The end of our moral world
THE WORLD as we know it will soon come to an end. Ours is a time of rapid change. Cicero was right in saying that “we seek what is worth having, without the fear of losing it against our will.” But we have also lost so many things. We have lost, for instance, the original intent of the “Myth of Adam and Eve.” Evil, according to Paul Ricoeur, is not inherent in humankind. Evil comes as a consequence of the human will. So, we cannot change the world by killing people. John Henry Newman’s dictum has remained instructive: “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”
St. Augustine was also preoccupied with the biggest question that we have at the moment: “What has the Church have to do with the empire?” We resent the overlords of the Church, but it is wrong to be hostile to the institution. The problem, it seems to me, is the fact that some people of the Church are perceived to be accomplices of the ruling elite. Theology in our Catholic schools offers some respite from the pain of a secular world forced by the necessity of the times, but the political animal deep inside each one of us believes otherwise.
Modernity found human reason as the foundation of everything. Laws are to follow the dictates of rationality. The universality of liberal values simply means the homogeneity of what we think about in terms of the essence of things. The human subject is the basis of our knowledge of the world. Individualism has become the highest form of value. The world, including nature, is out there for the human being to conquer. Francis Fukuyama thinks: “We may be witnessing the end of the end of history as such: that is the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”
But Fukuyama is wrong. The state is a beast. To say that Iraq or Syria can be transformed by the American brand of democracy is to be politically naive. Non-Western civilizations see human freedom differently. We can import goods and ideas, but not political culture. The introduction of a particular way of life may be assimilated inside our households, but not when there is a clash of ideologies and norms. Democracy will remain a hard sell in a society that values religious belief more than human freedom. Political opinions, in this respect, will forever be incendiary things. They are meant to divide us, as pointed out by sociologist and Inquirer columnist Randy David.
Let us make a postmortem examination of our own political life. The Philippines is in the worst of times in terms of our respect for human rights. Our generation is a witness to the torture of humanist values. For the French thinker Michel Foucault, “torture is a technique.” The body, held in chains in the theater of terror, is like an old temple that is being desecrated; it is, in this regard, that vessel where under any cruel regime, it suffers the ultimate humiliation and the unbearable shame that can possibly be inflicted upon any man or woman. Hence, the spectacle at the scaffold suffered by Damiens the regicide was not only meant to instill, in the highest possible order, fear among the constituents of the sovereign; it also sends forth the message, in the strongest terms, that anyone who defies the majesty of the king is to suffer the same fate as that of the condemned.
The mayor of Tanauan who prides himself in parading crime suspects in a “walk of shame” has killed the very requirement of the rule of law—due process, which is not incidental. It is necessary in order to protect the weak from the strong. Foucault is right: “Every death agony expresses a certain truth.” But indeed, the might of the law no longer targets the human body. It must be something else. It is the soul. The soul, being the new target, makes more apparent how the sovereign can exercise control over its subjects. The intent is simple: to demean the dignity of the human being. Before we forget, no rich person has suffered the same fate as those poor people shamed in public! The mayor, in this sense, is only seeking to justify himself, and not the ideals of justice. Foucault is clear: “The public execution, then, has a juridico-political function. It is a ceremonial by which a momentarily injured sovereignty is reconstituted. It restores that sovereignty by manifesting it at its most spectacular.”
Without morality, we have nothing to leave to our children but the deterioration of a social order. Our society, in this regard, is the scaffold. Justice is being maligned right now at the very same theater where a man is subjected to the condemnation of an angry and malevolent public. Or, as Foucault puts it, such execution appears more gory because “it occurs exactly at the juncture between the judgment of men and the judgment of God,” expressed most clearly in the indifference of a crowd that rejoices in the march to perdition of a powerless human being.
Christopher Ryan Maboloc teaches philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University. He has a master’s degree in philosophy from Ateneo de Manila University and a master’s degree in applied ethics from Linkoping University in Sweden. He is the author of “Ethics and Human Dignity.”
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