Pursued by Buber

I cannot remember when I have lingered over a book more but Maurice Friedmann's intellectual biography of Martin Buber has continually detained me. This is partly because I am reminded and, as a result, need to think about many of Buber's texts that I have read and am struck by their continued topicality.

So, for example, I have reached the point in Buber's narrative when he arrives in Palestine to take up a position as a professor at the Hebrew University in 1938. He is both a refugee from Nazi persecution and a new entrant into a deeply felt project - that of building a Land that can be a home both for the Jewish people and for the Arab.

It is a project that to date has failed. Virtually every sentence in the text stands in judgement over both Jew and Arab in the current context. The choice between forging genuine community and settling into the antagonistic realties of political identity and conflict has been settled towards the latter, depressing, reality. Is Buber, you might ask, too idealistic? No, I think, I answer from the depths of my own intuition of what is possible for us as human beings, no.

We must continue to hope and strive for a different outcome where people can recognise each other's commonality even when we are necessarily different.

It too speaks to me in relation to today's launch of the IF campaign on hunger. If the world has enough food, why is it that many go to bed this night hungry? It is a deeply legitimate question, and the campaign ought to gather support.

And yet I realise I am deeply ambivalent about it because it does not ask anything of us - what is it, apart from protesting at our politicians and multi-national companies, what does it require us to be and do? Nothing. Where is the claim upon us of a positive witness to a world of shared meaning and work that yields a radically different outcome? It is not there.

Buber would say that we have sacrificed the opportunity to build community from the bottom up for politics and, I fear, I would agree. There is nothing of positive vision of how the world ought to be in IF that is rooted in the particular realities of diverse, concrete situations; and, thus, I fear, its impact will only be felt at the margins.

Marginalization is the curse of the current world - no doubt the assembled company at the World Economic Forum at Davos imagine themselves at the centre of something, at the 'wheel' of things and in a superficial sense they are, for the moment, but the arrogance of that particular position is being unpicked by the world - a finance system that is wholly dysfunctional, a world of resource constraint, of climate change etc etc...

There remains only the possibility of rebuilding from the place where all of us ultimately sit - our responsibility to one another that is experienced only here and now, where we happen to stand, in a diverse set of concrete particulars - here and here and here.

In reforging those linkages is our hope.


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