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Monday, 21 June 2010

Father's Day Thought

Kids strip you bare. They leave you exposed and open, dethroning any pretensions you might have to preserving your image. They remove pride like a heat gun scraping paint from a window. Totally uninhibited, they make loud requests in public like ‘Mummy? Daddy? Can you wipe my bottom?’

There are lots of things in this world about which I am certain:

• The maxim ‘it is wrong to hunt animals,’ is not universalizable;
• It is pointless to expect sunflowers to grow in a garden infested with grey squirrels; and
• It is unwise to leave the patio door unlocked during balmy nights in Homerton.

But what do I know? No seriously, what do I know? Well, there is one thing I know with a validity as solid as quantum theory. It is this: that children make us better. They are a corrective, a constant, undeviating and metronomic correction to humanity’s death (physically and spiritually).

Hannah Arendt, elaborated something like this with her concept of ‘natality.’

‘the new beginning inherent in birth can make itself felt in the world only because the newcomer possesses the capacity of being something anew, that is, of acting… Moreover, since action is the political activity par excellence, natality, and not mortality, may be the central category of political, as distinguished from metaphysical thought.’ (Arendt, H, 1958, The Human Condition, pg9).

For Arendt, to act is to begin, to take an initiative, ‘not the beginning of something, but of somebody who is a beginner himself.’ Every child is not merely another life, but a completely unique one, an individual contribution to history. New life promises the hope of smashing the past’s assumed domination of the future.

Birth is the symbolic dividing line between nature and culture or, as Habermas argues, a point of ‘differentiation between the socialization fate of a person and the natural fate of her organism.’ (Habermas, J, 1996, The Future of Human Nature). We can have no say in our own conception and as such are artefacts of nature. But we are also social and historical creatures with the ability to dispose over, and feel at home in, a life history we know to be our own. Natality underpins a presupposition that is key to our essence, it is the presupposition that enables us to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. To accept or reject, to start anew.

Reflecting on one’s life we can take a view, ‘Do I like the way my life has been so far? No? Well I’ll start again.’ Children are masters at affecting this change, they spread it around like a virus.

As an adult I am like an old sash window, the view inside obscured by glazing bars and putty and glass obscuring the view inside. Some sash windows are impossible to prise open after years of painting over. But with a heat gun, one can strip away the paint, perhaps open up the window for the first time in years. That’s what children do. This is natality.

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