Amor Mundi

Special Feature

Bright Lines - A New Essay by Roger Berkowitz

Special Feature
President Trump’s emergency declaration poses a grave threat to the institutional integrity of our constitutional democracy.

Hannah Arendt argued that the three great threats to the American Constitution and the American concept of divided power are, first, the rise of centralized power that subverts the power of the states; second, the rise of an “invisible government” of bureaucrats and agencies that withdraws democratic power from the people; and third, the disproportionate growth of presidential power that withdraws power further from the people’s legislative representatives. What all three of these dangers have in common is the disempowerment of the popular institutions answerable to the people.

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Featured Article

The Ideology of “Workism”

Featured Article
By Samantha Hill

Derek Thompson’s essay in The Atlantic on “Workism” has been making the rounds. The socialist ideal of an 8 hour work day, and the Keynesian premonition of a 15-hour workweek have vanished in our contemporary society. Instead of our identity being defined by our leisure time hobbies and family life, work has become the center of our communities, the promise of social transcendence, and overall intoxicating opiate of the masses. Thompson writes,

These post-work predications weren’t entirely wrong. By some counts, Americans work much less than they do. The average work year has shrunk by more than 200 hours. But those figures don’t tell the whole story. Rich, college-educated people—especially men—work more than they did many decades ago. They are reared from their teenage years to make their passion their career and, if they don’t have a calling, told not to yield until they find one.

Thompson’s point is a persuasive one. Work has evolved from a means of material production into a means of identity production. Work not only remains a necessity for those who must earn the means of subsistence, but work has become the new gospel of selfhood for the upper and middle classes. Thompson defines “workism” as the belief that work is not only necessary to economic production, but also the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose; and the belief that any policy to promote human welfare must always encourage more work.” In other words, we have become Homo industrious.

Historically, whereas the wealthiest members of society have always worked less than the working classes, today the wealthiest work more. “Today’s rich American men can afford vastly more downtime. But they have used their wealth to buy the strangest of prizes: more work!”
So why have Americans developed this attitude toward work? Thompson suggests that work might be where we feel most ourselves. That building wealth is a creative process, that work is a form of play. We find our meaning at work, not at home, not with friends, not in church. Our purpose lies in our productive power. And this ethos of work which has trickled down from the upper classes has molded a millennial workforce that lives by the mantra: hustle. It’s not just a job. Our careers have become our callings. “The modern labor force,” he writes, “evolved to serve the needs of consumers and capitalists, not to satisfy tens of millions of people seeking transcendence at the office.” Additionally, the millennial workforce has been shaped by the accumulation of student loan debt, and the rise of social media which creates pressure to craft an image of success for oneself. But how do we see this success?

Blue-collar jobs produce tangible products, like coal, steel rods, and houses. The output of white-collar work—algorithms, consulting projects, programmatic advertising campaigns—is more shapeless and often quite invisible. It’s not glib to say that the whiter the collar, the more invisible the product.

Since the physical world leaves few traces of achievement, today’s workers turn to social media to make manifest their accomplishments. Many of them spend hours crafting a separate reality of stress-free smiles, postcard vistas, and Edison-lightbulbed working spaces. “The social media feed [is] evidence of the fruits of hard, rewarding labor and the labor itself,” Petersen writes.

The work of the educated elite does not “make” things anymore. And so we turn to social media to craft an image of success in order to have physical proof of our labor. Much of Thompson’s diagnoses seems right to me, but there is something missing: A sharp distinction between labor and work, which is necessary to understand what is happening today.

In Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition, she draws a tripartite distinction between labor, work, and action. Labor replicates the biological life processes of production, work adds to the artifice of the world, and action is something we do in public in concert with others. This is important because Thompson isn’t really talking about work, he’s talking about labor.

Today’s workers rarely “make” anything that lasts in the world. And those who labor, in the old-fashioned sense, do. The socialization of labor and work has fundamentally changed the way that we think about what it means to “go to work.” The workism that Thompson identifies sounds like labor in the Arendtian sense: It is an endless process of production and consumption.

Thompson also seems to give into the capitalist logic that underpins the “Workism” he is critiquing. He writes, “Americans have forgotten an old-fashioned goal of working: It’s about buying free time.” This might be true of laboring, but it is not true of work. The socialization of labor has eroded our idea of what work is and alienated us from the process of homo faber, the work of our hands. Our time is our time. Free time is a capitalist mythology. The cyclical character in the expenditure and reproduction of labor power determines the time unit of the workday. We divide our time based upon the demands of labor: free time, work time, vacation time, time earned, time off, break time.

Arendt warned that this logic of labor combined with the spread of the social realm would erase the meaningful distinctions between public, private, and social life. Today, Arendt’s fear about labor has come to fruition: Between the dominance of capitalist logic and the tyranny of social media, society has invaded and conquered every corner of life. The animal laborans has won. The distinction between labor, work, and action has been lost; all of our time goes into reproducing the conditions of our material existence. And it appears that we have lost the real traditional values of work: to add to the durability of the world. To attend to the earth we live on and the world that we share in common. This “workism,” which is really the ideology of labor, has led to the destruction of private life, the integrity of the public sphere, and the earth that we must share in common.   

Spotlight Article

Literally Speaking

Spotlight Article
By Samantha Hill

The tone of professorial authority is pervasive these days, in the era of Trump and fake news. Academics feel an imperative to correct each error. Sam Fallon calls this “The Rise of the Pedantic Professor.” Responding to the most recent kerfuffle over a historical misappropriation of the word “medieval” in a speech Trump gave, Fallon argues that intellectuals are wielding their knowledge in the wrong way. Taking to social media to tell Trump that using the word “medieval” to describe his wall is misleading “because walls in the actual European Middle Ages simply did not work the way Trump apparently thinks they did,” and posting a list of years in which Rome’s walls were breached by invaders, is entirely predictable and unhelpful.

In their parochial, self-serious literalism, they exemplify a style that increasingly pervades public writing by humanities scholars — a style that takes expertise to be authoritative and wields historical facts, however trivial or debatable, as dispositive answers to political questions. Such literalism is bad rhetoric, a way of dissolving argument into trivia. It’s also bad history: At root, it betrays the humanities’ own hard-won explanations of how we have come to know the past.

Journal Feature

The Fragility of Persons and the Need for the Imaginary Domain

Journal Feature
by Drucilla Cornell
In this paper, I will argue that embodied human beings demand many forms of so-called “public support” in order to engage in the project that I have called becoming a person. Privacy, both in Anglo-European philosophy and in the jurisprudence of the United States Supreme Court, has always turned on the notion of the individual as a given and the legal person as an expression of this idea of a self-contained subject inextricably tied to private property and literal spaces of retreat. Feminism is not anti privacy in any simple sense, instead a feminist rethinking of what is of value in privacy demands that the entire discourse of the private and the public be entirely rethought particularly because of the fragility of our lives as embodied human beings. In 1995, in a text called The Imaginary Domain I argued that we need an entirely new political and ethical rhetoric to adequately defend crucial rights for which feminists have fought.[1] Here I am going to focus on the right to abortion, but it is only one of many examples. I argue in that text, and I still hold to this position, that the imaginary domain is the moral, legal, and ethical space that embodied and sexuate human beings need in order to play out their different personas. This domain enables us to be the source of our own imaginary and narratives of how we have embodied ourselves as sexuate beings who inevitably see ourselves through an unconscious imago which can endlessly be played with, re-preformed, and ultimately re-narrated in the infinite project of becoming a person. Key to this argument is the idea that the person is not a given, but one that is a project which we pursue throughout our lives. This project demands at least three minimum conditions of individuation. They are as follows: “1) bodily integrity, 2) access to symbolical forms sufficient to achieve linguistic skills permitting the differentiation of oneself from others, and 3) the protection of the imaginary domain itself.”[2] These minimum conditions of individuation could turn us to a much more profound understanding of transindividuality as it has been particularly embodied in African philosophy. Unfortunately, it is beyond the scope of this paper to go into transindividuality further. I will now discuss the way I use the word ‘person.’

A person is what shines through a mask even though the concept of the mask is the usual association made with the word persona, which in Latin means literally “shine through.” For a person to be able to shine through she must first be able to imagine herself as a whole even if she knows that she can never truly succeed in becoming a whole person, or indeed succeed at differentiating between the mask and the “self.” The equal worth of each one of us demands as a matter of legal equality the equivalent basis for the chance to transform ourselves into the individuated beings we think of as persons. The project of the imaginary domain is to synchronize the values of equality and freedom, and in a certain sense to rethink what is of value in the legal notion of privacy. That the “personal is political”, a famous saying in the third wave of feminism, of course is in no way part of an anti privacy movement, rather it is deeply rooted in a long history of how erotic transformation, challenges to heteronormativity, and the viscous misogynistic abjection of the feminine must always be part of radical transformation. In The Spirit of Revolution: Beyond the Dead Ends of Man Stephen Seely and I make an extended argument about how radical transformation is integral to any meaningful revolution.[3]

The imaginary domain as a legal right, of course, would only be one aspect of such sweeping transformation. But it does, as I will now argue, allow us to defend the right toabortion on the basis of equality. Justice Blackmun in his original decision in Roe v. Wadefound he faced a dilemma. He could not defend the right to abortion on the basis of privacy. And why was that the case? Because most of our decisions, “our” being the United States Supreme Court, have defined privacy asthe right to have a space, in which the state has no business interfering.[4] Equality was also not possible for Blackmun because equality under our jurisprudence turned on comparisons between men and women, and pregnancy was a real difference and all the attempts to find an equivalent condition in men, such as heart attack or prostate cancer, seemed to falter or be outright ridiculous. To quote Justice Blackmun,

“The pregnant woman cannot be isolated in her own privacy. She carries an embryo and, later, a fetus, if one accepts the medical definitions of the developing young in the human uterus. See Dorland’s Medical Dictionary 478–479, 547 (24th edition 1965). The situation therefore is inherently different from marital intimacy, or bedroom possession of obscene material, or marriage, or procreation, or education, with which Eisenstadt and Griswold, Stanley, Loving, Skinner, and Peirce and Meyer were respectively concerned.”[5]

Blackmun has been criticized by the left and the right, and indeed the middle, for the incoherence of his decision but, in fact, he did not have the jurisprudential resources to defend the right toabortion, and let me emphasize the “to” because our Supreme Court, and indeed our Constitution, has not been comfortable with imposing positive obligations on the part of the state. In the first trimester, the “public” nature of the abortion lead the court to include the doctor in the process of a decision. In the second trimester, Blackmun realized that women might need much more extensive medical care. What is often forgotten in Blackmun’s judgment is that the second trimester begins before “viability” when the baby can supposedly live outside the mother’s body. His primary concern was to provide effective health care for second trimester abortions. It was only in the third trimester that the state could weigh in the interest of the infant against the right of the mother, since fetuses are not persons under our constitutional jurisprudence, they did not have rights.[6] In a series of judgments following Roe, Webster, and Casey, the Court allowed states to enjoin public facilities and employees from providing abortion. They did so on the basis that such restrictions did not infringe on the woman’s right to “choose.”[7] In the case of Casey further restrictions were placed on how and under what conditions women could get even first trimester abortions.[8]

Of course, by 2017 the state’s interest in protecting fetal life now goes all the way through pregnancy. The language of choice, of course, is completely inadequate because if a woman is terminating an unwanted pregnancy she obviously didn’t choose to get pregnant. Our bodies are not our own and to avoid the horror of abortions done illegally in terrifying isolated conditions with “medical equipment” such as coat hangers Blackmun knew that he had to provide women with actual material support in order for them to have safe abortions. The right tohave an abortion obviously goes way beyond the notion of choice. And yet the critics are right that Blackmun’s judgment falters into incoherence, despite its creativity, precisely because privacy and gender equality jurisprudence could not give an adequate account of the right to abortion. But I would argue that the equal protection, to use legal language, of the minimum conditions of individuation would allow the right toabortion to be justified as a matter of equality. To do so, we have to understand exactly why the body, from the very beginning, needs to be able to protect itself as a whole, even when that “who” is indeed imaginary.

In the text The Imaginary Domain, I relied on Jacques Lacan to argue that the infant needs the mirroring of others in order to see himself or herself as whole. This projection of bodily integration is necessary to avoid psychosis and, as Lacan always tells us, the ego in the imaginary is a bodily ego.[9] From the beginning, then, for a projected wholeness the infant is dependent on others. It is not only through the mirroring process that the infant comes to have an imagined bodily coherence, and yes, it is imagined which is why we need the space of the imaginary domain. The body’s coherence depends on the future anteriority of the projection in that what is yet to be imagined is already given. The infant, then, does not recognize a self that is already here in the mirror. Instead the self is constituted in and through the mirroring process as other to its reality of bodily disorganization and does this by having itself mirrored by others as a whole. The Lacanian account allows us to understand just how fragile the achievement of individuation is and why we so desperately need the protection of minimum conditions of individuation.

The denial of the right to abortion should be understood as a serious symbolic assault on a woman’s sense of self precisely because it thwarts the projection of bodily integration and places the woman’s body in the hands of the imagination of others who would deny her coherence by separating her womb from herself. It is not an exaggeration, then, to say that the denial of the right to abortion can be understood as the symbolic dismemberment of women’s bodies. It is only in the worst kind of masculine fantasy that wombs wander. The wrong, as I have described it, begins long before any woman is actually pregnant because our bodies are taken away from our own imagined projection of the meaning of our sexuate being.[10] Pregnancy is not like prostate cancer or heart attacks, it is a unique condition, but if we are to equally protect minimum conditions of individuation then we can justify the right to abortion and all the facilities needed to support it on the basis of equality. The right toalways demands that we recognize the public nature of the support we need even if we are “healthy,” to have our imaginary domain protected so that our sexuate being and our other forms of primary identifications are ours to narrate, not the state’s. This is also a basic matter of freedom because it is in the case of abortion that women are given the freedom of imagination to narrate the meaning of her own experience. Some feminists had difficulties with any women who said that they regretted their abortion or found it a tragic experience. In order to defend the right to choose it seems that abortion had to be labeled a fairly trivial matter. But under the imaginary domain and bodily integrity, it is the women who has, as part of her right, the ability to narrate her own imagined projection of the meaning of the bodily experience. I agree with Justice O’Connor that viability became a very incoherent standard for when the state’s interest in the fetus could trump the woman’s right as defended in Roe v. Wade.[11] My response is that there is one coherent standard, I still hold this position today, and that is to recognize the right to abortion all the way through the cutting of the umbilical cord, then the baby is truly outside of the woman’s body.

On what basis did I, and do I, defend the imaginary domain and minimum conditions for individuation? I still think Lacan is helpful but we could also get to the fragility of the human body and the need for public support for it through other intellectual heritages such as African philosophy, as I suggested earlier, in its notion of transindividuality.[12] But how does one judge whether or not the imaginary domain is right? The answer is that it is an aesthetic idea in Immanuel Kant’s sense. Famously Kant argues that the great ideas of reason cannot be known but only configured and therefore the reflexive judgement on these ideals cannot have rules which tell us definitely what is right or wrong.[13] The promise of the imaginary domain and the minimum conditions of individuation was that they could synchronize the values of freedom and equality in the emotionally fraught sphere of life we call sex and sexuate being, but it would always be applicable, as I have argued, to other forms of primary identification such as language rights. Whether or not this synchronization has been achieved demands judgment as to whether justifying abortion in this way empowers women to give their own meaning to their abortions, to imagine their own bodies, and to represent their “sex” with joy within their difference.

[1]Drucilla Cornell, The Imaginary Domain: Abortion, Pornography & Sexual Harassment (London: Routledge, 1995), 3–31.
[2]Cornell,The Imaginary Domain, 4.
[3]Drucilla Cornell and Stephen Seely, The Spirit of Revolution: Beyond the Dead Ends of Man (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2016), 1–14.
[4]Drucilla Cornell, The Philosophy of the Limit (London: Routledge, 1992), 147–154.
[5]Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973).
[6]Cornell,The Imaginary Domain, 55–64.
[7]Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, 492 U.S. 490 (1989).
[8]Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992).
[9]Cornell,The Imaginary Domain,38–43.
[10]Cornell, The Imaginary Domain, 43–55.
[11]Cornell, The Imaginary Domain, 65–69.
[12]Cornell and Seely, The Spirit of Revolution, 132–142.
[13]Immanuel Kant and Norman Kemp Smith, Immanuel Kant’s Critique of pure reason. (Boston: Bedford, 1929).

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Quote of the Week

Foreign Object

Quote of the Week

Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft is a writer and historian, and currently a Visiting Scholar in Anthropology at MIT. He was a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at MIT, and a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the New School for Social Research. His essays on food and other topics appear regularly in publications from Gastronomica to The Los Angeles Review of Books to The Hedgehog Review. He is @benwurgaft on Twitter.

To be sure, the man-made satellite was no moon or star, no heavenly body which could follow its circling path for a time span that to us mortals, bound by earthly time, lasts from eternity to eternity. Yet, for a time it managed to stay in the skies; it dwelt and moved in the proximity of the heavenly bodies as though it had been admitted to their sublime company.

— Hannah Arendt

The Prologue to Hannah Arendt’s 1958 The Human Condition is a curious opening gambit. It begins not with the book’s signal tripartite division of human activity into labor, work, and action, but with a Russian satellite overhead, and with anxieties about the relationship between technology, politics, and the terms of human existence. “In 1957, an earth-born object made by man was launched into the universe, where for some weeks it circled the earth according to the same laws of gravitation that swing and keep in motion the celestial bodies — the sun, the moon, and the stars.” This is how Arendt describes the 1957 orbit of Sputnik, which the intellectual historian Hans Blumenberg would call a “piepende Kunstmonde,” a beeping artificial moon. Blumenberg’s phrase captures something of the anxiety that Sputnik, whose name means “companion,” raised in Arendt. It was not the “America must catch up” anxiety of a German American Cold Warrior, as Arendt was sometimes taken to be by critical readers of her 1951 Origins of Totalitarianism, which compared Stalinism to Nazism as different styles of totalitarian thinking. Sputnik’s orbit occasioned a more complex line of thought. Another intellectual historian, Benjamin Lazier, has traced her line of thought as follows: for Arendt, Sputnik was like the camps established by totalitarian regimes insofar as it seemed to be part of an artificial world in which the only rules were made by humans. As Lazier puts it, “For all their differences, Sputnik and totalitarianism, modern science and modern politics shared a common pathology. Each testified to the modern displacement of the grown by the made, of living organisms by technical artifacts.” But Arendt is not indicating a druidic preference for green and wild things over aluminum or concrete. Nor did she mistrust our “second nature” while making a fetish of our first one. Her concern was that Sputnik set a precedent for the abandonment of earth. For Arendt, the earth provides us with the curving horizon-line of our possibilities, including our political possibilities.

Arendt claims that Sputnik’s orbit was not so much celebrated as a spectacular achievement as greeted with relief, as if humanity’s eventual liberation from the Earth had “finally” arrived. She then generalizes from this point, saying that emerging technologies in the twentieth century were often outpaced by expectation, making their eventual arrivals feel belated, not triumphant. Sputnik’s great significance — “second in importance to no other [invention or development], “not even to the splitting of the atom,” — lies in a reassurance that progress is on track, that our powers of artifice are growing. Arendt lists other anticipated developments: “creat[ing] life in the test tube,” genetic engineering to create superior humans, and “extend[ing] man’s life-span far beyond the hundred-year limit.” There is no reason, Arendt writes, “to doubt our ability to accomplish” such an exchange of our given “grown” existence for one we have made ourselves, “just as there is no reason to doubt our present ability to destroy all organic life on earth.” Weak artificers, we may smile at Arendt’s transmutation of an understandable nuclear anxiety into an unlicensed assumption about technological progress. After all, we have the benefit of another sixty years of hindsight. We have received all manner of promises made on behalf of emerging technologies, promises that have often bounced like bad checks, even as technological change continues at a pace that is sometimes impressive and inspiring, sometimes frightening. Our failure to accomplish the luridly science-fictional feats imagined in the 1950s does not defuse the real significance of Arendt’s observations about technology, which are political rather than technological.

The Prologue’s most difficult passages concern the relationship between science and speech. “The situation created by the sciences is of great political significance,” Arendt writes. “The situation” appears to involve a worldview reframed by the sheer complexity of scientific and technical knowledge in the twentieth century. This complexity seems to run beyond what Arendt calls “normal expression in speech and thought.” While the Prologue’s beginning in a world of science and technology may appear distant from the major concerns of The Human Condition, which Arendt presents as an almost elemental account of the major human activities — labor, work, and action — this concern with speech opens directly onto her main argument in the rest of the book. If we were to coordinate culture with the present state of science and technology, Arendt goes on to say (she seems to mean taking cues for our expressive, creative, and emotive lives, from the sciences) it would mean rendering speech meaningless; when she writes of scientists’ use of a language of “mathematical symbols” that cannot be translated back into human speech, it is best not to take her too literally. Arendt isn’t referring to the specific technical vocabulary of physicists, for example, as if she were troubled by its lack of terms for “diplomacy” or “compromise.” She means that in their zone of expertise, the properly political consideration of problems and human circumstances has fallen away, having been replaced by a technical understanding of problems and circumstances, and also by a specific habit of mind according to which the question is always “by what technical means can this problem be solved?” Thus Arendt judges that we should distrust the political judgment of “scientists qua scientists,” particularly as they are granted authority over more and more realms of life, beyond their original sphere of expertise.

From the problem of the silencing of political speech through science and technology, Arendt moves on to describe the question of labor. Foreshadowing her discussion of labor in the main text of her book, here she notes that automation promises to free a vast society from the need to perform labor. This would have an tragic outcome, however, for the members of that society have (Arendt observes) by and large forgotten the higher purposes they might turn towards, if they did not need to labor. Her implication seems to be that people who have only known labor cannot be liberated from it, for they would be liberated to nothing. And from this short discussion of labor, which at a mere two paragraphs is much briefer than her prior meditation on the relationship between modern technology, science, and the political capacities of the human person, Arendt moves on. She offers a concise précis of the book that follows: “What I propose in the following,” she writes, “is a reconsideration of the human condition from the vantage point of our newest experiences and our most recent fears.” And she uses a locution that has become an Arendtian classic and almost a shibboleth among Arendtians: “to think what we are doing.”

While the book’s three main chapters, on labor, work, and action, deal with elementary activities in a more or less ahistorical fashion, a fourth chapter deals with “the modern age,” the period of change that leads up to the advent of what she terms “the modern world,” “born with the first atomic explosions.” The modern world in which we live, the world of Sputnik, is a world that constantly threatens us with the destruction of the earth by fire, and by earth-surrogacy through the metal arts, as represented by new satellites and the dream of escaping our planet in flying machines. Thus the Prologue stands in the following relation to the whole book: it describes science and technology as a threat to the condition that the book describes. Or to put this point more mildly, it establishes that the elemental aspects of the human condition that Arendt will describe in her book are themselves subject to change, and it names science and technology as the vectors of change that, at present, act most obviously to transform the terms of our existence. Arendt later states that labor, work, and action “each correspon[d] to one of the basic conditions under which life on earth has been given to man,” but there is nothing permanent or unchanging about those conditions. She does not claim to offer timeless political theory.

While the Prologue seems not to directly reference “work,” and refers only obliquely or in passing to action and labor, a version of work is nevertheless present. This is technology itself. As Patchen Markell has argued, “work” has meanings that many readers of Arendt pass over, because of a certain tendency to see “work” as an intermediary and transitional stage between labor and action. Indeed, Arendt’s insistence that we not view political action on the model of “making” (it has long been a standby of fascists and totalitarians to imagine that a polity can be molded like clay) has given interpreters license to downplay work’s significance. While labor refers to those activities that satisfy human biological needs, with labor effectively forming the means of our “metabolism” with the world, one of the meanings of work is the production, usually by craftspeople of one kind or another, of useful objects that last for a long time, perhaps even for human generations (work’s meanings are not, however, exhausted by this definition). Because of their longevity, those objects have the effect of creating a world for us. Those objects have implications for politics, because they constitute the world in which political actions are taken.

To put the point simply and formulaically, work as artifice can contribute to the cultural surround that informs action and contours its possible forms; it can also produce technologies that, in different ways, change the possibilities for action. The shared world in which a plural politics becomes possible is not an empty world, as if we were encountering one another on a flat plane, able to see the horizon in all directions. It is defined by built structures that can either fit relatively seamlessly with the existing, “given” human activities of labor, work, and action (one example might be an aqueduct; another, a road linking a farm and a marketplace), or that might revise them entirely (one of Arendt’s own examples is an automated workplace that reduces the need for labor). Sufficiently “advanced” forms of making (forms beyond workplace automation) would thus mean the revision of the human condition itself, and force analysts of that condition to reconsider their terms. Unfortunately, and as Arendt observes in her Prologue, one possible revision would reduce the available scope of political action itself.

In her discussion of work later in The Human Condition, Arendt observes that the effort to create lasting things tends not to be an end in itself. Artifacts are usually made to an instrumental purpose, and as such they (and the process of making them) tend to collapse into a cyclical relationship between means and ends. In this respect, work can take on the same quasi-metabolic quality Arendt sees in labor. Like labor, work can become the site of a certain unfreedom. It is extremely difficult to identify a sphere of freedom apart from the means-ends logic that governs labor and that often threatens to subsume work as well. When we live in a world of useful things, we find ourselves with the problem of distinguishing the ultimate “ends” those useful things are intended to secure, if indeed there are such ends beyond the means-ends chains of activity that take up so much of our time. Much of our technology, in other words, collapses instrumentally into the merely metabolic. Nor is it obvious, Arendt observes (taking up Kant) that “Man” could serve as the ultimate “end” that instruments and tools, and instrumental rationality itself, exist to serve. Indeed, ambivalence runs through the entire book, ambivalence about whether or not there can be such thing as a realm of ends separate from a realm of means — a worry that, in its structure, mirrors the worry of the Prologue. For if we succeeded in replacing the grown with the made, we would finally find ourselves in an anthropocentric world, one built in the image of our needs, but perhaps not in the image of our potential freedom. And freedom, in Arendt’s view, is linked to our ability to begin anew again and again, an ability that is compromised when existing technologies make more and more of our choices — independent ones, but also and especially collective ones — for us.

[1] Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958) 1.
[2] Benjamin Lazier, “Earthrise, or, the Globalization of the World Picture,” American Historical Review, June 2011, 603.
[3] Arendt, Ibid.
[4] Arendt, 2.
[5] Arendt, 3.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Arendt, 5.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Arendt, 6.
[10] Arendt, 7.
[11] Patchen Markell, “Arendt’s Work: On the Architecture of The Human Condition,” College Literature 38.1 (Winter 2011).

Amor Mundi Podcast

Episode Two: Seyla Benhabib

Amor Mundi Podcast
Join Roger Berkowitz as he talks with Seyla Benhabib, the Eugene Meyer Professor of Political Science and Philosophy at Yale University. Her new book, Exile, Statelessness, and Migration explores the intertwined lives, careers, and writings of a group of prominent Jewish intellectuals during the mid-twentieth century, including Hannah Arendt, Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Isaiah Berlin, and many others.

Video of the Week

The Web Within Us: When Minds and Machines Become One

Ray Kurzweil is an American inventor (the Kurzweil Synthesizer and the Kurzweil Reader are two of his more famous inventions) and futurist. He has authored 6 best-selling book on health and artifcial intelligence. 

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