Saturday, January 12, 2019

405. Yin and Yang, Mary and Peter

Earlier in this blog (items 137 and 141) I discussed Yin and Yang, in Chinese Tao. Yin stands, originally, for the northern, dark, moist, soft, earthy slope of a mountain, and Yang for the southern, sunny, dry, hard, rocky side. Yin came to symbolize the feminine, fertility, caring, intuition, harmony, balance, integration, the concrete, pragmatic, horizontal, philia. Yang came to stand for the male, power, conquest, fracture, hierarchy, abstract, theoretical, vertical, eros.

Recently I read, in a book by Luigino Bruni and Alessandra Smerilli[i], that there is something similar in Christendom. There, we have Maria (Madonna), who stands for the feminine, care, the charitable, horizontal, communitarian, concrete, and Peter (Petrus), who stand for the male, the authoritarian, vertical, formal, institutional, abstract.

Anomalous, it seems, is that they assign the innovative, the transgression of existing institutions to the ‘Marial’, not the ‘Petran’. I would assign it the other way around.

However, Bruni and Smerilli bring in the case of Antigone versus Creon. Antigone breaks the law, instituted by king Creon, by giving a dignified grave to her brother who died in a battle between brothers, following a more elementary law of life. She was put to death for it. Here we see transgression not for conquest but for benevolence, out of philia, and that indeed may belong to the feminine side.

Bruni and Smerilli plead for an economics with more of the Marial, in what they call a ‘civil economy’. I like that term. They also call the Marial ‘charismic’, or ‘charismatic’, and they explain why, to what early meaning  of ‘charis’, this returns. I do not think that is very helpful, because the meaning of ‘charisma’ now is different. I would call it ‘other-oriented’, both at the individual other and the collective, the community, as Bruni and Smerilli also intended. 

Elsewhere in this blog I discussed Levinas’ view of the ‘visage of the other’, the individual other human being, who transcends the self, is prior to it, and the difficulty he next has in reconciling this with justice that applies to all, as an institution. Here we also meet the tension between personal philia and collective institutions.

Yin and Yang can be conflictual but are supposed to be primarily complementary. Bruni and Smerilli apply that also to the Marial and the Petran. In the economy, the marial is oriented towards intrinsic value, of property, work and relationships, based on philia, while the Petran is oriented towards the eros-driven grasp of possession and power, based on hierarchy or contract. They plead for more of the former.

With intrinsic value, a relationship is not only instrumental but also an end in itself, and the mentality it requires is a matter of inner conviction rather than acquisition. Philia more than eros.

That seems similar to my plea, at several places in this blog, for a shift from the present economic mainstream, based on a utilitarian, self-interest oriented ethic to a more other-oriented ethic with the virtues of prudence, courage, moderation and justice, with a shift from eros, greed, to philia, non-contractual reciprocity.

In what Bruni and Smerilli call a civil economy, there is still competition but also collaboration, and next to contract also mutual dependence and non-contractual reciprocity. The contract is, in their terminology, oriented at ‘immunity’, i.e. self-oriented invulnerability to opportunism, but it loses out on ‘community’ and the intrinsic value of more informal and other-oriented mutual interest, which is, however, more vulnerable, and hence requires the virtue of courage.

This aligns with my discussion, in this blog, of control and trust as complements as well as substitutes. The one begins where the other ends. Blind trust is not wise. But more trust allows for less control. Trust-based relationships, bearing more philia, have more intrinsic value but carry more risk. To support give and take, and the mutual forbearance of philia, they also require, next to courage, the virtues of prudence, moderation and justice.      

[i] L. Bruni & A. Smerilli, 2014, L’altra metà dell économia, gratuità e mercati, Roma: Città Nova Editrice.

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