Social and interhuman

Buber, on the social vs the interhuman:

It is usual to ascribe what takes place between men to the social realm, thereby blurring a basically important line of division between two essentially different areas of human life. I myself, when I began nearly fifty years ago to find my own bearings in the knowledge of society, making use of the then unknown concept of the interhuman, made the same error. From that time it became increasingly clear to me that we have to do here with a separate category of our existence, even a separate dimension, to use a mathematical term, and one with which we are so familiar that its peculiarity has hitherto almost escaped us. Yet insight into its peculiarity is extremely important not only for our thinking, but also for our living.

We may speak of social phenomena wherever the life of a number of men, lived with one another, bound up together, brings in its train shared experiences and reactions. But to be thus bound up together means only that each individual existence is enclosed and contained in a group existence. It does not mean that between one member and another of the group there exists any kind of personal relation. They do feel that they belong together in a way that is, so to speak, fundamentally different from every possible belonging together with someone outside the group. And there do arise, especially in the life of smaller groups, contacts which frequently favour the birth of individual relations, but, on the other hand, frequently make it more difficult. In no case, however, does membership in a group necessarily involve an existential relation between one member and another. It is true that there have been groups in history which included highly intensive and intimate relations between two of their members — as, for instance, in the homosexual relations among the Japanese Samurai or among Doric warriors — and these were countenanced for the sake of the stricter cohesion of the group. But in general it must be said that the leading elements in groups, especially in the later course of human history, have rather been inclined to suppress the personal relation in favour of the purely collective element. Where this latter element reigns alone or is predominant, men feel themselves to be carried by the collectivity, which lifts them out of loneliness and fear of the world and lostness. When this happens — and for modern man it is an essential happening — the life between person and person seems to retreat more and more before the advance of the collective. The collective aims at holding in check the inclination to personal life. It is as though those who are bound together in groups should in the main be concerned only with the work of the group and should turn to the personal partners, who are tolerated by the group, only in secondary meetings.

Nietzsche, on the same insight:

Dialogue. — A dialogue is the perfect conversation because everything that the one person says acquires its particular color, sound, its accompanying gesture in strict consideration of the other person to whom he is speaking; it is like letter-writing, where one and the same man shows ten ways of expressing his inner thoughts, depending on whether he is writing to this person or to that. In a dialogue, there is only one single refraction of thought: this is produced by the partner in conversation, the mirror in which we want to see our thoughts reflected as beautifully as possible. But how is it with two, or three, or more partners? There the conversation necessarily loses something of its individualizing refinement; the various considerations clash, cancel each other out; the phrase that pleases the one, does not accord with the character of the other. Therefore, a man interacting with several people is forced to fall back upon himself, to present the facts as they are, but rob the subject matter of that scintillating air of humanity that makes a conversation one of the most agreeable things in the world. Just listen to the tone in which men interacting with whole groups of men tend to speak; it is as if the ground bass of all speech were: “That is who I am; that is what I say; now you think what you will about it!” For this reason, clever women whom a man has met in society are generally remembered as strange, awkward, unappealing: it is speaking to and in front of many people that robs them of all intelligent amiability and turns a harsh light only on their conscious dependence on themselves, their tactics, and their intention to triumph publicly; while the same women in a dialogue become females again and rediscover their mind’s gracefulness.

Nietzsche makes a lot more general sense and seems a little less sexist if you decode his comments on women with the aid of this Rosetta stone (from the preface of Beyond Good and Evil): “Supposing truth is a woman–what then?”


This distinction is completely relevant to brand, not only externally, but also internally.

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