The Bonds of Love

ilovemeToday there are people—perhaps above all among the young—who have been educated so completely in egoism that they prefer to not fall in love, to not give themselves totally to another person, because they do not want to suffer the bonds of love. They prefer their personal independence, and think that loving someone completely would rob them of their independence. There comes to mind what Saint-Exupéry said about the how the quality of a life is a function of the quality of the affective links that the person freely chooses. Those people who prefer to isolate themselves —that is, they love nobody except for their own selves— impoverish their own possibilities of living, to the point of denying their own humanity.

I have not seen—nor will I see it because it looks quite coarse—the movie The Wolf of Wallwolf Street (2013), but I am told that it accurately describes the unlimited hunger for egoistic pleasure of a successful stock broker, played by Leonardo di Caprio. I’m content with Citizen Kane (1941) and the dramatic solitude of the millionaire, played by Orson Welles. The millionaire has everything that can be bought, while what he truly needs, on the other hand, is the care and affection of everyone: he lacks all the things that money cannot buy.

Those who think that happiness is selfish have fallen into a severe error about the human being: just as there is more happiness in giving than in receiving, we are all of us better exuperyfilled —more than with anything else— with loving and feeling ourselves to be loved. It is not a question of losing independence, but rather of voluntarily and trustingly giving oneself to another person in order to carry out a life project together, to live together for the rest of one’s life. I cite an author (Paroles de Chartreux, Cerf, Paris, 1987, p. 99) who cites Jacques Philippe: “Even in the natural order, all authentic love is a victory of weakness. Loving does not consist in dominating, in possessing, in imposing oneself on the one who is loved. Love means that we embrace without defenses the other person who comes to us; in exchange, we have the certainty of being fully welcomed without being judged, nor condemned, nor compared. There is no strength test between two beings who love each other. There is a kind of inner mutual understanding, thanks to which we cannot fear any danger that comes from the other”.

I am surprised by the gradual degradation of the contemporary western culture of human
imgreslove, which has reduced romantic love—the authentic spousal love—to a relationship of mutual egoistic satisfaction. Zygmunt Bauman has written well-documented books where he studies what he calls “liquid love”. Many years I learned that love renounces control of time: for the one who loves there is never any hurry. Or, as I like write it in tongue-twister style: one never is deprived of anything when one deprives oneself of everything that is not one’s love. Stated more succinctly: love gives up everything for the person who is loved.

marriageIn fact, the delaying of marriage until after 30 years of age, or till after the children come, is a clear signal of this transformation of the loving relationship, with people now tending to avoid the commitment that it entails, a commitment to exclusivity and eternity. Instead of committing oneself for all one’s life, today it is more common to see a commitment that “will last as long as love does”, as long as the loving feeling or mutual sexual satisfaction lasts. For an analogous reason, there are many young women and men who do not want to have children, who do not want to bind themselves for life to new creatures that are born out of the conjugal relationship. They have shrunken their hearts, they have become elderly people who only seek their own interest or who perhaps have not ceased to be those egoistic children that in their infancy only sought their own comfort.

keysTo love is to bind oneself voluntarily to another person. On the other hand, the one who does not love binds him or herself to egoism. Those who aspire to maintain their independence above all else are unable to love: after it all pans out, they will be slaves to themselves. As Santayana wrote, “Moral freedom is freedom from others, spiritual freedom is freedom from oneself“. Those who do not love and who do not love the bonds that love always brings with it, renounce their own personal growth. As the philosopher Sara Escobar wrote to me, “That’s what the structure of the person is: one only grows if one gives of oneself”.

Inequality and True Patriotism

Two things inspired me to write this short essay: the 4th of July patriotic celebrations of this year, and Jaime Nubiola’s latest post about the growing radical inequality that plagues the United States and numerous other countries (mostly in the third world). My article will use the United States as its reference for talking about patriotism, but I think what I say can be applied to any country.

flagWhen people from other countries come to the US, they are frequently a bit awed at the sheer number of American flags: on people’s homes, on cars, as tattoos, on clothing, in billboard advertising and a variety of other contexts. These symbols are carried in the heart, as well: Americans for the most part, genuinely love their country. In America, then, we have a strange situation: we love the symbols of our country, while the plight of those who have to suffer the consequences of inequality is ignored. We are a country that combines high ideals–which we truly believe in–with a striking cruelty towards those who have fallen down the economic ladder. homeless signThis is a situation explained by a Spanish proverb: ojos que no ven, corazón que no siente (eyes that don’t see, a heart that doesn’t feel). The cruelty we inflict on those in poverty is cruelty due to blindness; we live our lives and hardly ever see the truly poor because we train our eyes not to see them.

As Jaime Nubiola has recently noted, the growth of a huge gap between the economic and cultural situations of the rich and the poor means that those who are poor are left in economic and social systems that can imply great suffering, while the rich become even more crazily wealthy. It cannot be patriotic to see and allow the real benefits of our country’s ideals to gradually become restricted only to those who can pay for them. It cannot be the case that you need to pay substantial amounts of money in order to enjoy the fundamental benefits of being an American citizen. Nor should a person have to pay in order to enjoy basic human rights. But this is the trajectory we are on: one example (of many) is voting, which has votingbecome a superfluous luxury for the poor. The working poor can lose their jobs for being absent, or they may simply desperately need the money they make at work. Imagine a thousand “little” deprivations of this sort, and taken all together it adds up to a life of misery and lack of justice.

There are many ways to love one’s country, to be a patriot. One can love a place simply because it is one’s own. This is the patriotism of the man or woman who says “Where else would I want to go? We have the best of the best right here!” Another kind of patriotism is that which celebrates the power of one’s country, or which dreams about one’s country becoming strong. We see this kind of patriotism all the time in the United States: from the urge to conquer and impose democracy on unlikely countries, to the popularity of movies about World War Two, where Yankee strength and ingenuity saved Europe from Hitler and the Pacific Rim from Japanese expansionism. But this is not the patriotism that is most characteristic of the United States; rather, we feel that we have the right to spread democratic and capitalist values because we truly feel that, because of them, our country is the very best that there is on this earth.

rushmoreWhat, however, are we loving when we love our country this way? If we look around, the “United States” is difficult to find. We can look in its buildings, its cars, its lakes, its schools, its weapons of war, and, finally, its people. None of these is “the country”; this inability to locate the country and put one’s finger on it leads, naturally, to the production of symbols that will represent the whole. Hence the popularity of flags, monuments and songs, which somehow manage to summarize the entirety of the greatness of one’s country.

But to really find a country one must look in the hearts and consciousness of its citizens. The place that one’s country lives is fundamentally in the human heart. Countries live and function because we believe in their existence. When enough key people cease to believe in its existence, a country ceases to be and another (or several) eventually arise in its place, as nearly happened to the United States during our Civil War. A strong country exists, in part, when the leaders have the same vision of it as do its people. A strong country also, however, requires high ideals that can serve as a compass for the direction of the country as a whole.

Cheap and easy patriotism focuses on the symbols: raising the flag, singing the hymns, participating in parties small and large, visiting one’s country’s monuments. None of which is bad, but if it goes no further it remains hollow, because one is polandnot looking beyond the symbolism to the real things a country consists in: the human beings that are the home of the country’s ideals. One excellent example of this is Poland, which ceased to be an independent state in 1795; during the two centuries that followed (with the exception of the ill-fated Second Polish Republic), the Polish people kept their country alive in their hearts, and after the fall of the Iron Curtain a new Polish republic arose in fulfillment of the promise that their patriotism had held onto those many years.

In the context of growing economic inequity, the truest patriotism will love one’s country’s symbols, but will love even more those human beings who carry the ideals, and therefore the survival, of their country within them. Indeed, a country can legitimately be judged in the light of how it treats those who are most vulnerable. In the case of the United States, the ghettogrowth of inequality leads to millions falling into extreme poverty, or else into working situations that are little less than slavery: egregiously long working hours, low pay, no vacations, little or no opportunity for advancement, living in high-crime residential areas (ghettos) and, prior to the arrival of so-called Obamacare (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act), no healthcare.

The patriotic duty, then, of those who love their country, is to do their small part to assure that basic human rights and dignity are enjoyed by all those who really (ontologically) make up the country, for it is in their hearts that the values and truths of the nation are carried and cherished. Patriotism wants to be able to say “My/our country is best”, and a country that mistreats those who are most vulnerable will not be the greatest patriotic boycountry in the eyes of others (it may, indeed, be a mockery in those eyes), nor, in the depths of the heart and mind, will it be greatest in the eyes of its own citizens. One cannot, I believe, say that one is a patriot while refusing to make the effort to ensure that the great aspirations and values inscribed in our constitution are made incarnate in our treatment of the poor that make up our new underclass. Our country is failing if it does not work hard to ensure that the rights our constitution and Bill of Rights guaranteed to us can be effectively lived out by those even at the bottom of our social hierarchy.

Do what you love or love what you do

unknownA few days ago I read an article by Miya Tokumitsu, “In the Name of Love“, in which she waxed indignant against those who think the motto “Do what you love” is good advice for attaining professional success. If I understood her properly, she thinks it’s an elitist affirmation, because only a few egocentric, privileged people can attain this in their lives, while the vast majority of humanity is reduced to slavery doing odious jobs. It seems to me that Ms. Tokumitsu is confused, perhaps because she is not seeing the reality of human work clearly.

dscn7067Every morning, when I get to the University, I cross paths with half a dozen of what we used to call “cleaning ladies”–they were older than I then, though nowadays they are much younger and always dress well–who are finishing their work day. I like seeing how some of them, when they leave the building, light a cigarette and enjoy the freshness of the morning, with expressions–it seems to me–of satisfaction on their faces for the work they have done. I always think that their work has probably been greater than that which I am going to try to do that day: the cleanliness of my University is proverbial, but this isn’t so true nosescriben11of the classes I will teach or the texts I will attempt to write. I learned from St. Josemaría many years ago that all jobs have the same dignity and that, in any case, the most important job is that which is done with love. Since love can be measured by quantity, I ask myself every day who it is that invests more love in their work: them or me?

The invitation to write about “vocation as the discovery of one’s own identity” has been a good occasion for looking at these ideas again. I hardly ever use Twitter, but when I opened an account I liked the fact that the system obliged me to identify myself. I uploaded a photo, entered my name and wrote a blurb about myself: “I am a professor of philosophy, and I like to think and invite others to think and to write“. It was like a written selfie: this is what I am and what I would like to be. It is my vocation. I do not seek to be famous, an intellectual, or one of their academic substitutes. I love being a modest university professor who aspires to persuade his students of the importance of thinking, of reading, of writing, of friendly communication with others. I am convinced that it is only in this way that I can attempt to change the world in order to make it a little better, more human place.

unknown-3Although in academic life there are always difficulties, tiredness or even, at times, there are bitter pills to swallow, I can say that “I am doing what I love”, what appeals to me, but above all, I love what I do, including the less enjoyable aspects of my work (grading exams, assigning grades, dealing with complaints, filling out administrative forms, etc.). It is not that I am simply having fun, but rather I am passionate about my teaching and research work, and I habitually enjoy what I am doing, since I live with the hope that those who hear or read me will go much farther than I have. I tucumanrecently received a note from a student of Prof. Graciela Jatib, in Tucumán, in the north of Argentina, which is pretty much the end of the world: “Happiness is not doing what one wants, but rather to love what one does”.

Indeed, to love what one does fills the hours of work with joy. It gives them a marvelous enchantment because, since this way one keeps one’s soul open to unexpected novelties, and tiredness–which always inevitably appears–can be received almost as a prize or trophy. As Antonio Gaudí wrote, “it’s a bad gaudisituation when a job is carried out like it was forced labor; I feel compassion for those who work out of obligation… one of the most beautiful things in life is work that one enjoys”.

señorasLike the artist who is delighted at the end of the day about the work of art that she has created out of her effort, the person who loves his work can come to see his life as being a work of art. This is my vocation and it is what I also see in the eyes of the women who light up a cigarette on leaving the University early in the morning, after four or five hours of intense work cleaning classrooms, laboratories, hallways and offices with love.

Pamplona, April 2, 2014

The value of “lost” friendships

Recently my friend Jaime Nubiola posted on this blog a reflection entitled “Time for Friendship”, about the difficulties of maintaining friendships over the years, when distanfriendshipce and simple lack of physical contact can undermine even deep friendships. Time spent together, in person, over a beer or cup of coffee, adventures experienced together, working together, sometimes even suffering together, these are the things that keep a friendship strong and healthy. The reality of our lives, however, is that distance, work and family can prevent us from dedicating this time to every friend, and sometimes the relationship withers for lack of care.

The tremeletter writingndous value of friendship in our lives means that we must struggle to keep such friendships from suffering this fate whenever we can; letters, emails, phone calls, periodic visits, can all function to keep a friendship alive to some degree, and with those few people who are soul mates, the affectionate relationship will always blossom again when these opportunities for contact arise. However, there are occasions when life simply carries us far from our old friends and the living, vibrant relationship becomes fossilized, living primarily in our memories and in the souvenirs of correspondence and time spent together.

This realization can be a gloomy one, but it need not be, for there are important ways in which a friendship, once developed, can never be lost. In particular, we become who we are as persons partly through the influence of our friends, and as a result even a person whom we may never see again can continue to live on within us, exercising an important influence over our life.

In parts of Spain (especially in the region of Navarra and the Basque Country, which I am most familiar with) there is a tradition called the “cuadrilla”: this is an institution of friendship between a small group of men or women, usually four or five, who make a commitment cuadrillaearly in life to become permanently united in a way that they will be with no one else. It is said that it can be harder to leave your cuadrilla than it is to get a divorce, and that you only escape by moving to another country or dying, or both. As a result of this powerful experience of friendship, a person becomes a different man or women than he or she would have been otherwise, as a result of being valued, listened to and helped throughout his or her life.

Not all friendships are as serious and long-lasting as the cuadrilla relationship, but they still have a powerful effect on us precisely because of the fact that in them, especially in the deepest relationships, we have the experience of being valued for ourselves and not for any benefit we might bring or any role we might be playing. It is no accident that those who have the most and best friendships in their lives are those who are usually the most “humanized”, for in friendship we learn many human skills that make our lives much, much better. In particular, we learn that it is possible to love and be loved in a pure, non-utilitarian way, something that we all too often do not experience in our other relationships, especially those of work and community. Even family can treat us more in terms of our being a good son or daughter, or a good husband or father, than in terms of our own value as persons independently of anything we can do or provide.

Friendship is a mirror in which we can see ourselves truly in a way that is very life-giving: when our friend calls us up to have a beer or coffee with us, or invites us to go mountain-mirrorclimbing with him or her, or asks us to come to a special party with other friends, we are experiencing the warmth of being valued just for ourselves, and if we are wise we will learn to base our opinions of ourselves more on these experiences of friendly love and affection than on our successes or failures in the many roles we must play in life. The person with at least a few good friends will know him or herself as he or she really is for others at a non-superficial level: in friendship we are seen deeply by others and still desired, despite our flaws.

Another of the great gifts of friendship that helps us to become more human is the way in which our friends provide windows onto aspects of reality, of the world, that we couldwindow never see by ourselves. Because our friends are different people, their vision on the world will not always align with our own, but we can learn from them to see the world in a way that takes us beyond our own rigid categories. We learn to see beauty in things we would never have noticed otherwise, to value activities or people or books or art or sports, or a multitude of other things, just because we enjoy spending time with our friends doing things they like to do. In this way, we become enriched by new ways of thinking, feeling and experiencing the world.

As Kant points out in the Metaphysics of Morals, one of the things that friendship involves is taking on your friend’s (legitimate) ends and purposes as your own. In this way, as you develop in friendship with another person, you become seeded with deep expressions of that other person’s spirit: his or her goals and dreams and hopes. If you are a true friend, you wish for him or her the best of what that person wishes for him or herself. And in the end, these ends naturally end up becoming ends and goals for you, things that you see as worthy.

All of these gifts of friendship are not lost when you are no longer able to spend as much time with your old friends as you might like. While it is of course best to commit ourselves to spending important amounts of time with those who love us this way, the gifts we receive (mirroring the gifts we give) from friendship do not disappear just because a particular relationship has grown cool.

thinkingWhen we have to leave the context of a given friendship, either because we move away, become too involved in family or work, or simply change as persons, we nonetheless carry within us, like a tattoo that can fade but never disappear, the mark of the people we have allowed into our lives as friends. They remain inside of us as the foundation for whatever we may later come to be, and as a result even “lost” friendships maintain their value: they provide us the ability to make new friends in other, new circumstances, because we now know what it is to love and be loved as a friend, and we remain able to love ourselves in a way we otherwise could not thanks to the experience of being valued just for ourselves.

In this sense, the only way to truly “lose” a friendship is to reject or forget the gifts that it gave us. While being able to spend time in the physical presence of another person is not always within our control, our ability to maintain the vision of who we were/are in that friendship is within our control, and living that out can be the best way to honor a great friend whom we may no longer be able to be with in the flesh.

Time for Friendship

images1I am in the habit of telling my first-year students that their university years are the time of great friendships. This frequently excites them and inspires them to open themselves to others in order to be able to get to know those lifelong friends. Most of them have come from another city or another country and have left behind their families and their friends from childhood and adolescence. They feel that their hearts are being torn out upon seeing the roots of their affective lives torn up this way. They are disoriented and at the same time enchanted by the girls or guys who seem to have walked off of a movie set, and who they have just encountered in class or in a university cafeteria.

During the first year they develop new friendships,IMG_0353 sometimes very absorbing ones, and over the course of their later years they dedicate more time to those relationships that are evolving towards greater depth or stability. Although at this age they are not seeking “blood brothers”, on occasions they swear eternal friendship to each other, without knowing that this hardly ever comes true. Not only are there betrayals or losses of confidence that do away with the friendship, but also—as those of us who are older know well—the friendship dies away if time is not dedicated to maintaining it.

unknown-3Years ago I learned from my good friend Ricardo Yepes that friendship is “reciprocal, dialogued benevolence”. The three terms are relevant: it is important to care for each other in a disinterested way; the feelings of affection must be mutual—there is no such thing as a “Platonic” friendship—and above all communication, conversation is essential. Physical proximity is not necessary: friends can use the internet, the telephone, or—as people used to do—they can write letters, but if the communication is interrupted for a long time the friendship disappears, even if the affection remains. Friendship is nourished by daily interaction, said Jordi Maragall in a magazine interview years ago. If the frequent time together disappears, the friendship is lost, even though the mutual esteem is maintained.

unknown-4Every once in a while I am contacted, by telephone or email, by an old school friend from high school that I haven’t seen for some forty years in order to ask me for a favor. Four decades have passed, but on hearing the voice of that old buddy I am always struck by the impression that it was only yesterday that we had last talked. The friendship has disappeared, but the affectionate appreciation is still there. In fact, if one is able to re-establish frequent contact, many times the friendship can immediately blossom again, as though there had been no interruption at all. “On occasions”, my friend Rafael Tomás Caldera wrote to me, “it can take longer, since there are so many stories that have to be told to one another… and at times you discover that you are no longer going in the same direction and that there is no longer any interest in a renewed friendship”.

unknown-5In writing these lines what I want to convey is that friendships are not eternal of themselves, but rather they are constructed over time by means of habitual, affectionate contact. Therefore, in order to cultivate friendship what we have to do is dedicate time to each other, and do so with gusto. Listening to one another “without looking at your watch and without expecting any results,” wrote Mother Theresa of Calcutta, “teaches you something about love”. This is what happens between friends. Friendship knows how to wait, it is patient: “Patience”, in the words of Von Balthasar, “is the love that becomes time”. Even more, the love that is friendship comes alive by way of shared time. The time that we dedicate to our friendship—and not only the affection—is what maintains our friendships alive.

Male rage and gun violence: a reflection

Hidden under the covers of today’s society, albeit something that many women are aware of, is a deep current of male rageImage, especially among the youngest men. Older men often seem to have made peace with the difficulties of being a man and of relating to women, but younger men often have not. Having spent many years now involved in the “men’s movement”, for lack of a better term, I have witnessed a move from serenity to rage as the people I hang out with get younger and younger. Many young men get together on bulletin boards across the Web to share thoughts about how “if you want to have lots of women in your life, you have to become COLD: don’t let those b*tches touch your soul, be ICE and you’ll be a mack daddy”. Or words to that effect. Dating sites like OkCupid are chock full of men who say that they are “nice guys” Imagebut then boil over with vitriol against the “sl*ts” and “wh*res” that refuse to date them (but are presumably dating other men). There was even a tumblr called “Nice Guys of OkCupid” dedicated to exposing these men. And then there are “men’s sites” like Return of Kings, which organizes “fattie-hating weeks” dedicated to finding and shaming overweight women on Facebook. And the list goes on.

Where does it come from? The roots of this male rage, which is growing at a frightening rate, are in a way rather simple, just as for most of our lives and in most of our contexts we think simple things. “I deserve a woman, and I don’t have one. Ergo, women are evil for rejecting me”. Part of this is normal… these men really do see themselves as “nice”, and probably they are,Image most of the time. I remember this well… as a teenager, I spent my time trying to be pleasant and nice at all times, only to be mocked and rejected by many of my peers, sometimes with physical violence. As a reaction, I became a very angry punk rocker, and that anger poisoned my soul for years. So, what is the difference between young men today and young men of all ages who have sought to be nice to the people around them? Why does being nice in Mulberry work, whereas it doesn’t work today, for so many of these men?

Well, the first part of the answer is that being nice does often work, just not with what these men want, namely dating women (although the answer, perhaps oddly, doesn’t involve doing the opposite of nice, namely being an *sshole, it just means being interesting, fun and powerful). So, the male rage plague, in one aspect of its vitriol (though not the only one) stems strongly from a simple lack of skill: young men simply do not know how to relate to women successfully, where successful means having a girlfriend. This has a deep cause: male and female roles and economic/power balance have all changed radically in the last century, and as Imagea result new rules and new roles and new terrain have all now become the norm, without anyone really knowing how to navigate this bizarre new reality. The rules that worked for Andy Griffith don’t work for me or for any other of the young men I run across in my daily life and on the net.

The Tootsie paradox. What’s more, women have a very difficult time articulating what they want: it’s the Tootsie paradox all over again. Dustin Hoffman’s character dressed up as a woman to find out what the one woman he wanted wanted herself. And she couldn’t articulate it… she told “Tootsie” (Hoffman in disguise) that she wanted a man to tell her, straight out and in the open, that he wanted to ravage her sexually. Then, taking this as his cue, Hoffman’s character actually tells her this and gets slapped. So, what did she really want?

There is a funny phrase that women will use with their girlfriends, but that men don’t understand: “He gets it” or “He doesn’t Imageget it”. If he doesn’t get it, he’ll be friendzoned, but if he does “get it”, he has a chance to be a boyfriend or lover. But just ask a woman to translate “getting it” into words, and she can’t… she knows it but doesn’t know it. This is as normal a phenomenon in human life as baseball… ask Reggie Jackson how he bats so well, and he’ll say “you have to swing right and connect hard”. Huh? Thanks for the advice, Reg! So, women and men are faced with a situation where men want something (namely women) that women want to give them but can’t actually tell them how to get. And given the intensity of the male urge to reproduction, you can bet that this dynamic will soon spill out into deep rage rooted in a feeling of impotence, which I believe we are now seeing in many manifestations.

The “rage” culture. I don’t have any sociological data to back this up, although I am keeping my eye out all the time, but I believe that male rage is seeping out into society in a whole range of ways that are not obviously connected with this male/female dynamic. “Rage in the Cage” is the name of a popular mixed-martial art competition, and its extreme violence is Imagequite rageful, and it’s pretty much all men who are doing it (though there is a minority of extremely tough women who also participate). There are the “Bad Boy Club” bumper stickers with the angry guy giving you the rageful eye. There is the Tea Party and the impotent rage of a whole generation of citizens on the right, whose hatred of Obama goes way beyond the rational and into the wacko. And then, finally, there are school shootings.

These shootings do not have anything to do, on the surface, with women. In fact, in rape in America has gone down to 0.2% of women having been raped in 2010, as compared with 0.5% in 1995.[1] But school shootings have gone up! I think this is no coincidence… our society has made it very, very uncomfortable for men who rape… nowadays if a man is known to be a rapist he will find no shelter anywhere, and especially not in prison, where fellow inmates will rape them in revenge for an imagined crime against their own girlfriends or wives. So where does this male rage go, then? I think that school shootings are one place. The historical data on school shooting fatalities shows them to have gone up in approximately the same proportion as rape statistics have gone down over the same time period.[2] And, if I am not mistaken, pretty much all of the shooter have been of the male gender, yes indeed.

What is to be done? All of this suggests a way of dealing with school violence that seems, at first glance, to be totally inane: treat the root cause, treat the powerful feelings of male impotence and humiliation. One way to do this will be to dramatically increase the mutual knowledge of men and women about how to form genuine, happy and fulfilling relationship that last, Imageand that provide all of the benefits that both partners want: sex and recognition of their worth for men, security, fun, increased freedom and mental health and, yes, sex for women. This is a big thing to ask, and some say it’s impossible (no man can ever understand a woman, they say). But both men and women are wanting it so much, that some progress has to be able to be made, if only because both parties are willing to go to great lengths to make it happen.

References:

[1]: Rape Statistics (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_statistics#United_States

[2]: A Chart of the 137 Fatal School Shootings in the U.S. Since 1980 (Slate): http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/map_of_the_week/2012/12/sandy_hook_a_chart_of_all_196_fatal_school_shootings_since_1980_map.html

Simone Weil (1909-1943): A woman not to be ignored

weilAll of us are attracted to thinkers on the edge. Those who, despite their fragility and even their errors, have made the effort to articulate their thoughts, life, faith and behavior in a unitary way. Perhaps this is why the Confessions of St. Augustine–written more than 1600 years ago–are still so up-to-date. When intellectuals attempt to explain their lives, they capture our attention: when we follow them in understanding their lives better, we also understand our own better, which helps us to be more coherent ourselves. As Kierkegaard wrote in his diary, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards”. To live on the edge implies a constant struggle between two poles: the past and the future as they articulate themselves creatively in the present. This tension is almost always enriching, since it ignites the flame that illuminates and warms our own lives and that of those around us.

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Entrance road to the Charterhouse Aula Dei

A few weeks ago I attended an international conference on Simone Weil hosted by doctoral students, held at the Charterhouse Aula Dei, near Zaragoza, and organized by Maria del Sol Romano, a Mexican philosopher. In addition to attending interesting talks, I had the occasion to see the frescoes that the young Goya painted in the upper part of the church in 1773. I was transfixed by the joyful spirituality of Chemin Neuf, the French community that has, for two years now, been in charge of caring for this impressive set of artworks, and I thought that Simone Weil—who always lived at the doors of the Catholic faith—would have been overjoyed to participate in this academic encounter. It was not difficult to image Weil in Zaragoza, since she herself had been there in August of 1936,images-1 near Pina, with one of the International Brigades under the command of Durruti. In fact, she had to be evacuated a few days later, without even having fired a single shot, since she had burned her leg by stepping on a skillet full of boiling oil.

My first contact with Simone Weil goes back forty years, when I read Charles Moeller’s severe criticisms of her in his book “Literatura del siglo XX y cristianismo“: “The growing aberrations in her thought showed the terrible danger that is constituted, in the spiritual life, by a hypertrophied and solitary intelligence. The system of Simone Weil is one of the most tremendous proofs that I know of for the necessity of a Church with a teaching authority. […] The thought of Simone Weil […] constitutes one of the most grave dangers that Christian consciences can confront. It was necessary to denounce it.” It is true that, in a final note, Moeller adds that Joseph Marie Perrin and Gustave Thibon, in a recent book, “offer a much more prudent judgment about Simone Weil’s thought […] but this does not change the central idea at all, but rather totally the contrary.”

UnknownAlthough from time to time I came across light-filled quotes of Weil in remote authors, I did not meet her again until someone put her book “Waiting for God” into my hands. I was fascinated right from her first essay, “Reflections on the right use of school studies with a view to the love of God”, in which she masterfully writes about the problem of attention. She was a French, atheist philosopher who, although born to a Jewish family, underwent a mystical experience—a personal encounter with Jesus Christ—and became a shining light of intelligence and love.

From that time I have returned to read her periodically. She has obscure texts, but others are totally resplendent. For example, I prepared a lesson for film professionals on the basis of these words of hers on literature and morality: “Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating. Therefore “imaginative literature” is either boring or immoral (or a mixture of both). It only escapes from this alternative if in some way it passes over to the side of reality through the power of art—and only genius can do that.”

imagesA few months ago I discovered that the poet Christian Wiman had come to faith thanks to Simone Weil’s passage about the two prisoners confined in a jail. Between them there is a thick stone wall, but over the course of the years they learn to communicate via taps on the stone. “The wall is what separates them, but is also the only means they have of communicating. ‘It is the same with us and God’ she says. ‘Every separation is a link’“. For Wiman and for me, the stone is poetic language. On the other side of our creative effort God is always to be found.

In her last years, Simone Weil went to Mass every Sunday and often during the week. She felt a tremendous sorrow at not being able to partake of the sacraments. In one of her final texts she made a profession of faith in what the church teaches, out of love for the truth that these mysteries contain. But she adds, “I do not recognize any right for the Church to limit the operations of the intelligence or the illuminations of love in the realm of thought. I recognize her mission as the deposit of the sacraments and conserver of the sacred texts, a giver of guidance on certain essential points, but only as indicators for the faithful. I do not recognize that she has the right to impose those commentaries that surround the mysteries of the faith as though they were the truth itself, and much less the right to use fear and the threat of exclusion from the sacraments as a means of imposing them.”

Weil cafeteriaThis was 1943. Her biographer Simone Pétrement illustrates her doctrinal difficulties with the example of the opinion—then considered as infallible dogma, and which Weil could not accept—that unbaptized babies, if they died, could not enter into Paradise and would remain for all eternity in Limbo. There were still 20 years to wait until the Second Vatican Council, which began an era of freedom and plurality of thought within the Church and, among many others things, eliminated the doctrine of Limbo from the Catechism: “As regards children who have died without Baptism,” states the Catechism (n. 1261), “the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God”. This affirmation would have quieted all Weil’s discomfort about this issue.

Recalling Moeller’s criticisms, I was excited to read Artiststhe very positive quote of Weil that Pope Benedict XVI read during his encounter with artists in November 2009. I copy it here: “In all that awakens within us the pure and authentic sentiment of beauty, there, truly, is the  presence of God.” There is, as it were, an incarnation of God in the world, and it is indicated by beauty. The beautiful is the experimental proof that the Incarnation is possible. Hence all art of the highest order is religious in essence.” This is very true, and holds one of the keys to the 20th century.

images-2As Susan Sontag wrote concerning Weil, “We read writers of such scathing originality for their personal authority, for the example of their seriousness, for their manifest willingness to sacrifice themselves for their truths, and—only piecemeal—for their ‘views.'” “In the respect we pay to such lives, we acknowledge the presence of mystery in the world—and mystery is just what the secure possession of the truth, an objective truth, denies.” Weil is certainly not the owner of the truth, but her readers recognize that the Truth shines through her. She is a thinker on the edge: her reckless life and her luminous words give us much to think about.

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Biographical profile of Simone Weil (1909-1943)

Simone Weil was a French philosopher, Christian mystic and political activist.220px-SimoneWeilGraveAug2012 Her life was marked by compassion for the suffering of others. She died of tuberculosis and malnutrition in Ashford, England, while waiting to be transferred to France in order to aid the combatants in WWII. Albert Camus said of her that “she was the only great spirit of our time”.

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For further reading:

Weil, Simone: Waiting for God (Madrid: Perennial) 1992, 240 pages.

Pétrement, Simone: Simone Weil: A Life (Schocken) 1988, 592 pages.

Mauro, Florence: Simone Weil, la irregular. Trabajadora, filósofa 1909-1943, produced by Zadig Productions and Arte France, 2008 <http://vimeo.com/45973910&gt;

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