Monday, November 3, 2014

Cultivating Personal Relationships with Impersonal Elements

          There are two usual kinds of relationships, and one special kind that I want to talk about. The first usual kind is identity, which is one’s relationship with oneself. While other people and things are inextricably involved in one’s identity, the identity relationship could still be considered intrasubjective-- it’s just me and how I go about being me.
The other usual kind of relationship is intersubjective, which takes place between two people. I want to highlight three modes of intersubjective interaction in decreasing order of intensity:

  • Reaching out: People can be proactive about the other, do things for them, think about them, and approach them to engage.
  • Response: If addressed, people can respond.
  • Regard: If addressed, people can be present and aware. This last category might seem negligible, but regard is important enough that we strongly prefer to share our thoughts with people (even when we’re not looking for their feedback) rather than with walls.
          These categories would seem to exhaust all possible types of relationships, but I have been finding myself more and more wanting a third category, to refer to the relationships I have with non-subjects. For now I’ll call these relationships without regard (would love something catchier).
I do not believe that any of these entities know that I exist, and many of them don’t know anything at all. None of them reach out, respond, or regard. And yet, here are some things I find myself in relationship with:
  • Death
  • Love
  • Nature
  • Earth
  • Life
  • The Whole
  • Judaism
  • People no longer alive
  • Fictional characters
  • Celebrities
          All but the last three I would label “Abstract/Institutional” and the last three are labeled “People out of reach.” Here is what I get from them that I want to think of as the basis of relationship:

  • Relativity: My identity and intersubjective relationships all exist relative to the more abstract/institutional elements. I find/explore/expand my identity and relationships through them.
  • Resonance: I feel a connection with these people, and I continue to find my life enriched or living in response to them. While I am not an active presence for them, they are still an active presence for me.
          With the abstract/institutional elements, I’m finding myself wanting to build a richer relationship with them. They are major elements in my life, and so I feel… compelled to relate to them directly, to address them. I don’t feel satisfied simply experiencing the relativity and the resonance. I want to use “Thou” (or, less archaically, You) with them. And I want to do so in a way in which it’s clear that I don’t expect an intersubjective relationship. It’s for this reason that I don’t call any of them “God.”
          I think that’s all for now, but it feels like an important step. This third category of relationship creates an opportunity for secular spirituality that isn’t personal reflection or interpersonal dialogue but rather, a reaching out to larger elements.

A short prayer to the Sometimes-Good Lord Chance

All hail the sometimes good lord chance!  Random be his name.
Chaos be his game.  A child playing at draughts is my savior, also my destroyer.
Fickle, thy name is holy!  Let no one touch the altar of pure possibility and little guarantee.

A Prayer to Time

TimeYou kill me and I love you.
You isolate me and show me myself.
You cannot be hurried. You cannot be stopped.
Time, I'm yours, and I trust you, though you kill me.
Time, I relinquish everything to you, and when I search for anything, I will always search for it in you
Time, I wait for you lovingly as you wait for me.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Calling Myself a Negative Theologian

            Over the summer, I got sick of using the term “atheist” for describing myself. Since Spring 2010, it felt like the most accurate term I could use to describe my theological position, but it never felt right, and it always gave people the wrong impression regarding my relationship with the divine.
            I’d prefer to call myself a negative theologian, although I still think I’ll probably avoid this term too, since it’s so damn obscure. But here it is anyhow—see if you can tell the difference between this and atheism:
  • I’m not saying that there isn’t a God.
  • I am saying that, if there is God, then God is not the kind of being/phenomena that human terms can capture. I think God is mysterious / transcendent in a manner beyond language, such that any language, even your precious metaphors, only serves to obscure God further.
  • I especially think that it is presumptuous to ascribe any kind of human will onto God—thoughts, emotion, agency, etc. To me, any person making claims about the will of God is just telling me what they want God to will.

            In other words, it’s not that I don’t believe in God, I just don’t believe in your God. Or again—I’m not saying there isn’t a God, I’m just saying that every positive statement (meaning, one which adds content to our understanding) about God is inaccurate and misled. This is called negative theology.

            I can claim some religious backing for this move, although every person I’m about to name would likely be insulted by my use of them. This is because, unlike these folks, I don’t yet believe in a specific revelation/incarnation, which allows them to talk about God’s actions (though still not God’s essence) and to have a sense of liturgical legitimacy:
  •  Maimonides
  • Pseudo-Dionysius
  • Meister Eckhart

 There are plenty more negative theologians, but the three above are my particular atheological role models.

            In practice, negative theology is indistinguishable from atheism. To me, the prayer book is full of people’s projections about God. It’s full of idolatrous images of what they want God to be. I sometimes daydream about what negative theological spirituality (and even liturgy) would look like, but so far there’s just “Silence is praise to Thee.” (Ps. 65:2)

This post doesn’t feel like my most systematic or careful, but it’s been awhile since this change occurred, and it’s also been awhile since I posted anything. I hope to write more on this topic soon, and also to write something about some positive beliefs I do hold.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Blessings for friends from a Jewish Humanist

**Last spring I had the opportunity to give a blessing at the wedding celebration of my good friend Adam Joseph Lyons and his partner. The whole thing was quite an honor, because I gave this blessing at Harvard Divinity School in the Center for the Study of World Religions, with a quite a few religion scholars present.

            When inviting me to share some words with you today, Adam graciously allowed me to represent both Judaism and secular Humanism. In order to fulfill both of these identities at once, I’ve chosen to read some quotations from Jews that are famous for their secularism and maybe even their humanism.

            Sigmund Freud was the father of psychoanalysis and an assimilated Viennese Jew. On love, he has said:

These wise words I offer to you today. Freud believed he knew a thing or two about the self, and here he admires those who love another at the cost of some of their own narcissistic self-love, claiming that this exchange is one which humanizes us.

            Next up is Karl Marx. Both of Marx’s grandfathers were Rabbis. His father converted to Christianity, but married a Jew. Marx himself had some choice words for the Jews and their relationship with money. Self-hating Jew? Anti-semite? You decide!

            Anyhow, Marx tells us that:

“If you love with­out evoking love in return, i.e., if you are not able, by the manifestation of yourself as a loving person, to make yourself a beloved person, then your love is impotent and a misfortune.

These wise words I offer to you today. Marx is telling us that it’s not enough to love; we also need to strive to be lovable. I believe one accomplishes this through working to be one’s best self and through loving attention to one’s partner.

            My last secular Jew is Woody Allen, born Allen Konigsburg. In his movie “Love and Death,” Allen has a character tell us this:

“To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering one must not love. But then one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer; not to love is to suffer; to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be happy one must love or love to suffer or suffer from too much happiness.”
These wise words I offer to you today. Perhaps Allen was sharing his understanding of the Buddha’s teachings, reminding us that love and suffering can go hand in hand, but that this is the cost of happiness.

            I’ll leave you with this: I find it very disturbing when secular Jews bring up Freud, Marx, and Woody Allen as their heroes. But maybe there’s wisdom here too: Like Freud, you can be right about love but wrong about women. Like Marx, you can be right about love in theory, but your theory just won’t work when applied to insufficiently-developed industrial civilizations—that is to say, you can right in theory but wrong in practice. And like Woody Allen, you can be right about love, but also an abusive monster.

            So, my blessing to you is that you strive to understand love, but also don’t forget to be feminists, work hard to make your love work in practice, and don’t be monsters. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Be Here Now… but which Now?

            About six months ago I started meditating** somewhat regularly. I am a pretty fidgety person with an equally fidgety mind, so meditating has been a challenge, but I’ve found the various moments or minutes during which I’ve truly remained in concentration to be very satisfying.
            Through meditation, I’ve become aware of three different senses of the “present” or the “now.”
  1.   “Now” as a waypoint between the past and the future.
This is my usual mundane experience of any present moment. From this perspective, time is a linear continuum, composed of a series of “nows” which we move through (or which move through us). This present moment only makes sense in the larger context; in some sense, there is no present moment, just a long chain of cause-and-effect.
            To live with such a model means to be constantly looking behind and ahead—meaning is all about feeling connected across time. As individuals, our sense of self and our mood at any given moment is often based on dis/satisfaction with whatever just happened in our lives or whatever we are anticipating coming soon. Cultures, peoples, families, and individuals make meaning and locate ourselves in the present through the stories we tell ourselves about our past and future.

2.      “Now” as whatever I am immediately perceiving/doing
This is the meditative experience. From this perspective, “now” is just now—it’s this breath, this step, this awareness. Now is whatever is in one’s immediate experience.
            In this model, the self as we know it is greatly reduced, radically filtered, perhaps not even there. If I am aware of just this moment now, then who am I in that moment of awareness? Just this awareness. I am this perspective. I am the observer.
            This can be a strange or even disconcerting feeling—because when I isolate my experience to simply the present moment, meaning also seems to disappear. If meaning is about connection, then being simply present in the moment is meaningless, because being simply present involves only one point. There’s no story, no progression, no purpose. There’s just being here.
            So that can be scary. And yet… it can be such a relief too. While resting in the immediate, I feel liberated from the pressures of time-as-continuum and self-as-narrative.

3.      “Now” in some cosmic sense—eternity
I’ve never experienced this and don’t have much to say about it. It appears to be a kind of timeless time, seeing the whole span of time as a single moment. Of course, in the cosmic Now, the self also disappears, perhaps replaced by some cosmic Self.

So what? Well… I think this variety of Presents raises some questions:

  • How should we value or prioritize each kind of Now? Is one the most important? Are there specific occasions in which we should sacrifice one kind of Now for another?
  • What is the relationship between the Self-as-narrative, Self-as-observer, and cosmic-Self? Does each have a kind of wisdom for the others?
  • Is there a lesson in these varieties that could be applied towards the questions of how we should comport ourselves towards the past or the future?

**By the way, if you’re looking to start meditating, I recommend the following items: a pillow you really like, a designated place for meditating, a timer, and some inspiration from this great website.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Folly of Self-Acceptance

I want to thank the people and books that helped me work through this difficult paradox. Usually I quote a lot of people, and this time it turned out not to include any quotations, but I want to recognize that I did not create this alone. So, in chronological order, thanks to Mimi Arbeit, Adam Joseph Lyons, Sammy Sass, Yotam and Shosh, Robert Kegan’s “The Evolving Self,” Paul Tillich’s “The Courage to Be,” Pauline Boss’ “Ambiguous Loss,” Nietzsche’s “The Gay Science” Tara Brach’s “Radical Acceptance,” both of my parents, and Natalie Russ. And special thanks to Suzie and JoJo for their wisdom, but also for their constant love and support.

Limits vs. Boundaries
            My speech this year is called “The Folly of Self-Acceptance” but it should also be called “The Paradox of Limitations.” It all began a little over nine months ago when I got hung up on a phrase that popped into my head: “Accept and Grow.” To me, “accept and grow” means that a person has two unique and opposing tasks as a person—we need to accept ourselves and we need to grow ourselves. I hope some of my audience recognizes the contradiction in these two tasks; those who don’t are likely taking a special meaning to the term “accept.” In my reflections, conversations, and research leading up to this speech, I became aware of the various ways that “self-acceptance” can be interpreted. In order to avoid this confusion for the moment, I want to put down that term for a while, and talk instead about the difference between limitations and boundaries.
            In Immanuel Kant’s Prolegomena, which is basically the SparkNotes to his much larger books, he introduces a distinction between limits and boundaries which I’m going to misuse for my own purposes. A limit is totally negative—that is, there is no going beyond a limit, and in fact there is no ‘beyond’ a limit. A limit is not something to overcome; it’s something to be acknowledged and respected. On the other hand, a boundary merely marks the inside and outside of something; even if we can’t know what’s beyond a boundary, the beyond is always implied.
            My paradox concerns how I might learn to distinguish between my own personal limitations and boundaries. When I experience internal resistance to something, it lets me know I’m reaching a border of some kind, but what kind? How am I supposed to know if it’s a sign that I’ve hit a limit and need to turn back, or that I’ve encountered a boundary, an opportunity to grow and expand my personal horizons? I’ll offer some physical illustrations in which I think the difference is clear. If I’m driving for a long time at night alone, and my eyes keep closing, I should read that as a sign that I’m hitting a limit, and need to pull over to rest for a while. That’s a limit. On the other hand, if I’ve just begun exercising after taking three months off, and I feel tired after running 100 yards, that’s a boundary. The only way to grow into fitness is to push myself, to expand beyond my current boundaries.
            I can use these physical examples to illustrate how limits and boundaries can get unacknowledged or mixed up. Suppose I am tired and driving, and I ignore my limit. I am putting myself and others in danger. Either I crash, and suffer real damage, or I make it home safely, but have to live with the knowledge of the danger I had risked, and the fact that I had violated a limit. Suppose I ignore this limit and in fact mistake it for a boundary. Hopefully I arrive home safely, but then I start bragging to people about my accomplishment. If I have any influence on them, I’m creating an environment in which people are encouraged to ignore limitations and endanger themselves.
            Now take my exercise example. Suppose at 100 yards I am overwhelmed by the difficulty of starting an exercise program, and give up, believing that I have reached my limit. It’s hard! My lungs hurt, my legs are sore, my mind rebels—clearly, I’m thinking, I am not meant to be a runner. I am mistaking a boundary for a limit, and failing to challenge myself, and failing to grow.
            There are, of course, many examples in which the limit/boundary distinction is unclear. There’s a phenomenon in marathon running called “hitting the wall,” in which the mind and body become very, very fatigued. I’ve never run a marathon, but “hitting the wall” sounds awful. Now, is “hitting the wall” an experience of boundary or limitation? It really could be either. Some runners push through the wall, and in doing so learn about themselves and feel pride in achieving their goal. Some runners push through the wall, and in doing so ignore their body’s very urgent message that they need to stop and rest for their own safety. If a runner hits the wall and stops, are they missing out on an opportunity to grow? Or saving themselves from a medical emergency? If I hit the wall and continue, should I feel accomplished or foolhardy? If I hit the wall and stop, should I feel cowardly or compassionate?
            I hope these physical examples demonstrate the importance of recognizing limits and boundaries, and the tragedy of misinterpreting them. And this distinction carries over into intellectual, emotional, and social dimensions of life. Sometimes internal resistance indicates a boundary to overcome, other times a limit to respect. In the last nine years I’ve become very committed to growth, and growth is all about overcoming boundaries. Now I’m starting to recognize that I need to work on acceptance, which I think is essentially about respecting limits.

Opportunity for Growth (or not?)
But respecting limits requires recognizing limits. And this is the part I just don’t get. When my personal abilities hit an apparent wall, I keep wanting to see it as an opportunity for growth. Over my life, this attitude has led to a lot of growth. Here are six examples, in no particular order:
1.      I’ve learned how to listen better.
2.      I’ve learned how to hula hoop.
3.      I’ve learned how to meet new people.
4.      I’ve learned the value of talking slowly enough for people to understand me.
5.      I’ve learned to see myself as not just a human being, but a person with a specific set of privileged and marginalized identities.
6.      I’m beginning to learn the value of sitting still and silently, and of doing things one at a time instead of multi-tasking.

All of that growth required overcoming resistance, motivated by an understanding of that resistance as a boundary. These days I’m experiencing resistance around some other issues, and am having trouble knowing what it means. Which are the boundaries I need to overcome in order to become a fully realized self? Which are the limits I need to accept in order to find inner peace? And how far do I have to push in order to figure out the difference? Here are six examples, in no particular order:
  1. With very special exceptions, I pretty much avoid socializing at work.
  2. I don’t enjoy the kind of professional or community work that requires meetings or large-group teamwork.
  3. I don’t like loud, dark places to socialize, and don’t like most parties, especially when sober.
  4. I don’t speak any other languages.
  5. I have strong political opinions but rarely have enough data to back them up.
  6. I’m an atheist.

At one time or another, I second-guess all of these things and even feel bad about myself for them. For each one, I’ll wonder, is this just how I am, and that’s ok, or should I grow beyond these things, and become more than my current self? If I attempt to push back, and it hurts, how will I know if that’s a growing pain or the pain of violating my limits? If I let myself be as I am now, how will I know if that’s self-acceptance or complacence? And, by the way, these are just six examples. It seems like, given enough openness to challenges from outside ideas, people, or institutions, almost any aspect of oneself can come to be seen as an issue to overcome.

Two meanings of "Self-acceptance"            
            Ok. I think you see the paradox. So now I’ll return to this problematic word: “self-acceptance.” When acceptance means approval, then “accept” is the opposite of “grow.” And self-approval is the kind of acceptance I want—to approve of myself means that I am affirming my choices, and feeling good about the person I am becoming through my actions. Of course, unconditional self-approval is foolish—it’s complacent and not self-critical. It tells me to keep doing whatever I’m doing, don’t worry, it’s fine, be yourself. Self-critical reflection is essential to growth, and self-critical is the opposite of self-approval. So, in this sense, one can either accept or grow, but not both.
            Then there’s the other meaning of self-acceptance, the kind I’ve been learning about from my more therapeutic and Buddhist-minded friends and books. This kind of self-acceptance takes the form of recognition of and compassion towards ones immediate internal experience. In order to distinguish this from self-approval, I’ll call it “self-compassion.” Self-compassion means taking the time to sit, to feel, to have compassion for oneself while having those feelings. A person who doesn’t practice self-compassion does not take the risk of deeply experiencing their internal resistance. They might simply deny it, or feel angry or afraid of it. Self-compassion is neither approval nor rejection; it’s recognition. In this sense, acceptance is not the opposite of growth, but actually part of it. Self-compassion can allow for self-knowledge, and I believe that self-knowledge is the essential basis of both self-approval and self-growth.

Existential Dilemma
            However. HOWEVER. Does self-compassion lead to an ability to distinguish between boundaries and limits? Consider any existential dilemma. Suppose I have to make some important decision, and I’m facing two divergent life paths. Each path comes with personal sacrifices; down each path, in order to achieve some goal, I have to leave behind a part of myself. Both paths bear a possibility for joy, and a promise of pain. I stand, fearful of choosing incorrectly, feeling torn apart by doubts, cringing at the risk of regret. Suppose I stop and acknowledge and have compassion for my internal experience. Ok, now I’m not torturing myself for feeling as I do, but I still don’t know what any of it means. I still don’t know which way to go. Even if I do make a choice, and set off on one path, taking on the specific pains of that sacrifice, I still may not know it was the right way to go. Neither self-approval nor self-growth are guaranteed.
            I hope you can relate to this, and see that I’m describing the human phenomenon of being caught in an existential dilemma in which the very acceptability of one’s current self, or evolution of one’s future self, is at stake.

Ok, it’s getting time to wrap up, or unravel, or at least find some place to stop for now.

The limits of self-knowledge
I think… at the root of this entire problem is self-knowledge, and at the root of self-knowledge is the problem of self. My Buddhist-minded friends and books will tell me that the self is an illusion. My therapeutic-minded friends and books will tell me that the self is an evolving process, not a thing. My existentially-minded friends and books will tell me that the self is something we create. All of these, one way or another, lead to the very obvious observation that the self is largely constituted by indeterminacy.
            This is exhausting. I wish there was just some right way to go, and some way to know that I had chosen the right way to go. I wish I could know more things about myself with certainty. I feel like there are stories we tell ourselves about who we are, and those stories seem to make claims about the range and limit of our possible growth as people. And yet, there are times when I look into my past and realize that past-Matt was telling himself stories that did not reflect his abilities accurately, leading me to be at times over- and under-ambitious.
            I believe that to grow requires critical self-analysis and doubt, and to live at peace with oneself requires self-trust. Self-trust and self-doubt are at odds with one another, and both hinge on the ability to accurately assess one’s range and limits, which we can’t do.
            So, here is my unsatisfying conclusion—we have to recognize that the boundary and limitation dichotomy applies even to the task of self-knowledge. We have to have compassion for the ways in which our self-knowledge is bounded—very often I only discover my limits upon having violated them. Sometimes it’s only later on when we know that we should have gone further or turned back. We have to keep living without the benefit of this future perspective.
And we also have to have compassion for the ways in which our self-knowledge is limited—in some cases we may never know what the right decision truly was.

            I don’t approve of this existential confusion. It clearly sets us up for delays, overdoing it, wrong turns, doubt, regret, and heartbreak. It’s not optimal. But I have to accept it, show compassion for the severe limitations of being one person in process. As I grow up, I feel like there are more ways in which I know when to trust and when to challenge myself. But I don’t expect to ever reach an end of doubt or regret. And it’s foolish, but I have to find a way to accept that too.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

How to Identify Paradoxes in Your Life

       If you are caught between opposing principles, and the only way to live authentically is by living with the tension (rather than attempting to solve/dissolve it), then you have identified a paradox. An existential paradox is any dilemma which must be lived rather than solved.

        The best quotation I know that sums up this phenomenon is from Niels Bohr: “The opposite of one profound truth may very well be another profound truth.”

        These opposing truths are often founded in principles or virtues that exist in dynamic tension in both work and relationships. For example:         
  • Freedom and Restriction
  • Independence and Cooperation
  • Safety and Risk
  • Self and Other
  • Ideal and Real
  • Trust and Doubt
  • Etc.
Developing our full humanity requires that we find a balance between these principles, rather than choosing and sticking with one side of the dilemma.

            So, ask yourself, where in my life right now do I feel “torn” between? Where’s my ambivalence; where do I find myself vacillating between opposing values? Would I be best served if I could somehow embrace the tension, recognizing that life and meaning are found in the interplay of these opposites?
            Then you’ve found the paradoxes.

Sunday, March 9, 2014


            While reading Paul Tillich’s “The Courage to Be,” and doing some follow-up reading on the internet, I learned a new word: Transtheism.  I don’t think I will adopt it for myself just yet (“atheist” is more generally understood, and more accurate at the moment), but I want to share what it means to me.
Transtheism refers to a state which is neither theistic nor atheistic. This appeals to me because it attempts to avoid some of the limitations of either position. In Tillich’s philosophy, transtheism is described in various terms, like “the God beyond the God of theism” and “Being-Itself.” For my own purposes, I interpret Tillich as wanting to establish a relationship with something transcendent, something infinite, something that surrounds and includes him, without reducing it to the supernatural/ mythological/ all-too-human character “God.” So, it’s not theistic (since he’s going beyond God) and not exactly atheistic (too worshipful for that, I think). “Being-Itself” is no God, but it’s more than no-God.
            Of course, Tillich’s transtheism has its limitations. I think he wants “Being-Itself” to serve some godly functions, but it can’t, given its lack of agency and personality. And despite his book, I have trouble understanding how “Being-Itself” can provide an individual with courage (or morality, for that matter).
            But I share Tillich’s inclination towards the infinite, and his sensitivity towards Being-as-a-whole. While I am a non-believer, I want to continue to have a relationship (of some sort) with the Whole and the Transcendent, even if none of those will be god. I also recently finished reading Mitchell Silver’s very excellent book A Plausible God: Secular Reflections on Liberal Jewish Theology*, in which Silver considers the relative strengths and weaknesses of the naturalistic God-concepts of Mordecai Kaplan, Michael Lerner, and Art Green. Overall, Silver expresses skepticism at the usefulness of such a God-concept, until he discusses it alongside the limits of (certain conceptions of) humanism:

The theism is justified not by its humanism, but rather by its suggestion that humanism may not be all there is to value and meaning. Although God is immanent and most found in humans, God's separate name allows us to avoid a too quick identification between the divine and the human. We need God to avoid humanism. (94)

This is what I’ve meant by the empty throne. Humanistic values are utterly important, but humanism itself can run the risk of forgetting the relative smallness of humanity and its abilities. Perhaps something like a transtheism is necessary, just to remind us of our relativity.
            Of course, transtheism does just feel like a variation on atheism. I doubt a transtheist would pray, or religious texts (beyond negative theology) that speak to their faith. But it retains a love of the Whole and the Transcendent, which are not necessarily retained by either atheism or humanism.

*I swear that I had neither read Silver’s 2006 book nor even heard of him when I was forming my concepts of God1 and God2 and arguing Why God2 should not be called God. But WOW was this book ever written for me!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

An Internet Metaphor for Getting What Matters in Life

In Martin Buber’s “I and Thou” a distinction is made between experience and relation, which corresponds to the distinction between I-It and I-Thou relationships. I’m not going to elaborate on these terms—I’m just mentioning them here because the point I’m about to make is just an internet-savvy riff on Buber’s ideas.

These days I get most of my TV and music from the internet, and I use two different methods: streaming and downloading. Now, I’m not going to get technical, mostly because I don’t know much about how streaming or downloading works. Here’s what I think I know:

Streaming requires an open and active connection. Streaming requires that I use the computer I’m streaming with, that my internet connection remains continuous, that I stay on the website I’m streaming from, and that the website is working.
Downloading does not require this kind of connection. Once I’ve downloaded my video or audio, then I could very well use that file even if the website crashes, even if the internet is down, even on another computer once this one is dead.
Ready for the metaphor?

Many of the most important things in life must be streamed, not downloaded. There are very few things that can be obtained and then possessed forever. Love must be streamed. I can’t simply have the love of a partner or friend; I can only seek out, again and again, interactions and connections through which that love is shared. I’ve been finding recently that joy too must be streamed. Happy memories and recent achievements are pleasant, but joy is a here-and-now experience. I can only feel joyful when I am present, and when those things or people that bring me joy are also present.

There are some necessities that appear to require only downloading, but this is an illusion. For example, food: at the grocery store, I get the illusion that I can purchase this food, and then it’s mine, to be eaten as I like when and where I like. True enough—but the availability of that food depends on civilization maintaining an open and active (I think the buzzword here is sustainable) connection to our natural resources.

What else must be streamed rather than downloaded?