The pursuit of equal dignity
It is in the interest of human society to respect not only the dignity but also the equal dignity of persons. The first is an ascription as to what makes us truly human, and the second is an assertion as to the equality of all humans. The greatest threat to human freedom is not violence but the misrecognition of what it really means to be a person. Persons are not things. But in the absence of love for justice, people no longer see one another as human beings, but as useful instruments in the pursuit of mutual advantage. It is a reality that is not borne by any trace of reasonableness. It is rooted in human selfishness and pride.
A society that is no longer founded on respect for the humanity of each is an affirmation of the fundamental fear once expressed by Thomas Paine: “Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in the best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.”
For a long time, we Filipinos have provided the unmistakable means for our own destruction. This is obvious in the kind of democracy that we practice. We always have two sets of rules: one for the powerful, and another for the ordinary. The irony of it all is that those who are in power derive their strength from the cumulative ignorance of the masses, whom they subdue by sheer manipulation. Those who are in the periphery of our society, on the other hand, are trampled and demeaned, shoved away from a life of decency, even pushed like a rag by those to whom they entrust their hopes and dreams.
The design of our state of affairs is based on false expectations. People enjoin themselves in everything that their government does, hoping for favorable consequences. The poor often seek equality in terms of outcomes, confounding the very basis of social cooperation. For such form of equality cannot be attained unless some soul out there is sacrificed. Even then, selfish people like many among us are more than willing to subjugate the freedom of others if it is the most efficient means by which we can achieve our ends.
Ignorance cannot be the root of all evil in the world. But we need to determine why good people cease to be critical. We have to put reason to task in inquiring as to why it is no longer in use. Equal rights mean equality in terms of treatment. Every human being is entitled to the same rights as others, not because it is something that one can demand from his/her government, but because the contrary of such irreverently defeats the essential purpose of democracy: All power must emanate from the people!
We have in this country every reason to doubt the pursuit of the happiness of every poor mortal. Paine, writing in opposition to the British monarchy, said it well, insisting that “for all men being originally equals, no one by birth could have a right to set up his own family in perpetual preference to all others for ever…” We are no longer a colony of any imperial power. But precisely, the malady of times past still afflicts the country. Anyone can count by his/her own fingers the number of individuals who control the economy, and in the process, plunder the Filipino people’s future.
Andres Bonifacio’s greatest question comes to mind: “Could there be a love greater than the love for one’s country?” Bonifacio’s challenge does not only serve to provoke thought, it also compels each one of us to respond with our conscience. We do not have a king, but many of our politicians are no different from the oppressors of old. And yet, the pursuit of equal dignity in this country cannot be a lost cause. Nelson Mandela says it all: “Your choices must reflect your hopes, not your fears.”
Christopher Ryan Maboloc is assistant professor of philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University and the author of “Ethics and Human Dignity.”
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