Hannah Arendt considered calling her magnum opus Amor Mundi: Love of the World. Instead, she settled upon The Human Condition. What is most difficult, Arendt writes, is to love the world as it is, with all the evil and suffering in it. And yet she came to do just that. Loving the world means neither uncritical acceptance nor contemptuous rejection. Above all it means the unwavering facing up to and comprehension of that which is.
Every Sunday, The Hannah Arendt Center Amor Mundi Weekly Newsletter will offer our favorite essays and blog posts from around the web. These essays will help you comprehend the world. And learn to love it.
Ta-Nehisi Coates assigns multiple meanings to the justified mourning of the deaths of two New York City police officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. “The killing of police officers is not only the destruction of life but an attack on democracy itself. We do not live in a military dictatorship, and police officers are not the representatives of an autarch, nor the enforcers of law handed down by decree. The police are representatives of a state that derives its powers from the people. Thus the strong reaction we have seen to Saturday’s murders is wholly expected and entirely appropriate.” At the same time, Coates recognizes that the reaction to these killings will likely lead to a diminution of movement for reform in the wake of the police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. This looking away from the problem of police violence against young black males is not accidental. It is a product of our own democratic will. “We are the ones who designed the criminogenic ghettos. We are the ones who barred black people from leaving those ghettos. We are the ones who treat black men without criminal records as though they are white men with criminal records. We are the ones who send black girls to juvenile detention homes for fighting in school. We are the masters of the American gulag, a penal system ‘so vast,’ writes sociologist Bruce Western, ‘as to draw entire demographic groups into the web.’ And we are the ones who send in police to make sure it all goes according to plan. When defenders of the police say that cops do the work ordinary citizens are afraid of, they are correct. The criminal-justice system has been the most consistent tool for making American will manifest in black communities. The tool for exercising that will is not the proliferation of ice cream socials. I suspect we would like to know as little about the criminal justice system as possible. I suspect we would rather the film of Eric Garner’s killing not exist. Then we might comfort ourselves with the kind of vague unknowables that dogged the killing of Michael Brown. (‘Did he have his hands up? Was he surrendering? Was he charging?’) Garner, choked to death and repeating ‘I can’t breathe,’ trapped us. But now, through a merciless act of lethal violence, an escape route has been revealed. This overstates things. To the extent that this weekend’s murders obscure the legacy of Eric Garner, it will not be due to the failure of protests, nor even chance. The citizen who needs to look away generally finds a reason.”
Pope Francis, who has brought modesty to his effort to reform the Catholic Church, used his annual Christmas Greeting to lash the Cardinals and Curia. According to Francis, the Church’s leadership suffers from spiritual Alzheimers and specifically from 15 spiritual diseases. The first, as presented in a condensed list by Abby Ohlheiser in the Washington Post, is: “The sickness of considering oneself ‘immortal,’ ‘immune’ or ‘indispensable,’ neglecting the necessary and habitual controls. A Curia that is not self-critical, that does not stay up-to-date, that does not seek to better itself, is an ailing body…. It is the sickness of the rich fool who thinks he will live for all eternity, and of those who transform themselves into masters and believe themselves superior to others, rather than at their service.” It is of course obvious that the diseases afflicting the Curia are widespread in governments and corporations around the world. Where is the secular leader who will emulate the Pope’s attack on the bureaucratic rule of nobody?
In an essay on the vast war literature emerging from the forever wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Michiko Kakutani touches on one recurring theme dangerous for a democratic republic: The divorce between military and civilian experience. “And today’s emerging literature–including Phil Klay’s debut collection of stories, ‘Redeployment,’ which won this year’s National Book Award for Fiction–both reverberates with those timeless experiences and is imprinted with the particularities of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq: changes in technology, the increased presence of female soldiers and, most importantly, the all-volunteer military, which has opened a chasm between soldiers (‘the other 1 percent’) and civilians. With no shared sacrifices being asked of civilians after Sept. 11 and a ban (with origins in the first Gulf War and lifted in 2009) on photographing coffins on military bases, it’s no surprise that the disconnect between life ‘over there’ and life ‘back here’ has emerged as a central theme in much of today’s war writing. In his biting, poignant 2012 novel, ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,’ Ben Fountain (who did not serve in the military) looked at America through the eyes of ‘a barely grown grunt making $14,800 a year.’ Billy Lynn (who possesses some of Billy Budd’s innocence, and some of Billy Pilgrim’s sad knowledge of war) and several comrades have become instant heroes after surviving an intense firefight with Iraqi insurgents. They’ve been brought home briefly for an over-the-top celebratory ceremony at a Dallas Cowboys game. Still disoriented from the trip home, Billy looks at all the wretched excess, at the junk food and fancy clothes and obsession with status and money, and wonders when ‘America became a giant mall with a country attached.’ It’s a sentiment echoed in one of Mr. Klay’s stories by a military chaplain who thinks that even with all he’s witnessed in Iraq, it is somehow ‘holier’ than ‘gluttonous, fat, oversexed, overconsuming, materialist home, where we’re too lazy to see our own faults.'”
Major news organizations in the U.S. have refused to name the CIA officer who apparently is behind many of the intelligence failures and the lies told about them. Discretion–otherwise known as judgment–is in rare supply in the media these days, and often it is to be applauded. The problem is, however, that too often discretion seems to stand in the way of truth and accountability. Which is why The Intercept broke ranks: “The person described by both NBC and The New Yorker is senior CIA officer Alfreda Frances Bikowsky. Multiple news outlets have reported that as the result of a long string of significant errors and malfeasance, her competence and integrity are doubted – even by some within the agency. The Intercept is naming Bikowsky over CIA objections because of her key role in misleading Congress about the agency’s use of torture, and her active participation in the torture program (including playing a direct part in the torture of at least one innocent detainee). Moreover, Bikowsky has already been publicly identified by news organizations as the CIA officer responsible for many of these acts.”
David Eads and Helga Salinas, with the help of photographs from Patricia Evans, tell the story of the rise and fall of public housing in Chicago. “Evans lived in a pocket of affluence and diversity amid the poorest South Side neighborhoods–in Hyde Park near the University of Chicago. She’d often go running north of her neighborhood, along the lakefront. On one autumn afternoon in 1988, she was doing just that, along her normal route. She was attacked, dragged from the path and sexually assaulted. Afterward, the man who attacked her ran away. He ran across the highway that separates the lakefront from the tough neighborhood that was home to the Ida B. Wells Homes, Robert Taylor Homes and Stateway Gardens. In that moment, Evans’ relationship with the city changed dramatically. ‘I sort of woke up to where the neighborhood was.’ She woke up at a turning point. Within a decade, parts of the city would begin to disappear in the transformation of public housing. Rather than looking away after her attack, she and her husband would spend years working in and around the projects.”
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Friday, January 9, 2015
Bluejeans.com, 11:00 am – 12:00 pm
Courage To Be: Lecture and Dinner Series, with Eyal Press
The Courage To Refuse
Monday, February 9, 2015
Kline Faculty Dining Room, 6:00 pm
Courage To Be: Lecture and Dinner Series, with Keith Haring Fellow in Art and Activism, Jeanne van Heeswijk
Monday, February 16, 2015
Kline Faculty Dining Room, 6:00 pm
Lunchtime Talk with Angela Maione, our Klemens Von Klemperer Post-Doctoral Fellow
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
The Hannah Arendt Center, 6:00 – 7:00 pm
Lunchtime Talk with Ari-Elmeri Hyvönen, a Hannah Arendt Center Doctoral Fellow
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
The Hannah Arendt Center, 1:00 pm
Courage To Be: Lecture and Dinner Series, with Uday Mehta
Putting Courage at the Centre: Gandhi on Civility, Society and Self-Knowledge
Monday, March 30, 2015
Manor House Cafe, 6:00 pm
Property and Freedom: Are Access to Legal Title and Assets the Path to Overcoming Poverty in South Africa?
A one-day conference sponsored by the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College, the Human Rights Project, and the Center for Civic Engagement, with support from the Ford Foundation, The Brenthurst Foundation, and The University of The Western Cape
Monday, April 6, 2015
Bard College Campus Center, Weis Cinema, Time TBA
The Life of Roman Republicanism with Joy Connolly
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
Aspinwall Room 302, Bard College, 6:00 pm
Translating the Holocaust: H. G. Adler as Writer and Scholar
Monday, May 4, 2015
Location and Time TBA
This holiday week on the Blog, Davide Panagia discusses how our relationship to the “real world” has been undermined by our connection to data, leading to a new form of political power called datapolitik in the Quote of the Week.
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