PARADOXICAL

The faith chronicles

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

 

There's The Rub : Paradoxes


There's The Rub : Paradoxes

First posted 01:15am (Mla time) May 24, 2006
By Conrado de Quiros
Inquirer

Editor's Note: Published on Page A14 of the May 24, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer


I GOT an interesting text message last weekend that said: “We Filipinos have managed to reach the top of Mt. Everest. When will we manage to reach the foot of Mendiola Bridge?”

Good question, one that reminded me of the insight about humankind as a whole conquering outer space but not inner space. I first caught a glimpse of this idea from a song by Cat Stevens in the early 1970s. The song was “Where Do the Children Play” and it began: “Well I think it’s fine, building jumbo planes/ Or taking a ride on a cosmic train./ Switch on summer from a slot machine./ Get what you want to if you want, ’cause you can get anything. (Refrain) I know we’ve come a long way,/ We’re changing day to day,/ But tell me, where do the children play?”

The second and third stanzas are more of the same, about it being fine building roads that go on and on and skyscrapers that rise up and up, followed by the question: But tell me, where do the children play?

(I must confess that for a while I stopped listening to Cat Stevens after reading of his apparent endorsement of Iran’s fatwa, or death sentence, on Salman Rushdie, but that turns out to be false. Stevens himself, or Yusuf Islam, as he now calls himself, adopting that name after he converted to Islam in 1979, explained later that what happened was that while delivering a lecture in a college in London in 1989, he was asked by a reporter what his thoughts were on apostates and blasphemers. He quoted Islamic texts in reply and was horrified next day to find the fellow’s newspaper screaming “Cat Says Kill Rushdie.”

(The canard has since been laid to rest, Yusuf Islam not just being accepted back by his peers but being embraced for exemplary work. In 2004, a committee of Nobel laureates gave him the Man of Peace prize. The following year, the University of Gloucestershire also gave him an honorary doctorate for contributions to education and humanitarian relief.

(Kind of helps to restore your faith in humanity. I myself couldn’t reconcile the gentle soul who sang “Morning Has Broken” with the religious fanatic who wanted a writer murdered for his beliefs.)

Much later, George Carlin would amplify on the point. He wrote: “The paradox of our time is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less; we buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences but less time. We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine but less wellness….

“We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often. We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life. We’ve added years to life not life to years. We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor. We’ve conquered outer space but not inner space.

“We’ve done larger things, but not better things. We’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We’ve conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less. We’ve learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less.”

There’s more, but you get the drift. It does raise a lot of questions about the things that really matter in life, or the difference between gold and glitter. This country has its own unique paradoxes, and the text message I got about us managing to reach the top of the world but not the bottom of a bridge by the Pasig River has inspired me to make my own list of them:

We object violently to the apparent falsehoods of a work of fiction, but we accept abjectly the patent lies of a real piece of work currently residing in Malacañang. We find that “The Da Vinci Code” is full of s—t, but we find that the Da Venecia Code is full of grit. (I got both from text messages as well.)

We have more bishops to help us discern truth from lie, but we have fewer bishops who can tell truth from lie. We have more religious leaders to lead the flock to the straight and narrow, but we have more (un)faithful straying into the wide and crooked. We have more religious cults to help sinners find the light of God, but we have more pious men being blinded by the glitter of gold. We have more TV stations preaching the word of God, but we have fewer people listening to the word of God.

We are the most religious country in Asia, but we are the most immoral country in Asia. We are one of the most gifted people in the world, but we are one of the most backward people in the world. We have more lawyers, but we have less law. We have more courts, but we have less justice. We have more legislators, but we have less legislation. We have more cops, but we have less peace and order. We have more anti-corruption bodies, but we have more corruption. We have more people partaking of riches abroad, but we have more people starving at home. We have more people taking care of the sick and elderly abroad, but we have fewer people taking care of the sick and elderly at home. We’ve become “globalized,” but we remain parochial. We speak English more than other Asians, but we communicate less than other Asians. We have more education, but we have less learning. We have more Ph.D.s, but we have lower IQ.

We want to “Cha-cha,” but we are paralyzed. We plan more, but we achieve less. We travel more, but we reach less. We are the longest democracy in Asia, but we are the longest autocracy in Asia. We extol the virtues of human rights, but we kill journalists and leftists. We pride ourselves on being free, but we refuse to believe that the truth shall make us free.

We have managed to reach the top of Mt. Everest. When will we reach the foot of Mendiola Bridge?


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