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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

An Analysis on Marshall McLuhan’s concepts

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Marshall McLuhan is an important scholar who has made major contributions to communication discipline through introducing new concepts like “global village” and “medium is the message”. It can be said that ideas of McLuhan can be applied to new technologies and social media discussions today.

McLuhan introduced the idea of “medium is the message” in his book called Medium is the Message that was published in 1967. According to McLuhan, what is said by the message is not very significant. The media actors which can be regarded as the medium hold a more major influence on the masses than the message it presents.

The medium (or media in other terms) does not only have the role of being the carrier of the message but it is also the message that shapes people’s views and perceptions (McLuhan, 1967). McLuhan, based on the idea of “medium is the message” gave examples to support his claim in his book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man published in 1964. According to McLuhan, the content of any medium is always another medium. For instance, the content of writing is speech; the written word is the content of print; and print can be seen as the content of the telegraph (McLuhan, 1964).

Another important concept coined by McLuhan is “global village”. This concept was introduced in the 1960s to say that mass media will spread all over the world and make the world become a global village (McLuhan, 1962). According to McLuhan, the electronic interdependence of today’s world produces a world in the sense of “global village”. The global village has been created by the instant electronic information movement according to McLuhan.

McLuhan believed in the usefulness of communication technologies. One of the most important emphases McLuhan made was about drawing attention with his findings about the global communication revolution. According to McLuhan, TV has been a critical invention that ensures that nothing remains a secret, and that eliminates privacy, and he believed that the change of societies is possible with the development of communication tools in various forms. McLuhan made one of the most important predictions of the 20th century. This was  the Internet.

In contemporary world, social media is used by millions of user all over the world. New technologies have turned the world into a “global village” Although McLuhan said almost 60 years ago, his ideas about media (medium is the message) and the “global village” concept are still relevant today.

References

  • McLuhan, M. (1962), The Gutenberg Galaxy: The making of typographic man.   London: Routledge.
  • McLuhan M. (1964), Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man by Marshall McLuhan, McGraw Hill
  • McLuhan, M. (1967). The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects.  London: Penguin Press.

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Leaving no one behind with Fiqh for person with disability

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As I watch the new Netflix documentary, Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution produced by former President Barrack Obama and Michelle Obama, I realize thatthere is an urgent need for grassroot activism to support disability religious rights to pave the way towards greater equality. The movie highlights disabled summer campers who fight for the realization disability rights in 1970s, at the time when they were largely ignored by the state.

And does Indonesia need A Disability Revolution?

According to a study by Monash University, it is estimated that the disability prevalence rate in Indonesia is between 4% and 11%. There are several causes of disability, ranging from malnutrition, diseases, ageing population, natural disaster, and accident. Unfortunately, due to social stigma in the society against people with disability, the disability statistical figures may be underreported.

The Indonesian government has been actively involved in international convention by ratifying United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in 2007 and issued the law no. 8 of 2016 on rights of persons with disabilities to comply with human rights standards. But, at the same time the law faces some stagnate situation regarding improved well-beings of people with disabilities because disability prejudices are still at the heart of this tension. 

For example, disabled children are less likely to attend formal education because of lacking inclusive schools. In public places, ramps and accessible information are not easily available. Zooming into the workforce, Indonesian 2010 census reported that only 26,4% people with severe disabilities were employed in formal sectors. This resulted in high rate of self-employment among people with severe disabilities. Many people with mental disability, such as bipolar disorder, have to conceal their condition for the fear of losing jobs.

A research found that discriminations against people with disabilities in developing countries, including Indonesia, caused a loss of up to 7% of Gross Domestic Product(imagine : what if a genius with severe disability like the late Professor Stephen Hawking had never been employed at university?).

Women with disabilities even suffered more from double prejudices, by their gender and their disabilities. What makes thing more difficult for disabled citizens is that, despite of some disabilities laws and ministerial decrees, they were poorly enforced. This explains the urgency of ending this discrimination from a social-economic developmental perspective.

As the largest Muslim majority country in the world, Fiqh (Islamic jurisdiction) for person with disability remains important to safeguard equal religious rights. As a non-disabled Muslim woman, being able to perform Islamic prayer (shalat) properly help me increase my mental wellbeing during this unprecedented time.

Unfortunately, there are still some Muslims who believe that disabilities are by-products of witchcrafts (sihr) or demons (syaitan) which can be healed only by involving spirits and enchanting some quranic verses. Further, in Islamic law per se, there is no specific term which can encompass all disabilities.

“Fiqh for person with disability is very important because the society has yet to accommodate special needs for people with disabilities in performing religious rituals. For example, how does Islam regulate the wudlu(ablution) taken by a man/woman without arms? Considering that Islamic law obligates that someone must wash one’s arm up to elbow during wudlu. And will the wheelchair be considered as najis(impure) inside the mosque?” said Mr. Bahrul Fuad, a disabled person and board member of AIDRAN (Australia-Indonesia Disability Research and Advocacy Network).

Mr. Ahmad Ma’ruf, the Disability Program Team Leader of Muhammadiyah, the second largest and most influential Islamic organization in Indonesia after Nadlatul Ulama (NU), even posed critical questions:“What if persons with hearing impairment wish to get married and say ijabqabul (Islamic marriage vows), will they use sign language? Because religious court has yet to regulate the sign language issue. And who has the authority to validate the sign language as “legally correct” in Islamic marriage?  What if a man with wheelchair wishes to be an imam (leader of a congregational prayer)? Is he allowed to do that, given the fact that many people still interpret explicitly the regulation that makmum (member of a congregational prayer) must follow movements of imam? What if there is no accessible ablution facility in a mosque? Should a person with disability performs tayamum (dried ablution)?”

To address this issue, NUand Muhammadiyah issued Fiqh for person with disability and raise awareness of the public concerning equality for disabled communities. NU even collaborated with the Ministry of Religious Affairs to disseminate the Fiqhto mosques nationwide.

Fiqh for person with disability will fulfil civil rights of disabled community comprehensively, ranging from ubudiyah(religious rituals),muamalah(interpersonal relation), to sahusiah(public policy). This Fiqh will also protect rights of disabled women, as the most marginalized group.

To ensure the smooth implementation of the Fiqh, the government, civil societies, disabled people organizations, religious leaders, and experts of Islamic law should collaborate for accountable monitoring and evaluation. Regular capacity buildings for judges, teachers, and village officials should also be organized.

Finally, political buy-in through Perda(regional regulation)and guidelines should be issued to strengthen government officials’ commitment to enforce the Fiqh. For example, the Special Province of Aceh under Syariah law have regularly issued qanun(regional regulations subjected to Islamic stipulations).

Historically speaking, during the Umayyad Caliph era in the 700s, the Caliph Al-Waleed ibn ‘Abdul Malik accommodated health treatment needs for his population with disabilities through the provision of health care clinics within all his jurisdictional provinces. This idea was emulated by Caliph Umar Bin Abdul Aziz who hired support services workers for people with disabilities. This initiative resulted in social and legal impacts worldwide, in which a broad array of laws on disabilities were enacted.

In making public policy for citizens with disabilities, the government of Indonesia should not paint disabilities situation with a broad brush. Rather, Fiqhfor persons with disabilities must be taken into consideration seriously. Otherwise, there will be far-reaching consequences on well-beings of people with disabilities in the long run.

This Fiqhis a beacon of hope for future generations, to leave no one behind.

As put forward by a member of Crip Camp: “If you don’t demand what you believe for yourself, you’re not gonna get it”.

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Good Parenting Reduces the Divorce Rate

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Divorce is a very stressful event. Apart from having a bad impact on children, divorce has a major impact on the survival of the husband and wife who experience it. Divorced couples visit psychiatric clinics and hospitals more than couples from intact families. Divorced couples experience anxiety, depression, feelings of anger, feelings of incompetence, rejection, and loneliness.

In Indonesia, the divorce rate from year to year shows an increasing trend. The Ministry of Religious Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia reports that since 2015 until now there has been an increase in the divorce rate. In 2015 there were 394,246 cases, in 2016 it increased to 401,717 cases, then in 2017 it increased to 415,510 cases, as well as in 2018 it continued to increase to 444,358 cases, and by 2020, per August the number had reached 306,688 cases.

               The increase in the divorce rate from year to year has serious consequences in families. Conflict during the process of parental divorce and separation has a negative impact on the physical and psychological well-being of all family members. Quite a number of research results show that divorce has a negative effect on all family members, especially children. The results of Amato’s research in 2011 with a meta-analysis approach to 67 study results showed that children from divorced families had lower academic achievement, behavior, psychological adjustment, self-concept and social relations than children from intact families.

               Based on In the author’s empirical observation, the ending of marital status for a particular family also brings several social impacts, for example: narrowing social networks which results in a lack of social support, causes negative life experiences and psychological suffering, and causes economic hardship for women.

Thus rather than that, a marriage which basically originates from an agreement between two parties, so if there is a divorce, it is certain that both parties will suffer losses. Even children from marriages who divorce will share such losses. Then, what factors cause divorce? In my opinion, the substantial cause of divorce is the parenting concept of a married couple.

Good Parenting

               Parenting, generally known by the public as a pattern of parenting parents towards their children. This assumption is not completely wrong, but it must be straightened out that parenting is an ideal household conceptualization. Of course, you have to move from a husband and wife long before you have children. A husband and wife have had to discuss it long ago so that in various desired manifestations it can be carried out harmoniously together.

Parents (married couples), basically forming their children until they reach maturity will not be separated from the influence of their world. The mode of reflection on the relationship between parent and child is a complex activity that includes many specific attitudes and behaviors that work separately and collectively to influence the child’s outcome and the emotional bonds in which parental behavior is expressed.

In this case, parenting can be explained in terms of two components, namely parental responsiveness and parental demandness. Parents’ demands are the extent to which parents set guidelines for their children and how their discipline is based on these guidelines. Parental responsiveness is an emotional characteristic of parenting. Responsiveness continues to the extent to which parents support their children and meet the children’s needs. Both responsive and demanding parenting have been linked to securing attachment to children. Referring to Baumrind (1971), he identifies three parenting styles, namely: authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive with responsive and demanding concepts in mind.

Authoritative parentingis a condition of authoritative parents as a combination of demands and responsiveness. They make logical demands, set boundaries and demand children’s obedience, while at the same time, they are friendly, accept the child’s point of view, and encourage children’s participation in decision-making and often seek their children’s views in family considerations and decisions. This type of parent is then referred to as the type of parent who monitors and disciplines their children fairly, while being very supportive at the same time.

Authoritarian parenting, a demanding and unresponsive parental condition. They engage in little reciprocal interaction with children and expect them to accept adult demands without question. Strict socialization techniques (threads, commands, physical strength, love withdrawal) are used by parents who are authoritarian and withhold self-expression and independence. Authoritarian parents tend to set high standards and guidelines and require compliance. Authoritarian parents attribute love to success and not nurturing like the other two parenting styles.

Permissive parenting, consists of several clear and predictable rules due to inconstant follow-up and neglected bad behavior, neutral or positive affective tone. They give children a high degree of freedom and do not restrain their behavior unless physical injury involves. Permissive parenting shows an overly tolerant approach to socialization with responsive and non-demanding parenting behavior. These parents are nurturing and accepting, but at the same time they avoid imposing demands and controls on the child’s behavior. They have little or no hope for their children and often see their children as friends and have few boundaries.

Based on the three parenting models above that the author has reviewed and conducted a literature review, it is clear that the Good Parenting pattern that must be applied by a husband and wife is authoritative parenting. This concept implies a condition in which a positive influence on the realm of a child’s life until he grows up on the aspects of education and psychological well-being is formed.

A positive parent-child relationship illustrates that the family will survive in harmony so that it becomes the foundation of a healthy home and community environment. The influence of the parents on the whole life of the child means the influence from birth to adulthood due to the parents. Children spend most of their time at home and the attitudes, behavior, standard of living, and communication of parents with their children have a major impact on the child’s future life. If their parents are too strict or too obedient, it has a negative impact on their life. But the supportive, caring and flexible attitude of the parents results in a psychologically and mentally healthy child.

Parents (a married couple) should adopt an authoritative parenting style and practically apply it when dealing with their children. They are the backbone of a nation and the nation’s future depends on their psychosocial development. Healthy parents can produce healthy children in exchange for a healthy nation. On the other hand, unhealthy parents (husband and wife) will have a bad influence, a small example is divorce. And this is a burden for the nation.

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