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In the second part of I and Thou, Buber turns from the individual human psyche to modern society. Modern society, he tells us, is an It-world. All of our institutions—our governments, our economic systems, our schools, often even our marriages and other personal relations, our very feelings—are built up out of I–It rather than I–You relationships. In politics, for instance, the leaders see their constituents as Its to be utilized, as things with certain desires and needs and with certain things to offer. Similarly, the constituents see their leaders as Its who can offer them possible services. As the current system stands, neither can possibly see the other as a You; it would, in fact, destroy the system. The same could be said for our economic system, and most of our other institutions.
It is because our world is an It-world, Buber tells us, that modern man suffers from so much existential angst. Trapped in this It-world, man feels that life is meaningless. He feels that he is eternally caught in the gears of forces beyond his control, in the vast, uncaring, inexorable mechanisms of history, psychology, sociology, and physics. Even though man enters the realm of experience to master objects, nature, and other people, when man is caught exclusively in an It-world, he comes to feel helpless and lost (though these unsettling sentiments, Buber is quick to add, often only come bubbling up in weak moments, perhaps late at night in the grip of sleeplessness).
Ace your assignments with our guide to I and Thou!