How to Disagree Without Killing Each Other

Friday 28 January 2022

Review by Benjamin (DG/Year 12)

Rev Huxley-Jones’s Kitcher Society talk, entitled ‘How to Disagree Without Killing Each Other’, explored the teachings of 20th century Austrian Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, and showed how they are perhaps more relevant now than ever.

Father Hux mainly spoke about Buber’s teachings from his book Ich und Du (‘I and You’ or ‘I and Thou’) in which Buber explores the idea of ‘I-it’ relationships and ‘I-thou’ relationships. I-it relationships are relationships with inanimate objects, or a person when you first meet them, a subject-object relationship, whereas I-thou relationships are between two subjects.

In Ich und Du Buber says that in order to engage with someone healthily when we disagree with them, there are three things we must do. The first is to shed a desire to appear a certain way; we should be true to ourselves and not attempt to act and think in the ways of a specific group. Secondly, we must practise ‘vergegenwärtigung’, or personal ‘presentification’. This means that we should view the person we are disagreeing with as another complete person (a ‘thou’) rather than just a set of beliefs. Father Hux admitted that this is particularly hard in a modern world where many disagreements take place online, but suggested that this makes Buber’s teachings even more relevant. The third thing we must do is move from imposition to opening. Instead of aiming to tell the other person why they’re wrong, and just wanting to persuade them, which is purely propaganda, we should listen to them and try to educate them but accept that they may still disagree with us. This is particularly relevant in a society where ‘cancel culture’ is so rife.

At the end of the talk, Father Hux included a really touching moment, talking about Holocaust Memorial Day (Martin Buber was Jewish and much of his philosophy was rooted in his Judaism). Speaking about Jewish people during the holocaust, Father Hux said ‘and the greatest insult of all: the Nazis took away their identity’. This really put into perspective how important it is to treat others as ‘thous’ rather than ‘its’.

Overall Father Hux’s talk gave meaningful lessons that are still relevant 150 years on, and the Q&A session at the end was a great opportunity for high-level intellectual discussion.