Chapter 3: Images of man and experiments
D. The life of dialogue
In a world saturated with technology’s whirring activity, human beings and their problems and situations – love, suffering, death – leave technicians speechless. Human beings, after all, are so awash with mass-sensations that they no longer experience life. Thus they nurse a deep anxiety.
Historically, the Enlightenment labored to produce an ‘I’ fit to lord over the world of things. For Descartes and others, freedom’s expression was a resounding ‘I.’ But the ‘I’ cannot exist on its own without loneliness. Feuerbach, addressing this very problem, wrote, “The nature of man is contained only in community in the unity of man – a unity which however rests upon the reality of the distinction of ‘I’ and ‘Thou’.” (80) It was a move mirrored in new evaluations of language where life does not make language, but is rather made by it. The ‘I-Thou’ of language is the basis of self-consciousness and community with others. Thus, subjectivity is intersubjectivity.
Martin Buber’s work I and Thou brought further clarified the linguistic element of human relations. Buber created a continuum of possible human relationships, with the I-Thou on one side and the I-It on the other. The ‘I’ of the latter is a subject who perceives and acts. The ‘I’ of the latter pair is an ‘I’ who hears and dialogues. It is a useful continuum when considering humanity within the roaring power of technological life.
The I-it, which asks of human beings, “What?” is absolutely disjunctive to the I-Thou, which asks of human beings, “Who?” Technological life, which treats human beings as consumers, or numbers, producers, or liabilities, cannot comprehend the human life which mediates the whole being in an encounter with actual living. Furthermore, within the Thou one may come to themselves and, now whole speak wholly. The I, on the other hand, offers relentless experiential dissection.
Buber developed an entire philosophy of religion from his linguistic personalism. “In the ultimate grounds of our linguistic and spiritual life, God is the true ‘Thou’ to the true and enduring ‘I’ of man. . . . And if anyone avoids the names for the unnameable, because they are all misused, and addresses with his whole being the ‘Thou’ of his life, it is God that he addresses.” (83) As well, the Thou, he said, was accessible only in the Thou of one’s neighbor. Community, then, is the new-and-forever after locus of divine visitation.
Moltmann, though enthusiastic about Buber’s insights, asks if perhaps the ‘It’ has not been misunderstood. He asks about the community of work, the everyday community, the life with others that is more concrete than the small, oath-bound communities of Buber’s vision. Community, he say, requires “a common material agency and reliable institutions” the “necessary and good incarnations of the human into real life.” (84) Modern society, he says, cannot be humanized through personalization.
“It is not possible directly to repersonalize relationships which have been divided up for a rational purpose. . . . The ‘life of dialogue’ can easily lead to a romantic flight from the reality of scientific and technological civilization. Then it loses its humanizing and healing powers and survives in a petty corner for the criticism of culture.” (85)
Furthermore, he says, industrialization, instead of depersonalizing life, has allowed it the freedom to dialogue. Thus, in condemning the technopolis of the I-It, Buber’s personalistic protest cuts away at the floor beneath it. What is good about the community of ‘I’ and ‘Thou’ is that it reminds human beings of their own humanity with one another. That, he says, should inform social and political work in the modern world. “Men will then take to themselves the sorrow of a reality which is constantly alienated and materializing, and see the future under the image of its alteration so that it can be characterized as a human society.” (86)
E. The irony of the "man without qualities"
Rootlessness characterizes the order of the day in an industrial society. For many, there is no ultimate realization of a universal human society. Yet, irony has become a way forward for some; the irony of the ‘man without qualities.’
Ralf Dahrendorf, in his essay "Homo Sociologicus," described a model of human expression, a sociological model. In this model, human beings both describe themselves and are described by a matrix of social roles: parent, child, teacher, citizen, bird watcher, female. Indeed, there is no other way of describing who someone is, whether someone else or yourself, outside of these relationships. These do not have to do with who someone is, however, but only what they do. They are societal descriptions in which someone lives, descriptions that are horizons of the possible, each one molding the subject to the shape of a different expectation; a German professor and a farm laborer live on disparate tracks. Social roles are the process of socialization, molding the man and introducing him to the society of his peers.
Social roles bring dangers with them. Their role play separates the human person into personalities, inner and outer in a division which begs the question: “Is [one] identical with the echo which his personal life has made among other people?” (88) There is the danger too of so becoming one’s role that there is no humanity left save what is proscribed. Again, as relationships multiply one upon the other, the self becomes a juggling act which, in critical cases, could result in a split of the personality itself. Each role, each expectation, brings with it different claims. In a whirl of competing demands, can one even speak of an ‘I’ at peace with itself and the world? Moltmann asks, “Where is he a man, and where is he free to be man? Or does he just not appear as himself and as ‘man’ in the functional activity of this pluralistic society? (90) So is there a subject at all?
There is hope for a subject if passive imagination is considered. To the clingy aggregate of social roles there is always one untouched addition. This one addition, this passive imagination, allows a detachment, an even laughable point of view by which to critique all the other demanding selves. This one addition is the free possibility of being different. “By means of self-irony man can look out from the reality of his life and reflect, keep his negative independence from everything and toy with the quite different possibilities that he has.” (93) So free and open can this ironic man without qualities be that Moltmann draws a line between it and Marx’s total man. Both, he says, look beyond constricting societal walls to bare hills of human possibility.
Yet, Moltmann also warns this passive ironic of romantic dangers. She struggles to acquire greater possibilities, but knows she can never belong to any of the roles which she acquires. She develops an experimental attitude toward life and “lives the delusion that the thousand possibilities … are worth more than the one reality.” (93) The external world, the real world, slides away within the foggy disconnect. “This fascination is paid for … by an increasing inability to identify oneself and to become flesh in practical life, and to love.” (94) With no real place to stand, the passive ironic ironically is swept along by the active forces, plans and expectations against which irony was chosen in the first place.
Moltmann sets another contextual warning. This time against a form of Christian identity. He describes this identity as such:
If radical contextualization is what it is to be human, then how can one live from and in God? If a man is but the result of his social relationships, then how can we understand him when,
“the transcendent God calls him and he receives the call of the word of God and trusts it, he releases himself at the same time from the enclosedness of the world and becomes free of the powers and laws of the world. He becomes free of the mirror of his social activities and can stand over against himself. He is then no longer the result of his social circumstances, but becomes Son of God and Lord of the World (Gogarten).” (95)
The creature of God lives in a different world than Dahrendorf’s homo sociologicus. Roles do not define, but become tools which may be owned without owning. They are no longer laws from jealous gods but simply roles; they are secularized. The real does not dominate. At the same time, the inner self is made sacred because it receives itself from God. There is a place to stand outside the roles, a place for possibility. Freedom is granted to the inner self so that there is no longer the cacophonous demands of society but, instead, the silent place of one’s decision. Chiding Bultmann’s free decision of faith, Moltmann retorts, “The freedom of faith is indeed always specific in decisions, but decisions do not turn into decisiveness.” (96) The problem with this point of decision which stands between the cut made between God and the world (for in the solitary, sacred place before God one takes refuge from the social demands of the secular) is that nothing gets done by it. There is no inner ability in its position to make decisive choices. There is no human incarnation for the sake of others. Social reality is not changed. It is a “Utopia of the negative.” “This form of belief is always in danger of changing into the romantic attitude of the beautiful soul, which like a butterfly moving from flower to flower dashes past reality from one decision to another, without really and effectively taking corporate reality seriously.” (96) The passive ironic, untouched because she is without qualities even as she lives in a world of qualities, is aesthetically attractive. But, as Moltmann concludes the segment, it arises from the experience of social powerlessness.
F. The adventurous heart
One option in the face of life’s increasing complexity is raw and direct action. Instead of the patient labor of maintaining community networks upon networks; instead of political decisions made more and more obscure as awareness of the layered contexts are understood; instead of these, Alexander’s sword of naked decision is drawn from its sheath (Scheide) and with it the clarity of action (Entscheidung).
“Critically Utopian thought builds upon the relationships of the present which have become opaque the objective counter-image of a liberated-harmonious society. . . . Self critical scepticism withdraws from an oppressive social reality into the inner secret of the man without qualities, to satisfy those possibilities in unreality. There is yet a third way, from multiplicity to simplicity, the mover from the thousand possibilities to the one necessary reality, which is the naked decision.” (97)
It is not the purpose of acting but that one has acted that clarifies. In the teeth of battle, decisions are elementary, friend and foe are clearly manifest. Moltmann identifies “the struggle for the existence of the nation” – war –with this very desire. On the level of nation state, political and social factions, melt away and unify under the banner of patriotism. Such decisiveness, says Moltmann, explains why facism held such attraction, despite having no plan of its own other than to act.
The will to power grants unity to the individual as well. In the commitment to arms, all the manifold demands, roles and divisions of the self stitch together. Existence is one, a fulcrum between the scales of living and dying. “Deliverance from the uncertainty in which one does not know what one is there fore, lies in total self-sacrifice.” (100)
The best preparation for a life of self-sacrifice is the destruction of humanistic education. Contempt today for the ‘ivory tower’ universities, the desire of some to hitch the intellect to a certain powerful politic, or even the wholesale embrace of anarchy: all of these, he says, is a treason of intellect against intellect.
Politically, such a life is paved by abolishing parliamentary procedure and bureaucratic process. The Utopia of the bourgeoisie “consists in the hope that one could transmute the decisive battle into a continuous parliamentary debate, and put it off by delay. The opposite to discussion is dictatorship…” (101) In times of war, there is no need for congressional debates, but only kill or be-killed. The dictatorship offers seductively a simple, naked decision. Therefore, dictatorships thrive in existential politics.
Just as the longing for decision is met by secular categories of friend and enemy, that same longing is met by ideas of apocalypse in religious sects and churches. In the looming shadow of the end, faith is the absolute decision made on the basis of an absolute call; both, notes Moltmann, beyond verification by any objective standard. “One can only take an attitude to them without reference to reasons and proofs.” (103) Faith is the ultimate risk, a leap without evidence. “It is not the credibility of its object that is evidence for [faith], but one’s own decisive commitment, in which man comes to himself.” (103) Yet, he asks, without a credible object, does one really have the Christian faith?
Brushing away complexity, responsibility and the political and social demands of responsible human living by means of violence and the act only brushes them away. It does not balance the need for society. Furthermore, the very thing that makes decisiveness so decisive is its context against the daily background of complexity. Without needs, demands, and deadlines, there is no way of talking about decision. The two are related in a negative circularity.
The same circularity appears in religious faith. The existential leap, too, is only an antithesis against the thesis of the church of historic confession and liturgical and missiological praxis. The existential leap has no real substance of its own; inexpressibility is no foundation. “Christian faith is indissolubly linked with historical recollection of the Christ-event and with eschatological hope in the future of Christ, and so is itself a historical decision.” (104) The call of the gospel does not bow him to crisis in a last day, but, rather, “opens to him new possibilities of altering himself and his circumstances. It puts him in the time of love, which trusts in the possibility of conversion of the ‘enemy’, because it hopes in him, and therefore does not kill or damn him, but tries to help him to life.” (104) Neither Modern society nor the Christian faith will find a solution in the naked friend-foe decision. Rather, both should adhere to the better way, loving and rational dialogue with others.