Wednesday, March 08, 2006

a raw hide

No heart has ever softened yet among these hearts of stone.

No one has ever melted yet among these frozen ones.

Your tanner hasn't yet begun; this hide is still quite raw.

No one here has yet been struck, God, by your awe.

#955: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Key words: hearts of stone

On one of the forums, I've been discussing FGM, female genital mutilation, and trying to convince circumcised males that they were also the victims of a mutilation, the main purpose of which is to harden the hearts of human beings, especially the mother who must deliver her baby boy to this cruel procedure. I've urged a change of view because I believe that male rejection of this neonatal mutilation would assist in the eradication of the more severe female version of this stone heartedness. Male circumcision is interesting because it closely involves the three major players in today's international conflicts: the Jews (for whom it is a deeply religious ritual), the Muslims (for whom it is a custom without Quranic reference), and the Yanks (for whom it became common on prudish grounds). It will be hardest for the Jews to abandon this practice and it should really be a piece of cake inside modern America (though sadly it isn't). It is a great opportunity for Muslims, especially those in the West, to take a moral lead.

Rumi doesn't often speak directly about God in his quatrains, so this one today is unusual. It sounds to me like a pretty forthright condemnation of the level of development of humanity at his own stage in history. No huge improvement is evident even today. A hard heart is a heart without empathy, a frozen heart is ruled by formulations. The living reality of the present, a suffering quivering human being, is blanketed out. Such a heart performs a ritual, a habit, a custom, and shuts its ears to the baby's scream. No one who professes love, as Rumi did, could act so coldheartedly. Where a soul is truly touched by Rumi, it will melt, I'm sure. However, there is not too much evidence of large scale melting even among his devotees. Perhaps we all have parts of our souls that cannot be softened, no matter what, by no matter whom.

I've also completed my reading of Erich Fromm's To Have or to Be? which I found most exhilarating as I entered the third and final part, The New Man and the New Society. However, towards the end, I found it disappointing, perhaps an indication of the limitations of Fromm's vision. For the time (1976) that he wrote, he was certainly very up-to-date and he does write passionately about the New Man (a precursor, surely, of the SNAG) and of a New Science of Man. He is careful, in the Foreword, to explain that he uses "Man" in a general nonsex-differentiated sense. However, this use has not caught on and today, it sounds dated and still a tad patriarchal. In fact, this is the problem I have with Fromm's conclusions. They sound too patriarchally authoritarian despite his humane delivery and softening provisos.

My chief concern in his New Science of Man is this one. It would operate along a similar model to the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), except that it would advise on what is good or bad for the soul of humanity, based on ongoing scientific research. A "Supreme Cultural Council" would be set up "charged with the task of advising the government, the politicians, and the citizens in all matters in which knowledge is necessary". This all sounds, to me, like a social scientist's egomaniacal fantasy of salvation.

However, he does make other recommendations that I can fully support. He acknowledges that these are not original and indeed, many are found elsewhere. However, there is one that, to my mind, receives too little attention. Fromm puts the recommendation like this:

  • Many of the evils of present-day capitalist and communist societies would disappear with the introduction of a guaranteed yearly income.

As Fromm further elaborates, this expresses "an unconditional right to live, regardless of whether they do their 'duty to society.' It is a right we guarantee to our pets, but not to our fellow beings." This is a view that I have seen forcefully put also by Bertrand Russell (possibly in his "In Praise of Idleness"). Russell envisions a poet working away in a cheap room, guaranteed of enough income, at least, to feed himself on potatoes and cabbage, but with no strings attached, no need to justify his "work" to any bureaucrat. Russell argues that neglected or out-of-fashion work such as this might be needed by a society that has lost sight of its importance. This whole issue is one of my hobby horses so I had better put on the brakes! It is important, I think, because we are so far from instituting it while it is so crucial to human freedom and dignity.

One last small but intriguing observation. Fromm includes Rumi among the recommended reading in his bibliography, despite never mentioning him once in the book itself!


At Thursday, 09 March, 2006, Blogger Bob Hoeppner said...

Charles Bukowski had a good deal: annual pay from his publisher for the rights to whatever he wrote. I think I remember reading somewhere as a teen that we would become more and more a society of leisure, but instead we work harder than ever. I recently got into reading about Spinoza from a Fromm reference in "The Art of Loving." Almost done with "The Courtier and the Heretic", which is an interesting comparison of Spinoza with Leibniz.

At Thursday, 09 March, 2006, Blogger Arizona said...

I've got "The Art of Loving" booked at my library as I think Fromm is worth rereading today. The Bukowski deal sounds good but you'd have to be on very good terms with the publisher and trust them not to abuse the rights sold to them.


Post a Comment

<< Home