Thursday, April 1, 2010

QUUM JUSTITIAE RATIO SIC EXIGIT: Reflections on Self-Nurturing and the Political Life from the Works of Foucault, Arendt and Aristotle

[Prologue: This is a paper written for the final oral examination of the course “Ph 102: Philosophy of the Human Person II” under Fr. Luis S. David, S.J. and Mr. Patrick Momah. It was submitted at the Department of Philosophy, Ateneo de Manila University at March 24, 2010 and subsequently defended at March 26, 2010. It served to answer the following question:

Taking account of the disciplinary, that is to say, the political, the social, etc. networks/frames/spaces in which I have awakened to the realization of, what resources can I draw upon to resist the lure of the “big picture” (totalitarianism, mechanisms, biopolitics, ideology/”cog in the machine” ideology of myself/ourselves), big-brother type professional politics, scientisms, naturalized identity formations, etc.) and to work my way instead into the “rubber-meets-the-road”/ethical Foucault/political Arendt practices of everyday living?]

Sanity and Savagery

To speak of being a participant, willing or unwilling, in the structures of disciplinarity by which modernity has envisioned and transformed itself into, is inevitably an exercise of our capability to achieve a more accurate picture of our current situations. I do not claim that I as a person have already broken free of these disciplinarity institutions. In fact, the idea is not necessarily to fight it via violent denial but to engage it in a way that the identities and understanding of oneself are at the same time reinforced by participating in the tensions of formative and discursive power. French philosopher Michel Foucault himself would propose a healthier engagement of power relations as a means via where one can “transmit knowledge and techniques” by means of an acknowledged authority in a particular “game of truth.” Practices of power, as he willfully combats Jean-Paul Sartre’s view of power as evil, can remain sensitive to the necessity of avoiding “subjection to arbitrary and unnecessary authority” through the reframing of “rules of law, rational techniques of government and ethos, practices of the self and of freedom.” (1)

Modes and ways of thinking and perspectives are never and should not be forecasts of potential future conditions: they are always implicated in the existing environment within which those who dared to think are operating from. Nonetheless, solely thinking of the present without understanding it as lived out with people leads to the danger of subscribing to a generalized notion of how peoples are presumed to live ideally; to the point that these linkages with people are sacrificed for the preservation of what might be simply a fiction. The primary example we can consider is the fall of German philosopher Martin Heidegger to the allure of the German National Socialist (Nazi) Party, as might be gleaned from James Bernhauer’s appraisal of the evolution of his thinking. Seeing as how Heidegger came to a view of Christianity as “historically bankrupt,” unable to sustain the longings and aspirations of the German people for association attuned to the times, he was convinced to support the declaration of the death of the Christian God yet still “cherish a sense of the Sacred which is focused on the Fatherland.” (2). This desire to uplift the German state, visibly a desperate measure for “desperate times,” blinded him to the ramification of Nazi rule willing, as Heinrich Himmler was noted for proclaiming: “to kill this people which wanted [an exaggerated yet nonetheless grounded observation] to kill us.” (3). We are living in conditions in which, by sheer force of will or the careful construction of systems of knowledge that encapsulate people’s lives, we tend to simply live by our own mental fabrications even if they are already out of touch with reality. (4).

There is a challenge, therefore, of acknowledging and renegotiating spaces for resistance via which means of association are necessary for our self-formation. At the same time, we are as well made aware of the fact that our environment has been crafted by those before us to serve interests which, though initially have been created to facilitate our self-formation, has already begun serving counter to its purposes: virtually making us recidivists who perpetuate ineffective structures and/or relations by our own inaction. They are not only unable to solve the problems they were designed to fix, but increase their incidences further. (5).

As such, what we seek is a mode of living in which we articulate ourselves not as only forming our identities via the set labels and limitations of our existing disciplinary structures. The forms of engagement I choose, therefore, must correspond to an ethic of constant re-appraisal of the self and the engagement I follow for my community. With this understanding, I reflect on my engagement in critical citizenship: that is to say, the practice of a form of communal affiliation not based on the fiction of nationalism but on the desire to improve myself and the lives of those around me. This I carry out through information-gathering, question-seeking and searching for kindred spirits through any possible avenues.

Men in Manila (or why Nation-Building is becoming Anti-Political)

Political theorist Hannah Arendt has always maintained a suspicious viewpoint whenever the idea of the nation-state is put into play. As might have been gleaned from past experiences, the surrender of many to the nation-state argument as the sole arbiter of ideal communal formations have been used by many anti-political elements to forward their agenda. Moreover, the nation-state argument has given way to the articulation of a so-called form of tribal nationalism, which in many ways deny the plurality of human relations while uplifting association in the nation-state as the sole identity one must hold:

Politically speaking, tribal nationalism always insists that its own people is surrounded by "a world of enemies," "one against all," that a fundamental difference exists between this people and all others. It claims its people to be unique, individual, incompatible with all others, and denies theoretically the very possibility of a common mankind long before it is used to destroy the humanity of man. (6).

By participating in the thought processes that govern an obsession with the nation-state, one is prone to advocating generalizations and modes of activity that promote the interest of the “social” (i.e., national housekeeping, bureaucratic processes). Sadly enough, most of our presumed avenues for public participation (i.e. forums on leadership and issues, noise barrages, even electoral practice) has been clouded and, if one may use the term, “emasculated” by private sensibilities and the desire for maintenance of the status quo. With the fetishization (that is to say, the consideration of a value without understanding its epistemology and ontological implications with relations to others) of the pursuit of one’s own happiness in the private became the presumed norm, the enthronement of public participation to paramount concern of a citizen was placed asunder. (7). As such, it would not be perhaps surprising if people who are more enthralled with the maintenance of private interests would support anti-political and anti-democratic processes of governance, (8). whilst maintaining a veneer of public participation via the appropriation of public symbols and turning them into consumable products they were never intended to be.

And nonetheless, these ideals are what we applaud, what we deem as the ideal form of nation-building: that is to say, the practice of dole-outs and presumed problem-solving, not troubleshooting and practices of foresight. This shallow exhibition of political participation is what allows, perhaps, what Lisandro Elias Claudio (a Department of Communication lecturer here in the Ateneo and Batch 2007’s valedictorian) would call an effect of the “anti-politics atmosphere” that is not only prevalent inside the Ateneo de Manila campus but in Philippine society at large more so. (9). In denying the practice of politics as a practice of virtue and preparedness (or, as José Rizal’s penname placed it, Laong-Laan), we reify the unjust conditions within which people are currently living and are trapped into. It would be difficult to assume that they are aware of their current conditions: they need to be made aware and, to use a metaphor, be led by those who are not blind.

Pehaps, then, it would be more ideal if we begin to engage issues of national importance via a healthy and consistent understanding of our local environs. That is to say, our efforts should not be participative in the imagined and fictionalized understandings of human relations as they are, ultimately, contributive to the mechanisms of disciplinarity that control us and the totalitarian constructs that destroy our notion of commonality with other people. Our challenge, as Foucault has done when he chose to see the concentration camps at Auschwitz, is “to journey so deeply into those impure events and contingencies that have fashioned our feelings for both life and death” (10). yet emerge with that surge of energy that will enable us to undertake a more exhaustive, more extensive and ultimately, more intimate practices of identity-building through the care of the self.

The Execution of the Hermeneutics of the Self

The assemblages continue to affect our daily lives in means which we ourselves are not even aware of, and therefore we are missing the point of analyzing the pervasiveness of power if we attempt to look at it in high places. If change should be enacted and to be catalysed, it must begin and should be sustained within the capilliarities and the bloodlines of power. The minuteness of an infectious invasion of power should be confronted at however deep the level it has inserted itself in the systems and the bodies that is under such influence.

If we would look at our day-to-day activities, there is always the desire of our environment to make us useful and productive so as it would be able to sustain itself. Thus, there is always the proliferation of such taglines that says “we care for you,” “we got it all for you,” “everything is here,” all intent on minimizing the costs, maximizing the extensive effects as well as the outputs. The indulgent culture is so intensive to constitute disciplinary structures by prohibition is almost certainly counterproductive, if not resulting in further damages not only to the subject of regulation, but to the prestige or capability of the executing body itself. It is in this mode of thinking perhaps that Socratic parrhêsia, as Alexander Nehemas discussed, becomes vital and appreciated:

Political parrhêsia, the public practice of telling one’s rulers or fellow citizens a truth they might not want to hear and for which they might punish the truth-teller… Socrates does not transmit what he knows, or thinks, or pretends to know to others. He has no knowledge to communicate. As Foucault puts it, he shows courageously to others that they do not know and that they must attend to themselves: “If I attend to you,” Foucault writes, uncannily identifying his own voice with that of Socrates as he does throughout these lectures, “it is not in order to transmit to you the knowledge that you lack, but so that, having realized you know nothing, you will learn thereby to care for yourselves. (11).

What might be gleaned from this? It is our understanding that relations are conduits of knowledge and exchange of information regarding one self and, sometimes, our very selves. It is therefore essential that in the execution of our relations with other people, mutual reinforcement of ideas and perceptions are created in order to assure that those in a relationship are capable of handling each other’s quirks while reshaping their own selves in the process as well. It is practically the same logic that governs how marriages are supposed to be maintained and made an avenue of mutual self-development and enrichment. (12).

By participating in an exchange relationship, one does not only participate in the creation of identities, they also reinforce linkages that moreover contribute to a healthier and well-rounded being. Even Aristotle approves of these linkages by calling them friendships of advantage, wherein these friendships last “for as long as they supply each other with pleasures and benefits.” (13). While in our contemporary, liberal ethic of excessive self-introspection and aggrandizement of self-worth, friendships reliant on use sounds somewhat demeaning, as if a person’s worth is only dependent on their capability of delivery. However, it must be understood that this form of friendship is only intended in reinforcing the intrinsic idea of friendship, which is, first and foremost, the valuable aspect of loving, not being loved. As Aristotle would want to put it: “Friendship, then, consists more in loving, and people who love their friends are praised; hence, it would seem, loving is the virtue of friends. And so friends whose love corresponds to their friends’ worth are enduring friends and have an enduring friendship. This above all is the way for unequals as well as equals to be friends, since this is the way for them to be equalized.” (14).

Forgiveness, therefore, leads to a more significant development of relations because not only do they address questions of justice in rectification (15), it is also the means by which people can remain in the public space and experience other peoples’ presence despite the danger and actuality of being injured by each other. It is, as Hannah Arendt would put it, the only means “can men remain free agents, only by constant willingness to change their minds and start again can they be trusted with so great a power as that to begin something new.” (16). The creation of linkages is so powerful and vital to the development of the self that to neglect it will only cause the stunting of one’s growth as a responsible member of the public space.

The Road to Our Emmaus

It appears that there are a lot of things and products we need in order to live the fulfilled and successful life, and these products masquerade as appeals to the person’s stereotypical notions of beauty and fitness. Surely, these beliefs did not appear in our collective social consciousness since the beginning; we have been habituated into them and are made to patronize them in order for us to be able to labor in more favorable circumstances in our respective workplaces. That we are being asked to indulge in these forms of lifestyles is something that we should not take seriously: after all, Foucault has praised the “virility of moderation”:

Self-mastery was a way of being a man with respect to oneself; that is, a way of commanding what needed commanding, of coercing what was not capable of self-direction, of imposing principles of reason on what was wanting in reason; in short, it was a way of being active in relation to what was by nature passive and ought to remain so. In this ethics made of men for men, the development of the self as an ethical subject consisted in a setting up a structure of virility that related oneself to oneself. (17).

That everything is interrelated is not only true in unexploited virgin nature: it is a norm which, unfortunately, contributes to consistent and increasing consumption. Other sectors of society which cannot subscribe to these norms or choose not to be are labelled deviant and are excluded from society. It aggressively maintains a growing feeling of paranoia which, more often than not, permits and proliferates the sense of resignation and hopelessness wherein “there is no way to defeat the system but to partake in it.” This passivity is most likely what emaciates the efforts of our citizens to reclaim the public spaces. It is, therefore, our responsibility to act accordingly by maintaining a healthy tension between our submission to these disciplinary structures while at the same time negating their “cog-in-the-machine” ideology. As Michel Foucault himself has asserted in for what purposes he wrote the second volume of The History of Sexuality, he mentioned that it is “not for, but in terms of, a contemporary situation.” (18).

Whenever I circulate around the structures of a locality and understand the means by which these areas operate of their own logic, interests and instinct for self-preservation, I make it a point that there would be something good that will come out of these undertakings. As such, having been reintroduced to the institutions of public order and interest as demanded by my discipline of Political Science, I decided that every instance there would be free allotted time for me to go to our city hall and listen to the deliberations of our city council regarding interests and policies that needed to be carried out. Having a handful of contacts inside the office of the City Council, I deemed it my duty to invest myself with such forms of knowledge available to me so that I would be able to further establish myself as an agent of political articulation and change.

Of course, such a practice that I do in my hometown is not everyone that people actually do, but nonetheless I always try in my circles to influence them in the behavior I am espousing in order to create a counter-culture of sorts in the little spaces I operate in. Despite the misgivings of many intellectuals regarding its capability of establishing relations, the online accounts I maintain (whether they be Twitter or Facebook accounts) have become somewhat instrumental in my desire to disseminate information and promote a more critical view of things. True, these online accounts are mere projections of our identities and are not at all representative of them, but then again they could help as a starting point of topic discussions when people meet face-to-face.

Without the desire to aggrandize myself, perhaps my constant readiness to answer the questions of people who are taking interest in political participation (more so that the national elections are just a couple of months away) helped in them making more carefully-weighed decisions. In fact, most of the discussions I conduct with friends and colleagues in Facebook carry over to real life, wherein then we truly tarry a while with each other and exchange ourselves in the practices of friendship. In carrying out my services to friends who find my company informative or at least marginally enjoyable, I also benefit it the same way that my parents have always asked me to “think as much times as you can when deliberating, and ask others you trust about them.”

The context of the societies we live in dichotomizes action and deliberation. To act in an environment alien to your interest through rebellion, one cannot help but forego thinking for the benefit of accomplishing the actions and the plans for change one has embraced. It is only in speech and in breaking bread with each other that we truly form ourselves into agents of a responsible polis, inviting Wisdom Himself to sup with us as we are operating for justice that lives in His name.


(1) Michel Foucault, “The Ethics of the Concern of the Self as a Practice of Freedom,” (trans Robert Hurley and others). in Paul Rabinow, ed., Michel Foucault: Ethics, Subjectivity and Truth: the essential works of Michel Foucault 1954–1984, Vol. 1 (London, Penguin Press, 1997), 298-299.

(2) James W. Bernauer, “After Heidegger: Towards a Post-Fascist Politics of Spirit,” in Budhi Vol. 1, No. 3 (Quezon City, Ateneo de Manila University, 1997), 57. This “desperate times, desperate measures” mode of thinking is usually attributed to the radical proposal of political engagement Italian statesman Niccolo Machiavelli has espoused in his classic work The Prince. Nonetheless, to credit Machiavelli as the originator of motivations for totalitarian rule is an insult to his intention of promoting a politics of action and of interest-consolidation, which Heidegger’s student Hannah Arendt would put forward herself, as will be discussed later on.

(3) Ibid., 61.

(4) Supposedly, this is the detestable logic by which the Nazi concentration camps continued and intensified operation despite Germany already at the losing end of the Second World War. As political theorist Hannah Arendt put it: “Behind its horrors lies the same inflexible logic which is characteristic of certain systems of paranoiacs where everything follows with absolute necessity once the first insane premise is accepted”; that is to say, immense manpower wasted on wanton production of deaths. “Social Science Techniques and the Study of Concentration Camps,” Jewish Social Studies, Vol. 12, No. 1 (, accessed 28 January 2010, Jan., 1950), 50.

(5) Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (Translated from the French by Alan Sheridan, 2nd ed.: Vintage Books, Random House, New York, 1995), 264-265. As characteristic of penal institutions, “In the history of imprisonment does not obey a chronology in which one sees, in orderly succession, the establishment of a penality of detention, then the recognition of its failure; then the slow rise of projects of reform, seeming to culminate in the more or less coherent definition of penitentiary technique; then the implementation of this project; lastly, the recognition of its successes or its failure… Prisons do not diminish the crime rate: they can be extended, multiplied or transformed, the quantity of crime and criminals remains stable or, worse, increases.”

(6) Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, (2nd ed.: World Publishing, Ohio, 1958), 227.

(7) Ibid., The Human Condition (With an Introduction by Margaret Canovan, 2nd ed.: University of Chicago Press, London, 1958), 68. As illustrative of what she has condemned as “the rise of the social”: “When this common wealth, the result of activities formerly banished to the privacy of the households, was permitted to take over the public realm, private possessions—which are essentially much less permanent and much more vulnerable to the mortality of their owners than the common world, which always grows out of the past and is intended to last for future generations—began to undermine the durability of the world.”

(8) Political scientist Mark Thompson, in a case study of the “good governance” rhetoric, took the Philippine reform movement to task for advocating values of “good governance” even if it means putting to question the safety of democratic institutions. As he mentioned, “In the name of promoting good governance, the middle class-based reform movement had destabilised the democratic system.” “Pacific Asia after 'Asian Values': Authoritarianism, Democracy, and 'Good Governance'” in Third World Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 6 (Taylor & Francis, Ltd., , accessed 14 October 2009, 2004), 1090. It appears many of these middle class actors have still not learned their lesson and are still pushing for these values even by resorting to un-democratic modes of action, as witness particular coalitions which have its roots in the Ateneo de Manila University itself.

(9) Lisandro Elias Claudio, “Eagles without talons?: Nation-building and the Ateneo de Manila University,” in “Post-Filipinism”, , accessed March 20, 2010. The frustration against the anti-politics stance is understandable due to the fact that “there is one major flaw in the university’s anti-politics framework: the claim that activism with its attendant criticism of national politics does not work. It does. In the 1970s, the “talk” of student activists (many of them Ateneans like Edgard Jopson) conscienticized an entire generation, exposing them to the ills of authoritarianism. It was a slow process - educating and opening people’s eyes takes time – but it worked. When the crowd in EDSA overthrew the dictator, it was a victory for those who fomented dissent. It was the legacy of the makibaka activism that is currently derided in the Ateneo.”

(10) James W. Bernauer, “Beyond Life and Death: On Foucault’s Post-Auschwitz Ethic” in Philosophy Today, Vol. 32, No.2 (Summer, 1988), 141.

(11) Alexander Nehemas, The Art of Living: Socratic Reflections from Plato to Foucault. (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1998), 166.

(12) I remember in passing an anecdote that was shared to me by Fr. Thomas Steinbugler, S.J. when I was serving during his masses every Monday afternoon. Supposedly, a marriage counselor he knew asked in a counseling session what are their definitions of an ideal spouse is. Most of the attendees gave their notions of an ideal spouse by saying that a spouse “should do this for me, to help me,” and the like. The marriage counselor, after having taken in all of them, responded: “These are right, but what can be seen as wrong is how you always impute the burden of perfection to your other half. For a marriage to work, what we should think of is “I will be a spouse who will love my spouse despite his/her shortcomings and give leeway for him/her to develop what he can to his/her full potential. The moment you stop thinking of yourself and you think of your better half, the more mutually-enriching your marriage would be.”

(13) Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics (Translated by Terence Irwin: Indiana, Hackett, 1985), 1159b10.

(14) Ibid., 1159a35-b.

(15) Ibid., 1132a14.

(16) Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, 240.

(17) Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality Volume II: The Use of Pleasure (Translated from the French by Robert Hurley; New York, Vintage Books, Random House, 1990), 82-83.

(18) Ibid., “The Concern for Truth,” interview by Francois Ewald, trans. Alan Sheridan, in Politics, Philosophy, Culture: Interviews and Other Writings, 1977-1984, ed. Lawrence D. Kritzman (New York, Routledge, 1988), 263.

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QUUM JUSTITIAE RATIO SIC EXIGIT: Reflections on Self-Nurturing and the Political Life from the Works of Foucault, Arendt and Aristotle by Hansley A. Juliano is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Philippines License.
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