I and Thou

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Martin Buber accompanied me through my angst-filled undergraduate years. Ha! Not much has changed, except that it has been well over 20 years since he and I last spoke. A deep camaraderie developed through an intimate textual liaison over time which, though dimmed in the exercise of quiet, was never absent. Picking up I and Thou today, and for days to come, I am infected with concerns of finitude and deception, mostly the ghastly kind, self-deception.

How appropriate then that Walter Kaufmann’s prologue should begin by saying:

Mundus vult decipi: the world wants to be deceived. The truth is too complex and frightening; the taste for the truth is an acquired taste that few acquire. Not all deceptions are palatable. Untruths are too easy to come by, too quickly exploded, too cheap and ephemeral to give lasting comfort.

Somehow deception always seems to be associated with wish-fulfillment whether in terms of hedonic calculations or risk evasion, and for this reason seems to require a kind of heroism. Unraveling the truth is a heroic act then. Truth is our cause, but where is the battlefield? There is no easy answer to this question unless one begins with the banal. We are the battlefield. Literally we must battle our inner impulses that motion to the convenience of a kind of happiness which calms rather than antagonizes and incites, shopping for bargains, even when, and mostly for, a deluded sense of personal and meaningful fulfillment. This heroic act runs the risk of unsettling ourselves; but cowardice runs the risk of, in fact, settling ourselves…  Where shall Buber take us?

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