Alterum No Laedare: A Rejoinder
That entry, of course, begs a rejoinder.
I personally think that it is at the height of a moral and ethical crisis in society when basic precepts like honesty (honeste vivere), doing no harm (alterum no laedare), and giving every one his or her due (suum cique triburere) are questioned. When something like a just and fair society becomes relegated to the “unattainable,” it is a crisis in itself. If rice crises and the rising prices of fuel are bad enough, the inability or reluctance of a society to work toward justice not only becomes its own undoing, but it spells its own death.
Let me explain – again – why “do no harm” is something I hold in such a high (if not neurotic) regard. We do live in an unjust society, so let’s hold that as a given. Society today is replete with so many liars and ingrates. The reason why we still live today – the very reason why we exist, survive, and scrape the bottom of empty barrels to eke out a living – is because of a precept called “do no harm.” I think Emperor Justinian I, who coined the phrase “alterum no laedare,” had enough foresight in his time to realize that for society to exist in harmony, even in its most rudimentary form, people must look out for each other.
“Foresight,” or I should say, a “duh” moment. Consider people mobbing a thief or a pickpocket. Or people throwing epithets at rapists on TV. People who boil over with rage and anger when they hear of a crime. A criminal represents the opposite of “do no harm.” He or she is a malcontent whose existence revolves around harming another person, to live devoid of conscience, to disregard the welfare of other people. If the malcontent harms one person, he or she can definitely harm another.
Let me get to the word “conscience.” Laws, ethics, and personal principles are nothing more than embodiments of conscience. Rather than to restrict us from living meaningful lives, laws permit us to do so. There are just some lines you cannot cross. For all the complicatedness of the law, it is merely a map that indicates your limits. You can have your fun in a given limitation, but when your fun transgresses upon one’s person, there are repercussions.
While we’re on the subject of blogging responsibly:
A libel is public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status, or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit, or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead.
“Definition of Libel”
Art. 353, Sec. 1, Ch. 1, Title 13, Book 2
Revised Penal Code of the Philippines
I leave it to lawyers to interpret if libel does apply to blogs in Philippine jurisprudence. Even if it doesn’t, this is not a license for libel or slander to find refuge in blogs, for blogs to be made as a venue for it. Still, it brings to mind a very important point about how laws are merely reiterations of conscience: the definition of libel in Philippine law is worded in such a way that nobody in the right mind would dare dishonor someone, to discredit someone, to hold someone in contempt, or to besmirch dead people.
The motive is of course, irrelevant. The law, being a reiteration of conscience, is very explicit:
Every defamatory imputation is presumed to be malicious, even if it be true, if no good intention and justifiable motive for making it is shown.
“Requirement for Publicity”
Art. 354, Sec. 1, Ch. 1, Title 13, Book 2
Revised Penal Code of the Philippines
Because the law draws lines on the basis of reiterating commonly-held beliefs about what ought to be, there is no reason for us to not live up to it. The law – conscience – exists because we have to live up to it. Never mind the perceived “sacrifices” we make because this is “imputed” on us and “imposed” on us.
To act with justice, to live honestly, to harm no one, and to give every one his or her due, is NOT an ideal. These are the most basic of requirements expected of every single human being who lives in some form of society.
Which brings me to ask: what is so difficult about life without doing any harm? What is so complicated about writing – irrevocably reduced to blogging, in this case – in a responsible, fair, just manner that seeks far more prudent and noble ends than to commit slander?
I won’t dare be sanctimonious to say that in four years of blogging, I never made lapses. I wrote things that, had I lived in a less-permissive society, would land me in jail for sure. Yet as time goes on, and you learn from your mistakes, you realize how responsible you really are for what you write. It’s not “just a blog,” as much as every act of writing is itself a commitment to history. To own up to it is not enough; it is expected that in the exercise of free speech and expression, that in the exercise of creativity, people should realize how important the ought-to-be is.
Besides, “do no harm” is not all that complicated. It’s just three words. Meaningless? Relative? Antiquated? A deterrent to the creative process?
Hmmm… I am reminded of how Plato, in The Republic, offered a prescription to those who do not act justly and those who do not have the interest of others in mind. Plato’s solution, metaphorical or literal, makes a lot of sense: the people in the polis throw the malcontent over the city walls.
It makes a lot of sense.