The PelicanWeb Journal of Sustainable Development
Spirituality, Solidarity, Subsidiarity, Sustainability, Nonviolence

Vol. 5, No. 8, August 2009
Luis T. Gutierrez, Editor

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This is the second time the journal benefits from an invited paper by theologian Ina Praetorius. It is a short paper, but rich in food for thought. At a time when advocates of gender equality are often focusing on the independence of women and men from each other, she calls for recognition of our common human nature and the need for mutuality in human relations. By "mutuality" she does not mean a "mutual complementarity" that also perpetuates a "mutual exclusiveness" between all roles of men and women. Rather, she reminds us that authentic human growth requires a "network of mutuality" built on the mutual sharing of gifts between men and women. This mutual sharing entails embracing mutual dependency as opposed to one-sided domination. Indeed, building this "network of mutuality" between all men and women is the most splendid challenge that the 21st century offers to human civilization. Furthermore, this "network of mutuality" is on the path toward sustainable human development.

Thinking Dependency

Ina Praetorius
Theology Web Site of Ina Praetorius,
Wattwil, Switzerland
July 2009
Reprinted with Permission

Western modernity loves the self made man. There is hardly any other word that modern men and women hate as much as "dependency". We want to be independent: from families and partners, traditions, ideologies and religious beliefs, God, employers, opinion leaders, welfare programs, feelings, the money of others...

What is the origin of our wish to be independent?

Opposing an overpowering church the philosophers of the Enlightenment invented the "autonomous subject" that does not obey anyone or anything except his own reasonable arguments. To cast off church laws that claimed to be "God’s will" was an important step in history that we cannot and will not go back to. As to thinking of ourselves as dependent on a Big Boss in Heaven who rebuked, loved, punished, liberated us at His pleasure was not a good idea. We had to get rid of this patriarchal mindset.

However, does the self made man exist? Is there anybody who produced him- or herself? Is there one single man, boss or servant, black, white or of any other color, who is able to survive for five minutes without air or for a week without water? Do we not all depend on the work and care of other people? Is there any human who is able to renounce that other people build houses, streets, cars and trains, repair water pipes, grow vegetables, enact laws, manage bank accounts, cook meals, educate children for her or him? - Oh yes, man came up with the tricky invention of money to pretend that he paid for all this, so he was not at all dependent. The consequence of this so-called progress, however, is that today we all depend on money to an embarrassing if not dangerous extent.

Who, in fact, is the self made man?

At the beginning and at heart he is indeed a man, not a woman. The "enlightened" philosophers clearly and openly conceived two sorts of humans: independent men and dependent women. Woman (and similarly the man of nonwhite colors) was thought to be too weak and emotional to be free, so she had to get married to a master whose needs she had to fulfill. So, in fact, women became the producers of the illusion of "human" independence. Basically the self made man isn’t "man as such" but a bourgeois husband who is able to conceal his own dependency by owning a woman and other servants who invisibly care for him in his private kingdom called "family".

The women’s movement disclosed this tricky structure. Women, in the 19th and 20th century reclaimed their freedom: we do not belong to husbands, they said, we are autonomous beings ourselves, like men, we will not continue to serve men and children as housewives thus creating the illusion of the self made man. From now on we are our own masters, earn our own money. - So, in the beginning the women’s movement reproduced the patriarchal mindset claiming that independence was possible – for men, women, colored, children, old and young alike…

However, in fact the women’s movement did not create women’s independency. For women’s independency is as illusionary as men’s. Rather the real achievement of woman’s lib was to reveal human dependency. Ending their invisible unpaid background service women uncovered that all humans are dependent on the care and attention of others.

So, what we have to do in the 21st century is: stop the illusion of independency, rethink and reorganize human dependency in a just and dignified post-patriarchal way. We are all born from a mother, we enter the world in total dependency. Yes, then we proceed to freedom, but freedom is not independency but exists in the framework of relatedness only. Throughout his or her lifetime every human remains dependent on air, water, ground and fire, thus: a healthy environment. And he or she remains dependent on the work, love and care of other humans.

So, let’s think dependency beyond the patriarchal mindset as a multifaceted network of mutuality. This is the philosophical, social, economic, political, religious and individual task of the 21st century… 

Copyright © 2009 by Ina Praetorius


Autobiography (from the Ina Praetorius web site)

"My mother. Lisedore Praetorius-Häge gave birth to me in 1956 in Karlsruhe/D. I grew up in Grötzingen (near Karlsruhe) and Unterreichenbach (near Calw). After my final examination (1975 in Pforzheim) I studied German literature, linguistics and protestant theology in Tübingen/D, Zürich/CH and Heidelberg/D. From 1983 to 1987 I worked as an assistant at the institute for social ethics of the university of Zürich. I married Hans Jörg Fehle in 1988. For seventeen years we lived in the rectory of Krinau/Toggenburg (Switzerland). Our daughter Pia Clara was born in 1989. In 1992 I got my theological doctorate at the university of Heidelberg. We moved to Wattwil where we live still today. Since 1987 I have been active as a freelance author."

Some previous papers posted in the web site:

- Ina Praetorius, My confusion about water (April 2009)
- Ina Praetorius, Let's argue (December 2008)
- Ina Praetorius, What does it mean to believe in God (2006)
- Ina Praetorius, Authority (2006)
Contact information for Ina Praetorius:
Kirchenrain 10, CH-9630 Wattwil, Switzerland
Web site: http://www.inapraetorius.ch
Email address: contact@inapraetorius.ch

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