Saturday, October 15, 2005

[Essay] Born A Sadist

On the news today, the radio commentator was narrating at how firemen unleashed a torrent of water on a prayer vigil that was suspected to be a rally. The commentator was vehement at the fireman, whom he noticed was taking pleasure in hosing down several people in addition to a senator and a priest. He recommended that the fireman be given a psychological analysis, since he was gleeful in his act of violence towards other people, as if this were an unnatural thing.

While I’m not a supporter of violence, to deny that it’s a part of us is folly. We have several positive emotions, but we also have negative ones: sadness, depression, despair, greed, hate, and yes, the need to inflict injury on another creature.

I’ve witnessed that a number of people, when angered, lash out at something. Sometimes, it’s merely a verbal insult or shout. At other times, it’s something more physical, from throwing objects at another person to hitting the wall with their fists. In such a scenario, people give in to their primal nature. And that nature involves violence.

There’s a certain pleasure we receive from inflicting pain, whether it’s on another human being or on other creatures. Why is revenge so appealing to many? To anyone who’s harmed us or our loved ones, we don’t want to simply jail them. We want them to suffer, whether it’s ripping them apart limb from limb, cutting out their innards, or torturing them by pulling out their fingernails and sticking needles in them. Those who dislike certain animals take pleasure in their suffering as well, whether it’s watching ants burn as you focus a magnifying glass on them, or hearing the scrunch of cockroaches as you firmly step on them, twisting your feet to make sure they die.

I’m not saying this is necessarily a good thing, but it is a part of us. People can’t help it any more than they can be greedy, or selfish, or lazy. We can control such emotions, but we can never expunge it from our system, short of creating a villainous doppelganger of ourselves ala Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Some people find release in other ways, whether it’s the rhythm of cutting up a butchered pig, striking at boxing bags and inflatable dummies, or playing games from Street Fighter to Paintball.

In the case of the fireman in the incident, perhaps it was his way of lashing out. I mean a senator was there, and wasn’t she a representative of the government? The same government that’s impotent in helping the country rise from poverty, the same government that perpetuates many injustices? And there was a priest. The church seems to be meddling in everything, yet to no avail, or worse, are hypocrites. I’m not saying these motives are justified, merely that many people succumb to this kind of reasoning. Even my driver, far from a saint, has a prejudice against cops of any kind, honking his horn whenever he sees one, the noise he generates his form of retaliation.

But despite all the horrible things our violent nature is capable of causing, I find it ironic that instead of facing this reality, many people turn away from it. It could be censorship, closing one’s eyes to the realities in life, or simple denial. In a way, it’s like a cancer patient ignoring the fact that he has cancer. Instead of finding a cure, we pretend that everything’s all right and that everything in the world is okay. It’s not. And if it was, I’d be the first person to panic. The thing to fear most is not a man that is violent, but a man who appears to have no vicious tendencies whatsoever. Either he’s not human, he’s lobotomized, or hiding his skeletons in a very dark and deep closet.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

[Essay] Love, Courage, and other Virtues

Why do people exalt virtues? Is it because in reality, such qualities are scarce? We give merit to concepts like love and courage, as if by default, men and women were born selfish and cowardly. Yet who hasn’t fallen in love, or felt a surge of fearlessness in his or her life? Even the foulest villains, or the people we despise most, have at one point in time experienced these emotions. Arguably, some even dare to perform their dastardly actions because of these very traits. So let me ask you, what separates true love from falling in love, true bravery from mere boldness?

Virtues, I believe, are the product of a conscious choice. The rest are simply emotions. Yet people confuse the two, equating emotions with virtues. We claim we’re in love with someone when we get that giddy feeling inside. Once the flame’s gone, we’re tempted to break off the relationship. When we face a great challenge in life, be it from a physical, mental, or spiritual source, one of our initial reactions is fear. Some people will say to themselves that they’re not brave or courageous, simply because of the emotion they’re feeling.

To subscribe to such a belief undermines one of the benefits of human existence: free will. If we were merely creatures who acted upon our emotions, then humanity would be reduced to a science, a field of study in which behavior is determined by the laws of causality. A ball, for example, has no free will. It goes where we lead it, and follows the direction of the force exerted upon it. The same goes for objects. Animals, to a certain extent, follow the same rules. They are creatures that obey instinct and feeling, and it is for this reason that animals are trainable. If they were so free from their desires, then the reward-and-punishment system of training wouldn’t be so effective. Yet animals have more will compared to objects. Some animals, for example, are not trainable, and there will always be that small part of trained animals that remains unpredictable, or will break the norm. If we simply followed every urge we felt, then I dare say that animals are more human than us because even they don’t always give in to impulse.

Another reason why conscious choice is important is because of the element of difficulty. In a war, we expect well-trained soldiers to lay their lives in battle. However, we do not have the same expectations for civilians, people who do not have the proper training. The former are conditioned to face combat so many times that when they hear shots being fired, there is still fear, but it is quickly suppressed because of prior experience. The latter, on the other hand, might panic when they hear a warning shot. So in face of danger, which do you think is more likely to enter the fray of battle? The former, but if the latter does it, some perceive it as a form of heroism, because it simply was more difficult for the latter.

Or to put it in another way, which do you think will make more of a sacrifice if they are asked to lay down their life in order to save several people? A suicidal man who has nothing to live for, or a family man who has a family and friends he loves? The value of virtue is not always whether you do it or how often you do it, but what it costs you to do it. A person who enters the fray of battle and does not fear for his life is well and good. It would be more difficult though for someone who felt fear, and had to conquer his weakness. I’m not disputing that the former was brave, but the latter exhibited more courage, not because he was immune to fear, but because he felt it and acted despite that feeling.

A question you might ask is what use is all of this to me? So I’ve differentiated virtue from emotion, so what? It’s been my experience that people use emotion as an excuse not to do what they’re supposed to do, or utilize it as a license to do what one shouldn’t. For example, many so-called writers claim that they only write when inspiration strikes them. If that were the case, then everyone would be writers. I mean who wouldn’t write if they were inspired? But the reality is that a lot of writers write, no matter what they’re feeling. I approve of inspiration. Many masterpieces are borne out of epiphanies. Yet a lot of classics were born not out of divine providence but sheer hard work. I guess that’s one benefit of pursuing a career in a field you love, be it drawing, writing, or any other craft: you’re forced to do it no matter what you’re feeling. I mean in school, when my teacher asks me to submit a term paper, I don’t use the excuse “I’ll write it when I’m inspired”. If you must do it with inspiration, then there are techniques to find inspiration, whether it’s research, or letting yourself be engulfed by new experiences. Another example is divorce. While there are many good reasons to file a divorce, some terminate the relationship because they don’t feel anything anymore. While I’m not married, I know that love is far from mere emotion. Why do I love my parents, and why do they love me? I stopped being cute and cuddly when I turned four. And my parents are far from the most amiable of people, at least to me. Yet we love each other nonetheless, through good times and bad times. It’s not a feeling, it’s a commitment. People are surprised when parents abandon their child, or when children leave their parents. It just goes to show that relationships are a choice. We may not choose who our parents are, but we can always choose to leave them. Or not. And while our parents might feel duty-bound to take care of us, they honestly don’t have to, and there will inevitably be a time when they must let go and allow their children to fend for themselves. Why not sooner, right?

Virtues are about choices. Emotions might influence how we make our choices, but in the end, it’s our free will that determine that paths we take. Sometimes, it’s good to give in to emotions. When you’ve been burned by touching a hot stove, you’d be a fool not to move your hand away. It’s also due to emotions that artists are able to create their most magnificent works, allowing their experiences to affect their creations. But there will always be times when we must resist our initial drives, when we must conquer our passions. If I ran from every experience that brought fear or discouragement, then I would never grow. If I succumbed to my fear of drowning, then I would never have learned to swim. If I gave in to laziness, I would never write.

The beauty of this fact is that it gives us hope. When we look at our country and see the bleakness of it all, that’s not our consciousness talking but our emotions. It’s easy to see things as they are, to succumb to pessimism. To anyone who’s renovated a home, you’ll know that sometimes, what you start out with is a piece of trash. It has lots of potential, but until that possibility is harnessed, the place just looks like any other home or warehouse, albeit without the niceties. What eventually turns it into a magnificent place is the work and effort put into it. You didn’t say hey, this place looks bad, let’s move on to a better house. What you said was this place doesn’t look good, but it can change: it has potential. So when it’s finally remodeled, it’s the best area to live in. For me, this country is like that. We need lots of work, yet it all begins with a decision. I’ll admit, it’s a choice that more than one person needs to make, but a conversion is always possible. And perhaps that is our one source of hope. No matter how corrupt or criminal or dishonest our country becomes, it just needs a collective decision to make it a better place. And believing in that, my friend, takes love, courage, and all the other virtues you can think of.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

[Essay] Losing

If there’s any insult that will last through the ages, it’s being called a loser. No one wants to lose after all. But perhaps what makes losing so painful is the fact that it’s equated with failure, and people in general have feared the big F word.

It’s always been my belief that failure isn’t something that one should fear. Should one dislike it? Of course. It’ll motivate you not to make the same mistake the next time. But in the event that it does happen, instead of whining and feeling sorry for yourself, the proper attitude should be what we can learn from it. And if you look at the cycle of human history, one of the best ways people have learned is by making mistakes. Avoid it when you can, but embrace the lessons it teaches when it does happen. Of course having said that, failure is inevitable. We can’t be great at everything (although we can always strive for it), and sometimes, one must take risks in order to gain great rewards. That means getting hurt, but pain avoidance isn’t always the best medicine.

As I said, no one likes losing, including me. But there is one instance when a small part of myself cherishes it. The one time I don’t mind losing is when I’m playing games. One might think it’s due to the fact that there’s little to lose in a “game”. Well, Poker is a game and various people have lots their lives playing it. Even playing something as simple as Monopoly takes away something valuable from you: time. So even in playing games, a person has something to lose. Granted, it’s not as financially disastrous as losing your job, but losing a game is far from a pleasurable experience.

If truth be told, I don’t mind losing a game the first time. For one thing, it teaches me how to play the game. It’s by making mistakes that we learn the important moves or tactics in a game, what to do and what not to do. Sometimes, when we’re pressed into a corner, we suddenly discover alternatives or consider strategies we wouldn’t have ordinarily considered. But let’s say you lost, and you didn’t learn anything from it. I still take a small pleasure in losing because I don’t like defeat, and suddenly there’s a drive in me to succeed. I develop a persistence to succeed, and my mind suddenly becomes active and all my energies are devoted to winning. It doesn’t matter if I have to lose 99 times to win my 100th game. I just hope my opponent has the same persistence as I do so that I can truly say that my skill has developed.

This mentality of mine applies to all kinds of games I play, whether it’s card games, board games, video games, or *gasp*, even sports. Just the other day, my interest in Warcraft 3 has been rekindled by playing a match on one of its custom scenarios. I’ve been training ever since.

Of course I don’t think I’m the only person who acts like this. I’m sure there are other people who are motivated by such things. It might not be games in general but one particular passion of theirs. It might be not getting the proper music notes right, or forgetting a line in a soliloquy, or not getting the right taste when cooking a meal. Despite the failure, there’s a drive to succeed and improve.

Sadly, this isn’t a trait we apply to everything. We’re selective about it, choosing which circumstances it functions. There’s a desire to improve despite previous failure, but only on select fields of interests. An athlete might possess the drive to win during a sports competition, but not during his academic exam. A writer might struggle to find the appropriate word in a story, but not the right equation to solve a mathematics problem. In a way, we limit ourselves, not because we’re incapable of developing the right mentality, but because we don’t apply it. We already have the right mentality, as can be seen in some of our habits. It’s just not universally applied.

Losing isn’t always such a bad thing. Sometimes, it’s a matter of perspective. We can’t always choose whether we’ll win or lose (although we can strive for it), but the one thing we can determine is how we perceive it. Sadly, the human mind can be intractable if we leave it alone.