Sunday, January 31, 2016

Nature is a Horizon for Human Becoming

by Alan S. Cajes

Note: This paper is a collection of earlier notes. It is an entry to a study on the relationship among worldviews, life expressions, and social determinants using hermeneutic  phenomenology. Hermeneutic phenomenology  is a methodology of interpretation that combines the approaches of  hermeneutics and phenomenology. It has ancient tradition dating back to the times of the oracles, who were considered as among the most powerful individuals. Photo showsLycurgus Consulting the Pythia(1835/1845), as imagined by  Eugène Delacroix. Photo is retrieved from

My view is that we, human beings, are not God, but we are godly. We have a soul, an embodied spirit, but our spirit is pure. We have consciousness, and consciousness is essence, a timeless being. Through consciousness we can experience oneness with the divine. We are not human beings with a soul, but a soul that temporarily inhabits a physical body. We are spirits, and spirits are immortal. We have psychic capacities and these are the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We have the potential and it is a potential given to us by the Creator in order to reshape our destiny, change our psychology and to make our sense of identity in the image and likeness of the Creators. We are in this world, but not of this world. Thus our planet, the world, nature, our environment is a vessel, a means, a way, a cocoon that enables us to become or realize our potential, our being.

As an example, I used to think that we perform an act to promote our own vested interest. We love, and we are loved in return or simply find fulfillment in loving. We take good care of other people to enjoy freedom with responsibility. We cheat to get material gain. We steal to attain financial security. We lie to enjoy freedom with no responsibility. And so on.

But I abandoned that idea one Good Friday, a day when the Christian community remembers the passion and death of Christ. When I was younger, I used to take part in the Siete Palabras of our parish as a speaker. So it is a special day for me. As I reflected on the mystery behind Good Friday, I asked the following questions: Did Christ die to fulfill the prophecy? Did he go through the process of betrayal to experience what it is to be human? Or did he just do it to please the Father? I asked the questions because Jesus Christ admitted: "Shall I not drink the cup that the Father gave me?” In the Garden of Gethsemane, however, we learned that he somehow had second thoughts about his mission and that he was terribly afraid. He first prayed: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” Christ was deeply troubled and aggrieved. However, Christ eventually chose to accept his fate saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.”

Thus, there is a higher form of vested interest -- giving it up. As we transcend the logic and music of our right and left brains, we plug ourselves into a higher form of consciousness, that of the Divine, where there is no more vested interest, but only a higher level of selflessness.

That is how I imagine the process of human becoming or fully realizing one’s being. I cannot say for certain what we can become or what is up there. But we can somehow speculate. Our religions, customs, traditions have their respective thoughts, teachings, guidance on this. Cosmology tells us that the process of becoming of the universe is still ongoing. So, it is safe to assume that the best is yet to come for us.

In a sense, I can say that reality exists in two places -- inside and outside our skin. The reality that exists inside our skin includes our beliefs, feelings, aspirations, ideas, pains, fears, hopes, joys, among others. These fragments of an 'inner' reality constitute our personality, i.e., who we are and who can or what we will be. The outer reality consists of other people, other forms of life, nature, social structures and systems, including economic activities and political institutions. These particles of the world 'out there' shape and form our spatio-temporal condition. Although we can make a distinction between a world 'in here' and a world 'out there', we find that these two worlds are not juxtaposed aliens to one another, but rather interpenetrating each other. The inner world shapes and forms the outer world, and the outer world mirrors the inner world.

Whatever we have in the inner world, to paraphrase Chief Seattle, ultimately finds its expression in the outer world. This relationship ever rises to a higher level of complexity and nuances, such as when there are many competing 'inner worlds' that seek realization in the outer world.
Look at a watershed. Some people see it as an ideal site for a housing project. Others perceive it in terms of the money they could get by selling timber. There are also people who look at it as a place for eking a living. Still others, who recognize the inherent value of the watershed, fight for its protection and preservation.

The idea is that the worlds that we carry inside our heads seek to be manifested in the world out there. And it is the dominant worldview -- usually shared by those who hold political and economic power and authority -- which usually fashion the outer world where we all live at the expense of the other worldviews that might constitute the majority. For instance, a minority worldview becomes dominant when it is sustained by State power. And by State power I mean the authority vested by people in their elected officials in government. The people's representatives are supposed to carry the worldview of the represented. But that is more fiction than fact in the country's political system. It is very rare that the people elect their true representatives in government. The general condition is that we elect those who do not necessarily share our world view -- people who have a worldview of their own. When these people hold the mantle of power and authority, which constitutionally emanates from the sovereign Filipino people, the most likely result is that they institutionalize their own worldview at the people's expense. Hence, a worldview held by a powerful few could become a dominant worldview with the "consent of the governed."

I had a personal experience related to this. I was assigned to improve the performance of a village corporation that received financial assistance from the government. Based on the feasibility study of the project of that village corporation, a building would be constructed so that the members of the corporation could work there and have access to simple tools and equipment for the production process. The documents also showed that the village corporation shall have as members those who are beneficiaries of the agrarian reform program of the government. Besides, the funding for the project came from the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program of the government.

When I reached the project site, I discovered some discrepancies between what the documents of that village corporation are saying vis-à-vis the actual situation on the ground. First, the building was located in a lot beside the house of the village corporation president. Second, the village corporation president is not a beneficiary of the agrarian reform program. Third, the location of the building is on average more than ten kilometers away from the village corporation members. Fourth, the members did not use the building in producing their products because it was expensive, time consuming and inconvenient for them to work there. Fifth, the village corporation president owned the majority of the stocks of the village corporation; hence, his decision would prevail over the votes of the rest of the membership. Sixth, the officials of the town recommended that the project of that village corporation be funded by a grant window of the government. Seventh, the village corporation president was an ally of the local chief executive of that town at the time when the project was conceptualized and approved for funding by the government.

So, there was a conflict between the worldview (what they wanted) of the members and that of the village corporation president, whose election as president, and even membership in that group, despite the fact that he was not qualified to become a member, was made possible with the support of local political power. A minority worldview was imposed on the entire membership by one person conniving with the politicians, who are supposed to serve the affected constituents.

Nature or what we normally call the environment helps in forming our thoughts, and therefore our ideas. This is clearly manifested in the Visayan term kalibutan. This term has two meanings: consciousness and world. Thus, the statement walay kalibutan kung walay kalibutan means "there is no consciousness if there is no world". Or simply, "no world, no consciousness."  I learned about these insights when Prof. Dr. Manuel Dy Jr. shared his thoughts about the advantage of using native dialects in philosophic discourse to some philosophy students at Divine Word College of Tagbilaran, now Holy name University, way back in 1990. The world or reality, transformed into images or ideas, is the content of our thought. This basic human experience enabled St. Thomas Aquinas to formulate his theory of knowledge: "Nothing is in the intellect which does not pass through the senses." The same experience led John Locke to believe that the mind is a tabula rasa, a blank sheet into which is written the various human experiences. In other words, we are conscious because of the world. Thus, the environment to a large extent makes us what we are and who we are.

When the early people saw a world, an environment or nature that is both mysterious and powerful, their natural recourse was not to conquer the forces of nature but to live in harmony with its ways. The early Greeks, for instance, revered nature. Our indigenous communities generally share this outlook. This aboriginal worldview did not aim at mastering nature but at harmonizing human activities with the rhythm and harmony of nature. 

In some approaches to philosophy, including phenomenology, a human person, defined as an embodied subjectivity, is a consciousness whose consciousness is consciousness of something other than consciousness itself. It means that a person is aware that he is aware, knows that he knows. But it does not stop there. A person is aware also of those that are external to him. He knows or could know that which surrounds him. The intentionality of human consciousness affirms the social and political nature of human beings.  In the philosophy of Aristotle, the rationality of man signifies his political nature. Every person desires what is good, not only the good for himself but also the good for others. The search for the good, which ultimately translates to the search for happiness, can be realized under a civil community or State. As Aristotle said, “As the State was formed to make life possible, so it exists to make life good.” So, human beings have an essence and have the potential to realize their being. The world or the cosmos help in this process of becoming. And the civil community has a role in making this possible.

Let me share a personal experience about the important role of the civil community or its instrumentalities in ensuring the alignment between world view and actual lived experiences. As I mentioned earlier, a single human person, the village corporation president, imposed his worldview to the rest of the membership in the example I shared earlier. When I found out about this, I discretely talked to the members of the corporation who were living in two far-flung barangays. I consulted them regarding their situation and asked what they wanted. I could sense the despair of all the members present in two of the consultative meetings that I conducted. They wanted the building constructed near their barangays, but they were afraid to confront or go against the will of their president. They said they have loans from the president, who is engaged in lending money for a fee.

I submitted my report and recommendations to my supervisor, who approved the suggested next steps. Together with the members, we changed the village corporation into a non-stock association in which each member has only one vote. We excluded the village corporation president in the membership of the new association. Despite strong opposition and threats of physical harm by the president, we dismantled the building and constructed one small unit in each of the two barangays. We used the salvaged parts of the old building and contributed our personal money for the other construction requirements. The members were very appreciative and vowed to continue supporting the project. They thought it could not be done. Yet, we did it.

There were many factors that helped me form this worldview. Way back in high school, I used to visit after school the Santo Nino Shrine that is built on top of a hill in my town. The view from above is breathtaking. In that place, I spent countless hours meditating, praying, admiring creation, watching the clouds, reading, talking with friends, or just doing nothing. I felt closer to nature and the Creator in that space. It was also during this time that I became active in the activities of our church, the St. James Parish of Batuan. Our parish priest, Rev. Fr. Danilo Maniwan, mentored me and other young people to become young catechists. So, I became a member of the Confraternity of Our Lady of Lourdes, Student Catholic Action, and the Catholic Youth Organization. As catechists, we visited barangays to meet with the youth, children and adults and shared with them what we have learned on topics like Mariology, Christology, Salvation, Youth and the Church, etc.

In college, I studied Philosophy under mentors, who trained under the Dominicans, the Jesuits, and the SVD Missionaries. It was the first time that I was introduced to the thoughts and worldview of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin when I took up Cosmology, one of the major courses of the Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy curriculum. De Chardin’s ideas were radical and planted the seed for my openness to the possibility that creation and evolution are not contradictory. That creation and evolution are like two sides of the same coin.

At this time, I joined various student organizations such as the Student Catholic Action (SCA), Kristiyanong Alyansa para Itaguyod ang Tao (KAPIT) – Alyansa ng mga Kristiyanong Mag-aaral (AKMA), and the Diwanag Philosophical Society (Diwanag), among others. I learned so many things from these organizations. For example, SCA taught me self-denial, KAPIT taught me authentic Christian humanism and active non-violence, and Diwanag taught me respect for creation.

When I was working as a field staff of the Department of Trade and Industry in our province, I learned about the need to help nature recover the harvested resources.
This was clearly illustrated to me in my experience with the mat weavers in the town of Ubay.

I assisted the mat weavers’ association on organization development matters, as well as in marketing the mats. I shared with them some designs prepared by our office. During one Sandugo Celebration of the Province of Bohol, we displayed the items that were produced by our assisted livelihood groups. I displayed the sample mats from Ubay based on the design that I gave to the weavers. One visitor, an exporter, liked the mats that were displayed and asked if we could produce 400 mats every quarter. I was excited with what the buyer said. I said to myself that this would be good news to the mat weavers who are mostly living below or within the poverty threshold.

The first opportunity I had, I called for a meeting with the mat weavers at the house of the group’s president in Barangay Cagting. I told them about the exiting news – that they could have a stable source of alternative income. Everyone was silent for almost a minute after telling them what the buyer relayed to me. Later, the president said that they could not possibly meet the demand because they only weave mats during off farm season, which means summer. Besides, the president said, they do not have enough supply of romblon, a plant that has long leaves that are used to weave mats. We can plant romblon, I said. They said it is possible but it will take months for the plant to grow. Besides, they said they had no experience in planting romblon. The plant grows in some suitable idle lands. The weavers just collect the mature leaves to weave mats when they are not working in their farms. In the absence of full-time weavers and sufficient supply of raw materials, the transaction did not prosper.

That was how I learned about the need to ensure that the natural resources that support economic activities are always available and sufficient. One of the things that we did at work later was plant seedlings of the raw materials of our supported livelihood groups.

When I left school and started working on rural development issues, a poem that I learned from a college teacher kept haunting me. The poem is entitled, “The Enigma of Man’s Existence”. It goes this way: "What is man? / Is he simply and purely a protoplasmic creature born without his consent and extinguished without his permission? / And between his unconsented birth and unpermitted death, what does he have? / A little piece of light and life precariously sandwiched between two interminable darkness -- the darkness of his unknown origin, and the darkness of his unknowable destiny. / What is man, but tears and laughter between the earth and the sky? / What is man, but hunger and sex between the mouth and the genitals? / What is man, but loneliness between the womb and the tomb? / Our usual rationalization is commonly expressed in this dogma: to err is human. / How many self-donations were made on the strength of those words as if to be human is already to be wrong?  / Now, the question still remains: what then is the true essence of man?"

In graduate school, some of the questions were answered with the help of my professors at the Graduate School of the Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas (UST). In particular, the late Prof. Dr. Claro R. Ceniza, easily one of the greatest Pilipino metaphysicians of all time, introduced me to the fusion of logic, physics, and metaphysics. The ideas we shared in our Advanced Metaphysics course left an indelible mark on my consciousness. I also learned a lot from my thesis and dissertation adviser, the late Prof. Dr. Florentino Hornedo, who was a recognized Renaissance man. He guided me in navigating the ideas of the modern and contemporary philosophers, the postmodernists, hermeneuticists, phenomenologists, historians, theologians, etc. One of the significant learnings that I gained from reading his books and listening from his lectures is contextualism. That is why it is important that we look at the world, nature, our environment from various perspectives so we have a better an enriched understanding about what it means for us and for the rest of creation.

At the Asian Social Institute (ASI), although I am not new to the ideas of environmentalists, evolutionists and theoretical physicists, the lessons that I gained from the different courses made me recall what William Shakespeare said through Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” I realize that there are still a lot of books to read and lots of lessons to learn. Of special interest is the synthesis of knowledge under the guidance of our teachers, whose respective courses are not in conflict, but contributory to each other. The complex yet simple and elegant exposition of various ideas make learning relevant, exciting and useful. It is like looking at the world from a higher dimension. Which reminded me of an ungracious proverb shared by Dr. Ramon Reyes: “philosophy is that which, with which and without which, everything remains the same anyway”. My formation at ASI taught me that philosophy or knowledge in general may not change the external world at once, but it surely could turn the world that you carry inside your head upside down. I now view the world through a cosmic lens and relates with the cosmos as if it is a numinous.

In my line of work at the Development Academy of the Philippines (Academy), I am involved in designing and implementing training programs or technical interventions that will build and improve the capacity of the government to perform its mandated functions. One area that takes most of my time is environmental management. One field under environmental management is waste management. I have professional work experience in this field at the Academy starting in 1994. I had the opportunity to work with the pioneers in this field, experts and practitioners for instance whose advocacy is zero waste management.

The field of waste management is significant in the sense that waste could harm and kill people and other organisms. It can degrade or destroy our environment. It can harm and eventually kill our planet. The ill effects of climate change that we are now experiencing is largely due to improper waste management. The greenhouse gas emissions come mainly from our wastes. These gases change the chemistry of our atmosphere and induce the enhanced greenhouse effect that results in global warming. Waste may be defined as a resource that is thrown away somewhere because society does not know how to use it. It can take the form of a damaged, broken, defective, extra or unnecessary material produced by a manufacturing process. Manufacturing refers to the “act or process of generating something”.

In this sense, Earth is a huge manufacturing plant. For instance, the planet, through its fundamental ecological processes, combines one atom of carbon and two atoms of hydrogen to form water, which the planet transforms into various states, such as ice, liquid or vapor in a process called the water cycle. But unlike its artificial counterparts, the planet does not produce waste that cannot be assimilated or absorbed by the natural system. This idea leads to the concept of non-biodegradable waste or stock waste. Stock wastes, such as plastic and tin cans, are resources dumped somewhere and remain there for a long period of time. Because society keeps on throwing stock wastes, more and more non-biodegradable wastes are dumped somewhere until society finds it hard to find a place to store the waste. Stock waste is the opposite of biodegradable waste or flow waste, which can be assimilated by the environment. Examples of flow waste are biomass or remains of living things, food waste, animal waste, etc. Microorganisms can break down flow waste into materials that can be safely used again. Compost is case in point. It is a decomposed organic matter. It can be used as fertilizer and soil conditioner.

The decomposition of flow waste, however, produces by-products that have been proven to be harmful to the environment. One harmful by-product of the decomposition of organic materials by anaerobic (without oxygen) microbial action is methane, a greenhouse gas that absorbs infrared radiation thereby preventing it from escaping to space. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency: “Methane is about 21 times more powerful at warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide (CO2) by weight…. Methane's chemical lifetime in the atmosphere is approximately 12 years.” The catalogue of the negative impacts of dumped wastes is “long and lamentable” especially if the flow and stock wastes are mixed with hazardous elements such as mercury, lead and alkali and acid wastes.

The need to effectively manage wastes, therefore, should be one of the top priorities of society. This means that every sector of society – national and local governments, business, civil society and the citizens – should work hand in hand to manage wastes well. Finger pointing has never worked in solving the problem of waste management. Since not all sectors of society have a complete understanding about how to effectively manage wastes, it behooves everyone to learn and share knowledge and resources on how to make communities clean. For if cleanliness is next to godliness, then we, as particles of the human society, still have so much to do.

I have personally trained hundreds of local officials down to the barangay level on sustainable and ecological solid waste management. During my early years at the Academy, I helped in promoting zero waste management. Our unit -- the Center for Sustainable Human Development -- which I have been managing since 2005 has formally trained various local government units, such as Palawan, Cebu, Cavite and Northern Samar, on waste management. Some of the technologies that we share with our training participants are on natural farming, biomass recirculation, recycling, etc. I have also participated in the review or crafting of policies related to waste management.

One of the memorable accomplishments that we have done is a hands-on training on biogas technology. This project was funded by the US Environmental Protection Agency. We partnered with a cooperative in Batangas. This cooperative has members who have pig farms. Through the training, the cooperative installed cost-effective bio-digesters that convert the pig waste into useful resources, such as captured methane gas that can be used for cooking.
This intervention addressed the ill effects of improperly disposed pig waste, such as greenhouse gas emission, and health and sanitation hazards. It also gave the members additional savings because they have displaced the use of LPG gas for cooking.

At the personal level, to the extent possible, I am using organic products because these have no bad effects to our natural systems. What I dispose are mainly residual wastes. I sell or give the recyclable materials to the waste recyclers. When zero waste is not possible, I practice waste minimization. I practice energy efficiency and conservation. I use LED bulbs. I do not use an air-conditioning unit at home, although I am planning of installing one for use during the very hot summer. I do not have a car. I commute, except during official functions at work. I implement shadow projects to compensate my carbon footprint. For instance I practice assisted natural regeneration in planting trees. Whenever feasible, I eat vegetarian food and buy food from organic farms.

I am not fully living out my worldview. It is not easy to fully live it out. Fully living it out means living in a house that has the features of a nipa hut – made from biodegradable or recyclable materials, not connected to the electricity grid because it has renewable energy as a source of power, and produces zero waste. It means going to your place of work by walking or through a mode of transportation that has low carbon footprint. It means eating organic food and using items that have zero or low carbon emission. It means a low carbon lifestyle.  When I calculated my carbon footprint for 2015 using the Carbon Footprint Calculator, the results showed that my carbon footprint is 4.77 tons per year. The average in the Philippines is 0.97 tons. The average worldwide is 4 tons. The global target to combat climate change is 2 tons. Of course my carbon footprint is lower than the average in industrial countries which is 11 tons. But it also means that I need to reduce my carbon footprint because it is an indicator that I am not living out my worldview.

There are reasons why this is the case. First, the food that I eat is not all organic. Second, the electricity that I use is not totally from renewable energy sources. Third, the transportation system is dependent on fossil fuel. Fourth, the city infrastructure is not conducive for walking or biking. Fifth, the other services that we access from public agencies and private companies, such as water, ATM cards, etc. are not carbon neutral. In other words, our socio-economic domains do not provide an environment that is conducive for me to express my worldview in my day to day existence. To cite an example, we do not have accessible parks or green areas where people could relax, meditate, reflect, exercise or engage in meaningful conversations. Our air quality is not good for our health. Our water systems are degraded. Our vegetative cover is almost gone. So, I cannot appreciate the beauty of creation because I see degradation everywhere. Somehow it affects our disposition, our way of living in the world.

Thus I have a worldview that I cannot live out fully because I am in a situation that is formed by the worldview of others.

How did this happen? One explanation is that the government is not performing its mandated function to promote the welfare of our people. There are laws that are not enforced. As Hornedo would say, our government allows cars that we do not produce, using fuels that we do not have. Our sidewalks are parking spaces for vehicles. We do not have safe pedestrian lanes. That is just one example of the effects of bad governance. And the result is traffic congestion, which leads to air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, loss of productivity, stress, etc. But government could actually change all that. We have some cities that ban smoking in their respective territory.

When I had the chance to study at the Ecole National de A’dministration in Paris on Managing Big Cities, I saw with my own eyes and personally experienced how France made Paris and its other cities walkable, clean and nice to live in. That is also true in other cities that I had the chance to visit. The public parks in Savanna and Tokyo are awe-inspiring.

I can perhaps consider the Christian outlook as somehow a dominant way of looking at the world prior to what I consider as my current worldview. Under that view, God created heaven and earth and gave man dominion over everything else.

Since I was still very young then and had no exposure to environmental issues, I did not think then that it was necessary for me to live out that worldview. When I helped in gathering firewood for our restaurant business and in cutting trees from my grandparents’ land to build our house, I did not consider those acts as a violation of my worldview. When I helped in our farm, I was not worried then that we were using chemical inputs and not practicing organic farming. I simply thought then that what I was doing was a normal thing to do.

My grandparents and my parents are Catholics. So it was just normal that I was raised in the traditions of the faith. Although I went to a public school for my basic education, we had a subject on religious education that was handled by catechists. The next 16 years of my formal schooling were spent in Catholic schools. 

My symbol is the Philippine Eagle. I have always been fascinated with this species when I heard about it on radio when I was young. This species requires a specific area to survive. The area has to be in a good condition. This species does not encroach the territories of other eagles. It is faithful to its partner.

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