By: Patrick


I just finished an old biography of the theologican and philosopher Martin Buber (Encounter with Martin Buber by Aubrey Hodes). One of my friends raves about Buber, so I thought I would give this book a go. Buber really was an extraordinary man concerned with love, relationships, dialogue, peace, politics, education and much more. He was a true intellectual and it is sad to think that in our time someone like Richard Dawkins is considered one of our primary public intellectuals. Morally, Buber and Dawkins are in different leagues. Buber felt that ‘the task of the intellectual and spiritual man is to supply the necessary corrective. To do this he must have no direct interest in the holding of power. He should not seek to rule. But he should draw intelligent conclusions from his awareness of social problems and present them forcefully and courageously to the statemen who carry out policy’. Buber referred to ‘the truth of the slower tempo’. For him, ‘the authentic forces that change and shape the world are deep and under the surface. So they move slowly. Real history is the history of the slow pace’. At a time when we live such fast-paced lives, the idea of having someone like Buber in the political arena, stroking his long beard and agonizing over every moral intricacy of a policy decision, seems a bit absurd. And we are all the poorer for it. Buber wrote extensively and passionately about education. As a part-time lecturer, I found much of what he had to say revelatory. For Buber, the real struggle is not between East and West or capitalism and communism, but between education and propaganda. In this sense, the teacher has a supreme responsibility and must ‘constantly examine his (sic) conscience’. It is sad to think of teachers, who went into their jobs with the loftiest of ideals only to have it hammered out of them through overwork, stress and bureaucracy. Same with most professions, it seems. If we were to take Buber seriously and try and (1) humanize technology rather than looking back to pre-industrial ideals and (2) try and understand each other through dialogue rather than fight with each other, then clearly the world would be very different. It is easy to believe that this sounds hopelessly naive and to snigger at the idea of it ever having an impact on global politics. Maybe so, but Buber was more a spiritual thinker than a political thinker at the end of the day, despite the two unavoidably crossing over in his life. For him, the key to changing the world is changing ourselves and how we relate to each other – transforming the in-between. Peter Sloterdijk is releasing a book later this year called You Must Change Your Life. I know very little about Sloterdijk. In fact I know nothing about him except that he has written this book. I sense that it will be nothing like what Buber has to say, but is coming at the same theme from a different angle: don’t wallow in the failures of politics, change yourself. I feel scared to change myself. To commit to a cause or a friend suddenly makes that cause or friend very real, and reality can be quite disconcerting in its permanence and fixedness. Yet to quote Fernando Pessoa: ‘One must monotonize existence in order to rid it of monotony’. Like Pessoa, Buber succeeds in making monotony sound very appealing. Maybe I too will one day consider monotony more appealing than eating a Strawberry Muller Rice.

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