How to think in Dark Times

How to think in Dark Times
Published: 25 August 2019 (103 Views)
"DO nothing but think" is a philosophical proverb that is much mistakenly attributed to the Slovenian philosopher, Slavoj Zizek. Slavoj Zizek only stole and made famous the pithy statement. The generator and originator of the aphorism is actually, the thinking girl, the German-born Jewish journalist and philosopher, Hannah Arendt. The wisdom of the proverb is not that the people must stop political action and concentrate on philosophical meditation. No, what Arendt meant is that deep thinking and the production of new ideas is itself political action that gives birth to actions and a new and better world.

  Being a woman first and Jew next in Nazi German made Arendt a first and foremost witness of what bloody and dark times are in the modern world. Times are dark when people are killed in mass, exiled and rendered nationless and stateless in a world where home and life are the first property of those that are supposed to be humans. For a terrible eight days Arendt endured life and coming death in a German Concentration Camp in 1933, she was exiled in Czechoslovakia, then Switzerland, then Paris and eventually the United States of America.

In 1937 the Nazis officially and much publicly took away her citizenship rendering her stateless and nationless too, the Jewish nation that had no state at the time hated and feared here candour, she pulled no punches or did she take any prisoners with her critique. It was not from luxury or was it by accident or design that Arendt became a philosopher of the dark times, she lived and embodied darknesses of her times.

In dark times, homeless people, exiles, foreigners and the refugees become true victims of the totalitarianism of power. Did Socrates not say that it is the man who marries a bad wife that is likely to become a philosopher? Thinking about herself, her marriage and relationship with the history and politics of her times (a bad marriage) conditioned and produced Hanna Arendt into a brooding philosopher of the dark and bloody times.

"Thinking in Dark Times," "The Life of the Mind" and "The Origins of Totalitarianism" became some of her punchiest and also influential publications that, in the present world, are achieving new currency and purchase, in the Donald Trump defined and led Euro-American world system. I feel a little philosophical validation and goodness writing of and about the mind of Hannah Arendt on Women's Day, 2019, in the troubled and also troubling Republic of South Africa.

In a world where a philosopher is commonly understood to be a white man with a long beard and smokes a pipe it is revolutionary and, yes, decolonial to delve into the thought of a pipe smoking, and also scandalously sexy and beautiful girl that Arendt was. Her thoughts are still beautiful, powerful and philosophically arousing, I observe.

Arendt died in 1975 on the year and a few days shy of the date of my birth. Present white and male philosophers such as Zizek have come to be noted and respected for punchy statements harvested from the rich essays of the smoking and also smoky thinker, Hannah Arendt, the prophetess of "The Human Condition." I am licking my lips and really feeling warm in a cold winter day writing of and about the mind of Arendt. She truly remains a tantalising object and subject of deep desire.

Thinking and Knowing, Truth and Meaning

She refused. Thinking is not knowing and truth is not meaning. To think is not to know and truth (that is facts) are not meaning. The true job of a philosopher is not just to know or to trade in truths as facts but to think (contemplate and meditate) on those stubborn and unanswerable questions of life.

Most powerful thinkers of our modern times are famous for searching for facts and truths and not the meaning of life and that of things. Thinking, suggested Arendt, is a powerful meeting point between the human soul and the world, and at that intersection truth and falsehood do not matter, but the meaning of life does.

Many of us know a lot and are in possession of many facts but how many of us Think, and seek to answer the unanswerable questions of our times and places in the world? The answer can only be tragically disappointing.

Social Science itself, in the present, is about factuality and empirical details of truths and facts, not meaning of the world and life. To Arendt, thinking and thought were not a process but a place and a situation, a condition where and when the oppressed engaged with meaning beyond facts and details.

It is in Hannah Arendt's philosophy that thoughts and thinking became an engagement with the, not just the world of experience and perceptions, but the universe of the metaphysical, the truth of the truth and veracity of meaning, the real. Facts and evidence of the truth are, after all, as concrete as they are still part of the commonsense and knowable part of life and the world, otherwise what matters to the ''examined life'' is the unknown and the unknowable, the beyond.

Philosophy and deep thought are not themselves until they trade in the previously unknown and the unknowable.

And then "We the Refugees!"

In this column I have previously and severally reflected on Arendt's beautiful and also powerful assertion that the oppressed, whether they are colonised, exiled, victims of genocidal tyrannies or refugees are those people that are too poor and too afraid to have the "freedom to be free." She also stated that refugees and exiles of which she was one were those personages that did not "have the right to have rights."

Human rights whether in the French Declaration of The Rights of Man and Citizens of 1789 and the US Bill of Rights are the monopoly of nationals and citizens and not foreigners and other outsiders.

One other most famous and powerful essay by Hannah Arendt is: "We the Refugees!" In that essay and others, she noted that the world states and nations actually worked to produce, systematically and structurally some victims that are: foreigners, outsiders, refugees, aliens, exiles and emigres.

In the West, Arendt argues, nations, that is populations of people colonised states and monopolised rights, power and privileges. She then, powerfully, argued that in the colonies of Africa and Latin America it is European states that colonised nations and took away rights and privileges of native populations in a totalitarian fashion.

This is, I must say, an argument that I have advanced about the nation-states of the Global South that are actually state-nations in that states even if manned by blacks and locals, continue to practice colonial tyranny and totalitarianism over the people, the populations that we call nations. There you have it; Arendt was a white woman in the wild West that critiqued coloniality in the world system that is run by the Euro-American Empire. She did.

Like Edward Said in his canonical essay "Reflections on Exile" that reflected on the exilic experience and condition as a philosophical position Arendt noted refugees and by association the colonised as the victims of all victimhood under the sun. I also associate the thought of Arendt to the meditations of Aime Cesaire, the black and French philosopher of Negritude who noted that Hilter's crime was not just the Holocaust but the sin of practising in Europe, on white people, cruelty that the West had reserved only for black people in the colonies of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Hitler colonially, racially and slavishly treated Europeans and whites in the West, that was his sin of sins. Colonisers and enslavers that the Europeans are fear colonial and slavish treatment of themselves, just as tyrants fear tyrannical treatment when it gets directed to them, it is killers that fear death more in our throw away world.

Foreigners, therefore, in any state in the world and nation in the universe are those that have no freedom to be free or the right to have rights. Whenever they are treated well and just that treatment is done as pity and charity for them, and not justice or the rights of man or the Bill of Rights. It is foreigners in the entire world system, Arendt thought, that are the true victims of colonial and racial totalitarianism.

Human rights, Arendt noted, are rights of those that enjoy the love and protections of states and nations. They are stated in constitutions but are not politically secured for the minorities, foreigners, refugees and other outsiders. Rights are formulated and proclaimed in policy documents of states and their nations but are not guaranteed or philosophically established for those that are constructed to be outsiders and victims.

Hannah Arendt gave us insights into "The Banality of Evil" in her report on the trial of Hilter's foremost enforcer, Adolf Eichmann, in the journalistic book: Eichmann in Jerusalem. She exposed the "idiocy" of power where killers thoughtlessly kill just because they have been ordered to, as if orders are from God when they are from bread eating, water drinking and toilet going tyrants like Hitler and others; of Empire.

How do we Think in Dark Times?

It is actually George Bush Senior, a prominent prefect and captain of the modern colonial and imperial world system who said "the world is a dangerous place." The world and life are truly bloody and dark for those that have no right to have rights or have the freedom to be free. How thinking can ponder war without participating in war and how philosophy can meditate on violence without getting infected by violence is a present philosophical dilemma.

It is for exactly that political and philosophical reason that thinking must frequently think about thinking itself and thought must ponder thought. In the essay: "The Life of the Mind" Arendt thought and wrote about thought and how it should, for purposes of liberation, steer clear of the same darkness and bloodiness that it engaged with. Slavish, colonial, imperial and tyrannical regimes have their own "fun-shop" opinion makers, (certainly not thinkers, thinking is too grave a quality) and flatterers.  

Liberation philosophers and thinkers, of which Arendt was choicelesly one, have a bigger and better job to do. To think of liberation where and when it is unthinkable and unknowable. Conquerors, oppressors, tyrants, colonisers and their flatterers and sycophants only need enough evil in their hearts and the determination to implement cruelty but liberators need to do more homework, to liberate themselves and also free the oppressors from their universe of oppression.

For Women's Day, and the Women's Month in South Africa, I propose hearty love to all the Hannah Arendts out there that are thinking and acting in dark and bloody times. Under imperialism, coloniality and all types of tyranny all of us in the Global South must "do nothing but think" in the decolonial knowledge that to think (that is to observe, reflect and understand beyond simple facts and evidence) is the mother of all liberating practice.

Cetshwayo Zindabazezwe Mabhena writes on Women's Day from Hogs Back in the Eastern Cape, South Africa:

- sundaynews

Tags: Dark, Times, Think,

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