Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Simple Pleasures

There is a well-known ad campaign that goes something like: tickets to the Beijing Olympics--several thousand dollars. Smile on the face of your loved one to whom you give the tickets---priceless.

Credit card companies fit a description formulated by Oscar Wilde: "Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing." The ad campaign however, makes it appear that one particular credit card company understands the difference between values and prices.

Except that it doesn't. The ad is yet another example of how capitalism manages to coopt our needs for human connection. The ad campaign is trying to convince us that priceless experiences nevertheless come with a price, a price with an interest rate.

Perhaps we had better look to other wisdom. It is very common nowadays to read in blogs, self-help books and those inspirational things we get in the email about pleasures that require little or no expenditure. You know the lists: listening to the cry of a newborn baby, the smell of newly cut grass, watching the ocean. As the song says, "the best things in life are free."

Except that they are not. Women risk their lives, especially poor women, to give birth. And hearing the cry of a newborn is only a simple pleasure if you are not the one who will need to feed clean and cuddle the babe. As for newly cut grass--someone has to mow the lawn first, usually for minimum wage. I also find that men have more time to enjoy simple pleasures like watching the ocean, because they work less hours at home.

For me, the next best thing to enjoying myself, is seeing other people enjoy themselves. Unlike the moralists I have no real objection to shopping or lazing about. I am not guilty of doing these things, because I just do them without guilt. Indeed my innocent enjoyments range from the simple, to the complicated, to the unclassifiable. After all, how does one classify the joys of long-standing friendships or the ecstasy that comes with realizing you are sexually attracted to someone? How does one classify the jubilation my friends feel at making life difficult for the the World Bank, The IMF the G8 or the WTO? Simple, complicated? Both? I wish for myself and others a plethora of polymorphous passions.

I problematize pleasures not because I am a moralist who is afraid of the effects of unbridled sexuality. I problematize pleasure because I would rather drink the wine without the hangover. It is also better to have sex without getting the sexually transmitted infection or the unwanted pregnancy. Also, the pleasure of the occasional shopping spree lasts longer if one is confident of being able to pay the credit card company later. I say occasional by the way, not because I am middle class and can only afford occasional shopping sprees. I say occasional because consumerism is an addiction, just as much as alcoholism, just as much as those egotistical power plays that many mistake for sex. I also find that lazing around is best enjoyed when one isn't resentful about unfair workloads or guilty about unshared work. I find that life is best enjoyed when it is well-examined and dedicated.

The moralists, the fascists and the capitalists are afraid that we might think our pleasures through and pleasure our thinking too much. If we did, we might realize that the latte they are serving at ridiculous prices at the multinational chain doesn't really taste that good; the designer bag that we must have, looks like a gaudy collage of leather scraps. If we did we would realize the Osama Bin Laden and George Bush are believers in the same sexual and political economy upheld by the Vatican. If we did, we might realize that free pleasures (guilt free and priceless) are more likely to be found in human cooperation and sharing rather than individualism and competition. If we did we would realize that under systems of injustice and alienation, creativity demands transgression and subversion demands pleasure.

Does that sound like I am howling at the moon? So be it. Excuse me please while I go a-howling. Howling at the moon with my girlfriends: priceless.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Let me be wanton

According to Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines is merely doing its duty as moral guardians by making lawmakers aware of their opposition to contraceptives. It's up to the lawmakers to decide whether to heed their moral injunctions.

I might add that it really is up to the lawmakers to decide to heed the Bishops' call. It's up to the lawmakers to decide to accept the condemnatory messages on their cellular phones and the phones of their parents, sibling and children, should they decide not to heed the Church. It's up to the lawmakers to live with the lies and bad propaganda against them when they run for office on a reproductive health platform. It's up to the pro-women lawmakers to put up with pastoral letters read against them especially during elections.

It is also up to the Filipino people to obey the Church when Gloria decides to stop contraceptive policies and programs as quid pro quo for the Bishop's refusal to condemn her lying, cheating and stealing. Indeed our ever-so-democratic CBCP leaves it up to all of us, Catholic and non-Catholic, believers and unbelievers, to decide not to access the reproductive health services they have made non-existent by their bullying and not to use contraceptives we can't find because of their interference.

This reminds me that the medieval Church's inquisitor Torquemada, was beset by the same zeal for guarding Christian virtue as he oversaw the torture of heretics.

Like the victims of Torquemada I am wondering several things:

1) When was it that I decided that the Catholic Church would be my moral guardian? I wish I had known this during times when a tremendous infusion of CASH in my bankbook would have solved certain moral dilemmas. And don't tell me this is not the CBCP way, numerous commentators from Jose Rizal to Fr. Robert Reyes have noted that the Church has tended to resolve its moral dilemnas by looking at who gives them indulgencia. I certainly hope they can give (me) as good as they get (from Gloria.)

2) To what court do I apply to be free of the Church's moral guardianship? Last I looked even my sainted but agnostic parents had lost all guardianship rights when I turned 21.

You know what irritates me the most? It is to have these intellectual and spiritual dwarves squat all over my heavenly sharehold. Let us not forget that all intelligences tend to be correlated. The dumb in science, mathematics and logic also tend to be the dumb in moral reasoning.

Shall we take a sample of Catholic sermons current, past or future to gauge the IQ levels of the Catholic clergy? Every time I get unwittingly dragged into a mass, I end up being the only one that listens to the priest. This is because the smart brethren, who know more about these things, prefer to smoke outside, attend to their text messages or gape at the hot body or hot designer clothes of the penitents across the aisle.

I shall leave for another post the many moral-logical abysses that I have descended into on the happenstance of celebrating priests. But here's a favorite one: "dear brothers and sisters in Christ let us praise the Lord because our sister Consuelo's daughter, Concepcion, has finally become President of.." As Consuelo is wealthy, by the way, the Thanksgiving Mass for President Concepcion is officiated by an Archbishop, no less.

I see it everywhere in this country:

Praise the Lord my daughter topped the bar.
Praise the Lord without him I would not be so very, very, successful.
Pray for me brethren, I have long wanted to give my wife and children a good home because the Lord says I should be a good father, so please make me the CEO of my firm.

I always wonder why they always praise the Lord for things they want to brag about and never about something truly praiseworthy like "praise the Lord I have a brain and a heart that stops me from using piety as an excuse for conceit."

I always wonder why we are more often asked to pray for someone's self interest (the job, the exam, the bigger house) rather than their self-development: "Lord give me the strength to know that like any mother, you expect me to take care of my survival needs. Thank you that you have given me the brains and the heart to do so. There is such joy in practicing human autonomy. Thank you for this joy."

Let me be clear: my nearest and dearest ask this agnostic to pray for their daughters exams or husband's hospital stays, or whatever. This agnostic prays hard to the Goddess she thinks might be there, (right beside Bertrand Russel's teapot, the one that circles the earth) for their sakes. However this agnostic does not think that such intimate aspects of family support and family bragging should be raised to the level of communal spiritual practice.

The Philippine Catholic Church encourages an infantilized and unthinking spirituality. The same horrible spirituality that was so passionately resisted by Jose Rizal and the heroes of the anti-clerical revolution of 1896. If the Bishops really are moral and life-affirming guardians, then our people would not be in the moral swamp we are in.

Bishop Lagdameo honey, if you're going to guard my morality, I'd rather be wanton.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Cannot host the holy host

Because of my previous blog entry, I have received suggestions from friends about people who should not take in the communion wafer:

1) Catholic priests who:

a) have had sexual liaisons with adults. (Note: some of us think we should allow Catholic priests to marry the man or woman of their choice, so it isn't the sex part per se but the hippocrisy.)

b) who are pedophiles (Note: while being permissive of many sexual/erotic expressions I draw the line at practices where consent is clearly absent or cannot be truly given: rape and sexual harassment, pedophilia, intercourse with animals.)

c) are sexual harassers, rapists, abusive.

d) suddenly remember their vow of celibacy when they decide to abandon their pregnant lovers

e) take their girlfriends for an abortion. (Trust me on this. The medical community knows. Our vow of confidentiality keeps us from telling.)

2) anyone using a modern contraceptive.

3) anyone who is divorced.

I hope this contributes to the efforts of the Catholic Church on this matter. I argue that all of these suggestions are consistent with Humanae Vitae and its views on the sacredness of life, except the notes on 1) a) and b). For the heathen out there, you should know that the threat of non-communion for politicians pushing for reproductive health bills, are in line with the previously mentioned papal pronouncement. The Church celebrates the 4o year anniversary of said document this June. Friends, let's all help the Church here. Please send in your suggestions as to whom we should add to the list. Read Humanae Vitae first, ok?

On the other hand, my irredeemable gay friends have informed me that some of their gay friends have reacted to the threat of denying communion to legislators advocating reproductive rights by saying, "I won't let that Bishop enter my beauty parlor either." Given the state of things, I expect priests will start wearing bad haircuts soon. As I am in helpful mode, this is a bit upsetting to me. But as this is looking like a man-on-man sort of thing (gays and Catholic bishops are men), I leave this to them. I am hoping that they can solve it within the parameters of brotherly love. (None of you get back to me to say, "Eiew". "Eiew" is uncalled for within the parameters of brotherly love.)

Finally, my friend Tom, whom I shall rely on to attend the above-mentioned dialogue, suggests that those who have gained the right to take in a few more calories by abstaining from the wafer, take this popular multivitamin that is marketed as an aphrodisiac instead.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

No wafers for the lawmakers?

Today's headlines in the Manila newspaper I subscribe to says, "anti-life pols must be refused communion". The article continues: "Ozamiz Archbishop Jesus Dosado has issued a pastoral letter saying that politicians who consistently campaign for and endorse permissive abortion should be taught about the Church position."

I am so excited. I am thinking, finally the Philippine Catholic Church will refuse communion to:

1) Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for her bad economic policies that are causing joblessness, malnutrition and hunger. They also might refuse to give her communion for her steady erosion of he people's trust in our social institutions and our democratic processes. It does not take a high IQ to know that because of her actions, we are indeed on the road to disharmony, contention, chaos, disease and death.

2) Refuse communion to the NBN-ZTE, Northrail scalawags and other corrupt officials. As a doctor, working on women's health rights and as an academic involved in the outreach programs of my university, I have interacted through the years with the personnel of the Departments of Health and Education. These are huge government bureaucracies with people on the frontlines. These are good civil servants who must deal with the needs of ordinary folk. Through the years the main problem remains the same: the health and education budgets are meager. Criminally meager. The budgets are so small compared to the needs of our people that to describe the amounts as "anti-life" would be no exaggeration. Gloria's economic professors will tell her that the real road to "asensong mararamdaman" (progress you can feel) is to massively invest in social services including women's reproductive health.

3) Refuse communion to the representatives and senators who participate in 1) and 2). As an aside I would personally refuse them communion for murdering the English language and the reputation of the Filipino people. I still recall their impassioned, pompous, grammatically- disastrous speeches during the ouster of Speaker de Venecia. Again, I am not exaggerating. A good number of the speeches were downright unintelligible. But I digress.

So I await the massive savings that the Catholic Church will have on refusing these people the wafer. After all, refusing communion to all the corrupt would be refusing communion to the majority of our politicians.

But no, I misunderstood. It turns out that it is the legislators sponsoring reproductive health bills who are being threatened. Methinks the Archbishop has lost his way.

I must say that I respect the right of the Catholic Church (or any religion) to decide about matters of faith. I really have no comment to make about that debate regarding how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Should they declare it to be o or a billion, it is of no great moment to me.

But should they tell me to stop buying pins because angels dance on pinheads; should they refuse to give wafers to pin manufacturers; should they refuse communion to lawmakers attempting to put standards on pin manufacture---well excuse me Archbishops. Now you enter into secular space and I am allowed to ask you less respectful questions like---are you daft?

Here, in secular space, my good Archbishops, you deserve no more and no less than the rest of us. You deserve to be confronted with scientific fact and evidence and called to account when you misrepresent and mislead.

So tell me Archbishop Dozado, who told you that giving women full reproductive health services is anti-life? Do you know how many women's lives are lost because they are denied these services? Do you not read the literature? What right have you to attempt to dictate social policy on the basis of such ignorance?

Here from secular space I can remind you that to attempt to intimidate representatives of the people from doing their duty (the right of couples to determine the number of their children is in our constitution) is probably a criminal undertaking.

Please also be reminded to behave with a bit more humility. Some of the people you are threatening aren't even Catholic and have no idea what it is you are threatening them with.

Hey Bishop---leave the few legislators I can respect alone.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Why that blog title?

Because I think of myself as subversive. I have grown old in subversion. Began at 15 when Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in the Philippines. Overnight the legal student organization I was a member of became an illegal, one. What the heck, if he wanted it that way, he could have it that way. I joined the anti-dictatorship underground. He called us, for his entire dictatorship, subversives.

Fast forward: like many an activist who has joined the academe, I have an interest in development theory and practice.

So why pleasure? Because I have noticed a lack of regard for pleasures and happiness in the theory and practice of subversion and development. Aha, there's another nexus, methinks subversion is development is subversion is..

Just a thought: Am I revealing my age by that term, "subversive?" What is the term, post-cold war? Terrorist?Maybe. But then I am a pacifist: terrorist pacifist? Pacifist terrorist?

See? Better to remain the subversive who is interested in increasing human pleasure and happiness.