This is the best essay about love I’ve seen recently. It’s full of beautiful writing about Martin Buber’s ideas and worth reading.
I really disliked this paragraph, though:
A life immersed entirely in the I-Thou hardly seems plausible either. If the world didn’t eat you alive for your kindness, you would be condemned to a glazed and useless hippiedom. The fall from innocence to experience is nothing if not the realisation that, in order to survive, you need to learn a little cruelty. But whatever the root of the human predicament, it clearly isn’t too much compassion. Or not enough self-interest.
It’s telling that the author doesn’t feel a need to explain what’s actually wrong with hippies, or for what purpose they should use their time. He’s also far too educated not to know that he’s writing about essentially the same thing as Kant’s Categorical Imperative. He’d like to pretend deontological ethics don’t exist, because he wants to preserve cowardice as a moral justification (“They’d eat me alive!”).
He also takes great pain to distance himself from anything so vulgar as faith in God. Then he makes a big deal of how naive and silly Buber’s ideas are supposed look in light of the Holocaust.
I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, and they’re pretty Old Testament-heavy. Because I’m more familiar with the Judeo-Christian context, I understand that complaining about the fallen state of the world completely misses the point. For him, it’s a problem that absolute adherence to moral standards is impossible. That’s because he doesn’t understand about original sin, or that texts in ALL great religious traditions talk about how rare it is for people to live up to their ideals, or even to expect persecution for doing the right thing.
He’s missing those concepts, and invested in capitalism and being an asshole in some way, and doesn’t want to change. Since capitalism is literally making the world end, it’s late in the game to be a smug old conservative looking down on hippies. The one certain thing is that continuing on our present path is fatal.
He doesn’t actually explain WHY cruelty is necessary, just that it’s justified to call people names when they disagree.
If you’ve actually experienced cruelty, or witnessed it from a stance of I-Thou, it’s completely obvious that we should try to eliminate it to the fullest extent possible.
“Everybody knows that cruelty4ever, amirite?”
That’s the attitude of someone benefiting from the cruelty, who wants to keep benefiting from the cruelty.