Delivered during the Academic Convocation last November 3, 2010 to open the 2nd Semester of the Academic Year 2010-2011

The intention of this paper is to apply what I have learned from one of the philosophical papers of H. Peter Steeve entitled “Phenomenological Communitarianism” to the subjects I teach.  For quite a while, in fact, days already, I have been groping how to put things in order.  I was boxed into thinking I’d be more “philosophical” because, in my idea, that is how academic convocations are delivered.  For days I was left with nothing.  Nothing.  I wanted to take refuge at “nothingness” but I know I’d be more endangered if I grope at “nothing” according to the understanding of nihilinsic philosophy, when I know it is the “possibility of everything.”   At the last hours, I gave up.  I just want to have fun this morning.  I want to have fun sharing to you what I know from my side of the cliff.  If I fall, I guess, we will all fall.  After all, I am tasked – not to explicate the text of H. Peter Steeve – but to simply make use of it in the subjects I teach specifically – the social sciences.

In “Phenomenological Communitarianism,” H. Peter Steeve tries to solve three fundamental problems that arise, generally, from the theories of Communitarianism; in particular, by Michael Sandel and Alasdair MacIntyre.  For Michael Sandel, he said:

We cannot conceive ourselves independent…as bearers of selves wholly detached from our aims and attachments…Our roles are partly constitutive of the persons we are – as citizens of a country, or members of a movement, or partisan of a cause…Open-ended though it be, the story of my life is always embedded in the story of those communities from which I derive my identity – whether family or city, tribe or nation, party or cause.  In the communitarian view, these stories make a moral difference, not only a psychological one.  They situate us in the world and give our lives their moral particularity.” (p. 81-82)

Can you imagine yourself apart from a “community”? According to Sandel, the stories of our lives are embedded in the stories of those communities from which I derive my identity.  Here, it should be noted that what comes first are the “stories of communities” out of which our individual stories – “the story of my life” or the “stories of our lives” – are embedded and to which we derive our identity.  In my history classes, be it Philippine and World History, I highlight myths.  Myths, after all, are stories.  Question is: Are myths true?  Before we answer that, here are some examples of myths.

The Quarrel between Sky and Sea

“Once upon a time there was no land. There were only the sky, the sea, and the flying bird.  For a long time, the bird flew and flew, without resting, because it had no place to rest on.  One day the tired bird incited a quarrel between the sea and the sky.  The sea hurled big waves against the sky.  The sky rose higher and higher to escape the foaming waves.  The sea continued to hurl the waves to greater heights.  The angry sky then threw down boulders of rocks upon the raging sea.  Out of these rocks came the Philippines.”

The Giant’s Tale

“A long, long time ago, the world was a vast ball of solid rock borne by a mighty giant on his shoulders. For untold ages, he carried his burden patiently.  But one day he became tired and let his burden slide down his shoulders.  As the rock fell, it crashed into pieces.  Out of the fragments rose the continents and islands, including the Philippines.”

Are myths true? Are these stories “The quarrel between the sky and sea” and “The Giant’s Tale” true?  Myths are true! – Only seen in the eyes of our ancestors.  Myths are typically accepted factual depictions of something by some group of people at some point in time.  Ancient people developed creation myth using the knowledge that they possessed at that time.  Both time and place in which they lived constrained their knowledge.  Knowing these facts about myths or “stories of communities,” what do these myths tell us about who we are as persons?

Given that we are “situated” already such as we are in the lowlands or uplands, coastal or forested areas, how do we live as communities? Many of the elements of these myths tell us how our ancestors have lived their day to day lives.  The most emphasized is their economy, their way of looking for food of which division of labor is also determined.  Status as such can also be established from these stories.  There is so much information that as we venture to learn who we are as a community, we have to go back to stories – oral or written – by people who have lived their lives way ahead of us.  After all, wisdom comes with age.  At some point in my discussion, I asked one of my students in world history how he would understand this quotation: “Only simple-minded people would develop a myth about creation.”  Ask yourselves, would you bother making one now?  When science tries to solve everything for us?  I would be overwhelmed of the great intelligence of these “simple-minded people” who wasted their time trying to explain who we are as a people and never got confused about it.  We, nowadays, who have all the aid of science and technology, face more problems trying to look for an answer to who we are and still leave discontented of hard truths.

Here are some more important points to consider:

  1. Ancient people believed that they could not have created the world.
  2. Therefore, they decided that a power, superior to themselves, must have created it.
  3. At the same time, people saw themselves as the center of creation, perhaps because they knew the world from their own perspective.
  4. They formed a theory based upon their knowledge and reasoning skills.
  5. They have recognized that they could not know how the universe came to exist. However, they desperately wanted to explain it. Therefore, they developed myths.

Following through Sandel’s theory on communitarianism, Alasdair MacIntyre said that:

“I am never able to seek for the good or exercise the virtues only qua individual. This is partly because what it is to live the good life concretely varies from circumstances to circumstances even when it is one and the same conception of the good life and one and the same set of virtues which are being embodied in a human life…It is not just different individuals live in different social circumstances; it is also that we all approach our own circumstances as bearers of a particular identity.  I am someone’s son or daughter, someone else’s cousin or uncle; I am a citizen of this or that city, a member of this or that guild or profession…Hence what is good for me has to be good for one who inhabits these roles. As such, I inherit from the past of family, my city, my tribe, my nation, a variety of debts, inheritances, rightful expectations and obligations.  These contribute to the given of my life, my moral starting point.” (p. 82)

Myths, as it tell the “story of communities” – of the communities of our ancestors – as we try to learn it and put it to heart, completing our own stories; we become also “bearers of a particular identity.” That is how meaningful myths are.  It allows us to see, to share, to experience what was in the past.  History, including pre-history when there was no written records yet, are collectively shared to us now in the present.  As MacIntyre worded it, these are “the given of my life.”  These are truths about who we are that we did not choose and so, we cannot deny.  After all, our identities in our communal life as a people are intensified.

Having the two communitarian theories discussed from my side of the cliff, the three problems that H. Peter Steeve identified are:

  1. The “Disappearing-Self” Problem
  2. The “Intersubjective Good” Problem
  3. The “Constitution of a Community” Problem

What is the “Disappearing-Self” Problem? If we insist that our identities are determined by the consciousness, by the knowledge grounded on the “stories of communities” where we belong, how is the Self constituted?  Generally, communitarian theories put the Self as a “product of culture, of his or her communal roles, his or her traditions, etc.”  In view of Sandel’s theory, the Self is simply a product, more so, a character in the “stories of communities;” and for MacIntyre’s theory, the Self is simply “given” like that of a mathematical problem – it is given already.  No need to look for it, to think about it.  It’s just there.  Sociology affirms this possibility that man – human being – is just social constructs.  Given that they are “constructs,” they are conventional and arbitrary.  There are chances that, once arbitrated “null,” for instance, man will “no longer be man.”  And once such new arbitration is promulgated and accepted (without thinking), it will be conventional that what we constituted as “man” before it was arbitrated anew is no longer “man” in the previous sense.  People can play around losing sight of persons that make up society, the very people that makes society a possibility.  Worst is, as H. Peter Steeve highlights it, that “there is no self that is attached to others.  There are only conglomerations of attachments intersecting at a point which we label “the Self.”

Our community life here in the seminary might well be a conglomeration of attachments. You are simply a “phantasm,” a kinetic entity made potential by external forces beyond your control i.e. the seminary community or the seminary formation or the seminary as an institution.  Thus, community life has penetrated deep into the recesses of our spirit that it has become like water to a fish – essential to existence yet, if not the last to be noticed, simply unnoticed.  We need a nudge at times to get to notice it and value it once again.  We know we live with a community but at some point we get confused how to live as a community.  We get into trouble working out personal needs with communal needs.  We get messed up with what is good for one’s self and for others in the community.  Most of the issues we confront about our seminary formation have to do with community life.  Problems with our academic, spiritual, apostolic life, even our human formation, all boils down to how we live our community life.  Come to think of it, many of the solutions to these issues are, in fact, found in the community, too.  Everything is about the community, nothing, though how much we clamor, is about us – individually.  All is usurped by the community.  Your “Self” is disappearing in this case.  How should we deal with this as we fully claim our community?

Peter Steeve proposes the “Phenomenological Communitarianism” way, stating that, It is impossible to experience the Self in any way other than communally enmeshed. From the very beginning I am constituted as a member of a community – the Ego and the Other rises in sense simultaneously and my experience is always in the context of the community of Others.” Here, as he continues, “through reflection on experience augmented by phenomenological reconstruction, we discovered that the Self is experienced as fundamentally in community and that it is impossible to conceptualized our own ego otherwise.”

How is this “experienced” by ancient peoples? And how was the possibility of the “self” disappearing in the course of human history?  There must be something in history, in the “stories of communities” so to speak, in the interactions and relationships developed in the course of time and space.

In the language of sociology, the “disappearing self” can mean Marx’s “alienation” or Durkheim’s “anomie;” the latter is the primary reason why people kill themselves. Alienation and anomie were prevalent during the rise of industrialization most particularly when factory systems were favored substituting man’s labor to cold machines that are efficient and do not tire at all.  As all factors are doomed to contribute to the demise of persons in a system already cruel to the “fallible,”  there is much more reason to learn from experience – the very experience of the Self in a society – in a community – that does not care of its component parts: persons!  Where does the seminary community (society) fall at this point? Are we still in a preindustrial society or the industrial or postindustrial?  Or just about a mixture of the three?

“The self is constituted as a social entity, indeed, but the experience of such a self is universal, true, and self-evident. Consequently, we can appeal to the experience of a fundamentally communitarian self – a self that is always taken as a member of a community and that arises in sense with the other…The human self, then, is always experienced as a self-in-community.” (p. 88)  For those who feel the pain of a cruel society, this is where you find yourself doomed.  No matter how much you alienate yourself; no matter how society push you to anomie, you exist as a Self, constituted by other Selves; and constituting each other makes possible the “re-appearing,” the “constancy” of the Self no matter how communitarian theories plunge them as “products” or “constructs,” much worst, as a “conglomeration of attachments.”

What then is the “Intersubjective Good” problem? The questions posted by Steeve is: “Even if I am fundamentally in community and my Ego is fundamentally constituted in conjunction with the Other, why should I care about the goods of the Other and of the community?” and “Perhaps it is the care that we cannot conceive of ourselves as detached from our relationships, roles and culture, but why does this mean that we should care about the goods of those to whom we are attached? (pp. 88-89)

It is pointed that “there is individual first for which there is an individual good.” The constitution of the individual gives the possibility for the constitution of the good.  Here, goods are experienced to be fundamentally intersubjective.  Why?  Because “my good…necessarily arises in sense with the Other’s goods and the goods of the community of Others.  As the Ego and the other simultaneously arise in sense, so my conception of goods arise with my understanding of the other’s conception of goods.  We should act in such a way that takes into consideration the goods of others since whenever we act on any good, it necessarily is an intersubjective good which has repercussions for other people. Acting with consideration for other people’s goods is a way of acknowledging this intersubjectivity – a way of being true.”  To further ask: what is the difference between yours and my good?  Steeve puts it that “Your good and my good can be fundamentally related and interdefined while at the same time be neither identical nor unrelated. My goods are goods which appear to me as such.  This is not to say that they exclude the other.  For my goods appear as communally situated and enmeshed with the other’s goods.  But they are goods from my particular perspective and goods that are appropriate (possible) for someone like me.  Thus, when I identify your good and promote it as such as my own, this is possible because goods are intersubjective – they are perspectives of the good, where the other possible perspectives (other goods) are apperceived.” (p. 90)  This sheds light to the goodness of man in history, allowing the possibility of good to permeate all aspects of the community.  Better yet, when these possibilities of goodness are pooled together can generate progress and development.  But at some point in history, the “good” of the Other can be bad for us.  Such is the case when we were colonized by Spain, by United States and the Japan.  Their “good” subjugated us, put us into decades of suffering.  But just that, when we see the “good” of the subjugated – the Filipinos – we sought for a common good, a good which is independence.  We constituted the good of Others by working out our good, which eventually, becomes the community’s good.

The consciousness of this “good” may have been just recent but to our ancestors, this may have been, still, “face-value,” a “good” which draws life-or-death to them. Thus, their regard for the good of nature which has so much power than them, a force that can yield them life through the food it provides, as well as, a force that can yield death through the calamities that come from time to time.  Along this recognition of the “good” of nature, their own interaction and relationships reflect this desire for the “good.”  Thus, traditional values, mostly religious in nature, abound their way of life.  Every step of the way, their way of life is highlighted by rites or rituals celebrating the intersubjective good of and by the community.

The third problem is the constitution of the community. As it is put in the paper, “Given all this…if it is the case that the Self is experienced as fundamentally enmeshed with the Other (and the community of Others), and goods are initially and subsequently experienced as being intersubjective, how do I know the limits of my community and thus who counts for me?”  Continuing on, “while taking up and promoting the other’s good as such as my own constitutes the realm of moral action, how do I know which others are in my community and thus have moral possibility for me?

To answer these questions, there are three perennial problems: What counts as a community? How is a community founded?  What are the boundaries?

According to Frazer and Lacez, “Communities as entities can be identified in a variety of ways: as geographical entities, as groups instituted by ties of kinship; or as collectives bound by common values and/or a shared history…Additionally, or alternatively, we might identify communities in terms of some specific shared purpose or practice. Particular discourses and practices, ranging from complex, open-minded activities through to the institutionalized production and distribution of particular benefits, can be thought of as making distinctive “communities.”  Hence, we might speak, for example, of “linguistic communities,” of “interpretive communities,” of “communities” based around clubs or associations.  All of these cutting across other limits of communal membership and identification.”  Here, Sandel’s and MacIntyre’s theories on communitarianism tie with Frazer and Lacez’s view, out of which community is nourished by “stories of communities.”  But definitely, according to James Rachel, “Community” is a way of saying “all human beings.”

Given that, “how might we conduct a census of the “local community” or do a roll call to see who “we” are, and what are we to do with new community members – with on-going additions (and subtractions) from the community?” And, “Even if someone is added to the community, why should we care about him or her?”

Part of the problem is in thinking of the “new” community member as an “addition.” How should we consider the new members then, since saying, they are “addition” to the community is problematic?  Looking at it from the perspective that “such members are actualizations rather than additions and that their goods are not goods which are somehow added to my good, rather their goods are newly experienced perspectives in the communal Good.  What was before emptily intended is now filled; what was absent is present; what was apperceived is straightforwardly perceived.”

What phenomenological communitarianism tells us is that everybody is a member of the community even before we recognize him, even before the “new” member even thought of joining or coming to be recognized in a community. He or she is potentially a “recognized” member.  The coming out of or the “actualization” leaves us to hope for more “presenced” persons in the varied communities we have.  This also stretches forth – the “actualization” even of the “actualized” long ago and those who “will be actualized” is carried in the present moment of “actualization.”  This should give us – human beings of today – much to regard our ancestors and, in time, our descendants.

Now that we have discussed how H. Peter Steeve propose Phenomenological Communitarianism as it tries to solve the three basic problems of the “Disappearing Self,” the “Intersubjectivity of Good” and the “Constitution of Community,” let us examine how communities have developed or founded in history. And from that, reflect on how we are as a community here in the seminary.

How societies are classified?

In order to avoid value judgment, most archaeologists and ancient historians classify societies in terms of the scale of social structures and processes and the complexity of social organization. With these variables, social scientists are able to classify and characterize societies into:

Bands

  1. Typical form of society among HUNTERS-GATHERERS
  2. Small-scale societies, numbering, usually, fewer than 100 people
  3. Most members are related to one another by birth or marriage
  4. Do not have formal leadership
  5. There are few disparities of wealth or status between members
  6. Because most hunters-gatherers are seasonally migratory, they do not build to last and use only simple and easily portable technologies (nomad/nomadic)

Segmentary Societies

  1. Larger than bands
  2. Numbering up to a few thousand people
  3. Usually associated with settled farming people
  4. People are divided into several communities, which are all integrated into the greater society by kinship ties
  5. People build permanent structures for both practical and ceremonial use and they may live in either dispersed farmsteads or nucleated villages
  6. Have more formal leadership (than bands), but leaders usually lack real coercive power
  7. Sometimes described as TRIBES

Chiefdoms

  1. Are ranked societies in which these are marked differences of status between individuals
  2. Different lineages or clans are graded on a scale of prestige
  3. The whole society is governed by a chief who is a senior member of the senior lineage
  4. Control food surpluses and other commodities to support retainers
  5. Can command the labor of the whole society
  6. Chiefdoms have power centers with residences for the chief, his retainers and craftsmen
  7. Can vary considerably in size but are generally reckoned to have populations between five to twenty thousand

State

  1. Most complex form of social organization with considerable specialization of roles and settlement in cities
  2. Larger societies than chiefdoms
  3. Status is no longer defined by lineage as society has become stratified into different classes (agricultural, craftsmen, merchant, upper class including relatives of the ruler)
  4. Rulers have coercive power through the use of standing army
  5. Usually justified by political or religious ideology
  6. And by a law-making body to regulate society
  7. Subjects have duty to pay taxes
  8. Synonymous to CIVILIZATION

What classification of society is the seminary community? From that, we know what to do and how to get to where we’re going.

Talking about community here in the seminary seems cliché already. I cannot count the times I have discussed “living in a community” or “how to live as a community” in almost any of my subjects, even in English.  I would not even deny that I am obsessed with “living in a community” even until now.  (See?  I am still here!)  Much of my seminary formation was devoted to community life (Ask Fr. Andy about it).  Being here in the seminary until now is greatly because here “I have a community.”

Community life is culture. Be it seminarians, priest administrators, lay faculty, staff and the personnel, we were not only “thrown-into” – as in, passively without our wanting it – to the seminary community.  We, in fact, chose to be here, to stay here – at some point.  We may have been forced by our parents or by other factors beyond our control but eventually we chose to stay, in good times and in bad times, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, so on and so forth.  That is why we are all still here.  Those who are not here anymore, out of their individual conditions and decisions, have been part of our community.  That is something we cannot deny.  That is something they, too, cannot deny.  Each of us was, is, and will be present in the seminary, in this community.

I believe that community, be it the seminary or the society at large, is indeed, more than just a place. It is where human persons, constituted I’s, “WE,” make every possible effort to constitute the good in Others, in everyone.  In fact, it is a constant struggle for all of us.  Our day to day lives here in the seminary, regardless of our “stories” from the “stories of communities” we were before we entered the seminary, regardless of the myths we bring along with us, is bound to fulfill another “moment and movement” in history.

This community where we are “actualized,” where we are “presenced” demands so much from us – to continue living out its history and heritage for the past 140 years and still counting and to live out what makes us “a” seminary community.

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