In loving memory of CPT Mario Buising Mortega Sr., USAFFE, VET (1920-2004)
In loving memory of CLR Roberto Laudet Mortega (1946-2008)
Responsibilty for the Other (???)
myragrace - Tuesday, Mar 7, 2006, 8:06 PMWe have all been victims of being. This being is ensconced and focused on itself, quite content that it exists, and its main concern is to continue thriving in that said existence. It is egoistic, its actions always motivated for its own good, prompted by Darwin’s infamous theory of accumulating strength and ascertaining power in order to survive, supposedly rooted in this being’s primordial consciousness.
“This conception of the ‘I’ [moi] as self-sufficient is one of the essential marks of the bourgeois spirit and its philosophy.” And so Levinas stated in his opus, “On Escape”. We have been fed and accustomed to this egocentric perception of being, we assert it even. We apply it in our daily lives: we choose the best seats, we eat the best food, we buy the best clothes---for ourselves. And we fight for these little trinkets of excellence, we beat the others to it. We wake up a little earlier and race with other people in order to get the best seats in the MRT, we work harder and compete with others so as to earn more, and accumulate for ourselves those decadent items in order to showcase that we are getting the best from this existence, and are very much indulged into it. We study hard to get good grades, in order to prove that we are not dumb, that we are of worth because our three-point something QPI verifies this so called intelligence. Besides, isn’t it much easier to do things for ourselves, rather than for others? We swing the door open because we want to go in first, because we got there first, thus we deserve to go in first, and not because we are holding it for someone else. That’s how the world goes, and that’s human nature,. or so they say.
Thus, Levinas’s concept of responsibility for the Other comes as a shock, quite similar to that of a traumatism, probing us out from our comfortable existence and the comfortable mentality that drives it. For him, the central core of the being’s existence lies on ethics, on establishing a relationship with the Other, which is in turn, rooted on the responsibility for the Other. This responsibility is not based on a kind of utilitarianism where it is a progeny of various ulterior motives for self-gain. It is responsibility pure and unadulterated in all its glory, with the expectation of any kind of reciprocity , absent.
Now, that particular idea is hard for me to swallow. As I have said earlier, we have all been victims of being. We have all been used to the egoistic perception of being, most probably because it suits us…or had been led to believe so. And this way of thinking has numbed our senses, that it kept us from asking that maybe, just maybe, there is more to being that satiating its primal needs and staying in power in order to survive.
Levinas boldly goes against that mode, radically asserting that selfishness and the complacency that comes with the satisfaction of being alive is not the way to go. We have been victimized by being led to follow centuries-old philosophy that reduces us to lesser creatures than we ought to be. It is not how we should think and perceive ourselves. That assessment of being is wrong.
As I have said earlier, I have a problem with that. I find it rather difficult to accept, especially his notion of responsibility. He says that we are immediately subjected to the Other, we are of service to the Other: we have to respond to the Other’s call, we have to forgo assimilation, instead we must give, readily without expecting any reward in return. Moreover, we are accountable for the Other’s actions. We have to take into consideration the Other in everything we do, for our actions send ripples and affect the Other as well. Thus we open that door to make it a bit easier for the person who is behind us to get in, maybe make him smile, even, so as to make him feel that he is wonderful in his own right, special enough to hold the door for him and let him enter first. And no, we don’t do this little act of service because we are expecting VIP treatment on our part.
Me? Actually accountable for actions rather than my own? Me, not expect any kind of reciprocity from the Other? What about me? What about myself?
Truly a victim am I. I had embraced a philosophy that wholly focuses on myself, and I had let myself blinded by it due to the conveniences it had brought me. However, after whining, I realized that Levinas’s philosophy ceases to glorify the I, and redirects one’s attention to the Other, to another being other than itself. It’s not all about the I anymore. Rather, it’s all about the Other: its welfare and what the I can do for it. Indeed, Levinas’s philosophy is a radical paradigm shift from the Western philosophy we are all familiar with. But he does have a point. Maybe it’s time that we stop focusing on the I and start reflecting about the Other.
“To be human means to live as if one were not a being among beings. As if, through human spirituality, the categories of being inverted into an ‘otherwise than being.’” Levinas was aware that his philosophy is rather atypical, calling us to do acts ordinary in nature, but become extraordinary because they are not for our own benefit, but rather for the Other. We have been all too familiar with a selfish mindset that we regard that being as egocentric. Thus Levinas calls us to be the opposite of that particular being which is reared to be selfish and fed by the struggle for dominance. We should stop focusing on the wonder of the I and look the other way---in direction of the Other. If being is marked by egocentricity, then we should go the other way. And if going the other way means “not being” then so be it.
Interestingly, his philosophy is one of the tenets the Christian faith. The world does not revolve on us alone, thus we shouldn’t live for ourselves alone. Levinas made me realize that I should stop asking about the I all the time, because it is not all about the I. The universe is not geocentric, and we shouldn’t think that it revolves on us. There is the Other, whom we have to take care of, to assume responsibility on, whom we have to readily offer our service to.
In Japan, they say “douzo yoroshiku” after getting acquainted with someone. It is the equivalent of the Western, “Pleased to meet you.” However, if translated verbatim, “douzo yoroshiku” literally means, “I take care of you, you take care of me”. Somewhat like, “Now that we know each other and have met face to face, I affirm my responsibility of taking good care of you”. It echoes Levinas’s philosophy of taking into consideration of the Other’s welfare before selfish gain. Moreover, Levinas goes beyond that, as his concept of responsibility does not expect any thing in return from the Other. It is pure service, untainted by any selfish desire.
Difficult? You bet. It will take me quite some time to re-shuffle my thoughts on the I, to redirect my thinking from myself and to the Other. But it’s worth a try. Yes, definitely, it’s worth a try.