On Legacy Lecture

The text that follows belongs to Plan B of our tribute to Prof. Amable Tuibeo during the Legacy Lectures organized by the Philosophical Association of the Philippines held at De La Salle University. Plan A is a video interview of him that to the last minute had us teetering on our nerves because of serious technical error. But it went through courtesy of Jayson Jimenez, our Lacanian tech guy. I am posting Plan B nonetheless. Ka Abe’s legacy is too irresistible not to tell.

Postscript to Ka Abe Tuibeo

From his activism as a teacher of philosophy to an administrator of humans and things Ka Abe Tuibeo has taught us in PUP the enduring virtue of engagement.(Before Prof. Tuibeo retired from the service he was the Director of a PUP branch in Bicol, right at the heart of one of the poorest regions in the country but rich in natural resources—we can probably emphasize here the irony of things he confronted every day until he retired, but not from contemplating on this irony).

As a partisan of materialist philosophy he is of the opinion that philosophy is not just about scholarship of ideas, but for the most part a form of engagement. And it is a sort of engagement that is not for the weak heart.

As a young student of philosophy in a university touted by many as the last bastion of student activism, I encountered Ka Abe’s radical insights, in the classroom, in public places where he used to lead faculty protests against what he saw as a radical failure of the system to address the needs of the human condition. Before he entered PUP he was expelled from the University of the East for inciting to sedition. PUP then was also reeling from martial law, but Ka Abe found other expelled comrades in the PUP faculty, and together they dreamt of PUP to become a commune. When the late Dr. Prudente was appointed by the first Aquino administration as President of the largest state university in the country then and now, Ka Abe was tapped to create a philosophy curriculum that would reflect the tradition of PUP as an intellectual academe with strong bias for the poor.

With inspiration coming from him, activists like me were full of expectations that philosophy can change the world, if not the limited world I dwell in that was already in many ways in crisis. One of the reasons I myself was driven to activism when I was student is the fact that being raised in a poor family, I and others who were as poor as me felt what Ka Abe saw as the injustice of the system.

I mean injustice here as the responsibility of the system for the most part—the system whose function is not only to organize things as language does, but to ensure that things are not violated of their innocence. The poor are largely innocent of the injustice done to them or why they are poor in the first place. There are various reasons why they are poor—not all of them are economic—but the fact that their poverty is taken advantage by others constitutes the most serious injustice against them. It is there where injustice takes on a deliberate, conscious form, an ideological shape, conveyed in and through a system of language. If the violation of language results into grammatical errors, the violation of things by language often leads to irreversible consequences that have tremendous effect on human lives.

It is in this light that Ka Abe Tuibeo holds strong opinion against the linguistic turn of philosophy. I do not exactly share his views on this but I agree with some of his reasons. For one thing, there is always the tendency to view language as an immutable structure. As Roman Jakobson would put it, language is the site of the separation between Man and animal, but the separation is never complete in the sense that language continues to articulate the separation. On the advent of capitalism this separation has been systematically extended to humans who are internally divided by many linguistic categories—man and woman, master and slave, homo and hetero, human and non-human, West and non-West, elite and pedestrian, rich and poor, etc. As a phylogenetic reference for tracing our human origins, language may be had as truly irreversible and thus permanent. But as we emphasized language extends this separation. There is no denying that those who take advantage of the linguistic turn are united on the premise that language can make or unmake human lives. This explains the underlying reason why in analytic philosophy the objective is to achieve correct usage of propositions—because wrong propositions can send people to jail if not to their graves.

Incidentally, for all his Marxist orientation, Ka Abe Tuibeo is also a partisan of Spinoza, perhaps an offshoot of his unorthodox views on religion. He was an ex-seminarian. His Spinoza is the materialist philosopher whose ethics Ka Abe preferred over what preoccupies analytic philosophy, influenced by Leibniz, namely, the correct ways by which we can speak of things. Ka Abe’s Spinoza is centered on what sort of things we can think of, rather than the ways we can speak of them. It is what we think of things that matters most. By things we mean those that are not us, those that are not part of our internal consciousness. These we can ask—Are things passive? Or, are they active?

Ka Abe once told me that if you think of things as passive, you are actually privileging an elite standpoint, which takes inspiration from the standpoint that humans are privileged, which we learned from religion. This is exactly the point I talked about earlier—the separation of Man from the animal, as propelled by language, puts the human at the center of things. From there and as human history can attest this privileging of the human has been extended to the arrogation of natural and metaphysical privileges for the few. It is here where Spinoza can be linked to Marx. This is not unusual for Marxists. Modern-day Marxists like Antonio Gramsci, Antonio Negri, Louis Althusser, and even to a certain degree, Alain Badiou have been attracted to Spinoza’s materialism. Like Ka Abe these Marxists concentrate on the legacy of Spinoza—that what we say about things conveys an ideology, and this ideology, paraphrasing Nietzsche, can be either life-enabling or life-negating.

It all begins with what we think of things; afterwards, we can think of how we can speak of things that we choose to be things. In other words, there are things that we can dismiss as worthy of thinking. In history, the things usually ignored are those that are rather being thought of in the margins of thinking, in the margins of philosophy—that is to say, in the everyday unpredictability of human acts, in the street, in the slums, in the darkest corners of society; in a charity ward, in places where the only thing philosophy can describe is the bare life that people experience, between life and death, between being and nothing, if not between nothing and nothing again where the rays of hope do not penetrate.

But, as Ka Abe would add, if you think like Spinoza that things are active if not really mysterious, that they stand apart from any humanistic claims, then we are taking a least chosen path.  Let me clarify that Ka Abe is a deep humanist, but his humanism stands apart from the bourgeois, the elite, and the middle class hypocrisy of representing the best of the human simply by occupying the middle strata of society. In philosophy this hypocrisy is called virtue. Again, let me clarify that Ka Abe is not anti-virtue but a partisan of the virtue of radical human emancipation. This emancipation does not translate into the emancipation of the human from the animal, even from Nature, which is what Kant’s Copernican revolution amounts to, rather this emancipation is historical—namely, the emancipation of the many from the false hegemony of the few.

Like Gramsci Ka Abe champions a moral hegemony of the poor, the lower class, yet a class that has first emancipated itself from its self-defeating virtues, which are also invested on them by those that do not believe they are capable of emancipation, namely, the rich and the elite. And it is only to the best interest of the rich and the elite that some poor sections of our society are too stubborn to learn. The elite in fact support this kind of stubbornness by not supporting the creation of a People’s University against which some untutored activists react violently; or, by supporting people in Congress who do not agree that PUP should be given higher government subsidy; also, by supporting that PUP should be reduced into a vocational institution—there are in fact clamors to abolish PUP.

Yet, as Ka Abe Tuibeo would say, “but we are many, and we are armed by a philosophy that is not for the weak heart.”

Nonetheless, for all his Marxism Ka Abe is fierce critic of dogmatic Marxism, a kind of Marxism that, as in Hegel’s dialectic, strives to repeat the error of the master.

What exactly is the error of the master that we spoke of? Here, I would need to go beyond the influence of Ka Abe on my chosen field of study.

For Jacques Lacan as for Slavoj Zizek, the error of the master lies in his illusion that there is an ultimate source of happiness, which explains the master’s insatiable desire to desire for more. In psychoanalysis, the desire of the master flies in the face of reality. There is no reality beyond reality; if at all, the beyond is a fantasy that sustains the master’s idea of what qualifies as real. In short, the master’s desire for ultimate happiness is displaced into his fantasy—he desires fantasy. This is different with the fantasy of the slave. Rather than by desire, the slave is led by drives, Trieb in Freud—the drive to become a master whose desire cannot be satisfied. When the slave aims to occupy the position of the master, it is there that the slave aims for something really existing—the position of the master. The master in contrast desires a position that cannot be achieved. The master is insatiable. It is in this context that Ka Abe’s Marxism articulates the position of Gramsci. In virtue of the incapability of the master to comprehend what is realistic and what is not, only the slave, the poor, the lower class can have the moral capability to lead society.

But it is a kind of society that tries to block the reality of the master from influencing the desire of the slave—to influence the slave to desire what the master desires. In Marx, this society is a communistic society, a society governed by drives, governed by concrete aims, aims that can change and vary in the sense that humans are no longer amused by an ultimate desire for ultimate happiness, rather, as in Marcuse, by a multi-dimensional habit of creating and recreating oneself, as in Foucault, a critical ontology of oneself.

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