Tuesday, May 11, 2004

A little essay I wrote for Chinese Philosophy class...

.:Harmony Beyond Equilibrium:.

“... Before the feelings of pleasure, anger, sorrow, and joy are aroused, it is called equilibrium (chung, centrality, mean). When these feelings are aroused and each and all attain due measure and degree, it is called harmony. Equilibrium is the great foundation of the world, and harmony its universal path. When equilibrium and harmony are realized to the highest degree, heaven and earth will attain their proper order and all things will flourish.”

- The Doctrine Of The Mean, Chapter 1

What should be noted in this passage is the usage of the term “Equilibrium” as a starting point for the world. To say that what could be interpreted as a lack of emotion at this point is crucial to the Doctrine of the Mean is an understatement. However, what I believe makes this point even more interesting is: what if someone decided to do away with harmony and rely purely on equilibrium to bring about a new world order? How would this be carried out?

Surprisingly enough, it has occurred to me only after reading this chapter why this film starring Christian Bale was entitled the way it was. Needless to say, I am speaking of the film “Equilibrium”. This is a film about a new society whose main path to order is to eliminate emotion, or at least the basic ones of pleasure, anger, sorrow, joy, and love. This is done by forcing their subjects to take in a dosage of an emotional inhibitor drug called “Prozium”, and destroying anything that could evoke emotions, be they paintings or photographs or even pets. Marriage is a purely social arrangement, and even procreation is done in the cold confines of a laboratory. Needless to say, this was viewed to be a veritable Utopia. Without emotions, no anger or strife or violence would exist. The clerics who enforce the law merely follow duty and do not experience emotions when carrying them out, which makes killing an easy task for them, as they feel no remorse but merely comply out of duty.

Christian Bale's character is John Preston, one of the top clerics of the organization in Libria (Notice the subtle allusion to the Zodiac sign Libra, the sign of equilibium, being the sign of the balancing scale.). He is akin to Saint Paul in the Bible in that he persecuted any source of emotions as much as Saint Paul persecuted the early Christians. However, Preston slowly has a change of heart the moment he forgot to take his dosage of Prozium. Slowly, he began to feel emotions that he never felt for the longest time in his life, and to him, it was actually... liberating. He knows that these emotions can and will hamper his optimum performance in the eyes of the clerics, but he realizes that beyond equilibrium in this sense, he managed to find harmony within himself, channeling his newfound emotions towards bringing down this inhuman organization that sought to stamp out one of the facets of humanity: human emotions.

Indeed, we realize that equilibrium in this sense does have a great measure of importance. Before any emotions could be stirred within us, we are in a state of equilibrium. Only in finding a way to employ these emotions at the right circumstance in the right time with the right intensity can we surpass equilibrium and achieve harmony. The question that needs to be answered is: why do we need to go beyond equilibrium? Does the film reflect this, or did Preston destroy what could've been a true Utopia if enough time was given to actually establish this new world order?

I am inclined to believe that just as the Doctrine of the Mean has explicitly stated, equilibrium is simply the foundation of the world. While that in itself is important, its import becomes rather moot if it leads us nowhere. If we are merely trapped in a state of equilibrium and never strive towards harmony, then it becomes clear that we simply stagnate into a state of emotionlessness, which radically changes our perception of the human being's sentience to become one of pure rationality, which is ironically, Kant's foundation for moral reflection.

One of the movie's high points was the revelation that even the leader of Libria, Father, the very man who wishes to establish this world order of equilibrium, is himself not taking the dosage of Prozium. Clearly, for him to be able to forward his cause, there was a need for him to work with a full gamut of emotions, lest his cool calculations fall to naught because he would be too oblivious to potential things that may actually evoke emotions. I believe that in the movie itself, we are shown a clear sign that Equilibrium simply cannot stand on its own to bring heaven and earth “to their proper order and make all things flourish”.

John Preston realized for himself how he could flourish given the power to wield the full gamut of emotions, and even with all these emotions, he actually managed to attain harmony within himself instead of recklessly feeling. This was clearly illustrated during the polygraph test where he suddenly had a burst of courage at just the right moment, and then the polygraph went flatline, signalling that Preston had control over his emotions and not vice versa. This led to his escape from detention and his final confrontation with Father, the leader of Libria.

In the end, we realize that this state of equilibrium is simply a starting point that we must move beyond at one point or another. Any foundation is of no use to us if nothing is built upon it. Descartes sought to rebuild what he could believe the moment he came across the bedrock of certitude after having doubted everything. Equilibrium as a foundation towards achieving harmony is no different. These two things should not be mutually exclusive, as the results can be quite disastrous, as is what the film clearly exhibits.

I look at myself right now and realize that while I am far from truly achieving the peak of equilibrium and harmony within me, I am on my way to it. This is not so different from the eudaimonia (Flourishing.) Aristotle spoke of in his Nicomachean Ethics, in that the way for a man to be eudaimon is for him to live within his means in whatever facet of life it may be. He has to find the mesotes in any given situation in order for him to become a virtuous man. This process is not overnight, as this virtuous man has habituated himself. Until the fullness of it is attained, he is “on his way to virtue”, inasmuch as the Doctrine of the Mean also speaks of an ideal that we can hope to attain.

Equilibrium is where it all starts. Harmony moves us further. One is of little use without the other.

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