Sunday, 31 December 2017

Or to put it another way....

One from the vaults,as it were. This, in essence, is how I put the same basic point a few Christmases ago....

The Real Meaning of Hogswatch
by Simon Smith

At this time of year, people naturally to turn to progenitive myths, originative stories and the like. In the dead, dark days of winter, we need their bright reflections; we yearn for gifts of light and life. The old cold world shrivels to a frozen stub, black and lifeless; we must remind ourselves that we, at least, are still alive.
That’s what the trees and tinsel, mulled wine and minced pies, parties and presents are all about.
The stories we tell at this time of year have, of course, changed considerably over the last few thousand years; and there are a great many stories to be told, apart from the obvious one.

No, not Santa. I meant Jesus, the birth of Jesus.

But wait a minute. ‘Of course’? Have they, I wonder, really changed that much? And are there, for that matter, really that many stories? Or is it just a few: the same stories told in different ways; old stories, like old gods, doing new jobs?
The “Santa” story is a good example: the spirit of good will and giving, born and reborn year after year; Dickens’ ebullient and jovial Spirit of Christmas Present, decked out in living green, rather than Coca Cola’s red and white.
Another much loved variation on this theme, to which I return every Christmas, is Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather (Corgi, 1997). If you’ve never read Pratchett, then you have my deepest sympathies. Your life is sadly incomplete; ever shall it be so until you rectify this shameful lacuna in your reading. Why anyone should deny themselves one of the greatest pleasures attendant on being human is frankly beyond me. Unless they have been diagnosed as clinically humourless.
Pratchett was one our funniest writers; and I don’t mean in the sense that some people mistakenly think Douglas Adams was funny. Adams was witty, certainly, and amusing; but rarely outright funny and never actually hilarious.
No he wasn’t; and if you’re shaking your head, I can only suggest that you have a doctor look at your sense of humour. It needs re-calibrating.

I’m not kidding. The failure to find Terry Pratchett funny is indicative of a serious personality defect.

Pratchett is in the same league as Wodehouse or Spike Milligan. (And if you don’t think they’re funny, there’s no hope for you; you aren’t humourless, you’re dead; check yourself in to a morgue immediately.) Like Wodehouse, he has, on occasion, been accused of literature. I think he could be accused of philosophy too. You see, Pratchett is not only funny – in the embarrassing snort-out-loud-in-public sense – he’s also quite thoughtful at times. True, he can also be a bit sententious; nevertheless, there is, in his writing, a sensibility, a truth, that is both profoundly human and deeply metaphysical.
It comes down to an intuitive understanding of myth and metaphor; not merely as literary devices, but as proper narrative or personal ones. To put this another way, Terry Pratchett knew what myths and metaphors really are; and he knows what they’re for. He explored the complex and subtle ways that human beings use myths and metaphors to construct their identities, shaping human nature in the process.
Myths and metaphors, the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, are the building blocks from which we construct ourselves. They are psychological and metaphysical extensions by which all too limited selves interlock with others, so reach out across the infinite expanse of consciousness. They are mirrors, reflections of who we are and who we might be; images without which, we reduced ourselves to the zero-point of a supposedly rational mind which conceives itself entirely in terms of its own finitude. (Therein lies the key to the classical rationalist’s desperate need for necessitarian projections.) As myths and metaphors supply the building blocks, they also supply the tools with which we can make sense of the most important of philosophical questions: the nature and meaning of human existence; more simply, what it means to be human at all.
Hogfather is my favourite expression of this idea. In case you’re wondering, the Hogfather himself is the perfect mid-winter demiurge for a pork-based economy. I’m surprised he hasn’t caught on in here in Ireland. He doesn’t, in fact, play a very large role in the story, only turning up at the end, when all the hard work is done. That’s because the story isn’t really about the Hogfather as such; it is about persons and what that means.
It is also where Death really gets to grips with the meaning of life. Not death. Death. Cowl, scythe, quite thin, especially around the face, always smiling, sort of. That is, Death the character, as opposed to death the final banjo-twang in the great symphony of life. This character is, he himself is the first to admit, the anthropomorphic personification of that natural process. And he always turns up, sooner or later, whether you’ve been naughty or nice.
Being a projection of the end of life, Death is simultaneously an insider and an outsider. On one level, he doesn’t seem to understand human beings, their obtuseness, their mythopoeic tendencies, their need for projection and reflection. Consequently, he tends to see the world in literal terms. For instance, his response to poverty and hunger is, oddly enough, to give people a decent meal. (I cannot tell you how upset he gets when he comes across the Little Match Girl about to seasonally snuff it in snowdrift.)
At the same time, however, Death understands the dynamics of human nature very well indeed; deep in the bone, as it were. Hardly surprising since he is, after all, a projection of that nature. So he’s perfectly placed to remind us just very how important are the stories we tell about ourselves and, by extension, the world we live in. Stories about birth and rebirth; about justice and fairness, goodwill and kindness; stories which remind us that other people are, as Dickens said, our business; stories about being naughty and nice. Stories, in short, about light and life.
These are the stories, the myths and metaphors which, as Death himself says, make us “THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE”.

Although, the Librarian may be taking this idea a bit literally. (Look it up.)

Speaking philosophically, we are narrative creatures, living the life-stories we write for ourselves and for others. These stories are a vital insight into the human condition. They tell us what we’re really like (even if we don’t want to admit it). That’s why we need the big myths: to fill in the plot holes and fill out the under-developed characterisation of ordinary author-actors. Big myths are a mirror: they tell us to our faces who and what we really are. But as they reflect, they also refract, providing the means to overcome the shortcomings of our story-lines. Greek myths taught us about justice (of a sort), honour, and heroism. More recently, as Wendy Hamblett’s book, Punishment and Shame (Lexington Books, 2011), suggests, the lessons were humanised. They became about sharing and sacrifice: the primal connections that make us who and what we are. And that, my dears, is the true meaning of Hogswatch.
This isn’t just “trickery with words”, as Death’s granddaughter, Susan, supposes. She can be such a typical rationalist; but then what would you expect, she has had an Education. (And we all know how much damage that can do; especially to students.) Psychological reduction is an easy game to play; it haunts the porches of any act of faith, churns myth and metaphor into fluffy pink clouds of self-deception. Of all “people”, Death knows that, for most people, life is rarely pink and almost never fluffy. He knows, too, that some things – like justice, love, even humanity itself – only exist because we believe in them; we have faith in our stories and live them accordingly.
P. F. Strawson, called it ‘descriptive metaphysics’; others, like Farrer and William James, found a pragmatic theology in it. Like Death, they knew that faith sometimes creates its objects. It does so using metaphors, images of ourselves idealised. Well, it would do. Justice and sacrifice, naughty and nice, light and life: that, Death reminds us, is where humans live.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

It’s the Most Mythical Time of the Year

by Simon Smith

Come on, sing it with me, you know you want to.
It’s the most
Myth-i-cal tiiiiiime
of the

Andy Williams must be spinning.

I like Christmas; I like it very much. I like the sparkle and glow of it, the red, green and gold of it. I like the sounds and smells of it: boozy carols and boozier puddings; the crackle of frost on the grass; the gentle thud of another pensioner falling on the pavement outside. I like the pagan heart of Christmas too, the unquiet ghosts; the joys and fears of one year ending and another beginning. I like the excess of it, ever-so-slightly brittle in the frozen days of winter; red-ruddy faces kissed by wind from the north and wine from the south; goodwill and cheer, lighting the shadows that lurk at the cold, dark stub of the year.

The wren, the wren, the king of all the birds
On Stephen’s day was caught in a furze,
Though he was little, his honour was great…

I am, I freely admit, a rank sentimentalist when it comes to Christmas. And, at the very great risk of sucking half the fun out if it, the Season of Goodwill is also philosophically interesting. Not the age-old question of how Saint Nick manages to do his rounds in a single night. That, I take it, is a question for Quantum Physics. Christmas is interesting because it is, as hinted, essentially a myth.
There’s no getting away from it; Christmas was basically invented by the Victorians. As everyone knows, it was Charles Dickens and his excellent ghost story, A Christmas Carol, who cemented the season in our imaginations. That too, of course, is a myth, a story put about by F. G. Kitton; or so The Dickens Project at the University of California would have us believe.
For many, of course, the origins go back two thousand years to a manger in the Middle East where, in the words of Johnny Mathis, a child was born. (That, America, is what happens when you don’t have adequate healthcare provision.) As origin-stories go, this seems unlikely, not least because of documented history. Apart from anything else, the historical figure we know as Jesus Christ definitely wasn’t born in December.  Would shepherds really be washing their socks in a field in the middle of winter? Hardly. Various dates have been suggested; my preference is for October for no better reason than it’s well known to be the best month in which to be born. Also a good month for clean socks. Alternative origins may be found in the Roman festival of Saturnalia and a whole host of other winter solstice revelries, some of which involved short-term coronations and sacrificial rites. As Terry Pratchett memorably pointed out, the ‘traditional’ red and white Santa suit wasn’t invented by a well-known soft drinks manufacturer; it was remembered.

            The rising of the sun
And the running of the deer…

All of which seems quite likely to be made up too. Christmas, like a drunken chain-store Santa, is just a big, fat fake. The big plastic tree in the corner; twinkling lights; shiny baubles; tinsel and glitter; a ‘jolly old elf’ breaking in to our houses allegedly to leave presents (I swear it’s true, your honour). None of it is real. They found Santa’s grave, kids. He was buried in Turkey seventeen hundred years ago, presumably after a drink-driving accident. He must have hit the sherry pretty hard on that last trip and lost control of the reindeer.
The word ‘elf’, by the way, derives from the Old English word ‘alp’, meaning ‘nightmare’. That’s what’s been creeping round our little bedrooms since the fourth century. How jolly.

And did I spy, on a starless night, and did I spy an old wooden cart, piled high with hessian sacks that wriggle and squirm and whimper and cry and wish that they had behaved just a little better, as mamma said they should?
Freyja’s cart climbs the icy road out of town. Old Freyja, whose cart was once a chariot, drawn by great wild cats from the forest; Skogkatt and Huldrekat: hidden people. Now something else labours between the staves, beneath the yoke, another shape pulls the cart along the long track, thick black score in the deep white snow that leads up into the mountains where an empty pot awaits…
What’s that? Christmas a humbug, uncle? Well, of course not. We’ll have no smart-casual humbuggery here, no anti-Christmas cries of ‘wake up and smell the eggnog, sheeple!’. Not today. I’m not even going to complain about rampant commercialisation.
Christmas is not a fake. Are the good cheer and festivities fake? Are the Christmas wishes and Christmas kisses fake? And what about that feeling, that small, warm feeling you get when you open a card from an old friend or relative; that small warm feeling you get when take a moment to think about them and to wish for them a merry Christmas and happy New Year? Is that fake? Well, possibly, but only if you’re a bit of a ****.

Oh, tidings of comfort and joy,
                                                comfort and joy…

Christmas is a myth; and to say so is not the same as saying it’s fake, nor anything like it. In fact, Christmas is an example – better, it’s the example, the perfect instance and expression of our mythopoeic nature. Put simply, it’s about stories: stories of justice, naughty and nice; stories about sacrifice and giving; stories about beginnings that foreshadow ends; stories to drive away the darkness and wake the sun up again, if only for a while. Such stories make us who and what we are; they make us human, if we’ve a mind to be human.
Start with the wrong theory of language, the wrong ideas about ‘true’ and ‘false’, and all this is bound to sound suspicious. So much the worse, say I, for vulgar empiricism, and its odious cousin, philosophical realism.
Where’s the evidence? Where’s the measurable and the quantifiable truth of it? Where’s the independent reality of it? Now that’s a humbug.

Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree…

Where’s the evidence? How about in a life lived, in kindness and generosity gift-wrapped and hand-delivered, from one generation to another? How about in the countless sacrifices made by those who came before us? Or the simple gift of ourselves, the investment of identity, thought and understanding, the building blocks of a personality that all those who had and held us freely bestowed upon us? Would that be evidence enough for something extraordinary; a seasonal miracle, even?

See there, curled between the ox and the ass, red fox lies, his golden eyes shinning in the dark; golden eyes fixed on the eyes of a child in a manger while the child’s eyes are fixed on his, all through the long night…

I did warn you I was going to suck the fun out of Christmas. The sterile abstractions of independent realism and reductive empiricism (which no one really believes in anyway; they just pretend to because it makes them feel better) have nothing intelligible or interesting to say about what it means to be a person. They miss the point entirely. Actually, that’s not quite true. If we look at what empiricism does, rather than what it says, especially in the sciences, we can learn a lot about what it means to be a person: striving, aspiration, the overwhelming desire to know and understand; essential elements, these. More importantly, they teach us that we’re not isolated or independent; we’re co-authors in the universe’s biography; that is, autobiography.
Closer to home, we’re co-authors in our own autobiographies too; we participate in one another’s life-stories; we can stifle and frustrate them or make them a reality if we choose. And the tools we use are the stories we tell about ourselves and our world, the myths and metaphors which uncouple us from the vanishing point of pure reason and remind us of the dialectical extensions that are open to us, should we only seek them. These myths and metaphors, stories of light and life, are the ampliatory and amplificatory mechanisms of a consciousness engaged in its own infinite extensions.
That, I think, is what this season, this season of the spirit is really all about: spirit returned unto spirit; reminders of what we are and what we might be, all dressed in red, gold, green, bearing mistletoe and a holly crown, bringing joy and good cheer, and a few good stories to tell around the fireside.

So here is to Cherry and to his left ear,                     
Pray God send my master a barrel of beer…

Friday, 29 December 2017

On the Feast of Christmas

by James Beauregard

Today, the Christmas season stirs many different thoughts and feelings across the world. T.S. Eliot captured the many possibilities when he wrote,

There are several attitudes towards Christmas,
Some of which we may disregard:
The social, the torpid, the patently commercial,
The rowdy (the pubs being open till midnight),
And of the childish – which is not that of the child
For whom the candle is a star, and the gilded angel
Spreading its wings at the summit of the tree
Is not only a declaration, but an angel.[1]

Some believe, some experience the joy of the season, some oppose it. In the personalist tradition, it is striking and likely not a matter of coincidence that so many of the 20th (and now 21st) century's personalists were themselves Christian believers. Anglo-American personalism  developed, in part, from Protestant theological tradition and Borden Parker Bowne’s study in Germany, and the names of Christian personalists of the past century abound:  Bowne himself, Austin Farrer, Emmanuel Mounier, Jacques Maritain, Karol Wojtyla, Edith Stein, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John F. Crosby, Roberts Spaemann, Bernard Härring, Romano Guardini, Czeslaw Bartnik, Bogumil Gacka, Randy Auxier, Tom Buford, Rocco Buttiglione, and many others  - the list goes on and on.
Given the season, I would like to take a moment to focus on two personalists who explicitly turn their attention to the feast of Christmas: Edith Stein and Romano Guardini.  Stein was born into a Jewish family in Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland) the late 19th century and after drifting away from faith in her adolescent years, found her way into the Roman Catholic Church and into the order of Carmelites. She was a member of the Carmelite community in Cologne, Germany, but after Kristallnacht in 1938, left Germany and took up residence at the Carmelite convent in Echt, the Netherlands. She was arrested there in a roundup of Jewish – Christians in the wake of protest against the National Socialism by the Netherlands bishops, and transported to Auschwitz, where she died in the gas chambers on August 9, 1942. Guardini, born in northeast Italy, and whose family moved to Germany when he was about a year old, was a Roman Catholic priest and theologian whose writings, both philosophical and theological, are still read today.
First, Edith Stein. She spent Christmas of 1931 at Beuron Abbey in Germany, and during her stay there wrote a reflection called Das Weichnachtsgeneimnis: Menschwerdung und Menschheit (The Mystery of Christmas: Incarnation and Humanity).[2]  In this text, she refers to the Mystery Christmas, and by extension of Christianity, as an “undivided whole”: to enter into any part of the mystery is to enter into the whole of it. In the journey of the Christian life, in her words, "The way leads from Bethlehem to Golgotha, from the manger to the cross." To live that life, for her, means to live that life as a person in community, to live in ongoing Association communication with God, to hear the word, to follow it, to pray and to follow the will of God. The German word Umkehr - return -  is typically thought of as a Lenten word, a turning away from sin and a return to the heart of God. It is, at the same time, an advent word, it's time to return to an understanding of what it means to be persons, and persons in relation to God and community. Living deeply out of her own tradition, she wrote, “The way for each of is lies with the Son of God, through suffering and death to the glory of the resurrection.”  The American Scripture scholar Raymond Brown has written that the infancy narratives of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are microcosms of the wider gospel message. Stein perceived this decades before Brown wrote his magisterial commentary on those narratives, The Birth of the Messiah.
The second personalist who wrote explicitly about the Christmas season, Romano Guardini (1885 – 1968), published in 1954 a book called simply, Der Herr (The Lord), an extended series of reflections on the life of Christ.[3] in the first reflection Guardini also touches on the theme of the unity of persons through consideration of the prologue to the gospel of John. He writes, " Everything is concentrated on the ultimate, all – powerful essentials: Lagos, flesh, step into the world; the eternal origin, the tangible earthly reality, the mystery of unity."[4]  an understanding of the meaning of personhood emerges from his reflections, and understanding grounded in the person of Jesus of Nazareth: "he entered fully into everything that humanity stands for – and the names in the ancient genealogies suggest what it means to enter into human history with its burden of fate and sin. Jesus of Nazareth spared himself nothing."
As T.S. Eliot noted, it is quite easy to get caught up in the commercialism of the season, which begins earlier and earlier each year, but the take the time to stop and reflect is to reenter the mystery, and to resume an attitude we knew as children, but so often forget:

the child
For whom the candle is a star, and the gilded angel
Spreading its wings at the summit of the tree
Is not only a declaration, but an angel.

[1] T. S. Eliot. The Cultivation of Christmas Trees. New York: Farrar Straus and Cudhay, 1954.
[2] Edith Stein, “Das Weichnachtsgeneimnis: Menschwerdung und Menschheit,” in Edith Stein Gesamtauggabe, 19, Geistliche Texte I. Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 2009, 2-14.  Translation from this text are mine and taken from this edition.
[3] Romano Guardini, The Lord. Washington DC: Gateway Editions, 2014.
[4] Romano Guardini, The Lord, 5.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Hidden in the Mistletoe

by Denis Larrivee

Strolling down New York’s East Side Avenues in mid-December one senses that the city’s merchants know all about the euphoria that is meant by Christmas spirit. There are the beaming mannequins conversing in Bloomingdales’ glass exposes, Patik timepieces, wise legacies from father to son, Harold’s delicacies left unwrapped by family hearths; all laced with northern hemlock and bound in scarlet bows. The persistence of this yearly reenactment seems to confirm a long-buried consensus over what is needed to for the season’s mood.
Its seemingly ancient heritage is deceptive, though. It is the legacy of a Christmas not so long ago, a zeitgeist of a mid-Victorian Christmas revival, captured in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The story’s captivating power has beguiled English speaking generations since. Dicken’s influence can be seen in the warmth of family gatherings, rich seasonal food and drink, dancing under the mistletoe, games and fine dress. The ‘Carol’s impact was immediate. Published on December 19, 1843, the first edition sold out by Christmas Eve. Thirteen editions followed in 1844; in fact, the novella has never been out of print, and has seen its transformation to film, stage, and even opera. Of course, Dicken’s story is not really about Madison Avenue’s annual reincarnation, or Harold’s plum pudding. Those in the know - and that seems to include nearly everyone who has read it - will tell you that it is the story of personal conversion and a reincarnation of St Nicholas’ spirit of generosity. England then was simply revisiting its own Christmas traditions in that early Victorian day and Dicken’s experience of Field Lane Ragged school, where London’s half-starved illiterate street children were cloistered, made the connection both logical and inevitable.
That sort of knowing nod from nearly us all - ‘bless us everyone’ - may not be so encompassing or revealing of what lies beneath the shimmer and behind the smile, however. An inkling of what lies hidden in the story also, and likely what Dicken’s wished to convey, can be seen in the titling. The full version, and not the abbreviated one of common parlance, is A Christmas Carol; Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. Its suggestion of a hidden and active supernatural aura Dickens makes explicit in the spirits of Christmas past, present, and future, who do the heavy lifting of moving Scrooge from miser to deacon minister. While academics have debated the story’s secular vs Christian allegorical message, there seems little reason to disclaim the notion that either Dickens or the enthralled public viewed the spirits as insignificant sidelines in an otherwise captivating tale; or that the sense of festivity at Little Tim’s party was both sign and medium for a visible supernatural expression.
This appeal of an unseen essence, that appears so irresistible a part of the Christmas fabric poses a challenge - undoubtedly amplified at this time of year, but latent in its provocation beyond the season - to those who require an explanation for the evident and cannot fathom how one might evoke the other, or why it should have meaning or at least a consensus meaning that they cannot concede to. Conceding the presence of the appeal, though, and eliciting the inevitable pushback to its evident challenge is seen, for example, in a recent December meeting of the New York Academy of sciences on the Will to Meaning: Seeking the Why of our Existence at which the Academy proposed its own plausible variants. Underscoring the apparently ingrained need for existential satisfaction its reincarnation at a second annual staging - apparently the major issues having been unresolved on the first go-round - sanctioned another contrarian suite of explanations. Billing for the event lay heavy emphasis on the tried and failed glitter of today’s foremost empiricist arts, from neuroscience to astrophysics, all looking to extract a why from a how, and never quite moving past the seen. Also taking up the cudgel, in a gastric guise - perceiving but not seeing and so with surer aim - are the political ambits that cannot stutter what is being uttered in the East Side frolicking festivities; Merry Christmas! Whether the sacred can grace the profane, in fact, is a query that has created a virtual string of pirouettes by occupants at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
One wonders why the appeal provokes such a vivid display, like the pulsing galactic spirals of a stellar implosion the Academy makes reference to - spinning out its radiating corona amidst the black backdrop of a starless horizon. What provocative presence needs to be silenced?
Dickens might tell us. After four novellas only one ran the presses. When an unscrupulous publisher attempted thievery over author’s privilege Dickens sued, lost his income, and spent a good remainder of his life raising funds through its recitation. He had an opportune chance to gauge enthusiasm’s stimulus. Scrooge’s pivot from the grasping materialist to the kinder, gentler ‘minister to need’ says much of the twist from ‘grab what you see’ mentality to the observant socialist moved by unseen motivations of mutual harmony and considered concern, the idea that Dickens appears to wish to convey. But then how do we view the spirits who act like provocateurs? Are they the pivot makers who merely create good will and horizontal exchange? The Carol doesn’t seem to tell us.
Or perhaps Huxley, another English don? Like Dickens, Huxley spent a lifetime of transition from the drab Cartesian proclivities of colorless family tastes to the ‘unseen behind the manifestation’. Unlike Dickens, Huxley’s taste ran beyond sacramental gestures that signify the full circle of the transformative in community organizing, leaving Christmas wraiths as sidelined instigators. As early as 1932, thirty years before his death, he elected to disclaim his familial anti-revelation sentiments that made mere epiphenomena of the transcendent. His parody of liturgical Fordism In Brave New World parodies brother Julian’s explicit endorsement of religious sentiment as a naturalized device for controlling the masses, cleaving brotherly bonds. Keeping to this trajectory, Huxley went on to explore Go-like permutations of seen and unseen, from Eastern pantheistic Unseen Manifestations, to neural revelations of hallucinogenic imbibing, to a materially emancipated form he called Mind at Large, to settle on, finally and for him, a defining faith utterance “The truth is, of course, that we are all organically related to God, to Nature and to our fellow men.” His tracking through all appears to have completed the circle from the paternal allegiance of Darwin’s bulldog to the maternal embrace of Anglican choirs.
Huxley’s pursuit through a succession of decades and variable conceivings is emblematic of the intellectual hound whose foraging sees the faint glimmer of orange and spotting the trail moves on to new ground. There is the sense of broken twigs and crushed blades of grass, but they are gestures hidden by briar understories and disguised by a shadowed canopy, above and before a rising knoll. The wonder for Huxley was, perhaps, not in the reclusive but in the sense of exasperation that was superseded to overcome all.
The other wonder, though, is the sort of unrelenting gravitation that makes the turning to the center of everything an ongoing source of new stimulation. Both these wonders are present in December’s East Side displays, the glimmer and the pull. Like Huxley’s tracking the strollers move from glitter to smile before moving on. Never quite satisfied, but always impelled, they resemble the brownian trembling that seems just chance, until distantly viewed in the accumulated flow. Never quite realizing that the glitter is not the radiance, that the object is not the subject that compels, unseen amid the seen, the strollers leave behind them Bloomingdale’s expose.
Jean Luc Marion proposes that the unseen can never be more than a glimmer, only an ever receding subject that we are incapable of grasping, which we grapple with and are grappled by - which perhaps excuses the strollers. He explains that its radiance saturates, dazzling us, and leaving us unseeing. What Marion proposes is perhaps revealing about the source of the joy we sense in December. That in our inability to assuage the hope and to quell the desire, there is a revelation of our own insufficiencies. The resolution to this paradox instead lies outside our limits. When we grasp this idea and when we see the subject of our desire we are filled with joy, both for the presence of that hand and the intention of that heart. Rejoice, Rejoice! O Israel!

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Smells like child’s spirit

by Teresita Pumará


The snow falls heavily on Düsseldorf. At last, I think, looking through the kitchen window, Christmas like it is supposed to be according to Coca-Cola Co. and Hollywood. I grew up in Buenos Aires. Christmas there is always around 30°C warm. I drink my latte and watch the snow as it falls and builds a thick tapestry on the floor. I change windows. The one in the living room gives me a view of the street. Two very young people, barely coming out of teenage, step out of a car and start dancing and throwing snow balls at each other. Although the sky is covered by one monotonous layer of grey, the reflective moonlight of snow fills the Earth. Later I wander through the nearby park. People of all ages play with the snow: they build snow-balls and snow castles and fortresses (it is Germany after all), they simulate snow ball wars and slide down the soft slopes with improvised sledges. The snow seems to bring out the best of people, their playful joyous self. White, after all, is the colour of new beginnings. All our faults are washed away and we are left as an Aristotelian tabula rasa, free of the burden of the past year and ready to fulfil the destiny that will be written on us. A necessary renewal for every functional society. It is Germany after all.

The rain falls insistently on Cologne. Maybe I should write: the clouds have come down, they surround us and now we swim instead of walking. We arrive at the Christmas market at the Cologne Cathedral. The monstrous Dom supervises our movements. We stroll from stand to stand like forgotten children. The stands are shaped like wooden houses and warmly lit. They offer food and hot drinks, puppets and Christmas decorations. A band of wind instruments plays popular songs, I sing to the tune: 

I'm on the top of the world lookin’ down on creation,
And the only explanation I can find,
Is the love that I've found ever since you've been around,
Your love's put me at the top of the world. 

People, mainly adults who have just come out of work, eat and drink and smoke and talk and some even dance slightly to the rhythm of the Carpenters. Don´t they feel the rain, or is it only raining on us, South American wanderers? It does rain for them, but they do not mind. They meet in the market with neighbours and friends they have not seen during the year. I feel inside a scale model or a puppet house. Everything around me suggests a white barbed artisan delighting himself with our comings and goings. We are the children who play under the agreeable eye of the craftsman.

What is Christmas about? I ask myself repeatedly. I am not religious, at least not now. Nevertheless, in my crooked cynical way, I take part in many of its games. I play with the snow, I feel happy with the tiniest present, I visit Christmas markets and eat hot chestnuts, and on this day, I prepare delicious melomakaronas with my Greek neighbour. Melomakaronas are a Greek Christmas pastry bathed in honey syrup. My neighbour, Maria, comes on this Wednesday afternoon, we drink wine, talk about our lives, compare our traditions, and she prepares the Greek delicacy while I watch and learn. My house fills with the smell of honey and baked pastry. Heaven, I believe, must smell like a bakery. I feel joyful like an angel -not a Wim Wenders angel-, I want to take people´s hands and dance in a row.

It has been dark for hours now and we wish to watch a light comedy. We are far away from our families and are feeling a little nostalgic, but we don't want to welcome the spirit of sadness in our home, which still smells of melomakarona and natilla, the last a Colombian Christmas dessert. Honey and cinnamon sound like an appropriate gift for a new-born child. Internet offers us a Christmas comedy and we indulge it. Elf (Jon Favreau, 2003) is about a man, Buddy, who is raised by an elf at Santa's workshop in the North Pole. Buddy believes he is an elf until, when he is thirty years old, the truth is revealed. He then travels to New York City in search of his father. But, as elves live longer than biblical characters and grow up slowly, Buddy has a child's spirit. With this spirit, he introduces a little chaos in the New York functional system. Little by little, through his innocence and sense of wonder, he reminds people of what is actually important (love, not work) and brings the Christmas spirit back to the city, thus enabling Santa to fly with his sledge without using a motor. In Christmas we celebrate life, a new life. New life is a disruptive, playful flow. It is necessary to plunge into this flow at least once a year; to experience how easily our everyday routines may crumble down and how easily they put themselves together again; to feel how strong we become when we bond with others, and yet how fragile these bonds are, like the smell of honey and cinnamon. Fragile, but powerful when it comes to struggling against sadness and fear. I cannot but think of Patti Smith’s verses. People have the power to dream, to rule, to wrestle the world from fools.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Looking at the Sun: Chapter Summary

A Convergence of Cosmologies: 
Personal Analogies in Modern Physics and Modern Metaphysics
by Simon Smith

At the heart of recent conflicts between science and religion lie profound concerns about the nature of the universe and our place in it. Just how deep divisions go, however, remains to be seen. Formerly adversarial discourses have begun to converge, their conceptions of the universe increasingly drawn from a common storehouse of personal analogies.  This study concerns that convergence. 
It begins with two of the twentieth-century’s last great metaphysicians, both of whom accepted the challenge of modern science.  Alive to the implications of Einstein’s discoveries, Austin Farrer and Alfred North Whitehead used the language of human experience to reconstruct cosmological theism.  Since then, scientific cosmology has followed suit, with scientists such as Carl Sagan, Rupert Sheldrake, and, most recently, Brian Cox being drawn to the tropes and metaphors of personal identity.  Their anthropic developments do not merely parallel religion; a deeper synthesis is narrowing the gap between personal and impersonal conceptions of the universe.  
Scholars in either camp have yet to fully recognise the implications of this synthesis.  Constrained by ‘closed-category’, disjunctive thinking, science and religion remain deadlocked.  Under such conditions, the integration of finite and infinite within the physical universe cannot succeed.  The vital overlap between science and religion thereby fails of application, reinforcing the estrangement of ‘personalism’ and ‘impersonalism’ in speculative cosmology.
I apply, therefore, to the Jacobsen Fellowship to support my research into this fertile use of personal analogies in diverse forms of cosmological thinking.  A philosophical analysis of this will explore the effect of such language on the development of consciousness and, moreover, our understanding of the universe to which consciousness belongs, quite possibly as the vital element.  The result, I submit, will be better-integrated conceptions of mind and nature, science and religion, than philosophical categories presently allow.
This rapprochement necessitates a radical revision of ontology.  Accordingly, Farrer and Whitehead exchanged Newtonian ‘substance-metaphysics’ for interpenetrating physical processes, mutually conditioning patterns of activity.  Echoing Einstein, Farrer designated ‘[e]nergy, rather than stuff,…[as] our ultimate’.[1]  ‘Process’ and ‘activity’ are, of course, analogies borrowed from the experience of active agents.  They are also essential to scientific exploration.  Without them, we cannot think or talk intelligibly about the universe.  Such talk is a co-efficient of our conceptualising activities, the result of interactivities in the universe at large.  Cosmological metaphors tell the tale; the explorer is one element in the matrix of agencies constituting a universe of mutually complementary discourses.
Modern physics and modern metaphysics both teach that ‘interconstitutive’ activities, and the analogies on which they are built, are integral to human mentality.  Consciousness plays its part in the universe and vice versa.  That, too, is the lesson of Jean Piaget’s developmental psychology.  Ludwig Feuerbach had previously reached the same conclusion.  Crucially, he, like Farrer, emphasised the aspirational structure of our development, its orientation ‘upwards’ towards evolving humanity. 
These complimentarities point the way for ‘anthropocism’ in science and religion.  Consciousness plays its part, realising itself in and as participation in the realisation of other realities.  Therein lies the coherence and unity we ‘discover’ in the constant collision of forces which, in truth, is our universe.  Neither imposed by the mind nor impressed upon it, coherence and unity belong to participative acts.  The unity of the ‘uni-verse’ is transacted between consciousness and the universe.
Such are the transactions of speculative cosmologists and theists alike.  Being analogical projects, they are coherent (in both senses) only as extensions of conscious, personal action.  As Sagan pithily remarked, ‘[w]e are a way for the cosmos to know itself’;[2] and knowing minds, as Farrer, Feuerbach, and Piaget remind us, are essentially interpersonal.  The most fruitful analogies are those with fullest extension of interpersonal application.  Sagan’s evocative words are reflections of consciousness conceiving itself, not as pure thought (as in antiquated metaphysics), but consciously participating in its own projects.  The transformative potential of our involvement in the universe becomes clear: it is a fundamental component of human development. 

[1] Austin Farrer, The Freedom of the Will (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1960), 52.
[2] Carl Sagan, ‘The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean’, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, Television Series.  Dir. David Oyster et al. (Los Angeles. KCET, 1980) 6 minutes, 40 seconds.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Looking at the Sun: Chapter Summary

Technology: A View from Personalism
Part 2

by James Beauregard

In the previous blog I brought up the issue of the philosophy of technology, something to which personal lists have not dedicated as much attention as they have to other topics. Philosophy of technology, though, has continued to develop and today there are numerous views of how technology should be conceived approached, developed etc. I mentioned the personalist philosopher Romano Guardini, whose Letters from Lake Como is one of the few sustained reflections on technology from the perspective of personalism. He follows that work in the 1920s, and from the mid to late 20th century, and now into the 21st, reflections on philosophy of technology have continued to develop.
Contemporary writing on technology has continued this discussion, and added to it a focus on technological artifacts in and of themselves, and their impact on us. In reviewing contemporary philosophies of technology, Thomas A. C. Reydon characterised such philosophies as containing three components:

(1) the systematic clarification of the nature of technology as an element and product of human culture;
(2) the systematic reflection on the consequences of technology for human life;
(3) the systematic investigation of the practices of engineering, invention, designing and making of things.[1]

Recently, a philosopher Mark S. Latkovic wrote an article called "Thinking about Technology from a Catholic Moral Perspective."[2] In this article, he delineates 10 distinct ways that philosophers and theologians have considered technology, several of which are, I think, useful to personalist thought, whether moving from philosophical or theological personalism:
Technology as Ambiguous Instrument. Referencing Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, this model sees technology as having both positive and negative aspects linked to our freedom and autonomy. Technology embodies and ever-present risk of encouraging in its users an arrogant, Promethean attitude. In Benedict’s words, “Technology is never merely technology. It reveals man and his aspirations toward development, it expresses the inner tension that impels him gradually to overcome material limitations,”[3] and of equal importance, “human freedom is authentic only when it responds to the fascination of technology with decisions that are the fruit of moral responsibility.”[4]
Technology as Subordinated to Ethics. Drawing on the work of Karol Wojtyla, both as philosopher and in his writings as Pope John Paul II, this model looks to the way we think about technology, its artefacts and its consequences, in the interests of respecting human dignity, maintaining throughout “the priority of ethics over technology,” and “the primacy of person over things.”[5] Latkovic captures the position in this statement: “We should always treat persons as ends and treat technology as means.”[6]
Technology as Liberating Force. This model takes a generally positive view of technology, with the economist George Gilder as one of its proponents. Drawing on information theory, Gilder views technology as liberating us from many of the drudgeries of daily living. He emphasises the role of human creativity vis à vis technology as liberating force.
Technology as Gift of the Holy Spirit. Drawing on Dominican theologian Benedict Ashley, this model is grounded in an explicitly Christian vision in which science and technology are viewed as “God’s gift to humanity as well as products of human creativity.”[7] A key notion in Ashely’s position is that of stewardship, seeing technological development and use as sources of service to God and the human community.[8]
There is substantial content here for looking at technology from a personalist perspective. Such reflection might begin with asking what distinct or original contribution personalist philosophy might make to the philosophy of technology. In reflecting on the literature of technology and of personalism, I want to suggest that I think that, in order to develop a philosophy of technology from a personalist point of view, it is necessary to consider three interrelated aspects:

(1) A robust understanding of persons;
(2) A nuanced understanding of technology as relational, as artefacts created by, influenced by, and influencing persons;
(3) A balanced understanding of individual good and common good as they impact on persons and technology.

With these components in mind I would like to present an initial attempt at considering philosophy of technology from a distinctly personalist perspective:
A Personalist Philosophy of Technology is a manner of considering technology that is grounded in and flows from an anthropology of acting persons adequately understood, which examines the artefacts/instruments created and used by persons in relation, and the bi-directional influence between persons and technology in multiple domains, from the individual to the social, and in a manner that is ordered to the individual good and the common good. Given that the use of technology is a human/personal activity, and as such can be good or evil in its inception, creation, intentions, actions, ends and consequences (both foreseen and unforeseen), ethics ought to have primacy over technology in each of these aspects.
Consider that a first attempt at thinking through the issue of technology from a personalist perspective that is simultaneously a call to personalist philosophers to bring their own philosophical knowledge to bear on an increasingly important issue facing the human race.

[1] T.A.C. Reydon, “Philosophy of Technology,” in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I have explored some of these ideas though with an explicit focus on the field of neuroethics in the public square, in “Personalismo Ontológico Moderno en la Plaza Pública: Hacia una personalista neuroética”, paper presented at the Asociación Española de Personalismo conference, X Jornadas de la AEP Spanish Personalist Association conference, May 5, 2016 “¿Qué es filosofía? ¿Y para qué sirve?”, Universidad Francisco de Vitoria, Madrid, Spain
[2] M. S. Latkovic, “Thinking about Technology from a Catholic Moral Perspective” National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly 15:4 (Winter) 2015: 687-699.
[3] Benedict XVI, Encyclical Caritasin veritate, n. 69. 
[4] Benedict XVI, Encyclical Caritas in veritate, nn. 74-75.
[5] John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis, no 16.
[6] Latkovic, 697. Wojtyla formulated his personalistic norm in 1960, stating “This norm, in its negative aspect, states that the person is the kind of good which does not admit of use and cannot be treated as an object of use and as such the means to an end. In its positive form the Personalistic norm confirms this: the person is a good towards which the only proper and adequate attitude is love.” Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility, Trans. H.T. Willets. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993.
[7] Latkovic, 694.
[8] Latkovic, 694.

Monday, 18 December 2017

Looking at the Sun: Chapter Summary

Technology: A View from Personalism
Part 1

by James Beauregard

The question of technology is not one that has been frequently raised by personalism. This is perhaps understandable given personalism’s focus on the person is the central concept or metaphor for understanding the world. At the same time, technology surrounds us and penetrates our lives in numerous ways, making it a subject worthy of personalistic attention.
In the recently published book from the York conference of the British Personalist Association I contributed a chapter that considered the ways in which personalism historically has viewed the question of technology along with some thoughts about how it might be addressed in the future.
Personalist writings on technology are fairly scarce. One of the few personal lists to dedicate an entire work to technology was Romano Guardini, born in Italy but working in Germany throughout his career. He published a brief book called Letters from Lake Como: Explorations in Technology and the Human Race.  Guardini (1885-1968) was born in the city of Verona but his family emigrated to Germany when he was a year old, where he grew up, was educated and worked as an academic in several universities.
Lake Como is in the lakes region of northeastern Italy, and Guardini returned there periodically to visit family.  The tranquility of the countryside combined with the growing presence of technology caused him to reflect on technology’s place in human life. He published his reflections as a series of single articles during the years 1923 – 1925 and then collected them together to be published as a book in 1926. The context of his letters is important in a variety of ways. This was interwar Europe, in the wake of the first world war, during a period of relative peace and prosperity prior to the crash of the financial markets in 1929. Guardini was living and working in Germany, having emigrated there with his parents as a young child, and was experiencing the situation on the ground in a country that had lost the war and was struggling to pay reparations to the winning side, and that was simultaneously facing the rise of right-wing nationalist movements, including National Socialism.
Compared to Italy, Germany was a heavily industrialized country, making it inevitable that Guardini would notice the contrasts as he wandered the hills and the Great Lakes region of northern Italy. His reaction to growing industrialization across the north of Italy was a strong one. He wrote,

[H]ow can I put this to you? Look, what has already taken place up in the north I saw beginning here. I saw machines invading the land that had previously been the home of culture. I saw death over taking a life of infinite beauty, and I felt that this was not just an external loss that we could accept and remain who we were. Instead, a life, a life of supreme value that can arise only in the world that we have long since lost, was beginning to perish here, as well as in the north.[1]

At first sight, the letters may convey a jaundiced, pessimistic or negative view of technology, but in the end this is not the case. Guardini builds a case for how persons are to interact with technology, and ends on a positive note. The first, he deals with the issue of separation and alienation.  During one of his walks along Lake Como he observes a sailboat, which gives them pause to reflect. He sees the sailboat as a remarkable cultural achievement, harnessing the wind and moving quickly across the water, calling it "a primal work of human creativity” (pp 11-12).  At the same time, it symbolizes for him a sense of separation from direct contact with nature. The person sailing the ship is not in the water but above it, separated from the natural world by the wood of the ship. The separation becomes even more acute, he notes, when one thinks of larger and larger ships, steel ships, ocean liners etc. For Guardini, human culture is composed of the work of mind and spirit staying in close contact with nature.[2]  
Despite the sense of separation or alienation, Guardini ends his book on a positive note. He firmly believes that persons can rise to the occasion of new technologies, and meet their challenges. He locates technological development not in material machineries of technology, but in the human person, and rather than focusing on what might be lost, he challenges us to rise to the occasion of technological advancement, writing that technological advancement always has been and always will be "primarily an inner human process."[3]  Our task as persons, is not to fight against technology, not to be Luddites, but, rather, to confront their own creativity and our personhood in order to guide new technologies in the service of persons, rather than allowing persons to become victims of technology. While not explicit in his book, there is a sense that ethics ought to have primacy over technology as its ultimate guide.
This is not an obvious position, to be sure, and within the scientific and technology communities can sometimes be seen as a threat to independence and creativity. This vision to, though, is undergirded by a philosophy of technology that places technological development at the forefront and all other concerns secondary. It is worth asking, as personalists, how technology ought to be approached in the 21st century. Should technological development simply charge ahead, with ethics constantly running after it, or should an ethical vision be present at moments of inspiration, creation and development of new technologies?

[1] Guardini, R. Letters from Lake Como: Explorations in Technology and the Human Race, Trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids MI and Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994, 5 (Hereafter, Letters).
[2] Guardini, Letters,16
[3] Guardini, Letters, 80.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Looking at the Sun: Chapter Summary

Neither Here Nor There: 
Personalism, Poetry and Emmanuel Mounier’s Pluralist Society

by Benjamin Bâcle

Although born and bred a Catholic, Emmanuel Mounier did not think that truth and meaning could be easily grasped via the uncompromising adherence to a given dogma. Neither did he believe that they could be found in any other ‘absolute’ take on the world. What interested him more than anything was the person, as the nexus between mind and matter and the locus of an ever-expanding sense of wonder. What triggered this sense of wonder and transcendence, according to him, was precisely the particular, as embodied in other persons and other things: only they could hint at something else, something more, whereas absolutes and abstract entities could only hinder the dynamic of human knowledge, morals and love. 
By thus defining personhood in relation to its movement towards others and, more generally, the Other, Mounier made it possible to view the space between persons, or between persons and things, not merely as an unfortunate gap, but as something to be approached constructively, to be appreciated and even celebrated. This goes against a number of persistent current utilitarian trends in contemporary society: being constantly encouraged to bridge the gap that separates us from what we wish to be or to attain, we tend to reduce ‘happiness’ to the maximisation of unexamined pleasure – such as the external validation procured by fleeting popularity –, and we call ‘success’ the most obvious route to that happiness. This makes acquisitiveness the order of the day, whatever the cost to self or others.
Mounier’s philosophy points to a way out of our obsessive quest for external signs of success – whether material or symbolic – in the hope of maximising our happiness and existence, a quest which amounts to little more than repeatedly attempting to seize one’s own shadow. The solution may lie in the development of a poetical attitude towards oneself and the world, whereby all gaps, separations and distances find themselves populated, shaped and coloured by an infinitely adaptable set of meanings, sharing the same positively disposed agnosticism, the same ‘willing suspension of disbelief’, as Samuel Taylor Coleridge has it. In this context, beauty and fulfilment would be found in the very places where they are supposed to be lacking, and the exploitation of Man by Man, for the sake of unrestrained acquisition, would soon prove futile and progressively dwindle.    
This, of course, is completely idealistic. But the main problem here is, how to foster such a poetical attitude without, at the same time, crushing it? The very nature of this attitude is to be individual, idiosyncratic, personal: trying to promote it on a large scale is bound to be counterproductive. Mounier was particularly wary of industrial-like takes on creativity and fulfilment, both in a state-controlled environment such as the Soviet Union and in a corporate environment such as the capitalist West: ‘If art must serve, it must serve freely.’ Still, by promoting dialogue and understanding between artists and their contemporaries, Mounier suggests that there may be a possibility to incite individuals to exert their compassion, their receptive skills and their talents, in their own way and at their own pace.
The challenge, here, is to avoid forcing a single vision of what is worthwhile on everyone, while still encouraging a certain way of being. This is the conundrum faced by John Stuart Mill in On Liberty (1859). The beginning of a solution can be found in Matthew Arnold’s promotion of ‘Culture’, understood, not as a fixed bloc of knowledge and expertise, but as an ever-expanding and fulfilling curiosity – ‘not [as] a having and a resting, but [as] a growing and a becoming.’ French poet André Miguel, in The Poetical Man (L’Homme Poétique), helps get a better sense of what Arnold (often misinterpreted as putting forward an elitist view of Culture) may have meant by that. Miguel advocates a poetical ‘way of life’ whereby the individual becomes infinitely fluid and adaptable to the infinitely variable circumstances of his or her existence, with an eye for the ‘in-between-ness’ of things as a way out from their reification, towards a freedom which is never granted. The poetical man or woman is one to whom the ever-changing beauty and unlikeliness is constantly revealed, whose consciousness is constantly sharpened by this engagement, and who manages to express him or herself truly in the process. This may sound like yet another variation of the same old self-help themes which fill the ‘esoteric literature’ sections of all contemporary bookshops, big and small. But the difference is in the refusal of any reified form of wisdom: poetry, like Arnold’s Culture, does not ‘rest.’ It is forever solicited, forever responsive, in a myriad of unpredictable ways. It can never be contained in a given formula.
This last statement raises the question of the relation between poetry – as defined here – and religion. If religion be conceived of as a dynamic process unhindered by fixed rituals, it is completely compatible with poetry as I understand it. Problems arise, however, when the need for certainty tends to take precedence. Poetry, in my view, thrives on uncertainty. It can only be re-awakened by its own fallibility. Certainty, on the contrary, plays on the illusion, denounced by Mounier, that the transcendental can be apprehended and as it were owned directly. Hope itself, in this context, becomes formalised, and ultimately almost inevitably faked. The only way to preserve what can be preserved of hope is to prepare for its accidental irruption. It is to be as poetical as possible, without ever thinking of oneself as decidedly such.      

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Looking at the Sun: Chapter Summary

Euthanasia: A Persons-In-Relations Perspective
by David Treanor

The demographic profile of many western democratic nations has altered significantly and trends that have emerged in Australia are a pertinent example of the life expectancy of the ordinary person. Death is a universal human experience regardless of our longevity and at some point in time any person may receive a diagnosis of a terminal illness regardless of their capabilities, gender, ethnicity, chronological age or geographical location. What occurs for a person when s/he receives a diagnosis of a terminal illness? It might depend upon the nature of the diagnosis and how much pain and suffering the person might experience, it might depend upon the advice of medical professionals, of our views of death and belief or indeed what health care resources are available and if they are available to the person.
One aspect of our lives that might be capable of competing with this all-pervasive information is our philiai. This chapter explores the persons-in-relation personalism of John Macmurray through an end of life narrative that challenges the preference utilitarian’s focus on interest orientated decision-making emphasising instead humanness, philia and value as more important criteria. A phenomenological hermeneutic approach is taken to challenge contemporary thinking around issues of humanness and value. It focuses on two key characteristics of philia – goodwill and reciprocity and exams their symbiotic interaction with virtues like: generosity, graciousness, gentleness and kindness as an alternative portrait to humanness. This chapter concludes by suggesting the dimension that most appropriately gives value to a human life is the sphere of personal relations: how we mutually care, regard, interact with each other, where people belong, contribute and flourish as a human community.