The Changing Nature of Human Beings: a Journey to Find Right and Wrong

This story occurred last week when I was just came back home after attending a weekly mass in a nearby church. Upon arrival, I had a short yet deep conversation with one of my friends. He firstly asked me where I was from and the conversation ended up talking about the recent issue engulfing Catholic religion.

In short, he criticized Catholic priests who are involved in sexual scandal. He argued that this might be caused by the fact that Catholic priests are not allowed to get married. Although he did not say that allowing the priests to get married will completely eliminate the case, he went on to say that such a change in policy will probably reduce the sexual scandal case. “After all, we are all human beings who are made from flesh and thus also prone to any temptation. I just feel such a change in policy might help to reduce the sexual scandal in the Catholic church.”

At that time, I said that I do not agree with his standpoint. In short, I argued that as a Catholic priest, you have to devote all your life to the church. It is as if you have decided to take the church as your eternal wife. Although it is true that human beings are made from flesh and prone to temptations, it just indicates that becoming a Catholic priest is not an easy matter and requires high degree of discipline.

However, what is more interesting about the conversation was not about the discussion of Catholic priests and their sexual scandal. It is more about the aftermath of the conversation. My friend went on to say that, “Well, above all of this, despite your disagreement, I would just want to highlight that we are only human beings who are prone to make any mistake. So, later on you need not to be surprised if it is your priest who will be implicated with such a scandal. We are just human beings and our mind can easily swift from one position to another. Maybe at that time, your priest think that this is the right thing that he would like to do. And probably, the Catholic church itself may see it as the right thing”

Human beings and change: between right and wrong

It is a fact that long time ago, Catholic priests were allowed to get married before the celibacy policy were universally applied to all Catholic priests. This policy itself has actually demonstrated the dynamic nature of what is right and wrong within the Catholic church itself. Thus, even a huge religious institution like a Catholic church should admit the necessity of change. This then somehow triggers us to ask: is there anything that is absolutely right and wrong if our simple conversation just revealed that even religious institution does not immune to change its standpoint?

In this regard, I said to him that my position is yes: there must be an absolute right and wrong. However, I am more in line with what Plato teaches us. This right and wrong are actually an ideal that I think cannot be completely realized in this mundane world. From my perspective, human beings are always like the people chained in the Plato’s cave. We can never fully grasp the idea of right and wrong despite the fact that the idea does actually exist. Even if someone might come to us and say that they have actually grasped the ideal and want to share it with us, we are still reluctant to accept the idea. Then, does it mean that we are actually indifferent towards what is right and wring? This is the point where we actually have to play our role as human beings.

The dynamic nature of human beings is actually a blessing that should be effectively utilized. In this case, such a dynamic nature should be able to lead human beings to be better, including a better person who is able to differentiate what is right and wrong. It is more like what Hegel teaches us: when a thesis meets an antitheses, synthesis is formed. This is actually the nature of change. We cannot infinitely hold on to one theses. Since once we have found its antitheses, a synthesis must form and its degree should be above both the theses and antitheses. This dialectic process must then lead human beings to be better and get closer to the ideal world of right and wrong. And this is why communicative action and deliberation process are essential for human beings because only by doing so, we can get closer to the ideal condition of right and wrong, even though, from my perspective, we won’t be able to reach it since our nature that continuously changes.

Then a question related to my previous conversation might be asked: why then a religious institution does not immune for such a thing? This type of question does actually makes sense since religious institutions always deal with something that transcends us, namely God and it is often argued that the nature of God is absolute. The answer for such question is indeed very simple and straightforward: because such an institution is comprised of human beings as well. As what my friend clearly noted from our conversation, regardless of our status, we are all human beings who are made from flesh. Thus, as long as the human beings status is still with us, we really have to change and so does the religious institution. In regard of this, there must be a limitation on to what extent the religious institution should change since it not only deals with this mundane world but also to the world that transcends our nature. But, it is definitely out of my scope to talk about to what extent religious institutions should change. The only thing that I can underline, however, is to encourage any religious institutions to keep open-minded and maintain dialogue between religions and even towards unbeliever. Because only by such communicative actions do we able to be better human beings.

So, won’t I then be surprised if later on Catholic church changes its policy and allows their priests to get married? As long as it has been rationally deliberated from different perspectives, I might not be then surprised. After all, neither Catholic church, any religious institutions, and ourselves are perfect. We are just pure human beings who are prone to make any mistakes and are always constantly exposed to the dynamic nature of the world. But as long as human beings do not deny this condition, they are actually constantly marching towards the better and more ideal condition.


Paying Fine to Trespass Transjakarta Lane: Is It a Good Idea?

It is interesting to follow political condition in Indonesia especially during the turmoil between Police and Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). However, current writing is not devoted to this particular issue. I would rather talk about recent issue in Jakarta with its current governor, Basuki Tjahja Purnama, who is also very well-known as Ahok. Just recently, he has sparked a further debate about allowing very-rich people living in Jakarta with their luxury cars for being able to go through the Transjakarta bus line provided that they will pay sufficient amount of money which will then be used as Jakarta’s revenue. Further clarification coming from Ahok saying that the essence of this policy is not to “merely allow” the luxury-car owners to have special treatment; rather, more importantly, it is about deterrent effect that is going to be exploited: the amount of money that should be paid will be increased as long as there are still people who are courage enough to trespass the bus lane. To be fair, such a policy is quite unique since Ahok can actually generate money from the very-rich people by exploiting the possibility of them to avoid traffic jam in Jakarta. Despite of his seriousness in applying this policy or his actual meaning in saying the statement, there is one question to be asked is: is it really a good idea for citizen in Jakarta and Indonesia in general?

It is true that such a policy has sparked debate and controversy. Some agree and some do not. A simple reflection can lead people to rethink about the goodness of the policy. A simple question can then be asked: what condition that will lead us to be a good citizen in ideal condition?

In answering this question, I would like to refer to john Rawls about his theory of justice. Rawls says that behind the veil of ignorance, people will be very likely to prefer a policy that sides with people with high vulnerability. Thus, for example, justice will be preserved by alleviating people who are living in dire circumstances. Only by doing so a country can be considered as just. The main reason behind this idea is clear: because we choose a basis in which we know nothing about our current condition in real world, we will then try to avoid to have a policy that will not support people living in dire conditions. Of course, people living in such conditions do need our help and as we do not know exactly about our outcome, we tend to choose the policy. Generally speaking, equality is much more preferable in preserving justice. Of course in actual circumstance, we cannot have such a veil of ignorance. But it does not mean that we can just ignore such a preposition. In this case, there is one thing important that can be adopted: the importance of equality to preserve justice.

If we take back this theory with Jakarta current case, it is then clear that in we live in unequal condition. This is proven by, for example, a Gini coefficient. Some people are very rich and some of them are very poor and the rest are moderate. However, will this condition justify the way we obey law? Law is made to preserve justice and to ensure that everyone is bound to it. Punishment is then necessary to insist people so they obey the law even though, according to Rawls, in very high degree of civilization, punishment is indeed not necessary because people have trusted each other and no one would like to breach the principle of justice. It is then clear from the point of view of justice that avoiding traffic jam by going through Transjakarta bus lane and paying fine can actually be considered as unequal condition that only sides with very rich people. Those who are very rich can easily say that the fine is actually nothing thanks to their very high income. The situation will be different for people with moderate income since they will be very burdened by the fine that they should pay. In this case, it is clear that justice is not preserved to the very least group. Rather it only accommodates very rich people who can afford in paying fine.

Furthermore, it also negates the essence of fine itself. Since fine is correlated with punishment because of breaching laws, having such a policy will only say that: as long as you have enough money to pay the fine, you will be fine. Of course this is not the case of building a good country. Punishment should be made in order to increase awareness degree of any citizen that it is also their duty to preserve justice as mandated by laws. Otherwise, punishment will only get sharp to the very vulnerable groups and not to the very-rich ones. This will eventually lead to the negation of principle of justice as stated above.

It is quite good actually to fine people who dare to breach Transjakarta lane. However, this should be done indiscriminately. And one thing important to note here is: fine is not a mean to let very-rich people avoid traffic jam in Jakarta. Thus, the most important thing is not to increase the fine amount. Because even if you put fine for 1 billion rupiah, I am quite sure that there are still few people dare to breach the law as long as what they have in mind is: as long as I can pay, I can breach the law. Thus, what is more important is deployment of law enforcers to prevent such drivers breach Transjakarta lane. This is more effective to increase the awareness of any drivers that they are strictly prohibited to use Transjakarta lane.

Last but not least, I think Jakarta already has sufficient revenue. Even recent news have also showed that only around 59% of city’s budget was effectively absorbed last year. This clearly indicates that Jakarta is not that in dire condition in craving for money. What is more important is to increase awareness of people living in Jakarta that if you want to avoid traffic jam, you have to switch to public transportation in order to reduce the vehicle volume in the roads. Of course, this has also to be incentivized by improving the public transportation service. Without doing so, traffic jam will still be a persistent problem for the city.

Transactional Politic: Learning from Budi Gunawan’s Case

It is a quite embarrassing moment for, Jokowi, current Indonesia President after Budi Gunawan, a police chief hopeful, was announced as graft suspect by Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). This announcement just came out not long after Jokowi gave his recommendation regarding the police chief nominee. Furthermore, it is also several days prior to the police chief hearing scheduled by House of Representatives. A question may arise here: why did Jokowi suggest Budi Gunawan as the police chief?

In this article, I would not like to study the detail about the capability of Budi Gunawan or his track records in his professional career. When his name was put under the recommendation made by National Police Commission (Kompolnas), I think that the body had not doubted the capability of his career in police. What I would like to elaborate more in this writing is more about morality in politics. Why is it important? The answer lies in the fact of Jokowi’s promise itself who promised for not having transactional politic once he became Indonesia President. Furthermore, it is also worth to note that he also emphasized the importance of building clean government when he was selecting his ministers.

From the first time Jokowi selected his ministers, several people had put doubt on them especially for several names who were considered as part of transactional politics. I would not like to elaborate the names here because many people have already discussed them already. However, what is important here is when doing the task, Jokowi asked KPK help to properly check whether or not the chosen candidates had bad track records regarding corruption. Thus, it was quite clear that Jokowi put his conscience in selecting the candidates and showed his consistency in maintaining clean government.

From the news currently circulating, it is also then clear that Budi Gunawan had also been one of the candidates. However, the name was then rejected due to the bad track record regarding fat bank account. It was quite fortunate that Jokowi followed the KPK suggestion for not naming Budi as one of his ministers. The problem then arises when Jokowi then selected him as the only candidate of the police chief. Why could this thing happen? If the answer offered is “he is also recommended by Kompolnas,” then it is very ridiculous. How can a president give such an answer? It just blame other for his unreasonable decision. In fact, Kompolnas did not only recommend Budi Gunawan as the sole candidate. Thus, it should have been reasonable for Jokowi to have other candidates who have better track records regarding graft cases since he already knew that the name he chose had been already blacklisted before in minister selection. Thus, why should he come to the decision?

People may speculate that it is because Budi Gunawan was the former adjutant for Megawati when she was a president. In this case, it is then clear about the transactional politics lingering Jokowi. Of course I cannot prove the fact that there is a transactional politic occurring behind this particular phenomenon. Even if journalists ask Jokowi directly regarding this matter, he may answer that he chooses him because of his exceptional track record. But one thing to note: transactional politic often happens and one person cannot eradicate it easily through promising. It is a very tough job, if it cannot be said as impossible.

The reason behind it has been extensively covered by Francis Fukuyama, a political philosopher. It is mainly because we have a tendency of kin selection. When human beings start to organize something and on the highest degree to organize a country, they tend to select people who are close to him. The reason is quite simple: because they know them and perhaps, to some extent, as part of a reciprocal altruism. It occurs everywhere even though we never consciously notice it. For example, when a manager would like to hire a new employee, he/she will prefer the one who is graduated from the same university. This is probably because he/she already knows about the quality about his/her university or as a part of alumni solidarity. Even though there are also some other candidates who have better profile and experience, the manager would get stick to his/her alumni. Hence it is very normal to choose people who are close to you or those who share similar things because you know you can trust them or because you have to pay something back to them. Similar thing also then occurs in politics and it is more complex because in order for a candidate to be a president, he must be supported and backed by people coming with different interests. As a consequence, there is a tendency for a president to select people who are close to him. The question is then: is it wrong?

In ideal circumstance, it is indeed wrong. In order to build a good country, transactional politic should not happen because ministerial post should be filled with competence people. However, as we live in non-ideal circumstance, this condition can be considered as “quite normal.” What should be emphasized then is we should not promise that transactional politic would not happen. Rather we should promise that we will fill the ministerial posts by competent people. Choosing candidate from our close friends is not a wrong decision provided that they have sufficient competency to perform the task. Moreover, when we talk about building a nation, they should also have clean track records regarding corruption. This is the thing that should be emphasized and made clear.

Thus, transactional politic is indeed a phenomenon that cannot be eradicated easily. If Jokowi wants to improve the quality of the government, what is needed is to fill any posts with good and clean candidates. I am not quite sure if there is no transactional politic occurring in Jokowi’s cabinet starting from Cabinet selection process. But I was quite glad to know that KPK was still involved during the selection process. And currently, I am very disappointed by the fact that either KPK or PPATK was not involved in selecting police chief candidate. Please Jokowi, we know certainly transactional politic can occur but please, keep your promise to have clean and professional government. There is nothing wrong by selecting your friends as long as they are clean and competence. It turns wrong only when you are heavily chained by the transactional politic and you get blind easily for the fact behind your candidates just because you want to satisfy everyone who has been backing you until now. Please remember, you work for Indonesian People.

Je Suis Charlie


I have nothing to say about current tragedy in France and my deep condolence is for the victims and their family.

One thing I would like to note in this very simple writing:

Terrorism is terrorism and it has nothing to do with Islam. Islam is just misused. I am not a Moslem but I know for sure no religion justifies violence if the people really understand it. So please differentiate them and of course, the attackers have to pay the price for igniting hatred and violence.

Je Suis Charlie