those data that pertain to the ineffectiveness of the program, or to the corrupt practices of the government, though at times these data are not really in the playing field, so to speak.

Perception also becomes important with the whole question of class: class consciousness – widely perceived to be, in the most real sense of the word, dead, with the advent of “the end of history,” in the words of Francis Fukuyama – still retains some epistemological worth, especially with the whole problematic that contemporary interpretation theory has put forward: historicity and temporality. The structural reality of class is more than the materialist dialectic: it is a way of looking at the world, what other philosophers have called weltanschauung. If for Amartya Sen, the problem is how much freedom one is accorded with, I think the whole question of class is just a political consequence of a basic epistemological datum: we perceive the world according to some filter, and that this “filter” is formed by the community that affirms a particular connexion of data in the playing field, as manifested in their language; some kind of hermeneutic circle.

So in summary, perception figures in two very important ways: (1) perception helps us focus on specific data – which are not necessarily true – that other forms of perception are blind with; and (2) perception shows us the world – and subsequently the location in the social stratum – of a particular individual or group. Perception, thus, gains some qualitative worth because it helps us delineate groups within a social structure that may not be clear at the beginning, from pure observation. In other words, perception is the bridge between language and world; language creates a space for perception to have qualitative worth in research, and that language is the most tangible form of data pertaining to perception. One may even argue that it has quantitative worth, from the volume of words, to the number of times a word repeats in a particular FGD. But this maybe stretching it too far.

Of the numerous FGDs held, I was fortunate enough to be included in both poor and non-poor sectors of the society. Indeed, it was an opportune time to witness different worlds in action. The poor sector perceives the need of a subsidy program very differently than that of the non-poor sector: the former figuring rice subsidy and other social protection programs into their hierarchy of needs, while the latter having no knowledge of these social protection programs. The former also sees different connexions of data than the latter group: the poor sector sees the clear connection between “daily need” and rice subsidy, as opposed to the lack of connection between “daily need” and rice subsidy in the latter.

For all its worth, these FGD also yielded a lot of similar perceptions: both groups agree that corruption in the government is taking its toll on the society, and that the quality of the government-sponsored rice, NFA Rice, is really bad and that they are willing to spend more, just for the sake of good quality rice.

A couple of peculiar observations, though: (1) the poor really saw themselves as poor and needing the assistance of the government (but that their distrust towards the government has forced them to rely on NGOs), while the non-poor did not have a sense of class identity; the non-poor sector, however, viewed the poor as needing the government, and that the government needed to restructure its program because dole-out options have been proven ineffective. (2) Religion, or at least the Church, figures negatively in the whole debate on social responsibility: the poor view the Church as being too elitist and exclusive, while the non-poor view the Church as being too corrupt and being too mired in problems to even start social protection programs.

Form the trove of data extracted from these FGDs, it seems to me that the only conclusion one can really get from these data, at least at this point, is the reality that the society is composed of different worlds; different needs and capabilities, not to mention different agendas and interests. This is, of course, self-evident data, but from the experience, we can say that the idea of difference is more than just the other end of the dual opposition between difference and similarity, as we are wont to assume: difference, in the most Derridaean sense of the word, is a world that seeks to dislodge itself from the illusion of identity and staticity, something that is entirely beheaded from the idea of the standpoint of absolute truth and interpretation. It is, in the words of Wittgenstein, going “back to the rough ground.”

So it seems that I have learned something more than rice subsidy.