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Health care is not a right

In critique, philosophy, reblog on July 25, 2009 at 8:25 am

To make medicines and health services available to all citizens, care of the government — any sane person would think that this is moral and well-intentioned. People who oppose the health care plan in America reason out that while indeed it is moral and well-intentioned, it is impractical. As of this date, “the US spends more on health care than any other country” (Financial Times).

Dr. Leonard Peikoff, who is heir to Ayn Rand’s intellectual estate, says that the health care plan, or the concept of socialized medicine for that matter, is impractical because it is immoral. The opponents of the plan are therefore merely scratching the surface. Peikoff argues: Health Care Is Not A Right. The reason is as follows:

Now our only rights […] are the rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. That’s all. […]

Why only these? Observe that all legitimate rights have one thing in common: they are rights to action, not to rewards from other people. The American rights impose no obligations on other people, merely the negative obligation to leave you alone. The system guarantees you the chance to work for what you want—not to be given it without effort by somebody else.

The right to life, e.g., does not mean that your neighbors have to feed and clothe you; it means you have the right to earn your food and clothes yourself, if necessary by a hard struggle, and that no one can forcibly stop your struggle for these things or steal them from you if and when you have achieved them. In other words: you have the right to act, and to keep the results of your actions, the products you make, to keep them or to trade them with others, if you wish. But you have no right to the actions or products of others, except on terms to which they voluntarily agree.

Notes on the film “Hero”: Milton, Deconstruction, the Tao

In critique, philosophy on July 20, 2009 at 3:19 pm

The events in the 2002 film Hero, which was directed by Zhang Yimou, are surely lacking sense in Western paradigms of thought. After all, one story contradicts another, fight scenes do not occur in reality but only in the minds of the fighters, and on top of it all, the film abandons its own genre toward the end when the assassin refuses to do his job.  But I feel that the assassin’s refusal to execute the tyrannical emperor resembles Hamlet’s slowness to kill his father’s murderer — both seemingly passive actions are results of higher thinking.

What can possibly be said when you want to say everything? That’s my problem in discussing Hero. There are at least five main ideas which are related to the discourse and which simultaneously reflect my personal interest on this great film: Taoism, Confucianism, John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and deconstruction, semiotics, and narrativism. There is no other martial arts film that elicits this much response. I can only speak in fragments, hypotheses and observations, leaving the “metanarrative” of my arguments (perhaps) to a future essay that will synthesize all these. I have yet to deal with the translation issue, and I suppose that too will be a fruitful endeavor in the discussion. I can only offer the following notes:

1. Hero and the Tao. The protagonist, obviously for lack of a name, is called “Nameless”. In Arthur Waley’s translation of Lao-Tzu’s Tao Te Ching or Book of the Way from The Way and Its Power, the eternal Tao “cannot be told” — it is nameless. We are enticed to make a Taoist reading of the final action of Nameless — abandoning the mission essentially constitutes non-action . Action-less activity is one of the central teachings of the book. A Western equivalent, but a poor one, is Hamlet, whose consciousness causes him to “lose the name of action” — like Nameless, Hamlet can be said to have renounced his cause through his delays. Perhaps the Tao is what Nameless, Broken Sword and Emperor Qin simultaneously understand, and which the Western audience may possibly miss because it is too difficult to comprehend.

Taoism is a kind of active disinterestedness with the ways of the world. Central to this doctrine (though it cautions you to forget this very doctrine) is the notion of emptying ourselves of passion, knowledge and morality. Closest to the Tao is the infant and the water. The infant doesn’t know what’s good or bad. The water doesn’t care where it goes, that’s why it’s everywhere. We can interpret the ending (when Nameless refuses to kill the Emperor) as constitutive of Taoist submission — but this is an active rather than a passive submission, since through it we align ourselves with the “power” and the “mystery” which gave birth to the world.

2. Hero and Confucianism. The setting, which is shortly before the construction of the Great Wall of China by Emperor Qin, is a period in Chinese history when the philosophies of the people were bent on establishing the bureaucracy (government routines and ranks) and the education of officials. This was made possible by the Qin kingdom’s efforts to unite all of China under one rule. Confucianism addresses this need, since its primary concern is the moral virtues of the citizens for harmonious politics. Historically, most of the officials of this era were predominantly influenced by the teachings of Confucius in executing their government functions. The uniformity of the Qin army and the court officials constitutes the Confucian element of the film, and the command to execute Nameless is very much in line with Confucianism, which in turn resembles Platonism in the West. Recall the determination of Socrates to drink the hemlock.

3. Hero, “Paradise Lost”, and deconstruction. Catherine Belsey, in an essay introducing Jacques Derrida’s theory (?) of deconstruction, mentions John Milton’s Paradise Lost and how the text may be read by scholars as demonstrating the notion of differance. I believe Milton has already anticipated this notion. From a post on Paradise Lost:

The design of the epic revolves around how we gain knowledge about death, choice, and a sense of good and evil. What ensues is an argument that concepts cannot be construed with a positive term — they must always rely on other concepts, often their opposite. God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat the forbidden fruit because the consequence is death. But how can they make sense of death if it has not yet been introduced in the world? We are thus in a situation where nothing can be known without experiencing it first. The Fall gives us knowledge. To know they are capable of choice, the angels must choose the other term (disobedience), because to remain obedient cannot possibly give rise to that knowledge.

In the same way, Hero is about how we can only start to make sense of things if, and only if, we gain a knowledge of their opposites. The kingdom of Qin is like God’s heaven in Paradise Lost, the assassins are the rebel angels. Though the rebellion was not successful, and though all the rebels’ actions made no difference in terms of real results, their very existence as an antithesis to the kingdom of Qin made the latter meaningful. Without the antithesis, Emperor Qin can never assert his vision of “all under heaven”.

4. Hero and semiotics. The film has been compared to Leni Reifenstahl’s “The Triumph of the Will”. Other reviews call it propaganda, a call for radical reunification of modern China. This is only a natural result of the politicizing of the text in semiotics. But I believe a Taoist reading of the film (see #1) will dispel the misinformed criticism that the film is a paean to authoritarianism and tyranny. The renunciation of Broken Sword and Nameless can only be seen as mere passivity in Western paradigms of thought.

5. Hero and narrativism. While Hero is clearly about an assassination plot, it is also about the nature of narratives, why they are told, and who gets to tell them. The movement of events in the film resembles a kind of dialectics of tales — one story sublates the last one, not to cancel it out or contradict it totally, but to contain it in a higher and more complex level. (There’s also a Scheherazade-esque story-within-a-story-within-a-story, a technique we witness in One Thousand and One Nights). The version of Nameless is pitted against the version of the Emperor, and when the latter seems to have won, Nameless revises his version to defeat the Emperor’s. In this story, hardly any battle ever took place on the plane of reality. Some fights were fictional, some imagined, the others probably exaggerated. In this film, the real battle is the battle between narratives. I can almost hear Nameless say, “Fiction and swordplay have the same principle”.

Related posts:
Paradise Lost
In the mood for Zen

In the mood for Zen

In philosophy on July 16, 2009 at 4:23 pm

How to transform your pessimism into a resource: see the glass as already broken.

“You see this goblet?” asks Achaan Chaa, the Thai meditation master. “For me this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on the shelf and the wind knocks it over or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that the glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.”

The quote is from this source. Another blogger explains the Zen habit:

So when the nice glass you bought inevitably falls and breaks, someday, you might get upset. But not if you see the glass as already broken, from the day you get it. You know it’ll break someday, so from the beginning, see it as already broken. Be a time-traveler, or someone with time-traveling vision, and see the future of this glass, from this moment until it inevitably breaks.

This sounds like the ending of Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, where the hero wakes up from the illusion of time and sees all past, present and future in one object or moment. It’s not simple pessimism, but a glimpse of eternity.

Jorge Luis Borges, in his essay entitled A History of Eternity, reports about an ancient conception of eternity not as time without end, but the conjunction of all moments. Ludwig Wittgenstein is more parsimonious: eternity is simply the here and now, because it is timeless, and the present moment is always a state of timelessness.

Music and Metaphysics

In academia, philosophy on July 14, 2009 at 3:19 pm

Philosophers have such a high regard for music that even Arthur Schopenhauer, supreme pessimist of the West, ascribes to music the being of the Will. Friedrich Nietzsche, in his first important work entitled The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, interprets this by saying that music is never just an expression — for that would reduce it into an appearance or phenomenon. For him, music is the thing-itself.

Metaphysics is the quest for this irreducible there-ness of entities. The simplest way to understand it is imagining a tree in the middle of the forest, and imagining you are not there — what remains in the forest, while one is absent, is the thing-itself unmediated by consciousness and perception. Any metaphysics is concerned about the tension between appearance (or mere “physics”) and this fabled thing-itself.

Professor David Jonathan Bayot’s 2007 Professioral Chair Lecture talked about music and ontology (a branch of metaphysics) in The Alter Egos of Music, Real Presences, or Being inside a Ripe Green Grape: A Rhapsody on a Theme of Pedagogic Interfaces. The article can be accessed on IDEYA, a journal of humanities published biannually by De La Salle University. The following excerpt develops the arguments of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche using the ideas of Heidegger and Steiner.

What is music, then? What could it be? Steiner, with Heidegger’s Sorge / care within the givenness of Being as Being-towards-Death, declares that “music would stand as the alpha and omega of Sein, of being itself.” Steiner’s allusion to Heidegger’s distinction of Sein as Being “the ‘thereness’ or ‘being of’ an entity, in contrast to Seinde as being that is there as an entity” is not a mere glib to skirt the subject of music out of rational sight. The allusion to such metaphysics of distinction enables Steiner to claim for music an ontic plane of existence that “demonstrates . . . the reality of a presence, of a factual ‘thereness’ which defies either analytic or empirical circumscription,” while, at the same time, an ontological level of existence that opens itself up to “the ‘thereness’ of what lies beyond it.” The ‘thereness’ beyond circumscription has the obstinate texture of Schopenhauer’s ‘will-to-live’ and the invincible aura and aural ‘lightness’ pointing to the ontology of transcendence. And to characterize to one that irreducible ‘thereness’ of music is, for me, to extend an invitation for one to traverse the inscape of a ripe green grape while one dwells on the ‘isness’ of that Being. To put Steiner’s thought in another set of expression, one can say that music, for him, is a phenomenon while, in simultaneity, a phenomenology. In Steiner’s words, in music, “there is a there there.”

Related posts:
Notes on Ulysses

Glas by Derrida

In academia, book review, philosophy on July 13, 2009 at 6:08 am

is divided into two columns. The left one deals with Hegel, the right with Jean Genet. The structure is based on Genet’s “What Remains of a Rembrandt Torn Into Four Equal Pieces and Flushed Down the Toilet”. There are also textboxes that function like annotations, but they’re not. There are no instructions on how to read this, whether you will start with Hegel first, then with Genet, or whether you are supposed to read them alternately or simultaneously (how?). The two columns are commenting on each other, using the same words differently. But you’ll notice that as you read the left column, it does sort of simulate (but does not) Hegel’s Absolute Spirit. I’m not sure about Genet’s column.

Related posts:
Book review: “The Republic”
Note on “Smart” People
Derrida on Forgetting
Aporias on 25 Random Things

Derrida on Forgetting

In academia, philosophy, reblog on July 13, 2009 at 5:56 am

Glas, 195-196b
by Jacques Derrida

“I forget, in a certain way, everything I write, doubtless also, in another way, what I read. Save this or that sentence, some sentence morsel, apparently secondary, whose lack of apparent importance does not in any case justify this sort of resonance, of obsessive reverberation that guards itself, detached, so long after the engulfing, more and more rapid, of all the remain(s), of all the rest. One ought to touch there (coagulation of sense, form, rhythm) on the compulsional matrix of writing, upon its organizing affect. From what I have written, I have never retained ‘by heart’, almost, anything but these few words, on the basis of which I am doubtless becoming infatuated here with the genetic ‘first verse’ and some others. They are: ‘l’exergue et le gisant esoufflé de mon discours’ (‘the epigraph and breathless sarcophagous of my discourse’) and ‘en pierre d’attente. Et d’angle comme on pourra, par chance ou récurrence, le recevoir de quelques marques déposées’ (‘protruding like a toothing-stone, waiting for something to mesh with. And like a cornerstone as it can, by chance or by recurrence, be gathered from the registering of certain trade-marks’). Without a comma [virgule] after angle. Angle is always, for me, a tomb’s edge. And I understand this word, angle, its gl, at the back of my throat as what at once cuts off and spirits (away) from/in me all the remain(s).
I forgot. The first verse I published: ‘glu de l’étang lait de ma mort noyée’ (‘glue of the pool milk of my drowned death’).”

(via Affirmez la survie)

Related posts:
Book review: “The Republic”
Note on “Smart” People
Aporias on 25 Random Things


In academia, philosophy on June 6, 2009 at 12:27 pm

The day I attempted to write in the esoteric language of Heideggerese, this is what came out:

We will show how the ontological structure of every Lasallian student, denoted as ‘Being-in-DLSU’, discloses itself in that mode of Being that is ontically and proximally closest to Dasein-as-student — its average everdayness, and by using the ‘midterm week’ as a temporal horizon of the readiness-to-hand of the World-as-DLSU.

By denoting DLSU-during-midterm-week as ready-to-hand, we mean that the entities in our dealings (which thrust aside the circumspective character of Dasein) do not show themselves proximally as they are for themselves — we deal with entities-in-DLSU not in ontological terms, but in the mode of concern (e.g. we do not encounter DLSU as a building with white walls, but a place to take our examinations). Hence, my present preoccupation with midterm examinations in Development Economics, Law on Partnership and Corporations, and Quantitative Techniques in Business and Economics, as one having an ontic character, often stands in the way of looking at the structure of Being which these examinations possess.

Now, the lessons in my books, in their equipmentality and readiness-to-hand, suddenly bring to the fore their presence-at-hand in dealings cut to their own measure. Such dealings include the activity of reading them in Starbucks and finding out that I cannot understand the concepts. This incapability to understand disrupts my concernful absoprtion with my equipment (pages, text, graphs, pens). I then find myself along with entities which are in the mode of obtrusiveness — those concepts I failed to comprehend, which I may still understand at some other time, put me in a deficient mode of concern. This allows me to see the ‘whole workshop’ of studying, to which the equipmentality of my books and other instruments of studying belongs. It is then that the World-as-DLSU announces itself and my Being-in-DLSU is brought to the fore.

The character of insideness of Being in ‘Being-in-DLSU’  is not defined as a property of space. Rather, it refers to the formal existential expression that I am always already in a relation with my equipment which are made meaningful in the context of the totality of DLSU-as-World. This relation gives rise to dealings which either conceal or disclose the Being of entities, and in that play of concealment and disclosure, the world announces itself.