Can't Buy Me Love or Hospitality

Today, I want the framework of my consumptive desires visible. I want to denaturalize the compulsion to soothe myself through consumption — make it strange and ridiculous. I want to continually name the script in my head and, in so doing, chip away at its power over me. I want to do all of this without shaming myself or others, because it takes years to unlearn a learned behavior this invasive, this robust. The problem isn’t buying shit, at least not exactly. It’s misidentifying, again and again, the source and character of our sadness.

This from Anne Helen Petersen’s Cultre Study describes the individual, existential game each of us must play with our needs and desires. It connected with something else I heard from Michael Sacasas on The Outsider Theory podcast. He says that we would be well served to “Reconfigure what we think we need.” He says that the historian Ivan Illich worked to catalog a history of needs and pinned a critique on modern institutions generation of neediness that “generates a demand for themselves.” Illich’s books Deschoolong Society and Medical Nemesis offer this perspective on generated needs in education and healthcare. His human-scale countermeasure for how to subvert the modern, neediness project is friendship and hospitality.

Anne Helen Petersen recognized her need for what she names as “community” when she was worn down from over work, travel, and found herself with the impulse to medicate with consumption of goods. She vectors toward a similar cure. I would make a distinction between “community” in general and frienships constituted of hospitality. For this distiction I will channel Illich. Hospitality, he says, is “A free cration between two people.”

Illich arrives at this defenition by his study of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. In his study, he comes back to the importance of the question that initiates Jesus’ telling of the story, “Who is my neighbor?” He explains the grammatical-historical context of the parable and the distinct point that Jesus is making.

This doctrine about the neighbor, which Jesus proposes, is utterly destructive of ordinary decency, of what had, until then, been understood as ethical behavior… In antiquity, hospitable behavior, or full commitment in my action to the other, implies a boundary drawn around those to whom I can behave in this way. The Greeks recognized a duty of hospitality towards xenoi, strangers who spoke a Hellenic language, but not towards barbaroi. Jesus taught the Pharisees that the relationship which he had come to announce to them as most completely human is not one that is expected, required, or owed. It can only be a free creation between two people, and one which cannot happen unless something comes to me through the other, by the other, in his bodily presence. 1

It seems to me that “The source and character of our sadness” that AHP invokes in her astute observation of modern human, consuptive habits, might have something to do with our longing to host in the way that costs us something. What might be more unsettling is the thought that our own hospitality finds its seat at the table of the self-sacraficial love feast God has spread in the manumition from sin and death, the resurrection feast. “…Something comes to me through the other, by the other, in his bodily presence.”

  1. The Rivers North of the Future: The Testament of Ivan Illich as told to David Cayley, House of Anansi, 2004, p. 51 [return]
Poetics of Prayer @Izak