Sunday, November 26, 2006

TM kooperatiba

I wasn't paying attention, but I caught a Touch Mobile TV commercial offering a special service for cooperatives. Sounds like an interesting concept.


This different way of teaching Thanksgiving makes one wonder how a community's rituals ought to be taught.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Fr. Danny's talk.

Fr. Danny Huang, SJ, the Philippine provincial of the Jesuits, gave the faculty a talk yesterday about what it means for Ateneo de Manila to be a Jesuit, Catholic university in this day and age.

As one could expect from Fr. Danny, it was a very good talk; the complexities were well-articulated and his ideas were nuanced and forceful.

First he emphasized that the Jesuit's educational apostolate is only one among its many apostolates.

Second, he talked about Paul's letter to Philemon and reflected about how that letter demonstrates how Christ had transformed the world in that Christ's message allowed for a new way of looking at property, at freedom, at social justice, at money, at persons.

The Church's mission is not expansion, he emphasized, but the redemption of history. It is (and this is my rephrasing) the creation of a new world order in every and all areas of human life, such that the world here may begin to look more like the Kingdom of God. In my own words again: the Church seeks not to increase in number, but to transform the world. (Something that one can only understand, I think, when one stops seeing the Church as "a denomination.")

In this sense, the Church sharply rejects the privatization of faith, the notion that faith is something that is articulated and experienced only in one's private life.

What, then, does it mean to be a Catholic university?

Again, my rephrasing: it is not merely a question of adding a Catholic element (such as theology classes or a campus ministry) to the work of a university, more than that and more importantly, it is to be a university in a way that is oriented to the redemption of history.

It is to form and educate the youth as mature Catholics or at least mature Christians or at least youths with a mature sense of the transcendent, young people, then, who emerge from university "with their hearts transformed and their freedom reoriented." It is to prepare our students as future professionals -- but to do this in a way that has been touched by the mission of building the Kingdom of God here on earth. In other words, it is to form students to be citizens and professionals for service and (if you prefer) nation-building. It is to do research that reflects on questions in light of God's mission to redeem history, drawing from the Catholic tradition of wisdom in an integrated and appropriate way. It is to be, as an institution, a witness to and advocate of the message of the Gospel in society and the world.

To be a Catholic university, then, does not make the university less of a university in the interest of becoming more Catholic. Moreover, being a Catholic university is not to become a monastery, or a seminary, or an NGO. (Again, the university is just one among the many apostolates of the Jesuits, and for that matter, just one sector in the entire world that the Church seeks to transform.)

To be a Catholic university is to be a university, a good university, an excellent university, in a thoroughly Catholic way. (My own reflection: in the same way that to be a Catholic person is to allow the Gospel to transform and reorient my entire human life, to be a Catholic university is to allow the Gospel to transform and reorient its being a university.)

Fr. Danny ended with some reflections on the realities within which the university must discern on the best way to proceed in this. Some of those realities including the diminishing number of Jesuits in the province, the increasing pluralism in society and among our students and faculty. Given this, the university must discern how to accomplish this task appropriately. Some of the questions raised in the open forum articulated this more specifically: the university must discern, for example, when it is best to explicitly label its work as "Catholic" and when it is appropriate to be more implicit; it must discern which practices and symbols to publicly express; it must discern how to dialogue with other faiths in a way that is true to its Catholicism yet also ecumenical and non-exclusive in spirit.

Truly, it was an excellent, thought-provoking talk.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Sorry for the rant.

Newsweek featured a story last issue about the "veil debate" ongoing in Europe. One quote from Jack Straw bothered me. In stating his arguments against the face-covering Muslim veil, he said something about how people communicate with one another not only verbally but also visually: "You not only hear what people say, but you also see what they mean."

I have a huge problem with this argument. If you ask a Muslim woman to remove her veil because it is a visual meaning that you are uncomfortable with, at what point will it end? The long curls of an Orthodox Jewish rabbi have visual meaning too--is that what is next to go? The sari of an Indian woman is a visual meaning too--will you ask Indian women to change their dress? Or how about the turban of a Sikh man? What's next? The traditional garb of an Irish man? The same can be said even for the color of my hair, the color of my eyes, the color of my skin, the shape of my nose. When you see all those and know that I am, say, "Filipino," is that also not a "meaning" that you must learn to contend with? Are you next going to ask all ethnic minorities to bleach their skin, dye their hair, get noselifts to make their noses more Western?

What is the issue, really? Rectify the names. Is it really the veil? Or is it your discomfort at immigration? At the end of the day, you just don't like to be reminded that there are all these "different" people? Your imperial past is haunting you now.

Jack Straw said that the veil "separates people." By all means, if we truly believe in a multicultural society, then let us please, please be separated, by the diversity of our faiths, of our ethnicities, of our individual perspectives. This is the 21st century. Surely by now we should've learned to celebrate diversity. And then let us find unity within that diversity, not at its expense. Malaysia and Singapore might not yet have experienced perfect integration, but I do feel that their example is something the Western European countries can learn from.

In the past century, women have fought to wear trousers. People in colonized countries have fought to wear their traditional dress. Ironic that now, faithful Muslim women should have to fight for their right to wear a veil.

A just society is a society where, as Arendt said, we are both gathered and separated: separated by our individual views, where no single person is forced to be homogeneous with the other. And gathered by our common interests.

Some Arendtian critiques I'd like to work on.

Arendt's critique of Marx

... can be summed up in these two excerpts, one referring to the problem of labor, the other referring to the problem of history:

To put it another way: while others were concerned with this or that right of the laboring class, Marx already foresaw the time when, not this class, but the consciousness that corresponded to it, and to its importance for society as a whole, would decree that no one would have any rights, not even the right to stay alive, who was not a laborer. The result of this process of course has not been the elimination of all other occupations, but the reinterpretation of all human activities as laboring activities....

For Hegel, thinking historically, the meaning of a story can emerge only when it has come to an end. End and truth have become identical; truth appears when everything is at its end, which is to say when and only when the end is near can we learn the truth. In other words, we pay for truth with the living impulse that imbues an era, although of course not necessarily with our own lives.

-- from here.

It just occurred to me that anyone who quotes Marx but doesn't know Hegel, doesn't really know the full implications of Marx.


Arendt's view of 20th century totalitarianism

... as an evil that surpasses our traditional moral standards

The thread of our tradition, in the sense of a continuous history, broke only with the emergence of totalitarian institutions and policies that no longer could be comprehended through the categories of traditional thought. These unprecedented institutions and policies issued in crimes that cannot be judged by traditional moral standards, or punished within the existing legal framework of a civilization whose juridical cornerstone had been the command Thou shalt not kill.

I think that this element in Arendt may address what I perceive to be a weakness in Levinas. Levinas appears to place the locus of ethics only in the indvidual subject. However, if we admit to the possiblity of "structural sin," then is it not also possible to speak of a structural ethics? Levinas does not appear to address that.

Leninist Marxism tried to but ended up with a "structural ethics" that goes against the ethics of the individual subject.

We return again to Ricoeur's problem of the socius and the neighbor.

Professor Emeriti

Two of my teachers were conferred with the title of Professor Emeritus last night.

From one, I learned clarity--that the minute you find yourself obfuscating your ideas in highfalutin words, you are no longer thinking. He is also my model for equanimity, for patience with and respect for students, and for, despite his achievements and wisdom, always maintaining a humble sense of wonder at all things new.

Mula naman sa kabila, natutunan kong mag-isip nang tunay at buhay, at hindi lamang magsuka ng mga salita. Ginising niya ako sa kalaliman ng ating wika. At higit sa lahat, natutunan ko mula sa kanyang mga salita, buhay, at pagkatao, na maging mas mapagkumbabang mag-aaral ng pilosopo, mas mapagkalingang guro, mas mapagtiwalang Kristiyano, at mas mabuting tao.

Future reads.

Fareed Zakaria's book. I read his column weekly (and don't always agree with him). I wonder what he said in this book.

Something about Keynes.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Deng Xiaoping, Asian Filipino Values

A theme which was present in both my colleague's and my presentations at the last Colloquium was the notion of creating a social justice framework that springs from our own culture (rather than imposing foreign--whether capitalist or socialist--models that might be incompatible with our culture).

Tonight I was reading about Deng Xiaoping on Wikipedia, and I came across these paragraphs:
Unlike Hua Guofeng, Deng believed that no policy should be rejected out of hand simply for not having been associated with Mao, and unlike more conservative leaders such as Chen Yun, Deng did not object to policies on the grounds that they were similar to ones which were found in capitalist nations.

Although Deng provided the theoretical background and the political support to allow economic reform to occur, few of the economic reforms that Deng introduced were originated by Deng himself. Typically a reform would be introduced by local leaders, often in violation of central government directives. If successful and promising, these reforms would be adopted by larger and larger areas and ultimately introduced nationally. Many other reforms were influenced by the experiences of the East Asian Tigers.

For all of Deng's faults, his pragmatic way of approaching reforms--not immediately accepting or rejecting them simply because they fit or didn't fit the ideology--interests me.

The Arendtian in me finds that very practical. (For Arendt the fundamental error of the totalitarian governments was their insistence on forcing reality to fit the closed logic of their ideologies.)

Hmmm. While "Asian values" as defined by Lee Kwan Yew are actually Confucian values (and not Filipino values), I'm interested in how a debate on "Filipino values" in national economics would go.


Reading a Wikipedia article can be quite funny. Most of a paragraph seems to flow quite well, then suddenly you stumble upon a sentence in a different voice that was obviously added by someone else.

I wonder what would happen if Wikipedia were aural instead of written. Imagine if each person who contributed to a Wikipedia article actually read what he/she contributed in his/her own voice. That would be quite interesting!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

There's no such thing as a free lunch.

Sorry, but I'm going to make a quick rant.

Sometimes I wonder ....


At yesterday's talk, one of my colleagues said that education in Germany is free.

Later, during the discussion, I said, "Education in Germany is not free. You pay for it through your taxes."

Another colleague, who had studied in Europe said, "Oh but when I was there I was as a student so I didn't pay taxes."

I was puzzled. But you did pay taxes! Every time that you went out and bought food at the grocery or ate at a restaurant or paid your bills, a significant percentage of that went to the government coffers which provide for, among other things, the education of the populace.

Second anecdote. Many months ago I was at a meeting about social justice at school. A colleague recounted to me the story of a friend of hers, a lawyer, whom she was trying to get involved in some manner of political action. My colleague was annoyed at her friend for "not being involved" in nation-building. Her friend said, "I am involved. I pay my taxes in their entirety, and religiously. Almost forty percent of my income goes to the country." My colleague was recounting this story with incredulity, as if to say, "I can't believe that she thinks she's doing something for the country simply because she's paying her taxes!"

Well, duh. I do think it's noble to be involved politically in a way that transcends paying one's taxes but at the same time, her lawyer-friend did have a point.


Of course I'm aware that corruption in government muddles the whole discussion of taxation. But the fact of corruption shouldn't impede us from talking about the extremely basic issue of taxation.

Social services don't grow on trees.

Monday, November 20, 2006

New Atheism

I'm surprised that Arts and Letters Daily didn't pick up this essay on the so-called "New Atheism."

Our department chair forwarded us the link to the essay a few days ago, but I didn't read it until after my husband prodded me to listen to a Wired podcast that was made as a follow-up to the article. Interesting stuff. Now I have something to discuss with my classes on Wednesday.

Social Justice in the Philippines

I was one of three presentors at today's Philosophy Department colloquium entitled "Social Justice: A European-Philippine Dialogue." My Swiss colleague talked about the German economic system; another colleague talked about a conference he attended in Spain which explored third world conceptions of social justice.

I asked the question, "Ano ba ang kahulugan ng 'katarungang panlipunan' para sa mga Pilipino?"

My discussion had three parts.

Una, sinabi ko na ang mga pamantayan natin ng katarungang panlipunan ay pawang nagmumula sa mga dayuhan. I mentioned the Philippine poverty threshold and the UN measures as examples. I qualified this, of course, by saying that I agree that these are useful indices. However, I also asked whether Filipinos are actually able to articulate why these indices point to an "injustice" and what ideal of "social justice" they really desire.

Second, I proposed that we academicians should strive to articulate the Filipino understanding of "katarungang panlipunan." I shared my own initial reflections on the topic by going through a quick review of Philippine history of the last 120 years and by articulating four themes which I feel Filipinos have identified as their conception of a just society. (1) The revolutionary movement of the late 19th century equated social justice with anti-colonialism. (2) The influx of Marxist ideas beginning from the 1940s with the PKP and renewed in the 1960s with the foundation of the CPP introduced the concept of social justice as economic equality. (3) The changing global economic landscape and local political landscape of the 1980s shifted the concept of social justice from economic equality to upward social mobility. (4) Globalization and the expanding diaspora beginning from the 1990s shifted the attitude towards other nations from anti-colonialism to the desire to be able to compete globally with other nations not only economically but culturally as well (hence the Manny Pacquiao phenomenon?).

Third, I criticized the shifts in conceptions of social justice as being historical accidents rather than products of critical thought. I pointed out how, in the last decade, there has barely been any debate or discussion in our dominant public spheres that has explored whether upward social mobility and global competitiveness are the best standards of social justice; and what measures ought to be taken to achieve authentic social justice. Political punditry in the last decade, I pointed out, has largely been limited to reactions to scandals and events involving individual persons, and has not expanded into a more critical discussion of economic systems and policies. I mentioned some possible reasons for this (e.g., the collapse of communism and our personalist political culture), and said that we academicians should take on the task of transforming the kind of political discussion that takes place in the public sphere.


Monday, November 06, 2006


I had a few interesting thoughts over the week.


A few days ago, I was at a meeting with some colleagues and we began discussing technological advances. I began to notice that my colleagues were much more suspicious about "progress" than I was. I myself recognize that not all scientific and technological progress is used in a helpful manner; I recognize that it can be and has been distorted and has harmed humans in many ways. However, I do not think this distortion is innate to technology; I do feel that on the whole scientific and technological progress opens up potential for the good, and that, if harnessed properly, can be helpful rather than harmful to humanity.

This led to my question: Why do I appear to have a more optimistic view of progress and history than many of my colleagues do?

My tentative answer, after some reflection, is this (and don't laugh): I truly think it's because I'm a woman. Woman's history is a history of progress: Women have fought for emancipation and they are finally, little by little winning. Very few women can honestly say that it was better to be a woman a hundred years ago, or three hundred years ago, or five hundred years ago, than it is today. I think that men view history differently, however.


Over the weekend, I read up a little on the Waldorf educational system, prompted by a discussion with a colleague who was Waldorf-educated all through elementary and high school. There are aspects of the Waldorf educational system that I find very attractive--the respect for each child, the emphasis on art and on holistic development, etc.

However, one aspect of the Waldorf educational system that I am less comfortable with (and this is where my discussion with my colleague headed) was (again) the very high levels of suspicion regarding technology. I tried to understand more the rules in Waldorf schools about not allowing children below the age of seven to look at "moving pictures" (such as television or videos) and the hesitation even that they look at pictures at all (such that stories are recited orally to students). My colleague explained that this had to do with Steiner's concern that moving pictures would hinder the child's development of his imagination.

On the one hand, I do understand Steiner's point, but I also wondered whether there was a uncalled for bias against pictures. Might it not be possible, I suggested, that pictures also help to stimulate a different kind of imagination? Perhaps an emphathetic or emotional imagination?, I suggested.

The other thing is not being allowed to read until you're seven. I can't imagine that.


I worked in broadcast journalism for a short time, and I can clearly pinpoint in my mind the two moments in my life when I first felt the compulsion to do so.

The first when I was around six or seven years old. I was living in Singapore at the time, and I watched a documentary on television about child abuse in Singapore. I remember being extremely affected by what I had watched, and to this day, the images I saw on television and the interviews with child abuse survivors that I listened to stand out among my many memories of being a child in Singapore. I feel now as I did then that that watching that documentary: (1) exposed me to an issue I had no other way to learn about as a six-/seven-year-old child, (2) was a moment that helped me to develop an empathetic imagination for people in a situation different form mine, and (3) made me believe in the power of mass media to expose, to educate, to inform, and most of all, to open people's minds.

The second moment was when I was around eight years old, in the midst of the Ethiopian famine. Again, the images of the Ethiopian famine that I saw on television altered the way that I looked at the world. To this day, they remain the archetypal images in my mind of how dire poverty can be, of how forgotten certain sectors of the human race can be, and also of how much power mass media has to bring to light problems and issues that demand our attention.