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carolyn.j's picture

The Human Condition, Chapter V

Arendt, Hannah.  The Human Condition.  2nd ed.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958.  175-212.  Print. 

Motivated by my readings from earlier in the semester, this week I chose to read Hannah Arendt as a primary source.  The piece of Chapter V that I read from The Human Condition primarily addressed Arendt’s conceptualization of “aleritas” and the crucial intersection of speech and action as ways of engaging in society and creating power.  By her definition, “aleritas” is the quality of otherness possessed by all persons (176).  In following with that, Arendt argues that speaking and acting allow individuals to distinguish themselves in the world, as members of the common human community but also as individual and unique.  This becomes especially key as individuals are always in relation to each other – they cannot act in isolation, and any given individual is always both a “doer” [of actions] and a “sufferer” [of others’ actions] (190).  Furthermore, given the relational aspect of individuals’ actions, actions are only real and meaningful insofar as they are undertaken as with  a community, as opposed to simply for or against another group (188).

Arendt’s work is, unsurprisingly, less clearly and immediately applicable to my work – especially compared to the previous week’s readings.  However, her message regarding the reality of individuality balanced with the equal reality of relationality is very much reminiscent of feminist thought, and her arguments regarding operating with a group as opposed to for or against one are striking.  Just as I have commented previously on the importance of advocating with a group for the purpose of maintaining both that group’s agency and honesty and legitimacy of mission, Arendt’s comments about working with a group are an important reminder of how simply positioning oneself on the side of an issue makes action lose meaning.  Instead, for actions to gain real power and legitimacy, they must be situated in group action and communication.  This is something I see very much embodied by my organization, as it attempts to engage with the communities it serves while still advocating for specific outcomes. 

This is further reinforced by Arendt’s observation that tyranny is the political system that emerges from a ruler’s isolation from their subjects and the subjects isolation from each other.  I worry about the degree to which we as Americans can be isolated from our government – government bureaucracy and institutional pathologies can be difficult to penetrate, and true representation of the populations’ needs is extremely difficult to capture in a structurally unequal system – but at least as advocacy organizations we can take specific steps to ensure that we as citizens connect with each other.  And this allows us to work together as a community – something addressed by both Naples and Howe – and further to rectify what barriers exist between ourselves and our governing institutions. 

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