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.

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Will We Face “The Price of Everything” Era?

There are two current cases that finally drive me to write down this article. First of all, when one of my friends gave me a screenshot picture about those who offer service to be your couple when you are going to a wedding party or other parties that you have foreseen that you will be asked about “when you get married?” The second case does seem more serious than the former. I took the case from the BBC website telling a story in Dubai that the government there offers one gram of gold for those who are success in reducing one kilogram of their body weight in a 30-day of exercise. The Dubai government thinks that this incentive will work to fight against obesity that lingering the country.

At a glance, it does seem that there is no something to be objected in regard with both of the cases. Is it wrong to pay someone to be your couple just for a while? Since you pay him/her for both of your good, could it be considered as wrong action? Furthermore, by giving gold as incentive, is not it a good idea to drive people to hinder obesity and drive them to a more healthy life? But both cases cannot be only highlighted from such a point of view. There is a more deep strong objection, as Michael Sandel strongly puts it, namely a society that is currently paving its way toward a market-society rather than market economy.

What Money Can’t Buy?

The subtitle of this article is actually derived from the book written by Michael Sandel. For those who never read the book, let me give you a brief view about the book. In the book, Michael Sandel says that actually we are now living not only in a market economy but also in a market society. Market society can be easily described as society that is driven mainly by the market mechanism and it could be said: money.

Market society strongly depends upon cost-benefit analysis but the analysis’ basis is money. Thus, you must put a price tag for every single thing that you have in your life including a price tag for yourself when you are dead or when you are suffering severe injury by accident, for example. In a market society, everything is valued by money. The more valuable the things, the more expensive it will be paid.

The interesting parts of the book lay on the examples Sandel gives to his readers. But, for me individually, the most interesting example lies not in the book rather to his former book “Justice” in regard with the case of Ford Pinto gasoline tank. For those who are interested to know the detail of the case, it can be easily found out by google. There you could find many articles describing the case, including the ethical issue of the case. But in order to explain briefly the case, I would like to give you a short explanation.

Engineers in Ford had been aware the vulnerability of the gasoline tank of the Ford Pinto when it collided with another car coming from the rear. But, “company executives has conducted a cost-benefit analysis and determined that the benefits of fixing it were not worth the eleven dollars per car it would have cost to equip each car with a device that would have made the gas tank safer.” To sum up the cost-benefit analysis, this is the calculation posed by Sandel in his book.

 

Benefit

Cost

Occasion

Price

Occasion

Price

Life lost

$200,000/life

Adding safety device

$11/car

Injury

$67,000/injury

Estimation Number of life lost

180

Amount of cars

12,5 million

Estimation Number of injury

180

Total

Around $49,5 million

Total

$137,5 million

 

From the table, it is clear that the cost outweigh the benefit that will reap. Based upon this calculation then the company decided not to adding a safety device and this case went to surface after “more than five hundred people died when their Pintos burst into flames and many more suffered severe burn injuries and then one of the burn victims sued Ford Motor companies for the faulty design.”

In Indonesia, there are also real examples when money can buy everything including justice. Corruptors in this country can easily bribe judges in order to flee from law enforcement. There are also cases where our corruptors’ prisons are indeed very luxurious just because they can pay much money. Prison that should have to be a place where justice is preserved is then altered to a place where injustice is hold up. It does seem that prison can be more correctly said as the place of perversion of justice.

When we back to the above cases, it is clear that money does seem can buy everything. It can buy a couple just for several hours and also to be used as incentive to a healthy lifestyle. The question is: is a couple a matter of money? Will there be a moment where I could use my own money to buy my future wife? Furthermore, should I always be incentivized by money in order to preserve my own good life? Should I release my consciousness and succumb to the money in order to achieve healthy life?

Human beings and their dignity

When we talk about human beings, there is something that is currently often neglected: human dignity. It is often get disappeared because of we are now living in a market society where dignity can be simply quantified by money. Thus, what does matter is no longer about dignity but rather about how much money I should pay equivalent with your dignity.

A question about human beings’ dignity can be proposed by a simple question: when there is a human being died, why do not we consume his/her flesh? Tracing his/her evolution pathway, is it correct that human beings are the latest evolution of animal? And why does, on the other hand, we can easily consume steak made from cow, chicken, and so on? Do we actually have the same nature, namely animal? Why should put differences to human beings?

Consider this thing: if we value an animal is merely a thing that can be utilized to be consumed, we want them to be formed as what we desire. Thus, no problem will arise, for example, when they died since we will freely consume them. But, if we exalt an animal as our god, for example, we are very reluctant to kill them. We rather choose other animals to be consumed. Even the dead-body of such an animal will be well-cured and should naturally diminish. What is the thing that we can actually pick up in this matter?

The answer lays in the dignity and how we put others in this matter, especially human beings in our current circumstances. When we put a non-utilization paradigm upon others, we are very reluctant to utilize others since we know that it will harm their dignity. The case is same with human beings. Human beings are not merely things that can be freely utilized by others as Kant points out: human beings cannot be utilized as means to achieve end. Rather, human beings are end in themselves. Human beings cannot be considered based upon what they are useful for. They should be valued in a more transcendental and holistic way since possibilities is always within them. This means that human beings are free and can choose their own path to achieve their good equipped with reasons, affection, and so on. Hence, we exalted them because they are priceless by their dignity. The further question is then: why should we are nowadays put price tag on human dignity?

The answer can be put upon the fact that our current circumstance does not realize the moral limit of the market as Sandel points out. When everyone thinks that he/she could buy other’s dignity and utilize them to his/her individual end, everyone will follow. This is a vicious circle. Since no one is reluctant to live alone and rather follow their peers, everyone will also follow majority who think that money can but everything. This then puts market society in the rise.

A further question will be asked: why can people put dignity as a commodity? The answer lays in the fact that we are now living in what Erich Fromm calls a having-mode structure. We are now overwhelmed with the paradigm that we are what we have and not we are what we are. With the premise that “we are what we have,” it is clear that I will be valued based upon what I have rather than what I should be as human beings. It may be very potential then to throw away dignity in order to have material things so we will not be viewed as inferior by others.

This is the simple example of vicious circle that lingers our society: having-mode structure will lead people to become greed since the more I have, the more other will value me. Thus, those who have much means will do everything efficiently to use other to have more. And on the other side, those who lack of means will sell everything include their dignity to have more means to have more. Indeed, both of them are downgrading their value as human beings since they neglect their dignity as human beings that are actually priceless and not based upon material things.

Thus, should we always walk in this kind of market society? Should we always put a price tag in everything? I am no longer amazed then if one day no one will do anything voluntarily just because they are not incentivized. No one will think about how to be a good human being by conducting healthy lifestyle except one gram of gold will be given upon them and also no one will think to find his/her own couple that he/she will spend the rest of his/her life since they may think that everything can be bought including couple. No one will value love as a transcendental value and no one will value human dignity as priceless either. In such a future, everything will be price tagged and there is a guide book named “The price of everything” that will be a guide to make a policy, to conduct justice, and so on. And in that era, we never remember what we ought to be as human beings.

 

Bangladesh Case: a Moment to Reflect Global Responsibility in a Globalized World

When I was writing this article, the death toll in a building collapsed happened in Bangladesh had reached 300 people and according to the several news that I had been listening to, it was predicted that the number would be very likely to increase.

A day before the incident happened, it was reported that there had been a warning for not entering the building due to the improper condition of the building. Unfortunately, such a warning was ignored and workers were then insisted to go to work as usual. And the bleak incident happened: the building collapsed, trapping many people within its debris.

Furthermore, when BBC journalist interviewed one of the ministers there, it was clear from the interview that there is a lack of self-awareness from building-owners to comply with safety procedure; hence contributing in an increasing of the possibility of building collapse incident. But, what I would like to write in this article is not about how to build a safe building. Rather, I would like to emphasize about another aspect of the incident: a global responsibility in a globalized world.

Globalization: free market and global responsibility

It is clear that the garment factories there are very important to drive the economy in Bangladesh. But, should the end justify the means? Should the safety aspects of the people be sacrificed in order to achieve the most probable profit? In this article, I would try to explain several things that I thought improper, not just for the building but about the system there.

As a matter of fact, it is also reported that in Bangladesh, many well-known label have used Bangladesh’s garment factories to produce their clothes. Just by giving their label, the price will increase significantly; hence giving much profit to the label-owners. In contrast, the workers who actually work to produce the clothes still face hard circumstances and also improper working condition. How could this actually happen?

This is the work of globalization and the free market. Once nations are becoming more borderless, companies are free to place the factory outside their origin country if the location can offer several advantages for the company. Gaining profit is then not that hard for such companies because investing in developing countries will automatically increase their income.  It can be so because it is often happened that such a country offers cheap labors in order to lift up their economic condition. The consequence is easy: since the companies should not have to pay high salary for the workers, their income will significantly increase. Both the parties are benefited: the company will gain more income and so does the country where the factories are placed.

Globalization is indeed a very good story if there is a mutual cooperation among the people involved, namely it is not just about the government and the company but also about the worker. If the workers in such countries are given basic health insurance, well-paid salary, and other benefits, it does seem fair and good. Moreover, it is not just about placing factories in a country but also about developing people and this section will be further explained below. 

But, the story of globalization can be very bleak if it cannot propose a proper scheme to protect the workers involved, as happened in Bangladesh. It does seem like a government and the companies who expropriate the workers in order to extracting cash to their own pocket. They cunningly utilize globalization without have any interest in developing people and acknowledge them not as humans but as slaves. Free market should also be a fair market but the reality often says the opposite.

This is why I would like to propose that globalization is indeed not only about free market but also about global responsibility. I was then remembered when I was in my third-year in my current study, I had asked a professor coming from Netherlands for giving a product engineering lecture: in a globalized world, what can be done by a pharmaceutical company to bear a responsibility once it has patented its invention that has something to do with endemic disease in a poor country, let say AIDS in Africa region? The answer was clear: the company can actually have a policy to compensate the price of the drugs so it will become more affordable for the people living in a region engulfed by poverty.

This is the condition that should actually be applied across the world. Companies can gain benefits by free market or by patenting their inventions in order to incentivize their hard-work and thus gain royalty. But there is still another important task that should be made: companies that are playing in a globalized world should also bear a responsibility about current events across the world, especially events that directly affect themselves. Hence, in Bangladesh case, renowned clothing companies that use the service of the workers there should also bear the responsibility. They can help workers in regard of curing them and give proper compensation for those who survive. 

But, this is not just about giving compensation. In the future, it should also deal with the sustainability aspect of the further project in order to avoid the same case to happen. They can appoint several experts in regard of building safety and also to ensure that the SOP is perfectly applied. They have also to regularly check the condition of the workers, building, and many other aspects to ensure that nothing is sacrificed just to extract more money from cheap labors.

Global responsibility is not only about how the works charged by a company are perfectly accomplished. As human beings, workers are also in need for appreciation and development. The workers should be trained and also well-paid and their career should also be promoted according to their capacity and capability. A company cannot hold the position of the workers for a long time without giving any hope to better future.

This is actually in line with the goals stated by United Nations in Millennium Development Goals. As poverty becomes the main concern in Millennium Development Goals, it is likely to place the burden on the companies playing in globalization and free market. Once they can penetrate the economy in a country, they actually have an opportunity to change the condition from poverty to prosperity instead of more impoverishing the country. And this can be done by investing it not just in capital expenditure but also to invest in human development program.

A Bangladesh case is indeed a good lesson for people across the globe that globalization is not only about free market and capitalism. Globalization should be made more inclusive by bringing in global responsibility as the mode to develop others and also as a moral responsibility that we do not utilize people to gain the best profits probable, as has been pointed out by Kant, a renowned philosopher: human beings cannot be used as means to justify any kind of ends. Human beings should be dignified and globalization should not lessen their value just because a company wants to do so. It is about our responsibility to move together to make this world better and just for human beings.

The Testosterone That Justifies Nothing in Rape Case

Recent worldwide news is overwhelmed by the report of the death of a girl student in India after she had been raped and brutally killed by six men in a bus. This incident then absolutely sparked anger across the country. The latest news reported by BBC also said that India judicial system is to apply a program that can fasten the legal process faces by the convicted.

This nasty condition is not a special case in the whole world. India is not the only country facing rape case. Rape is indeed a worldwide problem and it is often the women who are accused for having provoked men’s mind to rape her. It may be too far to talk about rape in India but it is indeed a good example to start with. What I would like to discuss in this article is then about who actually has to be accused in rape case: women or men?

Accusing women in any rape cases are indeed very natural. They can be blamed for having worn a seductive dress so men are induced to rape her. Furthermore, it can also be correlated with the presence of testosterone hormone in men. As stated by Steven Pinker in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature, the presence of the hormone has something to do with sexual desire and the will to power by men. Thus, there is a strong relation between the first and second reason. On one hand, women are said to “invite” or to become seductive and it will then deliver a notion that justifies that rape is something natural to men. It is then very legal to rape women in any circumstance that is considered as seductive by the perpetrators.

But, accusing women in the direction has a contradiction indeed. The contradiction is located on the premise that human beings are actually free agents. By following the logic of accusing woman and the nature of men for having huge sexual desire, it can be concluded that people are not free agents. A person is merely a set of atomic molecule that interact each other, producing testosterone, and the sexual desire is the product of the interaction. And it is indeed an extreme kind of materialism.

But human beings are beings who are endowed by reason and not only desire. Bestowed by reason, human beings can actually rethink about their actions. That is why they can choose and value something: good and bad, legal and illegal, worthy or not worthy. When valuing something, people are actually putting something behind the things valued: it becomes the reason why they value something bad or good, legal or illegal and so on. It is clear then that actually human beings can put their reason behind something. That is the way that justifies why people are free because they are the free agents who are not merely determined by the interaction of atomic molecule in their body. They can put the reasons why they do something.

Back to the rape case, it is then questionable when women are accused as being the true perpetrators of any rape cases. The question to be asked is: if women have worn a burqa and still raped, who should be accused? Is it women for having very seductive or people will get back to the basic of nature saying that testosterone will justify everything?

From my point of view, testosterone is indeed a fact but to rape a woman is a matter of choice. As has been stated above, human beings are indeed free agents and they can actually choose to rape or to not rape. Accusing women as the perpetrators of rape case has undervalued human beings itself because it has no difference by saying that: human beings have been fully determined by the interaction of atom molecules inside their body and they are no longer free agents. Thus, a religious doctrine should also be doubted: why then it is said that God created humans and endowed it with reasons? Accusing women is very wrong because it will negate the notion that human beings can freely choose their actions and put the reasons why they do the actions.

Thus, what is important nowadays is to put a value in any societies, especially unto every boy, that rape is indeed an evil action. I wonder why any societies can successfully put a value stating that it is an embarrassing moment of if there is a boy crying but they cannot successfully put a value stating that rape is indeed an evil case. What I do believe is this value can actually be embedded unto every boy in this world and this will undoubtedly shape their mind when they grow up because choices are made based upon many considerations and embedding value in early childhood is indeed very important.

The second way that can be done is also by strengthening the role of police in every country. They cannot blame the victim as happening in India as reported by several news portals. They should act as the guardian who protects the citizens inside the country. Furthermore, tough punishments can also be applied in rape case because from my point of view, rape case is indeed very unique since it will cause a long trauma and bring stigma for the victims.

If the value has been perfectly embedded, I do believe that even though there is a naked sexy woman standing in front of group of man, she will be very secure because the men will say in their mind that it is wrong to rape a woman. Sexual desire may arise in the circumstance but they can perfectly curb the desire because they realize that they are the free agents who are not determined by their testosterone.