Buber’s “Elements of the Interhuman”

I scanned Buber’s essay “Elements of the Interhuman” and put it in my wiki. It is hard to convey the feeling of satisfaction I’m enjoying right now at the fact that this essay exists. It is essentially a summary of my own ethic. When I say that I “feel Jewish”, this essay is an example of what I mean by Jewishness.

I say this essay summarizes my ethic, but that doesn’t mean it summarizes what my ethic was prior to reading the essay (which I read for the first time early this year). I’m not sure exactly how much I was persuaded by this particular essay the first time I read it, but I can say that the process of reading most of Buber’s writings this year did change me ethically. It wasn’t a persuasion away from my earlier ethic, but it was a persuasion beyond it. Also, it was my first experience of sharing this species of ethic-ethos with another soul – and considering that the species of ethic-ethos is an ethic of sharing ethic-ethos, that was a major life event. Sharing this ethic-ethos was an actualization of something that had before existed as mere faith. The fact that Buber existed to me only as an author makes little difference. (If you understand why I would say this, you’ll understand my hostility to all pomo “death of the author” talk. If an author is dead to you, you are dead to humanity. A person who rejoices at the announcement of the author’s death fears and hates authentic love. Love is fearsome especially if you know what it is, but this is what courage is for: love is the root of courage’s undeniable value. All people admire courage, whether they want to or not, even if they cannot love. Courage points to love, even if it seems to point into nothing.)

The standout idea of this essay the first time I read it was the distinction Buber made between the interhuman and the social. It made such an impression on me that it’s possible I noticed no other idea in the essay. A brilliant insight can blot out all surrounding ideas with its glare. In the last several days I’ve re-read several of the sections multiple times. Even on adjacent days the same passage can read entirely differently. Key personal insight: I am sensitive and effective in the interhuman sphere, but half- or three-quarters-blind and paralyzed in the social sphere. I need the social.

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