2012-13 Catalog

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Offering Description

Freedom: Dialogue and Mysticism


Fall 2012 quarter

Bill Arney sociology

Attention is the highest and purest form of generosity. Simone Weil

It’s difficult to talk about an ethic based on our relationships to others because we hardly have any relationships to others. Curtis White

Sherry Turkle, one of the most astute analysts of the effects of digital culture on everyday life, wrote recently that our reliance on our gadgets leads to this sense of self: “...in order to feel more, and to feel more like ourselves, we connect.  But in our rush to connect, we flee from solitude, our ability to be separate and gather ourselves.  Lacking the capacity for solitude, we turn to other people but don't experience them as they are.  It is as though we use them, need them as spare parts to support our increasingly fragile selves" (Turkle, "The Flight from Conversation," New York Times , April 21, 2012).  Fragile selves?  Fleeing solitude?  Using others as props for our impoverished lives?  Is this the new form of freedom to which we are confined?

Together we will ask, if we are free, how do we live good lives?  Among other things, how should we treat others?  Our springboard is the work of Martin Buber (1878-1965).  Because we are free, Buber said, we simply have to decide what to do in our relationships with others.  But one has to decide with one’s whole being: passionately, intentionally, forcefully decide how to respond to the present situation in its existential uniqueness.  And one has to decide without relying on rules, historical precedence, laws, ethics, moral codes or principles.  Buber went further: not to decide on one’s responsibility in this moment—to live in a state of decisionlessness—leaves one open to being managed, conditioned, controlled; in decisionlessness, one is not free and cannot act or live well.

Buber’s early studies of mysticism taught him that one must focus on one's own inner life to be able to respond well to others.  But the aim of a person beginning with his own self is “the intention of establishing a living mutual relation between himself and them.”  The aim is “genuine dialogue,” living life in and through what Buber called “I-You” (or “I-Thou”) relationships instead of more conventional “I-It” relationship where other people become only characters and props in the script of my life.  We will learn what Buber meant by “the life of dialogue” and trace his influences on education, psychotherapy, ethics, and international relations.  We supplement Buber's work with other material on mysticism and on relationships with other humans and the natural world.

In addition to our common work and contemplative practices, including dream workshops, students will pursue, individually or in groups, an independent study that matters.

Online Learning
Enhanced Online Learning
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Offered During

Program Revisions

Date Revision
May 7th, 2012 Description updated.