is the subject of my Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld:
The ironic thing of writing about morality in
public life is that people immediately dismiss the same as plain naivety
or childish idealism. However, the truth of the matter is that to
require morality in public life, more so for our political leaders, is
actually a matter of clear-eyed pragmatism based on cold calculation. We
should indeed demand a more moral set of leaders (to be differentiated
from the self-righteous jerks we have right now) not because it makes us
feel warm and cuddly all over but because of the sheer benefits,
material or otherwise, that it could give us.
In Gorgias, Plato makes claims that we would do well to
take heed: given a choice between the superficial and passing rewards of
material or popular success and striving to achieve a true morality in
one’s life, the latter should be chosen without question. However, even
with such a radical claim (and "radical" is a word carefully and
deliberately employed for a position that was made more than two
thousand years ago), Plato ups the ante even more: that to suffer harm
while doing good is far preferable to doing harm in order to achieve
Gorgias is actually a dialogue that Plato has Socrates conduct
with three separate individuals: Gorgias himself, who could be
considered today as a media personality in the shallow ANC talk show
host-type mold; Polus is ancient Greece’s equivalent of the activist
youth that inevitably loses himself amidst the world’s complexities, and
Callicles is the cynical know everything businessman or politician.
Plato’s Socrates runs intellectual circles around the three, showing the
ill logic of their positions, and how in the end (and in which perhaps
is the boldest claim of all and one I happen to agree with as applied to
present day Filipinos) the three happen to be in agreement with him all
along and that they were merely denying or suppressing such agreement.
Plato shows us that real power (and freedom) is one based on the true
application of one’s will. However, contrary to what the "anything goes"
liberal or pro-reproductive health crowd tells us, this application of
will has to do with the employment of reason and one that is free from
compulsions. One cannot be considered free unless one is not enslaved by
one’s passions. And one is free from one’s passions only by sheer order
of the mind and the relentless application of self-discipline.
The foregoing, it must be emphasized, is a position framed not by a
religious or devout Catholic (which allegedly smart people consider as a
stupid thing to be nowadays) but by a philosopher utilizing pure logic
born centuries before Christianity. But the consequences and
implications of the same are clear, particularly as to how it relates to
the present contraception debate or on the alleged equal rights advocacy
for same-sex unions (repeatedly denied although such is obviously the
case) by the homosexual lobby. While pluralism and tolerance are indeed
necessary in a proper functioning society, yet such must be governed
by right reason.
And the benefits of Plato’s path can be seen throughout history. David
Brooks, writing of US President Abraham Lincoln and his battle with
personal demons: "He would, of course, climb out of it. He would come to
terms with his weaknesses, control his passions and achieve what we now
call maturity. The concept of maturity has undergone several mutations
over the course of American history. In Lincoln’s day, to achieve
maturity was to succeed in the conquest of the self...He knew he was
ferociously ambitious and blessed with superior talents -- the sort of
person who could easily turn into a dictator or monster."
"Easily turn into a dictator or monster." The phrase is chilling when
read in relation to a man "blessed with superior talents" but horrifying
in the context of an inferior, untalented, or immature person that was
handed with the reign of power.
The bright side, as it usually is, lies with our very young. Contrary to
their self-indulgent, self-righteous, self-obsessed predecessors, the
youth today in their tens and teens seems more grounded, disciplined,
and more intellectually curious in the honest sort of way.
Interestingly, a Guardian article (in March 2004) introduced this
fact: "young people are a lot more conservative than their elders might
think. Forget Cool Britannia. Young people want a society that frowns
on abortions, upholds the institution of marriage, takes a hard line on
drugs, and punishes its criminals severely, a survey has found." And
quite gratifyingly, contrary to the designs of liberals, the "study also
found 92% believed in marriage, and 60% felt it was best for couples to
marry before having children."
The Guardian article’s conclusion is a fitting finish for this
article as well. Filipinos should take heed not to continue "the damage
caused by the lax attitudes of adults inflicted on children." After all,
better leaders require better voters.