Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Pity is more concerned with self-gratification than concern for others. It's self-regarding and passive. Respect is engagement with others as equals. It requires us to listen to them when they speak. That's the risk. Pity is risk free: it requires their silence.
For our purposes, however it is important that humanity manifests itself in such brotherhood most frequently in "dark times." This kind of humanity actually becomes inevitable when the times become so extremely dark for certain groups of people that it is no longer up to them, their insight or choice, to withdraw from the world. Humanity in the form of fraternity invariably appears historically among persecuted peoples and enslaved groups; and in Eighteenth-century Europe it must have been quite natural to detect it among the Jews, who then were newcomers in literary circles. This kind of humanity is the great privilege of pariah peoples; it is the advantage that the pariahs of this world always and in all circumstances can have over others. The privilege is dearly bought; it is often accompanied by so radical a loss of the world, so fearful an atrophy of all the organs with which we respond to it -starting with the common sense with which we orient ourselves in a world common to ourselves and others and going on to the sense of beauty, or taste, with which we love the world- that in extreme cases, in which pariahdom has persisted for centuries, we can speak of real worldlessness And worldlessness, alas, is always a form of barbarism.
In this as it were organically evolved humanity it is as if under the pressure of persecution the persecuted have moved so closely together that the interspace which we have called world (and which of course existed between them before the persecution keeping them at a distance from one another) has simply disappeared. This produces a warmth of human relationships which may strike those who have had some experience with such groups as an almost physical phenomenon. Of course I do not mean to imply be this warmth of persecuted peoples is not a great thing. In its full development it can breed a kindliness and sheer goodness of which human beings are otherwise scarcely capable. Frequently it is also the source of a vitality, a joy in the simple fact of being alive rather suggesting that life comes fully into its own only among those who are, in worldly terms, the insulted and injured. But in saying this we must not forget that the charm and intensity of the atmosphere that developes is also due to the fact that the pariahs of the world enjoy the great privelidge of being unburdened by care for the world.

Hannah Arendt, On Humanity in Dark Times: Thoughts about Lessing
in Men in Dark Times
Referred to by Adam Kirsch in the New Yorker. Being a zionist -and not even a liberal one- he misses both her point and the larger problem. “Interspace,” is not "isolation." And the warmth of community at its extreme becomes the illusory unity that sees people as indistinguishable twigs, tied tightly by necessity into a bundle: a collective, fearful, narcissism. [see Dec 31st below.]
Kirsch's article linked from As'ad AbuKhalil who as a proud haute bourgeois leftist doesn't quite see the problem either.
from a note to a friend:
But the tribalism of the Israelis is fascist in the way Arendt describes. And the best liberal Jews can muster for the Palestinians is pity. To have respect for Palestinians would be to recognize they have a case. Liberal Jews defend fascist Jews -while having pity for their victims- because they're trying to hide from their complicity in a crime.


  1. Anonymous9:16 AM

    Huh. I haven't read anything by Arendt, and if this quote is fair representation of what/how she writes I don't want to read anything she wrote; she's just blowing smoke.

    What with this "interspace which we have called world"? This doesn mean anything, it's just some poetry or something.

    These "persecuted peoples" she is talking about are not being persecuted every minute of their lives, there is plenty of "world" and "care for the world" left for them. Sure, sometimes they feel greater solidarity with each other (and, don't forget, greater animosity to the Others) - and sometimes they're at each other's throats.

  2. Abb,
    she's describing the difference between the community of fellows and the community of desperation: fascism

  3. Anonymous5:51 PM

    Ah, I see, too much of a good thing. Still, a bit too deep for me, I'm afraid.


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