The way to love someone
is to lightly run your finger over that person's soul
until you find a crack,
and then gently pour your love into that crack.
~Keith Miller

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Notes on Physical Presence (and not) from Earthen Vessels/Matthew Anderson and Hiding Behind the Screen/Scruton

Notes on what I marked in my copy of Earthen Vessels - Matthew Anderson -

Physical Presence with people/friends as opposed to online presentations with people/strangers.  
I hesitate to put it so bluntly (because I value the few "friendships" enjoyed because of this blog), but I think it's true that an "online" relationship with a person one does not, can not, share "time and space" with is not the same, can not be the same, as sitting down to coffee or taking a walk while becoming acquainted with a person.  I know part of "it" for me is my love language - time, and by that I mean attention - where I invest my time is where I share myself, my love.  It makes the most sense to "do that" with one's whole self. When it's done entirely in the mediated world I think there must be a lot left to the imagination ... I fill in the blanks left by your physical absence ... I'm probably getting an inaccurate picture of who you are.  I, equally unintentionally, am constrained by bodily absence to under-represent myself as well.  (This is "my font" - the other is copy and paste from the cited sources.) 

We are not present online - we present ourselves.
But in the mediated world, presentation will constantly threaten to overwhelm our bodily presence, invariably pushing the body to the margins. 
When humans gather face-to-face we take emotional (and sometimes physical) risks. Yet in a mediated world, those risks either go away or are significantly curtailed. Philosopher Roger Scruton made this point in an important essay in The New Atlantis. As he puts it:

           To a larger extent, life on the screen is risk-free: when we 
       click to enter some new domain, we risk nothing immediate
       in the way of physical danger, and our accountability to 
         others and risk of emotional embarrassment is attenuated. 

By way of contrast, when we walk in to a Starbucks and see the barista, we risk disclosure - by way of our bodily presence, the look on our face, the habitual nonverbal cue - that he or she will see something of our inner life without our realizing it. ~
pgs. 92 & 93

Physical presence makes possible a true communion of persons, a communion that requires a sharing of space and time.
Yet for us to be present does require something more than space and time. To be present is to be there in our whole person, both our internal and external dimensions. We are, in a sense, present with and towards others.

Scruton again:
What we are witnessing is a change in the attention that mediates and gives rise to friendship. In the once normal conditions of human contact, people became friends by being in each other's presence, understanding all the many subtle signals, verbal and bodily, whereby another testifies to his character, emotions, and intentions, and building affection and trust in tandem. Attention was fixed on the other - on his face, words, and gestures. And his nature as an embodied person was the focus of the friendly feelings he inspired. ~pg. 94

Hiding Behind the Screen  ~ Scruton/The New Atlantis

When I began searching for essays to help me understand "the disconnect" experienced, that I experience, in relationships which are "pen-pal-like", and/or long term-long distance friendships I thought Earthen Vessels may be just what I was looking for.  Instead, I find it to be more of a statement on various topics within transitioning Evangelical Christianity (in the USA).  It reads for me as a set of essays as someone tries to figure this out.  I did find Matthew Anderson's perspective helpful because he is about the age of my older adult children and I think he does a great job of clarifying trends within the culture of "their" faith.

I think I've noticed that some of what/how we believe (to be scriptural) is socially/culturally motivated or supported. Here's a simple example - in Colonial times I imagine tobacco consumption was not frowned on in christian circles as it is today ... or this ... as the author points out, how "the emerging church" (yet to be defined) views tattoos and (lol) loud music is entirely different  than the churches of yesteryear.

Anyway - moving on to a few of the ideas that Scruton puts forth in Hiding Behind the Screen.  And ... it's not that my people are hiding, they are as present as they can be, but the idea of  not entirely "present" is what I'm trying to think about ... because it does inject a unique dynamic into the friendship.

Quotes from his essay:

Human relations, and the self-image of the human being, have been profoundly affected by the Internet and by the ease with which images of other people can be summoned to the computer screen to become the objects of emotional attention. How should we conceptualize this change, and what is its effect on the psychic condition of those most given to constructing their world of interests and relationships through the screen? Is this change as damaging as many would have us believe, undermining our capacity for real relationships and placing a mere fantasy of relatedness in their stead? Or is it relatively harmless, as unproblematic as speaking to a friend on the telephone?
Real friendship shows itself in action and affection. The real friend is the one who comes to the rescue in your hour of need; who is there with comfort in adversity and who shares with you his own success. This is hard to do on the screen — the screen, after all, is primarily a locus of information, and is only a place of action insofar as communication is a form of action. Only words, and not hands or the things they carry, can reach from it to comfort the sufferer, to ward off an enemy’s blows, or to provide any of the tangible assets of friendship in a time of need.
What we are witnessing is a change in the attention that mediates and gives rise to friendship. In the once normal conditions of human contact, people became friends by being in each other’s presence, understanding all the many subtle signals, verbal and bodily, whereby another testifies to his character, emotions, and intentions, and building affection and trust in tandem. Attention was fixed on the other — on his face, words, and gestures. And his nature as an embodied person was the focus of the friendly feelings that he inspired. People building friendship in this way are strongly aware that they appear to the other as the other appears to them. The other’s face is a mirror in which they see their own. Precisely because attention is fixed on the other there is an opportunity for self-knowledge and self-discovery, for that expanding freedom in the presence of the other which is one of the joys of human life. 
When attention is fixed on the other as mediated by the screen, however, there is a marked shift in emphasis. For a start, I have my finger on the button; at any moment I can turn the image off, or click to arrive at some new encounter. The other is free in his own space, but he is not really free in myspace, over which I am the ultimate arbiter. I am not risking myself in the friendship to nearly the same extent as I risk myself when I meet the other face to face. Of course, the other may so grip my attention with his messages, images, and requests that I stay glued to the screen. Nevertheless, it is ultimately a screen that I am glued to, and not the face that I see in it. All interaction with the other is at a distance, and whether I am affected by it becomes to some extent a matter of my own choosing.
There grows between us a reduced-risk encounter, in which each is aware that the other is fundamentally withheld, sovereign within his impregnable cyber-castle.
All those ideas are contained in the term first introduced by the philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte to denote the inner goal of a free personal life: Selbstbestimmung, self-determination or self-certainty. Hegel’s crucial claim is that the life of freedom and self-certainty can only be obtained through others. I become fully myself only in contexts which compel me to recognize that I am another in others’ eyes. I do not acquire my freedom and individuality and then, as it were, try them out in the world of human relations. It is only by entering that world, with its risks, conflicts, and responsibilities, that I come to know myself as free, to enjoy my own perspective and individuality, and to become a fulfilled person among persons.
We must come to an understanding, then, of what is at stake in the current worries concerning the Internet, avatars, and life on the screen. The first issue at stake is risk. We are rational beings, endowed with practical as well as theoretical reasoning. And our practical reasoning develops through our confrontation with risk and uncertainty. To a large extent, life on the screen is risk-free: when we click to enter some new domain, we risk nothing immediate in the way of physical danger, and our accountability to others and risk of emotional embarrassment is attenuated. This is vividly apparent in the case of pornography — and the addictive nature of pornography is familiar to all who have to work in counseling those whom it has brought to a state of distraught dependency. The porn addict gains some of the benefits of sexual excitement, without any of the normal costs; but the costs are part of what sex means, and by avoiding them, one is destroying in oneself the capacity for sexual attachment.
This is vividly apparent in the case of pornography...
Just a tiny note here...I'm really not thinking about's a good metaphor for the fantasy aspect, the "fill in the blanks with your preferences" created by physical absence, the potential pitfalls generateded by "not truly present in time and space" relationships.  Benefit without cost, "diminishing" one's need or capacity for more genuine, thus more meaningful, attachment.  As I refine my thinking here I recall "cheap grace"*.
Back to it:
In human relations, risk avoidance means the avoidance of accountability, the refusal to stand judged in another’s eyes, the refusal to come face to face with another person, to give oneself in whatever measure to him or her, and so to run the risk of rejection. Accountability is not something we should avoid; it is something we need to learn. Without it we can never acquire either the capacity to love or the virtue of justice. Other people will remain for us merely complex devices, to be negotiated in the way that animals are negotiated, for our own advantage and without opening the possibility of mutual judgment. Justice is the ability to see the other as having a claim on you, as being a free subject just as you are, and as demanding your accountability. To acquire this virtue you must learn the habit of face-to-face encounters, in which you solicit the other’s consent and cooperation rather than imposing your will. The retreat behind the screen is a way of retaining control over the encounter, while minimizing the need to acknowledge the other’s point of view.
*Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession.... Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer


tom said...

That's me...not you

DeAnn said...

Hey Tom.
It must be so with every "less present" friendship I think. I mean, even with my children who I see less often - I know them, but because I am less present with them I "know them" more as I perceived them to be when they stilled lived at home without whatever time out on their own (adulthood) has added (or taken away). It seems like, with my four who I rarely see, that some of them are easier to understand (isn't the right word but...), less affected by whatever life has brought, than some of their siblings. That's not exactly what I mean, but it is the short version -
With a good friend, who I spend actually face to face time with maybe once a year, I really enjoy FaceTime calls. It seems like a lot of the subtleties are lost, but it does help to at least see her face while we "visit".
My husband has said "if you read this blog you know DeAnn" and to some extent I'd say that's true. It's also true that I simply don't write about things that I don't want to share about myself, or things that I just don't see.
God Bless you Tom
(Here's an example - when I type out your name I flinched slightly just now - it pinged the "I miss my little brother", who was also a Tom, place in my heart. Had you been sitting near by you would have seen that.)

tom said...

:) I don't mean to sound creepy or remind you of your brother DeAnn! I'm just a guy wrestling with time and life. I like your perspective. You would fit in well with my group of Iowa childhood friends, many of which I still communicate with regularly. I comment occasionally so you know I think you have a great writing talent, cool perspective and that I appreciate your effort. Go Spring!

DeAnn said...

Thank you Tom.