Sunday, June 19, 2016

So help me Hannah!

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Judging Speech

Free speech is an unpopular value; we only speak of free speech when the words in question are offensive. All the more reason why we need to understand why free speech matters and when to invoke the freedom of speech-and when not to. 
For example, when students at Yale last year called for the dismissal of a professor for her views in an email, their call itself was an exercise of free speech. They were wrongly criticized for violating free speech, when in fact they were exercising their freedoms. That the students were wrong in their call to censor and punish a professor for her opinions doesn't deprive them of their rights. Had Yale caved to their demands and dismissed the professor, however, that would indeed run afoul of the ethos of free speech. We must always recall that the overriding point of freedom of speech is to encourage and protect political argumentation, even political arguments like those that the students made, arguments that are wrong and offensive.
With that in mind, it is worth consideringDaniel Sieradsk'si argument in a New York Times Op-Ed this week. Sieradski argues that Governor Mario Cuomo violated the First Amendment when he issued an executive decision to prevent NY State agencies spending taxpayer money to do business with entities boycotting Israel.

By Source _WP_NFCC_4__ Fair use
Alex Massie, in the Spectator, remembers English Parliamentarian Jo Cox, who was murdered earlier this week, perhaps because of her support for the REMAIN position in that same upcoming Brexit vote, and he contemplates how it got to this point: 

"We know that even lone lunatics don't live in a bubble. They are influenced by outside events. That's why, when there is an act of Islamist terrorism, we quite rightly want to know if it was, implicitly or explicitly, encouraged by other actors. We do not believe - at least we should not - in collective guilt or punishment but we do want to know, with reason, whether an individual assassin was inspired by ideology or religion or hate-speech or any of a hundred other possible motivating factors. We do not hold all muslims accountable for the violence carried out in the name of their prophet but nor can we avoid the ugly, unpalatable, truth that, as far as the perpetrator is concerned, he (it is almost always he) is acting in the service of his view of his religion. He has a cause, no matter how warped it may be. And so we ask who influenced him? We ask, how did it come to this?

So, no, Nigel Farage isn't responsible for Jo Cox's murder. And nor is the Leave campaign. But they are responsible for the manner in which they have pressed their argument. They weren't to know something like this was going to happen, of course, and they will be just as shocked and horrified by it as anyone else.

But, still. Look. When you encourage rage you cannot then feign surprise when people become enraged. You cannot turn around and say, 'Mate, you weren't supposed to take it so seriously. It's just a game, just a ploy, a strategy for winning votes.'

When you shout BREAKING POINT over and over again, you don't get to be surprised when someone breaks. When you present politics as a matter of life and death, as a question of national survival, don't be surprised if someone takes you at your word. You didn't make them do it, no, but you didn't do much to stop it either."

With Britain's vote on whether or not to leave the UK, known, cutely, as the 'Brexit,' looming,James Meek takes to the London Review of Books to write about the nation's farms and farmers:

"To the traveller passing at speed, even to the hiker or dog-walker, farmed fields are anonymous elements that contribute to a pattern. It's the landscape the eye seeks, not any of the fields making it up. Most fields have no individuality to a stranger; at best, a fine oak in the middle, or a pretty horse grazing. Few can tell crops apart, or estimate a field's size in acres. Visitors to the countryside see farms without seeing them. They see the odd farmyard, and they see a mass of fields. A passer-by can't connect a field to a particular farm.

Besides, in Britain, a walk in the country is a constrained experience. Most fields - that is, most bits of the lowland countryside - are forbidden to outsiders, by legal, physical and practical barriers. The biggest barrier is purposelessness: even where a right of way exists, why use it? To walk from one village to another? We have roads and cars for that. Few who live in 'the country' - that is, in villages - stray from metalled roads except along a handful of known paths for ramblers and dog-walkers, often through woods or along waterways. Most of the vast mosaic will never be entered by any human being except the farmer, a trickle of contractors and, once in a while, a government official. Not that such people are often to be seen. Away from the roads, the space between human habitations in lowland Britain has acquired a ghostly quality. It is rare to visit the countryside or travel through it and see someone at work in a field; the occasional tractor, no more.

But the work gets done. The chequered pattern changes colour and texture, season by season. It's surprising that we treat this epic, continual, land-defining endeavour as if it were both inevitable and eternal. The colliery tunnels have fallen in, the steel furnaces are winking out, the fishing fleets have gone for scrap; Britain's trains are Japanese, its cars German, its clothes from China. And yet Britain still produces three-fifths of its own food. Farmers still raise livestock, plough fields, sow and harvest crops, at the mercy of the weather. They use technology unrecognisable to their forefathers, but the deep processes go back to the Stone Age and the first farmers. How is this possible? How have so many thriving practices fallen to the globalisation formula of 'other countries do what you do better/more cheaply, so you might as well give up,' while farming, an activity thousands of years old, continues to have mastery of the British lowlands, at a time when the world is awash with cheap (at least for rich countries) food?"


"Trump is a career loudmouth and bully, and the last thing that loudmouths and bullies care about is a stand of principle. Indeed, they count on such postures as an effective way of quarantining their more principled opponents from their deeply compromised natural habitats. Surely there must be a way to give the thug a potent dollop of his own medicine. And the time to act is clearly now, with Trump reportedly positioning himself to launch his own Berlusconi-like career as a media potentate after the election.)

It's tempting, of course, to adopt a simple retaliatory stance: If Trump is going to turn press access into a spoil of power, then journalists can subject Trump's campaign to a blackout. No more wall-to-wall coverage of Trump rallies on cable. No more candidate call-ins to political chat shows permitting the candidate to gargle a few more base-inflaming lies, and then move on blithely to the next media hit. Butlogistical obstacles aside, this approach lacks a certain Edward R. Murrow-style grandeur. And to greet a strategy of starved-out press coverage with more starved-out press coverage doesn't really get at the root of the problem....

My modest media proposal is that the press continue to cover Trump, but with a series of visual and verbal consumer advisories indicating that readers and viewers are encountering a toxic public figure. Again, CNN has helped show the way forward here by displaying chyrons announcing that Trump is baldly misrepresenting the facts during his speeches and press events. That's a good start, but how about broadcasting Trump's visage with a black bar across his eyes (or better yet, his mouth) at all times, to signal his standing as a destructive bigot? True, in our louche digital day and age, the classic tabloid black bar is chiefly employed to cover upnaughty bits, but a robust case can be made that Trump's mouth is an obscene body part. Still, the black bar may be too retro for our edgy new millennial mediasphere, in which case, TV news outlets could readily use a pixelated version of the Trump countenance, as they do routinely in their broadcasted testimony from all sorts of disgraced or law-breaking characters."

Famed translator Gregory Rabassa, who is probably most well know for interpreting Gabriel Garcia Marquez, died this week aged 94.In a 1978 interview, Rabassa described his process:

"I am not sure that I have any technique. I certainly have no strategy (I ammore of a tactician, if it comes to that) and I am not sure whether I have an approach or not. It is really very simple: I just sit down with paper and a dictionary handy and go to work. About the only preliminary effort expended was a reading of the book. Sometimes this had taken place a while back so that it is all a bit hazy. This might be to the good, if my experience is any example.I must confess, and I have confessed to Julio, that I translated Hopscotch as I read it. I did have to go back and change some things, but only a snippet here and there, nothing important. I think that this bears out my contention that a translation is nothing but a close reading, perhaps the closest reading possible. When I do a book I go along as fast as I can, trying to get the meaning down so that I can use this first draft with confidence. If a phrase resists me I put it down in some awkward but accurate form to be dealt with later. More to give myself a break in routine than anything else (although it enables me to ship chunks of translation off to the author periodically), I will stop after twenty or thirty pages of manuscript text and go back over it for the re-write. Here I work more slowly and check out words I could not find in the dictionary and find a smooth solution for the rough passages I have left in the raw. More often than not this is the final draft. Here and there are some queries for the author which are duly marked so that he can answer them when he sees his copy. They are so few, as are his suggestions, that I can easily incorporate them into the final copy. People often ask me who types my material. A typist would be handy but also it would make the whole process slower. My main reason for typing my own copy, however, is that there are any number of changes I make as I do that final copy. Naturally I think they are all for the best, but often as I look over the rough draft and the changes I will go back to what I had in the first place. I think this may have to do with the day I am working. From academic influence no doubt, I have a sneaking suspicion that there are Mon-Wed-Fri words and Tu-Th-Sat words. I work pretty much the same on all books. If it is a technique, it is a technique I have fallen into through pragmatic habit, so it is quite comfortable. I find that one must be quite comfortable when translating (the same as with writing), as there are enough discomforts in the work itself."

Terry Gross interviews Sarah Hepola about her new memoir, "Blackout: Remembering The Things I Drank To Forget:"

"And I've just noticed in talking about this book that a lot of people don't know what blackouts are, and so if I could just take a moment to...

GROSS: Please I was - yeah. I was going to ask you to do that. I'm glad you're bringing it up.

HEPOLA: Well, I've just noticed that this is a word that a lot of us use, but we don't necessarily know what it means. So a blackout is very different from passing out, and a lot of people conflate the two. Passing out is when you drink so much that you fall asleep unconscious on the couch and you're snoring. But in a blackout, you remain interacting with the world. You know, basically you drink so much that your long-term memory shuts down. So you're still walking and talking and interacting with people, but the recorder in your brain isn't going. And it can last for a few minutes. It can go in and out - that's something called a fragmentary blackout. And there's something called an en bloc blackout. It's a French word - B-L-O-C. And it's these large swaths of time that are just gone, and you don't have any memory of them. And these happened to me quite frequently, especially as I got older.
And what happens is that you can present during that time as having it together. Like, I performed in front of, like, 300 people once in a blackout, and I don't think they knew that I was in a blackout, and I didn't know I was in a blackout. But later, I had no memory of that event. You know, the experience that you described in the Paris hotel room, you know, where, like, all these things happen and I have no memory of them. I meet this guy. I guess I go back to his room. I - but all I know is I come out of this blackout. It's like your brain kind of gets punted back online. And I'm in the middle of the most intimate act there is, which is sex, with this person. I don't know where he came from. It's the strangest thing that ever happened to me in my drinking life. You know, but your question was about, did I see the irony? I don't think I did. I think I learned that the hard way, which was with a mouthful of gravel, you know? Like, how many times did I fall down the stairs? And I thought that was funny...

GROSS: You raise a really interesting question in your book about what is the meaning of consent in a sexual relationship when the woman is in a blackout. And you write, (reading) in my life, alcohol often made the issue of consent very murky. And you almost describe a blackout as giving yourself a roofie...

HEPOLA: I think this is a really important point. And this is something that - really when I started to think about this was when the conversation around campus sexual assault exploded about three or four years ago. And we'd been going through a national conversation, and a lot of the things we've talked about is alcohol and consent. It was really striking to me, by the way, that I drank for 25 years and I don't remember anybody ever saying to me during those 25 years, were you too drunk to give consent? Like, I don't - I just - I don't remember that question ever being asked of me. It was like, yeah, hell yeah. You rocked it - or whatever. Like, there were always - these stories were always kind of spun as triumphs. Then when this conversation about campus sexual assault came up and I was reading these stories about alcohol and consent, I started to think about how blackout plays out in that. It's a really gray area of consent. And I think it's something that all of us would do better to understand a little bit better, you know? And you've already put your finger on one of the most important things, which is the person that you're with doesn't necessarily know that you're in a blackout. Now having said that, there are a few red flags. One of them is that people in a blackout tend to repeat what they've already told you. You know, my friend calls this, getting caught in drunkard's loop. You know, where you are talking to somebody and you're like, do you not know you just said that 10 minutes ago? And it's really jarring. And it's because their long-term memory isn't working, so they don't remember that they said it. And the other thing that - I had a boyfriend that used to tell me, when you're in a blackout, your eyes go dead like a zombie. And he said I always had this creepy, unplugged look.

FINAL CLASS: Wed. June 22

The Nalanda Institute for Contemplative Science and The Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College Presents: A Global Dialogue in Courage with Drs. Joe Loizzo and Roger Berkowitz.

What do political philosopher Hannah Arendt, spiritual leader H.H. the Dalai Lama, existential theologian Paul Tillich, and non-violent activist Mahatma Gandhi have in common? For all four, moral courage is at the center of their ethical and political visions, and is vital for the future of humanity and of our planet. Embodying the traditions of Western philosophy, Buddhism, Christianity, and Indian non-violence, these world leaders stand together as torch-bearers of human wisdom and courage. In this four session dialogue, we bring these brilliant minds together to ask how courageous action can rekindle the innate clarity we need to make our lives more meaningfuland impactful.

Four Wednesdays: 7-9 PM
June 1, 8, 15, 22, 2016

For more information,click here.

Each class is $25, or attend the entire course for $100.


Registration is now open for our ninth annual fall conference, "Real Talk: Difficult Questions about Race, Sex and Religion," occurring on OCTOBER 20-21, 2016Sign up now!

About Amor Mundi


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.


Until next time,
The Hannah Arendt Center
Become a member of the Hannah Arendt Center here.

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