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Philosophy and Humanism in a Cynical Machiavellian Age of GeoPolitics

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“Philosophy is not something to be used scornfully or as insult, but for honor and glory. People are beginning to think wrongly in that philosophy should only be studied by very few, if any at all, as if it is something of little worth. We have reduced philosophy to only being useful when being used for profit.

I say these things with regret and indignation for the philosophers who say it should not be pursued because it has no value, thus disqualifying themselves as philosophers. Since they are in it for their own personal gain, they miss the truth for its own sake. I’m going to say, not to brag, but I’ve never philosophized except for the sake of philosophy, and have never desired it for my own cultivation. I have been able to lose myself in philosophy and not be influenced by others who try to pull me away from it. Philosophy has taught me to rely on my own convictions rather than on the judgments of others and to concern myself less with whether I am well thought of than whether what I do or say is evil.”–Pico della Mirandola (from his “De Hominem Dignitate” on the Dignity of Man)

The above quote on philosophy by the Neo-Platonic Italian Humanist Pico della Mirandola is perhaps more relevant today, the era of cynical Machiavellian geo-political realities, than it ever was, perhaps even more so than during the first century of the Renaissance in Florence. Today, as in the past, many go about full of pious pronouncements on the intrinsic value of philosophy, how the rejection of philosophy is in itself a philosophy of sort; they even declare themselves devotees of philosophy, but, alas, there are precious few among them who are willing to die, like Socrates, for their ideas or what they truly believe in, with the possible exception of ideological fanatics of various persuasions who confuse the advocacy of mindless outrageous actions and revolutions for serious thinking; and this despite the fact that in many schools in the West philosophy continues to be part of the Liberal Arts curriculum.

Unfortunately, the Liberal Arts curriculum, like philosophy, is more honored in words than in deeds and so the struggle between the two worlds continues; that is to say, the positivistic world of science and the humanistic world of the arts as C.P. Snow taught us in his celebrated book The Two Cultures. On the other hand, a Leonardo Da Vinci, that quintessential Renaissance man, conceived no such dichotomy: he was both a great artist and a great scientist and was able to synthesize and harmonize the two cultures. How did we get to this sorry stage?

I happen to teach introductory college philosophy courses to beginners in philosophy. The first thing I have to disabuse those students of, is the notion that philosophy is some kind of esoteric difficult subject for a few specialists and connoisseurs to be put to rest once and for all once graduation requirements have been fulfilled. In other words, the notion that it’s a subject one has to bear and suffer for a while, so to speak, for the sake of a degree, not one that could be greatly enjoyed and profited from, both intellectually and morally, for one’s whole life-time.

I begin in a negative mode by having them read an essay of mine titled “What philosophy is not” where I make the point that philosophy is not a mere tool of rhetoric and logic with which to win arguments, persuade people to do one’s bidding, and become a “successful” politician. Socrates is of course mentioned as the father of western philosophy and the very antithesis of that sophistic utilitarian stance. He famously said in the Athenian agora that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

The point is then stressed that the subject of philosophy as an academic discipline, despite Plato’s enduring academy, does not begin, and it certainly does not end, esoterically in academia; rather, it is first born with Socrates exoterically in the public square in ancient Athens, in the midst of the drama that is human life, from cradle to tomb. Socrates is considered the father and the first martyr of philosophy because he was a man willing to die for his principles and beliefs. It is basically a reflection on the meaning of life, one’s own and that of humanity, hence history is always to be considered an essential component of philosophy, so that we don’t end up re-inventing the wheel.

I then touch on Boethius’ (the second great martyr of philosophy) “The Consolation of Philosophy” to impress upon them that when everything else fails intellectually and existentially, philosophy remains a constant, a reliable consolation, like the sun shining in the sky, ready to encourage us, despite it all; but of course, to get to see the sun one needs first to get out of the cave of ignorance. Plato’s myth of the cave is then introduced and discussed at some length.      

Eventually we get to the discussion of Pico della Mirandola, a great devotee of philosophy, if there ever was one. He was an Italian Humanist from the 15th century who understood thoroughly that the Renaissance was a harmonious synthesis of faith and reason, something already theoretically mapped out by the great scholastic philosopher Thomas Aquinas a century earlier. It would be enough to look at a painting like Primavera by Botticelli, or the David of Michelangelo to be convinced of that. The harmony between Greco-Roman and Christian culture is unmistakable. The David is not just a perfect naked Greek statue aesthetically pleasing, it is also portraying the moment of faith in a Biblical event. Nowhere in Greek sculpture one will find the face of a David and the spirituality it exudes. Primavera of Botticelli, likewise, is not just a Greek goddess; she is also a Raphaelite Madonna. The synthesis may not be perfect, but it is extraordinary. This is a synthesis that modern man preoccupied with geo-political considerations has all but forgotten.

Kenneth Clark in his famous video series “Civilization” dedicates a whole one hour segment to the discussion of Italian Humanism which admittedly was based on the famous slogan by Euripides that “man is the measure of all things” but he also mentions Pico della Mirandola’s “On the dignity of man” which is based not so much on the paradox that everything changes constantly and the only thing that does not change is man’s capacity for change, but on the fact that the transformation of man is first and foremost a moral transformation requiring constant intellectual and moral effort and having perfection as its ultimate goal; a perfection which turns out to be a transcendent reality (hence the neo-Platonism of Pico), and aiming at the very divinity of God symbolized by nature which he created. For a neo-Platonist, poetry, at its best, always points to the transcendent. St. Francis of Assisi “Canticle of Creatures” written in the 13th century is exemplary in this respect and that is the reason he is the patron saint of ecology and respect for animals.

So it turns out that while it may be true that man is the measure of all things, as contemporary secular humanists like to insist upon, one needs first to understand what exactly is the nature of man and the goal toward which his nature tends. As it turns out, ultimately the human vocation, its very purpose (telos) and destiny, is a mystical vocation; something that Aristotle and Plato, two non-Christian philosophers, certainly intuited when they postulated a theoretical “isle of the blessed” on which to contemplate the True, the Good and the Beautiful, but which humanists such as Pico (and Thomas Aquinas before him) actually accomplished by the harmonization of reason and faith.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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New Social Compact

Women Rights in China and Challenges

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Women rights and gender discrimination have been a problem for many years in china. Various restrictions were imposed on women to suppress them in society. Income discrepancy and traditional gender roles in country aim to place women inferior as compared with their male counterparts.

There are diverse sectors where women face discrimination. Women of the past and present in china have dealt with unfair employment practices. They have had to jump over the unnecessary hurdles just to keep up with their male counterparts in the society. The Chinese government claims to better prioritize the promotion of gender equality but in reality it does not seem appropriate to say that there is not a single department of life where women are not being suppressed. In jobs, mostly men are preferred over women at high positions. There are a number of contextual examples which demonstrates this discrepancy in the status of women throughout china, and whilst there has been a great deal of the popular sphere, others have been brutally repressed by a government dominated by male families. For example, women who have children do not always receive support from their pay when maternity leave.

China’s history has seen a higher focus on men being the core of not just their families but also they play crucial role in in overall country’s growth and development. Post Confucius era, society labeled men as the yang and women as the yin. In this same vein, society views Yang as active, smart and the dominant half. This compared with Yin, which is soft, passive and submissive. These ideologies are not as prominent today but persist enough that there is a problem.

The tradition begins at birth with boys being the preferred children compared to girls in China. A consensus opinion in the country is that if one has a male child versus a female child, they believe the son will grow into a more successful member of the family. The sons are more likely favored because the issue of pregnancy is a non-factor and they can choose almost any job they desire. Of course, this is something that does not support efforts for gender equality nor women’s rights in China.

A survey done just last year found that 80% of generation Z mothers did not have jobs outside of the home. Importantly, most of those surveyed were from poorer cities. The same survey found that 45% of these stay-at-home mothers had no intention of going back to work. They simply accepted their role of caring for the house. Gender equality and women’s rights in China have shifted toward cutting into the history of patriarchal dominance within the country.

Women’s Rights Movement in China

Since the Chinese government is not completely behind gender equality in China for women, the feminist movement is still active and stronger than ever. In 2015, the day before International Women’s Day, five feminist activists were arrested and jailed for 37 days. They were just five of an even larger movement of activists fighting against the traditional gender role ideology that has placed females below males. These movements have begun to make great progress towards gender inequality within the country. From 2011 to 2015, a “12th Five Year Plan” had goals of reducing gender inequality in education and healthcare.

The plan also was to increase the senior and management positions and make them accessible for women to apply for said positions. Xi Jinping, the current President of the People’s Republic of China, has proclaimed that the country will donate $10 million to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. During the next five years and beyond, this support will help the women of China and other countries build 100 health projects for women and children. March 1, 2016, the Anti-domestic Violence Law of the People’s Republic of China took effect. This law resulted in the improvement in legislation for gender equality in China. In June of that year, ¥279.453 billion was put forth toward loans to help women, overall.

‘’There are a number of contextual examples which demonstrate this discrepancy in the status of women throughout China, and whilst there has been a great deal of progress made in some elements of the popular sphere, others have been brutally repressed by a government dominated by male influence.

Mao Zedong’s famously published collection of speeches entitled ‘the little red book’ offers a glimpse into the People’s Republic’s public policy in relation to women, as Mao himself is quoted as saying ‘Women hold up half the sky’ and more overtly.’’

In order to build a great socialist society, it is of the utmost importance to arouse the broad masses of women to join in productive activity. Men and women must receive equal pay for equal work in production. Genuine equality between the sexes can only be realized in the process of the socialist transformation of society as a whole.

The china has been widening the gender discrimination gap in the society through legalized way and there is desperate need to raise the voices in gender equality.

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New Social Compact

Gender Pay Gaps during Pandemic: A Reflection on International Workers’ Day 2021

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Men, rather than women, have been disproportionately affected by job losses over time. Nonetheless, the harsh reality of this pandemic recession has shown that women are more likely to be unemployed. As a matter of fact, women have lost substantial jobs as a result of increased childcare needs caused by school and daycare closures, which prohibit many women from working, and as a result of their employment being concentrated in heavily affected sectors such as the services sector (hospitality business, restaurant, retail outlets and so on). According to a study by Alon et al, women’s unemployment increased by 12.8 percent during the first period of Covid-19 (from March 2020), while men’s unemployment increased by just 9.9 percent. Changes in job rates (which include transfers into and out of the labor force) follow the same trend, with women experiencing a much greater drop in employment than men during the recession. Similar trends have been seen in other pandemic-affected countries.

In Southeast Asia, where informal workers account for 78 percent of the workforce, women make up the majority of blue-collar employees. In Indonesia, the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar, women make up a substantial portion of the domestic workers, despite having a low contractual working status in informal settings. They are underpaid as a result of the pandemic, and the Covid-19 recession has reduced their importance in the workplace. Indonesia as one of the countries which affected by pandemic also experienced similar thing, with two-thirds of the female population in the active age group (between 15 and 64 years old), Indonesia is supposed to have tremendous potential for accelerating its economic development, but the truth is the opposite due to the never-ending pandemic. Since the pandemic began, many employees, mostly women, have lost their jobs or had their working hours shortened. Of course, their daily wages are affected by this situation. Besides, the wage gap between men and women also widens from March 2020 to March 2021, with women in the informal sector receiving up to 50% less than men, clearly resulting in discriminatory practices.Despite the fact that Indonesia ratified the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Convention No. 100 on Equal Remuneration in 1958, fair and equal salaries have remained unchanged until now, and the legislation seems to have been overlooked and inapplicable in a pandemic situation.

Furthermore, the issue is not resolved at that stage. Apart from the pandemic, both formal and informal workers are exposed to various work systems and regulations. Women may have similar experiences with low wages and unequal payment positions in both environments, but women who work in the formal sector have the capacity, experience, and communication skills to negotiate their salaries with their employers, while women who work in the informal sector do not. Women in informal work face a number of challenges, including a lack of negotiation skills and a voice in fighting for their rights, particularly if they lack support structures (labor unions). Furthermore, when it comes to employees’ salaries, the corporate system is notoriously secretive. Another issue that continues to upset women is the lack of transparency in employee wages. Despite the fact that the national minimum wage policy is regulated by the government, only a small number of female workers are aware of it.

Overcoming Gender Pay Gaps within Pandemic Condition

In the spirit of International Workers’ Day 2021, there should be an organized and systematic solution to (at the very least) close the wage gap between men and women in this pandemic situation. International organizations and agencies also attempted to convince national governments to abolish gender roles and prejudices, however this is insufficient. As a decision-maker, the government must ‘knock on the door’ of companies and businesses to support and appreciate work done disproportionately by women. Furthermore, implementing transparent and equitable wage schemes is an important aspect of significantly changing this phenomenon. Real action must come not only from the structural level (government and corporations), but also from society, which must acknowledge the existence of women’s workers and not undervalue what they have accomplished, because in this Covid-19 condition, women must bear the “triple burden” of action, whether in productive work (as a worker or labor), reproductive work (as a wife and mother), and also as a member of society. Last but not least, women must actively engage in labor unions in order to persuade gender equality in the workplace and have the courage to speak out for their rights, as this is the key to securing fair wages. And when women are paid equally, their family’s income rises, and they contribute more to the family’s well-being.

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New Social Compact

Latvian human rights activists condemn homophobia in China, Latvia and the world

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The issue of human rights of LGBT persons is like a hot potato – hard to spit it out, but also hard to swallow. Despite majority of the public having nothing against the LGBT community, people are afraid to allow them to have the same human rights everyone else has.

Governments and politicians also clash when it comes to fully recognizing the human rights of LGBT persons – and communist China is no exception. Interestingly, the Chinese Communist Party maintains a stance of double morals on this issue. On the one hand, during UN meetings China always reproaches other nations about homophobia and violations of LGBT rights. On the other hand, China has never been able to eradicate homophobia in the Chinese community, but instead has furthered it, for instance, by banning Eurovision broadcasts in China and by trying to ignore the existence of an LGBT community in China.

The Chinese Communist Party has become seriously entangled in its own ideology – as I already wrote, Chinese representatives have no shame in criticizing other countries’ discrimination of people with a non-traditional sexual orientation, stressing that China doesn’t consider homosexuality to be a mental illness. Moreover, the Chinese government has publicly stated that China supports the activities of LGBT organization. But this is simply not true! Although on the international stage Beijing acts as a protector of the human rights of LGBT communities and agitates for the equality of gays and lesbians, in China itself LGBT and women’s rights activists are being repressed, detained and held in labor camps. Thus, Beijing is doing everything in its power to suppress women’s rights and human rights in general.

The most pathetic thing in all this is that Beijing has always voted against all UN initiatives and resolutions that concern the recognition and establishment of human rights for LGBT persons, as this would draw even more attention to the violations of human rights in China itself.

In this regard, in solidarity with Chinese LGBT representatives the leading protector of LGBT human rights from the party Latvian Russian Union (LKS) Aleksandrs Kuzmins and one of the LKS’s leaders and MEP Tatjana Ždanoka have expressed concerns over the recent homophobic attacks in Latvia and are urging citizens from Latvia and around the world to attach a rainbow flag next to the ribbon of St. George during the upcoming 9 May Victory Day celebrations, thus commemorating members of the LGBT community that died during World War II.

Kuzmins stressed that during WWII members of the LGBT community also fought against Nazi Germany, adding that it’s no secret that in the Soviet army there were hundreds and thousands of gays and lesbians who fought shoulder to shoulder for the freedom of their motherland. These people were, however, repressed and exiled to Siberia after the war by the Stalin regime. Most of them were tortured to death in gulags, which is confirmed by information recently acquired from Moscow’s archives.

Human rights activists from the LKS believe that it’s time for people to change and openly talk about the mistakes that were made in the past – we don’t live in the Middle Ages anymore and we should get rid of ancient dogmas and stereotypes about the LGBT community, lest more people fall victim to the intolerance and hate.

On the eve of the Victory Day, the LKS urges global leaders to admit the severe mistakes that have been made and to end the repressions against their own LGBT communities.

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