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The Computational
Condition
Towards a production-grade political philosophy of doerism
OR
Cultural learnings of Hannah Arendt to make benefit glorious
civilization of Silicon Valley
Venkatesh Rao
ribbonfarm.com
Derpy “Doerism” is Silicon Valley’s sorry excuse for a political
philosophy.
It amounts to “haterz gonna hate” and “ship it or shut it”
Hannah Arendt’s philosophy of action can help upgrade it to a
real contender.
(but it requires some major hacking and foundational changes)
Contents
1. Who was Hannah Arendt?
2. Arendt’s mental models
3. The history of the world according to Arendt
4. Nature of laboring, making and acting
5. Critical issues with the philosophy
6. Augmentations and upgrades: Arendt++
Let’s start with the worst…
“On top, the judges, the best of German Jewry. Below them, the prosecuting
attorneys, Galicians, but still Europeans. Everything is organized by a police
force that gives me the creeps, speaks only Hebrew, and looks Arabic. Some
downright brutal types among them. They would obey any order. And outside
the doors, the oriental mob, as if one were in Istanbul or some other half-
Asiatic country.”
— Hannah Arendt, in a letter to Karl Jaspers, 1961
(quoted in http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/01/12/beware-of-pity)
No way to put lipstick on this pig. Just note it, and move on… it
should inform how you read Arendt, and what you attribute to her
personal demons versus what you attribute to conceptual flaws in
her theories.
Hannah Arendt is best known for…
1. Attending the trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961…
2. …and analyzing it with the idea of “banality of evil”…
3. …and seemingly being an apologist for individual evil….
4. And making herself hated by humanists in general
5. …and Jewish humanists in particular
6. …when she just meant to highlight institutional evil
The Human Condition (1958)
Alternate snarky title: The Human
Condition by Someone Who Hates
Actual Messy Humans
OR: A Paean to Pluralism by One of Its
Enemies
More accurate title: The Human
Condition by Someone who Wanted
them to Stop Acting Like Robots
Get this edition, with a
great introduction by
Margaret Canovan.
Reasons to like her
• Philosophy informed by dark and
messy realities (fled Nazis, spent
time in internment)
• Obsessively concerned with
political agency
• Broad and deep idea of pluralism
• Contemptuous of politics of
victimhood
• Suspicious of bureaucratic
machines
• Most sophisticated treatment of
the nature of work around,
getting to the heart of “robots
replacing humans”
Reasons to dislike her
• Weak to non-existent empiricism
— cherry picking from narrow
slice of one strand of history
• Eurocentric in a way that creates
serious, but not fatal, fragilities
• Narrow, shallow ideal of ‘human’
• Steps right up the line of blaming
the victim
• Reductive understanding of
institutions as scaled households
• Probably racist/casteist by any
reasonable definition, but so were
Shockley, Watson, etc. Fixable
bugs.
So why turn to such a problematic philosopher to
construct a political theory for Silicon Valley?
NOT USABLE OUT OF THE BOX
SIGNIFICANT BUG FIXES NEEDED
A Unicorn Philosopher
• She gets a lot wrong
• She wasn’t the most pleasant person
• (in fact a bit of an asshole it appears)
• But she gets one thing really, really right… 💯✅
Vita Contemplativa
Making: enduring production
Action: immortally generative process
Vita Activa
Human Condition
Laboring: timeless “metabolism”
Concerned with the
eternal (outside of
time, not the same
as the immortal)
…How to do doerism right
Contents
1. Who was Hannah Arendt?
2. Arendt’s mental models
3. The history of the world according to Arendt
4. Nature of laboring, making and acting
5. Critical issues with the philosophy
6. Augmentations and upgrades: Arendt++
Ends
Begins
No
Beginning
No Ending
Laboring
Making
Action
Extinction
“To have a definite beginning and a definite, predictable end is the mark of
fabrication, which through this characteristic alone distinguishes itself from
all other human activities. Labor, caught in the cyclical movement of the
body’s life process, has neither a beginning nor an end. Action, though it may
have a definite beginning, never, as we shall see, has a predictable end.”
Real Humans
Acting Man
Homo
Faber
Maker/Producer
Arendt vs. Silicon Valley
Animal Laborans
Laboring Man
Can be replaced by very small shell script
in almost all capacities except the ability to
feel pain which is important in Arendt
theory. In SV theory, automate, supply UBI,
provide health insurance, done.
Makers defined by their products and
means-ends utilitarian disposition.
Bayesian consequentialist rationalists.
Can be demiurge gods (cf: Stewart
Brand’s “we are as gods, and might as
well get good at it”), but never properly
human.
People who act* and speak in public*
and kinda seek immortality. Cargo cult
SV version: TED talks and power poses.
*special terms we’ll get to in a minute
Philosophers
People outside time, concerned with eternity
Real
Humans
Acting Man
Homo
Faber
Maker/Producer
A mapping to caste with subtle problems*… use with caution
Animal Laborans
Laboring Man
Sudras, laboring as
bhakti yoga
Vaishyas, making as
karma yoga
Kshatriyas, action
as raja yoga
Philosophers
Brahmins, contemplation
as gnana yoga
* The main diff is that the analogue of
action (“sadhna”) in Indian philosophy is
constructed relative to the self, not the
world. See 2x2s near end for explanation.
Public
Acting Man
Market and
Community Spaces
Makers, traders, “social”
humans
Four Zones of Vita Activa
Private
Laboring Man
Prototype is the Greek household
Prototype is the Greek agora. Alternative
Marxist and/or Christian prototype would be
Commons
Prototype is the Greek polis
Late add: the intimate zone, just
emerging when she died.
Prototype is the modern married
couple. Now opening up with
polyamory and other group
Intimate
Modern Man
Public Social Private Intimate
Actor Appears Shapes Rules
Makes
Meaning
Maker Shapes Trades Creates
Seeks
happiness,
finds Void
Laborer Invisible
Acts
Collectively
Toils Pain and Bliss
Philosopher Exits Exits
Ascetic
Inaction
Contemplates
Special-Usage Terms: PUBLIC
To Arendt, PUBLIC means
(1) “Plurality of free humans”
(2) The space within which it exists
“The polis, properly speaking, is not the city-state in its physical location; it is
the organization of the people as it arises out of acting and speaking together,
and its true space lies between people living together for this purpose, no matter
where they happen to be. “Wherever you go, you will be a polis”
“To conceive of politics as making is to ignore human plurality in theory and to
coerce individuals in practice” — from the introduction by Margaret Canovan
Special-Usage Terms: SPEECH and APPEARANCE
To Arendt, SPEECH* means
(1) “A specifically human way of answering, talking back, and measuring up to
whatever happened or was done”
(2) Something similar to Deirdre McCloskey’s notion of “talk” — like a factor
of production (but not reducible to a mere means of production)
To Arendt, APPEARANCE means
(1) Appearing in public to be recognized as human by other humans by having
a role in the story playing out
*In her model, speech later got degraded to mere persuasion, rather than being
an essential element of ACTION…
Special-Usage Terms: ACTION
To Arendt, ACTION means
(1) APPEARING and SPEAKING as fully yourself in PUBLIC
(2) Causing irreversible events (roughly ~ “dent in the universe”)
(3) Operating in forgiveness over permission mode
“Exasperation with the threefold frustration of action—the unpredictability
of its outcome, the irreversibility of the process, and the anonymity of its
authors—is almost as old as recorded history.”
Special-Usage Terms: WORLD
To Arendt WORLD means
(1) Sphere of PUBLIC ACTION
(2) Things that exist to help the WORLDLY endure
(3) In history, synonymous with Western Europe, starting with Greece
“Worldly” refers to things that enable the public to exist. Those whose lives
lack a worldly, public aspect are, in some sense, not-quite-human. This
includes not just slaves, but people defined by the things they make, people
defined in pure economic terms, etc.
“At the heart of her analysis of the human condition is the vital importance
for civilized existence of a durable human world, built upon the earth to
shield us against natural processes and provide a stable setting for our
mortal lives.” — from the introduction by Margaret Canovan
Special-Usage Terms: FREEDOM and SOVEREIGNTY
To Arendt the two terms have distinct meanings
(1) To have FREEDOM is to have political agency to act in public. It
requires the presence of other free individuals whose reactions cannot
be predicted or controlled.
(2) To have SOVEREIGNTY is to merely enjoy unquestioned authority
(technically, AUTHORITAH in the sense of Eric Cartman) in some
domain, usually something resembling a household a less-than-human
condition. In Arendt terms, Fuck-You Money is sovereignty, NOT
freedom.
Special-Usage Terms: PROPERTY and ALIENATION
To Arendt the two terms have distinct meanings
(1) PROPERTY for Arendt is by definition private. It is that part of the
earth separated from the WORLD by means of law, to enable humans
to take care of their private needs efficiently in order to be free to act in
public.
(2) ALIENATION is any condition of being excluded from the world and
possibility of action, either through coercion or voluntary retreat (due
to some sort of dehumanizing philosophy that legitimizes subhuman
conditions). Note contrast with Marx: Alienation from WORLD, not
alienation from SELF. In Arendt’s model, retreat to self is in fact
alienation from the world.
Some extra Greek/Latin terms to keep straight besides animal
laborans and homo faber
1. Praxis: roughly the same as action
2. Poiesis: roughly the same as making
3. Zoon politikon: political being in Aristotle’s sense of soon
logon ekhon (“a living being capable of speech”)
4. Animal socialis: “social man”, in Arendt’s opinion, a degraded
translation of the original Greek zoon politikon concept as a
social being, which she views as a weaker version of political
being
5. Animal rationale: A similar degradation of the thinking
involved in acting to the means-ends reasoning involved in
mere making. Animal rationale is a late-modern cognitive
aspect of homo faber
Big question
Does Silicon Valley:
(a) Act
(b) Make
(c) Do something in-between
(d) Do something entirely new, with no precedent?
•Exhibit A: Perpetual beta — if there is no “end” is it means-ends reasoning?
•Exhibit B: Silicon Valley technologies are worldly and social (think Facebook
fake news and Twitter as polis) in algorithmically active form
•Exhibit C: This quote: “Because the remedies against the enormous strength
and resiliency inherent in action processes can function only under the
condition of plurality, it is very dangerous to use this faculty in any but the
realm of human affairs”
Note your instinctive answer, and keep this question in mind as we work
through the material. But don’t jump to any conclusions just yet.
Contents
1. Who was Hannah Arendt?
2. Arendt’s mental models
3. The history of the world according to Arendt
4. Nature of laboring, making and acting
5. Critical issues with the philosophy
6. Augmentations and upgrades: Arendt++
Chapter 1: Greece Was Good
• In the beginning, i.e. Greece, there were 2 realms: Public and Private,
with the function of law being to craft a boundary between them.
• Public: where Men were Real Men, and Free to Act, enabled by
Property to sustain their freedom
• Private: the household where men ruled over women and slaves, and
all were equally constrained in their roles by biological necessity
• Craftsmen were kinda Almost Real Men. They had the Agora, an Almost
-But-Not-Quite Public Space
• Greek philosophers didn’t like politics so they conspired to degrade it to
the level of craft, leaving themselves stewards of the “highest” life of
pure thought, or contemplation: Vita Contemplativa
• The conspiracy worked, and with the Roman empire, the Public became
more agora-like
• Acting became degraded to “making” policy/legislation the way
craftsmen make chairs. An impoverished business of means-ends
cognition rather than intertwined thought and action.
Chapter 2: Christian Private Eats Greek Public
• With Christianity, the public sphere increasingly became like the
private and began to be administered like a giant household.
• This sucked, but at least the king was still an impoverished Public of
One. But because acting requires a plurality of full humans to act into,
the King only enjoyed sovereignty, not freedom proper.
• Making too, in post-Roman but pre-industrial corporations, became
like the private: organized along the lines of a household, lacking even
the limited public character of the agora.
• On the plus side, Jesus introduced a genuinely new idea with
relevance to the public: that of the calculus of promises and
forgiveness*
* Though she does not recognize it, this, rather than at Greece, is where
she parts ways with Asian philosophies of action, which do not really
possess a calculus of promises and forgiveness like Christianity does.
The Climactic Century (1492 - 1609)
• Three events then shaped the story from here on out
• The discovery of America 1492
• Turned the endless frontier into a finite sphere
• Allowed expansion of the private to shrink the public
• The Reformation starting in 1517
• Degraded the political into the social
• Expropriated the public into the private
• Created the modern corporate sense of private
• Galileo using a telescope in 1609
• Killed the idea that sensed-reality was privileged view of truth
• Elevated homo faber status over OG Greek public actors
• Created an “Archimedean” point of leverage outside earth which
became the new “best perspective”
• Triggered retreat into Cartesian rationality
Chapter 3: Maker-Man Eats Private Man
• Rule of Law replaced rule by law (Fukuyama terminology)
• Even the King went from free actor to merely sovereign maker
• Making became a substitute for acting
• Property became a space for making and putting appropriated public
• Trade became a weaksauce substitute for acting
• Thought got degraded to mere instrumental cognition
Chapter 4: Laboring Man Eats Maker Man, Social Eats Public+Private
• Making got degraded to laboring for consumption,
• Its philosophical standards of durability and beauty gave way to standards
of utility and recyclability
• Everything became kinda like labor, one giant superorganism with the joint
metabolism of humans, the natural world, and the ostensibly durable
produced world.
• Philosophy proper died. Vita contemplativa was simpatico with making, but
not with labor.
• Animal laborans was left as the Last Man standing, a creature completely
defined by symbiotic metabolism with the life process of the planet. A piece
of Gaia rather than a free human.
Chapter 5: Software Man is Eating Laboring Man
• This theory is from 1958, ie before people began to grapple with s/w
• Understanding Media was written in 1964 for example
• Software began properly eating the world ~1974*
• Arendt died in 1975 — just as the reality began to crash her models
• Reality in 1975 - 2016 has been resetting and slowly recreating the
possibility of public action, but not quite her idea of it
• The precise nature of this process is as yet unclear. We’re in the middle of it.
You’re either on the sidelines, or you’re helping it emerge.
• My hypothesis: The Public is re-emerging, but none of us is actually
prepared to deal with it in its new form.
• This is happening via merger of making and acting defeating laboring
* Cited in Breaking Smart, Jeremy Greenwood and Mehmet Yorukoglu,
1974, Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, 1997.
The Arendtian arc of history bends towards the death of Public AND
Private, and their subsumption by the social.
• Real Man —> Maker Man —> Laboring Man
• (Public > Private) —> (Private > Public) —> Social > (Private | Public) —>
(Social kills both Private and Public).
• The two spaces where humans can be individuals — public and private are
subsumed by the social, where neither Man (individual) or Men
(individuals acting in plural conditions) exist, but only the Social, within
which individual identity cannot exist.
• Until 1974 that is. Arendtian theories of making and production don’t do
well with software realities.
Contents
1. Who was Hannah Arendt?
2. Arendt’s mental models
3. The history of the world according to Arendt
4. Nature of laboring, making and acting*
5. Critical issues with the philosophy
6. Augmentations and upgrades: Arendt++
* This is the heavy lift curated-and-sequenced-quotes part.
Keep all the special terms straight. If it’s any consolation, the
book is a 100x bigger slog than this deck.
“This unitedness of many into one is basically
antipolitical; it is the very opposite of the togetherness
prevailing in political or commercial communities”
Laboring
On the nature of laboring
“[T]he labor of our body which is necessitated by its needs is
slavish.”
“The opinion that labor and work were despised in antiquity because
only slaves were engaged in them is a prejudice of modern historians.
The ancients reasoned the other way around and felt it necessary to
possess slaves because of the slavish nature of all occupations that
served the needs for the maintenance of life.”
“[T]he “natural” experience underlying the Stoic as well as the
Epicurean independence of the world is not labor or slavery but
pain.”
“The animal laborans does not flee the world but is ejected from it in
so far as he is imprisoned in the privacy of his own body, caught in
the fulfilment of needs in which nobody can share and which nobody
can fully communicate.”
On the poverty of leisure (UBI-ers Beware)
“the price for absolute freedom from necessity is, in a sense, life itself, or
rather the substitution of vicarious life for real life.”
“The human condition is such that pain and effort are not just symptoms
which can be removed without changing life itself; they are rather the
modes in which life itself, together with the necessity to which it is bound,
makes itself felt. For mortals, the “easy life of the gods” would be a lifeless
life.”
“That the life of the rich loses in vitality, in closeness to the “good things” of
nature, what it gains in refinement, in sensitivity to the beautiful things in
the world, has often been noted.”
On what slaves can do that robots cannot: suffer for us
“For slaves are not instruments of making things or of production, but of
living, which constantly consumes their services.”
“…human, speaking instruments (the instrumentum vocale, as the slaves in
ancient households were called)”
On how laboring ate making through industrialization
“we live in a society of laborers. This society did not come about through the
emancipation of the laboring classes but by the emancipation of the laboring activity
itself,”
“The industrial revolution has replaced all workmanship with labor, and the result has
been that the things of the modern world have become labor products whose natural
fate is to be consumed, instead of work products which are there to be used.”
“the rate of use is so tremendously accelerated that the objective difference between
use and consumption, between the relative durability of use objects and the swift
coming and going of consumer goods, dwindles to insignificance.”
“The ideals of homo faber, the fabricator of the world, which are permanence,
stability, and durability, have been sacrificed to abundance, the ideal of the animal
laborans.”
“As a result, all serious activities, irrespective of their fruits, are called labor, and every
activity which is not necessary either for the life of the individual or for the life
process of society is subsumed under playfulness.”
On laboring as a life process versus durability of world
“[A]ll human productivity would be sucked into an enormously intensified life
process and would follow automatically, without pain or effort, its ever-recurrent
natural cycle. The rhythm of machines would magnify and intensify the natural
rhythm of life enormously, but it would not change, only make more deadly, life’s
chief character with respect to the world, which is to wear down durability”
…
“A hundred years after Marx we know the fallacy of this reasoning; the spare
time of the animal laborans is never spent in anything but consumption, and the
more time left to him, the greedier and more craving his appetites.”
Laboring as “Under the API” work
“[W]e can say that the free disposition and use of tools for a specific end
product is replaced by rhythmic unification of the laboring body with its
implement,…and the clear distinction between man and his implements, as
well as his ends, becomes blurred.”
“…it is no longer the body’s movement that determines the implement’s
movement but the machine’s movement which enforces the movements of the
body.”
“Precisely because the animal laborans does not use tools and instruments in
order to build a world but in order to ease the labors of its own life process, it
has lived literally in a world of machines ever since the industrial revolution”
“The decisive difference between tools and machines is perhaps best illustrated
by the apparently endless discussion of whether man should be “adjusted” to
the machine or the machines should be adjusted to the “nature” of man.”
“Tools and instruments are so intensely worldly objects that
we can classify whole civilizations using them as criteria.”
Making
On making as creating durability
“Moreover, while usage is bound to use up these objects, this end is not their
destiny in the same way as destruction is the inherent end of all things for
consumption. What usage wears out is durability.”
“From this viewpoint, the things of the world have the function of stabilizing
human life, and their objectivity lies in the fact that—in contradiction to the
Heraclitean saying that the same man can never enter the same stream—
men, their ever-changing nature notwithstanding, can retrieve their
sameness, that is, their identity, by being related to the same chair and the
same table.”
“If one construes, for instance, the nature of use objects in terms of wearing
apparel, he will be tempted to conclude that use is nothing but consumption
at a slower pace…[but]…destruction, though unavoidable, is incidental to
use but inherent in consumption.”
On the general disposition of the Maker mind
“[W]e find the typical attitudes of homo faber: his instrumentalization of the
world, his confidence in tools and in the productivity of the maker of
artificial objects; his trust in the all-comprehensive range of the means-end
category, his conviction that every issue can be solved and every human
motivation reduced to the principle of utility; his sovereignty, which regards
everything given as material and thinks of the whole of nature as of “an
immense fabric from which we can cut out whatever we want to resew it
however we like”; his equation of intelligence with ingenuity, that is, his
contempt for all thought which cannot be considered to be “the first step . . .
for the fabrication of artificial objects, particularly of tools to make tools, and
to vary their fabrication indefinitely”; finally, his matter-of-course
identification of fabrication with action.”
On making as violent interruption of natural cycles
“Material is already a product of human hands which have removed it from
its natural location, either killing a life process, as in the case of the tree
which must be destroyed in order to provide wood, or interrupting one of
nature’s slower processes, as in the case of iron, stone, or marble torn out of
the womb of the earth.”
“The experience of this violence is the most elemental experience of human
strength and, therefore, the very opposite of the painful, exhausting effort
experienced in sheer labor.”
“where God creates ex nihilo, man creates out of given substance, human
productivity was by definition bound to result in a Promethean revolt”
“quite different from the bliss which can attend a life spent in labor and toil
or from the fleeting, though intense pleasure of laboring itself which comes
about if the effort is co-ordinated and rhythmically ordered,”
On laboring defeating making
“homo faber, the toolmaker, invented tools and implements in order to erect a
world, not—at least, not primarily—to help the human life process. The
question therefore is not so much whether we are the masters or the slaves of
our machines, but whether machines still serve the world and its things, or if,
on the contrary, they and the automatic motion of their processes have begun
to rule and even destroy world and things.”
On the limits of utilitarian, means-ends reasoning
“…which Lessing once put to the utilitarian philosophers of his time: “And what
is the use of use?”
“Thus the ideal of usefulness permeating a society of craftsmen—like the ideal of
comfort in a society of laborers or the ideal of acquisition ruling commercial
societies”
“The ideal of usefulness itself, like the ideals of other societies, can no longer be
conceived as something needed in order to have something else; it simply defies
questioning about its own use.”
On why making is not the same as acting
“[U]tility established as meaning generates meaninglessness…Homo faber, in so
far as he is nothing but a fabricator and thinks in no terms but those of means and
ends which arise directly out of his work activity, is just as incapable of
understanding meaning as the animal laborans is incapable of understanding
instrumentality.”
“Only in a strictly anthropocentric world, where the user, that is, man himself,
becomes the ultimate end which puts a stop to the unending chain of ends and
means, can utility as such acquire the dignity of meaningfulness”
“Plato saw immediately that if one makes man the measure of all things for use, it is
man the user and instrumentalizer, and not man the speaker and doer or man the
thinker, to whom the world is being related.”
“while only fabrication with its instrumentality is capable of building a world,
this same world becomes as worthless as the employed material, a mere means
for further ends, if the standards which governed its coming into being are
permitted to rule it after its establishment.”
On trade and commerce as making++ and almost action
“it is only in Kant that the philosophy of the earlier stages of the modern age frees
itself entirely of the common sense platitudes which we always find where homo
faber rules the standards of society.”
“Smith, distinguishes man from animal. The point is that homo faber, the builder of
the world and the producer of things, can find his proper relationship to other
people only by exchanging his products with theirs, because these products
themselves are always produced in isolation.”
“When homo faber comes out of his isolation, he appears as a merchant and
trader and establishes the exchange market in this capacity.”
“In so far as homo faber fabricates use objects, he not only produces them in the
privacy of isolation but also for the privacy of usage,”
“To act in the form of making, to reason in the form of “reckoning with
consequences,” means to leave out the unexpected,…where the “wholly improbable
happens regularly,” it is highly unrealistic not to reckon with it”
On value and worth (price and pricelessness)
“Value is the quality a thing can never possess in privacy but acquires
automatically the moment it appears in public.”
“the worth of a table by depriving it of one of its legs—whereas “the
marketable value” of a commodity is altered by “the alteration of some
proportion which that commodity bears to something else.”
“The confusion in classical economics, 37 and the worse confusion arising
from the use of the term “value” in philosophy, were originally caused by
the fact that the older word “worth,” which we still find in Locke, was
supplanted by the seemingly more scientific term, “use value.”
“Marx did not summon up the “intrinsick” objective worth of the thing in
itself. In its stead he put the function things have in the consuming life
process of men which knows neither objective and intrinsic worth nor
subjective and socially determined value.”
On art as the outer limit of making as worldly action
“…a number of objects which are strictly without any utility whatsoever and
which, moreover, because they are unique, are not exchangeable and therefore
defy equalization through a common denominator such as money”
“their durability is almost untouched by the corroding effect of natural
processes, since they are not subject to the use of living creatures, a use which,
indeed, far from actualizing their own inherent purpose—as the purpose of a
chair is actualized when it is sat upon—can only destroy them. Thus, their
durability is of a higher order than that which all things need in order to exist
at all; it can attain permanence throughout the ages.”
“Because of their outstanding permanence, works of art are the most intensely
worldly of all tangible things”
On cognition as maker-thinking
“Thought and cognition are not the same. Thought, the source of art
works, is manifest without transformation or transfiguration in all great
philosophy, whereas the chief manifestation of the cognitive processes,
by which we acquire and store up knowledge, is the sciences.
Cognition always pursues a definite aim, which can be set by practical
considerations as well as by “idle curiosity”; but once this aim is
reached, the cognitive process has come to an end. Thought, on the
contrary, has neither an end nor an aim outside itself, and it does not
even produce results”
“Thought, therefore, although it inspires the highest worldly
productivity of homo faber, is by no means his prerogative”
On the market (agora) as an an almost-public (polis)
“more than sheer economic activity is involved in exchange and that “economic
man,” when he makes his appearance on the market, is an acting being and neither
exclusively a producer nor a trader and barterer.”
“exchange itself already belongs in the field of action and is by no means a mere
prolongation of production”
“Marx’s contention that economic laws are like natural laws, is correct only in a
laboring society, where all activities are leveled down to the human body’s
metabolism with nature…where no exchange exists but only consumption.”
“what they show there is never themselves, not even their skills and qualities as in
the “conspicuous production” of the Middle Ages, but their products.”
“the power that holds this market together and in existence is not the
potentiality which springs up between people when they come together in
action and speech, but a combined “power of exchange” (Adam Smith) which
each of the participants acquired in isolation.”
On “genius” as a frustrating maker archetype of actor
“the phenomenon of the creative genius seemed like the highest legitimation for
the conviction of homo faber that a man’s products may be more and essentially
greater than himself.”
“to be one’s own slave and prisoner is no less bitter and perhaps even more
shameful than to be the servant of somebody else.” [This is Boyd’s “be somebody
or do something?” trap. Doing in Boyd sense is Acting in Arendt sense]
“It is the hallmark of the “intellectual” that he remains quite undisturbed by “the
terrible humiliation” under which the true artist or writer labors, which is “to feel
that he becomes the son of his work,”…in which he is condemned to see himself
“as in a mirror, limited, such and such.”
“Workmanship, therefore, may be an unpolitical way of life, but it certainly is not
an antipolitical one.”
“Let physicians and confectioners and the servants of the great houses be judged
by what they have done, and even by what they have meant to do; the great
people themselves are judged by what they are.”
Action
“…to start new unprecedented processes whose outcome remains uncertain
and unpredictable whether they are let loose in the human or the natural
realm.”
On action as generative process beginnings
“the human capacity for action, for beginning new and spontaneous
processes which without men never would come into existence, into an
attitude toward nature which up to the latest stage of the modern age had
been one of exploring natural laws and fabricating objects out of natural
material.”
“Whereas men have always been capable of destroying whatever was the
product of human hands and have become capable today even of the
potential destruction of what man did not make— men never have been and
never will be able to undo or even to control reliably any of the processes
they start through action.”
“While the strength of the production process is entirely absorbed in and
exhausted by the end product, the strength of the action process is never
exhausted in a single deed but, on the contrary, can grow while its
consequences multiply;”
On the defining, frustrating aspects of action
Exasperation with the threefold frustration of action—the
unpredictability of its outcome, the irreversibility of the process,
and the anonymity of its authors*—is almost as old as recorded
history.
* Stories being enacted by authors, but without there being an author
— only post-facto historians who can tell the story after all the actors
are dead. “nobody is the author or producer of his own life story.”
On action, freedom, and sovereignty
“…the burden of irreversibility and unpredictability, from which the action process
draws its very strength.”
“to accuse freedom of luring man into necessity, to condemn action,”
“The only salvation from this kind of freedom seems to lie in non-acting, in
abstention from the whole realm of human affairs as the only means to safeguard
one’s sovereignty and integrity as a person. (which materialized into a consistent
system of human behavior only in Stoicism), their basic error seems to lie in that
identification of sovereignty with freedom”
“tradition, identifying freedom with sovereignty [fails to grapple with] the
simultaneous presence of freedom and non-sovereignty”
On action, forgiving and promising
“the predicament of irreversibility—of being unable to undo what one has done
though one did not, and could not, have known what he was doing—is the faculty
of forgiving. The remedy for unpredictability, for the chaotic uncertainty of the
future, is contained in the faculty to make and keep promises. The two faculties
belong together in so far as one of them, forgiving, serves to undo the deeds of the
past”
“Without being bound to the fulfilment of promises, we would never be able to
keep our identities”
“Both faculties, therefore, depend on plurality, on the presence and acting of
others, for no one can forgive himself and no one can feel bound by a promise
made only to himself; it is very dangerous to use this faculty in any but the realm of
human affairs.”
“forgiving and acting are as closely connected as destroying and making”
On action as appearance and performance
“All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about
them.” (Isak Dinesen, quoted by Arendt)
“For in every action what is primarily intended by the doer, whether he acts from
natural necessity or out of free will, is the disclosure of his own image.”
“Human plurality, the basic condition of both action and speech, has the twofold
character of equality and distinction. If men were not equal, they could neither
understand each other…[if] men were not distinct, each human being
distinguished from any other who is, was, or will ever be, they would need neither
speech nor action to make themselves understood.”
“The calamities of action all arise from the human condition of plurality, which is
the condition sine qua non for that space of appearance which is the public realm.”
“the light that illuminates processes of action, and therefore all historical
processes, appears only at their end, frequently when all the participants are
dead”
On pluralism
“human plurality is the paradoxical plurality of unique beings.”
“all organic life already shows variations and distinctions, even between
specimens of the same species. But only man can express this distinction and
distinguish himself…Speech and action reveal this unique distinctness.”
“A life without speech and without action, on the other hand…is literally dead
to the world; it has ceased to be a human life because it is no longer lived
among men.”
“The popular belief in a “strong man” who, isolated against others, owes his
strength to his being alone is either sheer superstition, based on the delusion
that we can “make” something in the realm of human affairs—“ make”
institutions or laws, for instance, as we make tables and chairs, or make men
“better” or “worse” 14—or it is conscious despair of all action, political and
non-political, coupled with the utopian hope that it may be possible to treat
men as one treats other “material.”
Action as unpredictability of humans
“It is in the nature of beginning that something new is started which cannot
be expected from whatever may have happened before. This character of
startling unexpectedness is inherent in all beginnings and in all origins.”
“The new always happens against the overwhelming odds of statistical laws
and their probability, the new therefore always appears in the guise of a
miracle.”
“The fact that man is capable of action means that the unexpected can be
expected from him, that he is able to perform what is infinitely improbable.”
“Yet while the various limitations and boundaries we find in every body
politic may offer some protection against the inherent boundlessness of
action, they are altogether helpless to offset its second outstanding character:
its inherent unpredictability.”
On Speech
“Without the accompaniment of speech, at any rate, action would not only lose
its revelatory character”
“No other human performance requires speech to the same extent as action.”
“but if nothing more were at stake here than to use action as a means to an
end, it is obvious that the same end could be much more easily attained in mute
violence”
“Because of its inherent tendency to disclose the agent together with the act,
action needs for its full appearance the shining brightness we once called
glory”
“The connotation of courage, which we now feel to be an indispensable quality
of the hero, is in fact already present in a willingness to act and speak at all, to
insert one’s self into the world and begin a story of one’s own.”
On the nature of the public
“The whole factual world of human affairs depends for its reality and its
continued existence, first, upon the presence of others who have seen and
heard and will remember.”
“For action and speech, which, as we saw before, belonged close together in
the Greek understanding of politics, are indeed the two activities whose end
result will always be a story with enough coherence to be told”
On action and relationships
“all affairs that go on between men directly, without the intermediary,
stabilizing, and solidifying influence of things.”
“Action and speech go on between men, as they are directed toward them,
and they retain their agent-revealing capacity even if their content is
exclusively “objective,”
Most action and speech is concerned with this in-between,”
“produces” stories with or without intention as naturally as fabrication
produces tangible things.”
“nobody is the author or producer of his own life story.”
On action as starting infinite improbability* event streams
“Men, though they must die, are not born in order to die but in order to begin.”
“To act in the form of making, to reason in the form of “reckoning with
consequences,” means to leave out the unexpected”
“it would be unreasonable or irrational to expect what is no more than an
“infinite improbability.”
“where the “wholly improbable happens regularly,” it is highly unrealistic not
to reckon with it”
* This idea is basically the same sentiment as “it is easier to create the future
than to predict it.” The key to action is not the fact of choosing a future, but
choosing one that would be improbable without human agency in the loop.
Entropy makes glasses break but cannot make them. Humans can.
On starting, leading and ruling
“To the two Greek verbs archein (“ to begin,” “to lead,” finally “to rule”) and
prattein (“ to pass through,” “to achieve,” “to finish”) correspond the two Latin
verbs agere (“ to set into motion,” “to lead”) and gerere (whose original
meaning is “to bear”). 16 Here it seems as though each action were divided into
two parts, the beginning made by a single person and the achievement in which
many join by “bearing” and “finishing” the enterprise, by seeing it through.”
“But they all have in common the banishment of the citizens from the public
realm and the insistence that they mind their private business while only “the
ruler should attend to public affairs.”
“The supreme criterion of fitness for ruling others is, in Plato and in the
aristocratic tradition of the West, the capacity to rule one’s self.
the equivocal significance of the word archein, which means both beginning
and ruling”
“[O]nly the beginning (archē) is entitled to rule (archein).”
On action and greatness
“action can be judged only by the criterion of greatness”
“as long as the polis is there to inspire men to dare the extraordinary, all
things are safe; if it perishes, everything is lost.”
“Greatness, therefore, or the specific meaning of each deed, can lie only in
the performance itself and neither in its motivation nor its achievement.”
“Against it stands the conviction of homo faber that a man’s products may be
more—and not only more lasting—than he is himself, as well as the animal
laborans’ firm belief that life is the highest of all goods.”
“Both, therefore, are, strictly speaking, unpolitical, and will incline to
denounce action and speech as idleness, idle busybodyness and idle talk, and
generally will judge public activities in terms of their usefulness to
supposedly higher ends—to make the world more useful and more beautiful
in the case of homo faber, to make life easier and longer in the case of the
animal laborans.”
On action as naturally disruptive*
“The frailty of human institutions and laws and, generally, of all matters
pertaining to men’s living together, arises from the human condition of
natality and is quite independent of the frailty of human nature. The fences
inclosing private property and insuring the limitations of each household,
the territorial boundaries which protect and make possible the physical
identity of a people, and the laws which protect and make possible its
political existence, are of such great importance to the stability of human
affairs precisely because no such limiting and protecting principles rise
out of the activities going on in the realm of human affairs itself.”
*Yes, her description of action is pretty much the Silicon Valley
understanding of Clayton Christensen disruption, except at a societal level
rather than just market level.
On technological action into non-human nature
“But the action of the scientists, since it acts into nature from the standpoint of
the universe and not into the web of human relationships*, lacks the revelatory
character of action as well as the ability to produce stories and become
historical, which together form the very source from which meaningfulness
springs into and illuminates human existence.”
* Shades of David Graeber here, but an evil-twin understanding of it,
legitimizing disruption rather than harmonizing.
On laboring and bliss
“The “blessing or the joy” of labor is the human way to experience the
sheer bliss of being alive which we share with all living creatures”
“…bliss which can attend a life spent in labor and toil or from the fleeting,
though intense pleasure of laboring itself which comes about if the effort is
co-ordinated and rhythmically ordered”
“labor’s sense and value depend entirely upon the social conditions,”…as
long as the animal laborans remains in possession of it, there can be no true
public realm, but only private activities displayed in the open. The outcome
is what is euphemistically called mass culture, and its deep-rooted trouble
is a universal unhappiness”
On making and happiness
“His “happiness,” the sum total of pleasures minus pains, is as much an
inner sense which senses sensations and remains unrelated to worldly
objects as the Cartesian consciousness that is conscious of its own activity.”
“If modern egoism were the ruthless search for pleasure (called happiness)
it pretends to be, it would not lack what in all truly hedonistic systems is an
indispensable element of argumentation—a radical justification of suicide.”
“The right to the pursuit of this happiness is indeed as undeniable as the
right to life; it is even identical with it. But it has nothing in common with
good fortune”
“most people in their “pursuit of happiness” run after good fortune and
make themselves unhappy even when it befalls them, because they want to
keep and enjoy luck as though it were an inexhaustible abundance of “good
things.”
“utility established as meaning generates meaninglessness…Homo faber…
is just as incapable of understanding meaning as the animal laborans is
incapable of understanding instrumentality.”
On action and meaning
“[Action involves] the interrelated faculties of action and speech, which
produce meaningful stories as naturally as fabrication produces use objects.
“the division between knowing and doing, so alien to the realm of action,
whose validity and meaningfulness are destroyed the moment thought and
action part company, is an everyday experience in fabrication”
“But the action of the scientists, since it acts into nature from the standpoint
of the universe and not into the web of human relationships, lacks the
revelatory character of action as well as the ability to produce stories and
become historical, which together form the very source from which
meaningfulness springs into and illuminates human existence.”
“Men in the plural, that is, men in so far as they live and move and act in this
world, can experience meaningfulness only because they can talk with and
make sense to each other and to themselves.”
“Greatness, therefore, or the specific meaning of each deed, can lie only in the
performance itself and neither in its motivation nor its achievement.”
On verbs versus nouns
Condition of Vita Contemplativa
“even if there is no truth, man can be truthful, and even if there is no reliable
certainty, man can be reliable.”
Implied for Vita Activa
Laboring: Even if bliss is transient, humans can be blissful
Making: Even if the world cannot be durable humans can be worldly
Acting: Even if there is no ultimate meaning, human action can be meaningful
Contents
1. Who was Hannah Arendt?
2. Arendt’s mental models
3. The history of the world according to Arendt
4. Nature of laboring, making and acting
5. Critical issues with the philosophy
6. Augmentations and upgrades: Arendt++
Does it work? Upto a point, and only for analysis.
1. Trumpism as a textbook example of the self-destructive nihilism of homo
faber trying to make meaning out of means.
2. Cronyist elite failure as a textbook example of late-stage “everybody is
labor” household mindset of establishment.
3. SJWs exactly fit the idea of an antipolitical collective force: one cannot
appear or act in the social as one can in the public.
4. The commons as a weaker substitute for the public than even the market
5. Hipster-craftsman version of Maker movement as ineffective reaction
against the victory of Laboring Man rather than something new.
6. Lifestyle design and popularity of stoicism as retreat from action and
trade as a weak substitute.
7. Weak action potential of wealth due to ideals of “private” and “property”
that confuse sovereignty for freedom (“fuck you money”)
8. Limitations of money and agora when they attempt to serve the roles of
action (including speech) and polis
9. Failure to create a “global” cosmopolitan culture that is not a mere
extension of elite eurocentric tribalism
Action World
Real
Man™
Real
Men™
(plural)
Here be Notional
Ancient Greece (NAG),
whence we fell
What Arendt Thinks She’s Doing
Action World
Real
Man™
Real
Men™
(plural)
This is the only acceptable
human condition… but there’s no
there there; “the way the Greeks
never were”
What she actually ends up doing
Real
Humans
Acting Man
Homo Faber
Maker/Producer
The nirvana fallacy lies in a too-tight, too convergent/
hedgehoggy construction of ‘human’
Animal Laborans
Laboring Man
Philosophers
This is probably more like it
Varied other crap we haven’t yet learned to explore, let
alone model, either individually or collectively, with way
more room for variety than she comprehends in her
mental model of pluralism, which is why her notion of
action is so restrictive and impoverished
Politicking
Making
Laboring
Philosophizing
The basic problem with Arendt is that she treats highly restrictive
leaky reifications as leakproof absolutes, creating
a) impossible conditions for…
b) impossibly noble [aka “Dead Greek Male”] humans, within …
c) impossibly pure polities, engaging in…
d) impossibly tight notions of action…
e) to constitute “public action by humans” that…
f) only existed in a notional Ancient Greece
The solution is to loosen, de-stack, refactor all the definitions,
because they’re mostly distinctions of degree rather than kind.
(She also seems to have a lot of personal demons she’s projecting
onto her theory… but that’s another story)
Contents
1. Who was Hannah Arendt?
2. Arendt’s mental models
3. The history of the world according to Arendt
4. Nature of laboring, making and acting
5. Critical issues with the philosophy
6. Augmentations and upgrades: Arendt++
The Human Condition was written in 1958. Arendt died in
1975. We can do better…
• Medium-message coupling (McLuhan): Fabricating the world within
which action happens is actually an active means of shaping the action.
Not mute craftsmanship.
• Play theory: Apply Huizenga (Homo Ludens) and analyze her notion of
action in the world as a manufactured theater that is not quite as
consequential, and a good deal more ceremonial, than she imagines.
• Generative poiesis: Treat the generativity of poiesis (infinite game a la
Carse, Finite and Infinite Games) properly. Especially computational action
(Turing-complete mechanisms acting in NP-hard domains with machine
learning breaks her “making” models pretty dramatically)
• Action potential of labor: Recognize the (non-collective) action potential
of seemingly compromised “laboring” humans as a low, but not zero
probability of breakout, individual political activation
• Action potential of making: Recognize (non-trading) action potential of
seemingly compromised means-end “making” latent in generative
mechanisms and perpetual beta modes
• Network as Polis: Reimagine her simplistic notions of polis and agora
as (for instance striated-smooth actor networks) or Twitter
• Add the Commons: The Commons is not properly modeled in her
philosophy, due to the deep prejudice against the social
• Disruption: She almost gets at disruption (this is a natural fit), but
then gets trapped in function fixedness. Read disruption as political
action where meaning of world can get recoded by new actors.
• Creating Publics: Recognize that publics can be created by action,
they don’t need to exist a priori. See Corey Robin, “How Intellectuals
Create a Public”
• Leaks as feature, not bug: Her radically purist posture on separating
intimate, private, social and public realms seems to a) reflect some of
her own demons b) cripple the ability of the theory to handle such
basic things as politicians having affairs or cronyism and collusion c)
autocratically impose her particular mode of being human as an ideal.
Reconstruct as a leaky calculus of fuzzy enactment forms and modes
• Add Darwin: Her understanding, and incorporation of Darwinian
evolution is really bad. She doesn’t seem to appreciate its significance
at all, possibly because it is an existential threat to her notion of action
unless it is strengthened. Strengthen, build it in.
• Include aesthetics: she essentializes such things as compressive
elegance as the identifying features of worldly objects, “real” thought,
speech, and action. There is no reason they cannot be properties of
production, cognition and laboring in more modern understandings.
• Cyclic Action: She concludes (in the historicist Whig/Abrahamic
tradition) that all uninterrupted feedback loops belong with laboring
and “metabolism with nature” and therefore equally to be suffered
rather than viewed as a source of generative action potential. It is
possible to build a consistent metaphysics of action in her sense
within cyclic views that are nevertheless irreversible, unpredictable,
and un-authored: Second Law, Karma and Taoism. But the cost of
adopting them is dumping the strong public-private separation and
the idea of a distinctly artificial “world” within which to act.
• Compassion: In her strict separation of private and public, and
reliance on the Christian frames of forgiveness and promise-keeping
as the basis of worldly action covenants, compassion falls through the
cracks. Arendtian action philosophy somehow manages to be
empathetic and cruel, pluralist and sociopathic, all at the same time. A
stiff dose of Buddhism is probably required to fix it.
Arendtism in a broader context of action philosophies
Unworldly
Centered
on Self
Centered
on World
Worldly
Durabilitism
(Arendtism)
Asceticism
Marxism
Impermanance-ism
See notions of self-
actualization of the slave
through work
Defining element is actually not action per se,
but world-durability as a value and
aspiration. Some aspects of Japanese
philosophy seem similar.
Impermanance (opposite of Arendt’s
“durable world”). Mostly Buddhist, some
flavors of Saivism, unpopular in West
(Schopenauer, some Neitzsche). Do not
confuse with anti-realism (Maya)
Stoicism and Friends in West
Most schools of Asian philosophy
(sadhna construction of action)
Where should doerism live?
Sovereign
Durable
World
Impermanent
World
Free
Creative
Destruction
Sovereign
Leisure
Arendtian
Action
Inner
Striving
Requires public/private separation
(“content” vs “presentation” of life
itself…like XML)
This is where we are right now, but haven’t
yet accepted it. Durability of world as a
sufficient but not necessary condition of
action. Requires making to acquire more
action characteristics it currently has and
public/private /social to dissolve.
Traditional locus of monastic
traditions (experiential rather than
scholastic philosophy, so not vita
contemplativa in Greek sense)
What SV is in danger of defaulting to:
mistaking sovereignty for freedom,
and degenerate exit-ism for action.
Alt name: fuck-you-money-ism
One more for the
road why not
Life
Negation
World
Negation
World
Affirmation
Life
Affirmation
Open for Occupation!
Tailor-made position for SV doerism:
Deny “world” in Arendt sense, affirm
life. Avoid Marxist trap of world-as-
household and generative cyclic action
being reduced to “laboring.”
Arendtist Western
Avoids traps of Marxist dead-ends, but
creates an impoverished false
consciousness of Real World™, Real
Men™ and Real Action™ (“LARPing
Notional Ancient Greece” syndrome)
Classical Western
Inevitably ends up caught in
Marxist dead-ends familiar attractors
Classical Eastern
Avoids trap of durable-worldliness,
but at the cost of negating life itself,
and retreating into an acting dead
aspirational mode of action
Big question revisited
Does Silicon Valley:
(a) Act
(b) Make
(c) Do something in-between
(d) Do something entirely new, with no precedent?
The answer is (d) — creative destruction as worldless sine qua non of
action, which does not require a durable world to exist. Action in an
Arendtian “world” is good. Action in a worldless reality is better (as in,
not attached to the durability of the fabricated environment of human
existence as a pre-condition for political action).
Some updates to human mind OS may need to be installed.

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The Computational condition

  • 1. The Computational Condition Towards a production-grade political philosophy of doerism OR Cultural learnings of Hannah Arendt to make benefit glorious civilization of Silicon Valley Venkatesh Rao ribbonfarm.com
  • 2. Derpy “Doerism” is Silicon Valley’s sorry excuse for a political philosophy. It amounts to “haterz gonna hate” and “ship it or shut it” Hannah Arendt’s philosophy of action can help upgrade it to a real contender. (but it requires some major hacking and foundational changes)
  • 3. Contents 1. Who was Hannah Arendt? 2. Arendt’s mental models 3. The history of the world according to Arendt 4. Nature of laboring, making and acting 5. Critical issues with the philosophy 6. Augmentations and upgrades: Arendt++
  • 4. Let’s start with the worst… “On top, the judges, the best of German Jewry. Below them, the prosecuting attorneys, Galicians, but still Europeans. Everything is organized by a police force that gives me the creeps, speaks only Hebrew, and looks Arabic. Some downright brutal types among them. They would obey any order. And outside the doors, the oriental mob, as if one were in Istanbul or some other half- Asiatic country.” — Hannah Arendt, in a letter to Karl Jaspers, 1961 (quoted in http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/01/12/beware-of-pity) No way to put lipstick on this pig. Just note it, and move on… it should inform how you read Arendt, and what you attribute to her personal demons versus what you attribute to conceptual flaws in her theories.
  • 5. Hannah Arendt is best known for… 1. Attending the trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961… 2. …and analyzing it with the idea of “banality of evil”… 3. …and seemingly being an apologist for individual evil…. 4. And making herself hated by humanists in general 5. …and Jewish humanists in particular 6. …when she just meant to highlight institutional evil
  • 6. The Human Condition (1958) Alternate snarky title: The Human Condition by Someone Who Hates Actual Messy Humans OR: A Paean to Pluralism by One of Its Enemies More accurate title: The Human Condition by Someone who Wanted them to Stop Acting Like Robots Get this edition, with a great introduction by Margaret Canovan.
  • 7. Reasons to like her • Philosophy informed by dark and messy realities (fled Nazis, spent time in internment) • Obsessively concerned with political agency • Broad and deep idea of pluralism • Contemptuous of politics of victimhood • Suspicious of bureaucratic machines • Most sophisticated treatment of the nature of work around, getting to the heart of “robots replacing humans” Reasons to dislike her • Weak to non-existent empiricism — cherry picking from narrow slice of one strand of history • Eurocentric in a way that creates serious, but not fatal, fragilities • Narrow, shallow ideal of ‘human’ • Steps right up the line of blaming the victim • Reductive understanding of institutions as scaled households • Probably racist/casteist by any reasonable definition, but so were Shockley, Watson, etc. Fixable bugs.
  • 8. So why turn to such a problematic philosopher to construct a political theory for Silicon Valley? NOT USABLE OUT OF THE BOX SIGNIFICANT BUG FIXES NEEDED
  • 9. A Unicorn Philosopher • She gets a lot wrong • She wasn’t the most pleasant person • (in fact a bit of an asshole it appears) • But she gets one thing really, really right… 💯✅
  • 10. Vita Contemplativa Making: enduring production Action: immortally generative process Vita Activa Human Condition Laboring: timeless “metabolism” Concerned with the eternal (outside of time, not the same as the immortal) …How to do doerism right
  • 11. Contents 1. Who was Hannah Arendt? 2. Arendt’s mental models 3. The history of the world according to Arendt 4. Nature of laboring, making and acting 5. Critical issues with the philosophy 6. Augmentations and upgrades: Arendt++
  • 12. Ends Begins No Beginning No Ending Laboring Making Action Extinction “To have a definite beginning and a definite, predictable end is the mark of fabrication, which through this characteristic alone distinguishes itself from all other human activities. Labor, caught in the cyclical movement of the body’s life process, has neither a beginning nor an end. Action, though it may have a definite beginning, never, as we shall see, has a predictable end.”
  • 13. Real Humans Acting Man Homo Faber Maker/Producer Arendt vs. Silicon Valley Animal Laborans Laboring Man Can be replaced by very small shell script in almost all capacities except the ability to feel pain which is important in Arendt theory. In SV theory, automate, supply UBI, provide health insurance, done. Makers defined by their products and means-ends utilitarian disposition. Bayesian consequentialist rationalists. Can be demiurge gods (cf: Stewart Brand’s “we are as gods, and might as well get good at it”), but never properly human. People who act* and speak in public* and kinda seek immortality. Cargo cult SV version: TED talks and power poses. *special terms we’ll get to in a minute Philosophers People outside time, concerned with eternity
  • 14. Real Humans Acting Man Homo Faber Maker/Producer A mapping to caste with subtle problems*… use with caution Animal Laborans Laboring Man Sudras, laboring as bhakti yoga Vaishyas, making as karma yoga Kshatriyas, action as raja yoga Philosophers Brahmins, contemplation as gnana yoga * The main diff is that the analogue of action (“sadhna”) in Indian philosophy is constructed relative to the self, not the world. See 2x2s near end for explanation.
  • 15. Public Acting Man Market and Community Spaces Makers, traders, “social” humans Four Zones of Vita Activa Private Laboring Man Prototype is the Greek household Prototype is the Greek agora. Alternative Marxist and/or Christian prototype would be Commons Prototype is the Greek polis Late add: the intimate zone, just emerging when she died. Prototype is the modern married couple. Now opening up with polyamory and other group Intimate Modern Man
  • 16. Public Social Private Intimate Actor Appears Shapes Rules Makes Meaning Maker Shapes Trades Creates Seeks happiness, finds Void Laborer Invisible Acts Collectively Toils Pain and Bliss Philosopher Exits Exits Ascetic Inaction Contemplates
  • 17. Special-Usage Terms: PUBLIC To Arendt, PUBLIC means (1) “Plurality of free humans” (2) The space within which it exists “The polis, properly speaking, is not the city-state in its physical location; it is the organization of the people as it arises out of acting and speaking together, and its true space lies between people living together for this purpose, no matter where they happen to be. “Wherever you go, you will be a polis” “To conceive of politics as making is to ignore human plurality in theory and to coerce individuals in practice” — from the introduction by Margaret Canovan
  • 18. Special-Usage Terms: SPEECH and APPEARANCE To Arendt, SPEECH* means (1) “A specifically human way of answering, talking back, and measuring up to whatever happened or was done” (2) Something similar to Deirdre McCloskey’s notion of “talk” — like a factor of production (but not reducible to a mere means of production) To Arendt, APPEARANCE means (1) Appearing in public to be recognized as human by other humans by having a role in the story playing out *In her model, speech later got degraded to mere persuasion, rather than being an essential element of ACTION…
  • 19. Special-Usage Terms: ACTION To Arendt, ACTION means (1) APPEARING and SPEAKING as fully yourself in PUBLIC (2) Causing irreversible events (roughly ~ “dent in the universe”) (3) Operating in forgiveness over permission mode “Exasperation with the threefold frustration of action—the unpredictability of its outcome, the irreversibility of the process, and the anonymity of its authors—is almost as old as recorded history.”
  • 20. Special-Usage Terms: WORLD To Arendt WORLD means (1) Sphere of PUBLIC ACTION (2) Things that exist to help the WORLDLY endure (3) In history, synonymous with Western Europe, starting with Greece “Worldly” refers to things that enable the public to exist. Those whose lives lack a worldly, public aspect are, in some sense, not-quite-human. This includes not just slaves, but people defined by the things they make, people defined in pure economic terms, etc. “At the heart of her analysis of the human condition is the vital importance for civilized existence of a durable human world, built upon the earth to shield us against natural processes and provide a stable setting for our mortal lives.” — from the introduction by Margaret Canovan
  • 21. Special-Usage Terms: FREEDOM and SOVEREIGNTY To Arendt the two terms have distinct meanings (1) To have FREEDOM is to have political agency to act in public. It requires the presence of other free individuals whose reactions cannot be predicted or controlled. (2) To have SOVEREIGNTY is to merely enjoy unquestioned authority (technically, AUTHORITAH in the sense of Eric Cartman) in some domain, usually something resembling a household a less-than-human condition. In Arendt terms, Fuck-You Money is sovereignty, NOT freedom.
  • 22. Special-Usage Terms: PROPERTY and ALIENATION To Arendt the two terms have distinct meanings (1) PROPERTY for Arendt is by definition private. It is that part of the earth separated from the WORLD by means of law, to enable humans to take care of their private needs efficiently in order to be free to act in public. (2) ALIENATION is any condition of being excluded from the world and possibility of action, either through coercion or voluntary retreat (due to some sort of dehumanizing philosophy that legitimizes subhuman conditions). Note contrast with Marx: Alienation from WORLD, not alienation from SELF. In Arendt’s model, retreat to self is in fact alienation from the world.
  • 23. Some extra Greek/Latin terms to keep straight besides animal laborans and homo faber 1. Praxis: roughly the same as action 2. Poiesis: roughly the same as making 3. Zoon politikon: political being in Aristotle’s sense of soon logon ekhon (“a living being capable of speech”) 4. Animal socialis: “social man”, in Arendt’s opinion, a degraded translation of the original Greek zoon politikon concept as a social being, which she views as a weaker version of political being 5. Animal rationale: A similar degradation of the thinking involved in acting to the means-ends reasoning involved in mere making. Animal rationale is a late-modern cognitive aspect of homo faber
  • 24. Big question Does Silicon Valley: (a) Act (b) Make (c) Do something in-between (d) Do something entirely new, with no precedent? •Exhibit A: Perpetual beta — if there is no “end” is it means-ends reasoning? •Exhibit B: Silicon Valley technologies are worldly and social (think Facebook fake news and Twitter as polis) in algorithmically active form •Exhibit C: This quote: “Because the remedies against the enormous strength and resiliency inherent in action processes can function only under the condition of plurality, it is very dangerous to use this faculty in any but the realm of human affairs” Note your instinctive answer, and keep this question in mind as we work through the material. But don’t jump to any conclusions just yet.
  • 25. Contents 1. Who was Hannah Arendt? 2. Arendt’s mental models 3. The history of the world according to Arendt 4. Nature of laboring, making and acting 5. Critical issues with the philosophy 6. Augmentations and upgrades: Arendt++
  • 26. Chapter 1: Greece Was Good • In the beginning, i.e. Greece, there were 2 realms: Public and Private, with the function of law being to craft a boundary between them. • Public: where Men were Real Men, and Free to Act, enabled by Property to sustain their freedom • Private: the household where men ruled over women and slaves, and all were equally constrained in their roles by biological necessity • Craftsmen were kinda Almost Real Men. They had the Agora, an Almost -But-Not-Quite Public Space • Greek philosophers didn’t like politics so they conspired to degrade it to the level of craft, leaving themselves stewards of the “highest” life of pure thought, or contemplation: Vita Contemplativa • The conspiracy worked, and with the Roman empire, the Public became more agora-like • Acting became degraded to “making” policy/legislation the way craftsmen make chairs. An impoverished business of means-ends cognition rather than intertwined thought and action.
  • 27. Chapter 2: Christian Private Eats Greek Public • With Christianity, the public sphere increasingly became like the private and began to be administered like a giant household. • This sucked, but at least the king was still an impoverished Public of One. But because acting requires a plurality of full humans to act into, the King only enjoyed sovereignty, not freedom proper. • Making too, in post-Roman but pre-industrial corporations, became like the private: organized along the lines of a household, lacking even the limited public character of the agora. • On the plus side, Jesus introduced a genuinely new idea with relevance to the public: that of the calculus of promises and forgiveness* * Though she does not recognize it, this, rather than at Greece, is where she parts ways with Asian philosophies of action, which do not really possess a calculus of promises and forgiveness like Christianity does.
  • 28. The Climactic Century (1492 - 1609) • Three events then shaped the story from here on out • The discovery of America 1492 • Turned the endless frontier into a finite sphere • Allowed expansion of the private to shrink the public • The Reformation starting in 1517 • Degraded the political into the social • Expropriated the public into the private • Created the modern corporate sense of private • Galileo using a telescope in 1609 • Killed the idea that sensed-reality was privileged view of truth • Elevated homo faber status over OG Greek public actors • Created an “Archimedean” point of leverage outside earth which became the new “best perspective” • Triggered retreat into Cartesian rationality
  • 29. Chapter 3: Maker-Man Eats Private Man • Rule of Law replaced rule by law (Fukuyama terminology) • Even the King went from free actor to merely sovereign maker • Making became a substitute for acting • Property became a space for making and putting appropriated public • Trade became a weaksauce substitute for acting • Thought got degraded to mere instrumental cognition
  • 30. Chapter 4: Laboring Man Eats Maker Man, Social Eats Public+Private • Making got degraded to laboring for consumption, • Its philosophical standards of durability and beauty gave way to standards of utility and recyclability • Everything became kinda like labor, one giant superorganism with the joint metabolism of humans, the natural world, and the ostensibly durable produced world. • Philosophy proper died. Vita contemplativa was simpatico with making, but not with labor. • Animal laborans was left as the Last Man standing, a creature completely defined by symbiotic metabolism with the life process of the planet. A piece of Gaia rather than a free human.
  • 31. Chapter 5: Software Man is Eating Laboring Man • This theory is from 1958, ie before people began to grapple with s/w • Understanding Media was written in 1964 for example • Software began properly eating the world ~1974* • Arendt died in 1975 — just as the reality began to crash her models • Reality in 1975 - 2016 has been resetting and slowly recreating the possibility of public action, but not quite her idea of it • The precise nature of this process is as yet unclear. We’re in the middle of it. You’re either on the sidelines, or you’re helping it emerge. • My hypothesis: The Public is re-emerging, but none of us is actually prepared to deal with it in its new form. • This is happening via merger of making and acting defeating laboring * Cited in Breaking Smart, Jeremy Greenwood and Mehmet Yorukoglu, 1974, Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, 1997.
  • 32. The Arendtian arc of history bends towards the death of Public AND Private, and their subsumption by the social. • Real Man —> Maker Man —> Laboring Man • (Public > Private) —> (Private > Public) —> Social > (Private | Public) —> (Social kills both Private and Public). • The two spaces where humans can be individuals — public and private are subsumed by the social, where neither Man (individual) or Men (individuals acting in plural conditions) exist, but only the Social, within which individual identity cannot exist. • Until 1974 that is. Arendtian theories of making and production don’t do well with software realities.
  • 33. Contents 1. Who was Hannah Arendt? 2. Arendt’s mental models 3. The history of the world according to Arendt 4. Nature of laboring, making and acting* 5. Critical issues with the philosophy 6. Augmentations and upgrades: Arendt++ * This is the heavy lift curated-and-sequenced-quotes part. Keep all the special terms straight. If it’s any consolation, the book is a 100x bigger slog than this deck.
  • 34. “This unitedness of many into one is basically antipolitical; it is the very opposite of the togetherness prevailing in political or commercial communities” Laboring
  • 35. On the nature of laboring “[T]he labor of our body which is necessitated by its needs is slavish.” “The opinion that labor and work were despised in antiquity because only slaves were engaged in them is a prejudice of modern historians. The ancients reasoned the other way around and felt it necessary to possess slaves because of the slavish nature of all occupations that served the needs for the maintenance of life.” “[T]he “natural” experience underlying the Stoic as well as the Epicurean independence of the world is not labor or slavery but pain.” “The animal laborans does not flee the world but is ejected from it in so far as he is imprisoned in the privacy of his own body, caught in the fulfilment of needs in which nobody can share and which nobody can fully communicate.”
  • 36. On the poverty of leisure (UBI-ers Beware) “the price for absolute freedom from necessity is, in a sense, life itself, or rather the substitution of vicarious life for real life.” “The human condition is such that pain and effort are not just symptoms which can be removed without changing life itself; they are rather the modes in which life itself, together with the necessity to which it is bound, makes itself felt. For mortals, the “easy life of the gods” would be a lifeless life.” “That the life of the rich loses in vitality, in closeness to the “good things” of nature, what it gains in refinement, in sensitivity to the beautiful things in the world, has often been noted.”
  • 37. On what slaves can do that robots cannot: suffer for us “For slaves are not instruments of making things or of production, but of living, which constantly consumes their services.” “…human, speaking instruments (the instrumentum vocale, as the slaves in ancient households were called)”
  • 38. On how laboring ate making through industrialization “we live in a society of laborers. This society did not come about through the emancipation of the laboring classes but by the emancipation of the laboring activity itself,” “The industrial revolution has replaced all workmanship with labor, and the result has been that the things of the modern world have become labor products whose natural fate is to be consumed, instead of work products which are there to be used.” “the rate of use is so tremendously accelerated that the objective difference between use and consumption, between the relative durability of use objects and the swift coming and going of consumer goods, dwindles to insignificance.” “The ideals of homo faber, the fabricator of the world, which are permanence, stability, and durability, have been sacrificed to abundance, the ideal of the animal laborans.” “As a result, all serious activities, irrespective of their fruits, are called labor, and every activity which is not necessary either for the life of the individual or for the life process of society is subsumed under playfulness.”
  • 39. On laboring as a life process versus durability of world “[A]ll human productivity would be sucked into an enormously intensified life process and would follow automatically, without pain or effort, its ever-recurrent natural cycle. The rhythm of machines would magnify and intensify the natural rhythm of life enormously, but it would not change, only make more deadly, life’s chief character with respect to the world, which is to wear down durability” … “A hundred years after Marx we know the fallacy of this reasoning; the spare time of the animal laborans is never spent in anything but consumption, and the more time left to him, the greedier and more craving his appetites.”
  • 40. Laboring as “Under the API” work “[W]e can say that the free disposition and use of tools for a specific end product is replaced by rhythmic unification of the laboring body with its implement,…and the clear distinction between man and his implements, as well as his ends, becomes blurred.” “…it is no longer the body’s movement that determines the implement’s movement but the machine’s movement which enforces the movements of the body.” “Precisely because the animal laborans does not use tools and instruments in order to build a world but in order to ease the labors of its own life process, it has lived literally in a world of machines ever since the industrial revolution” “The decisive difference between tools and machines is perhaps best illustrated by the apparently endless discussion of whether man should be “adjusted” to the machine or the machines should be adjusted to the “nature” of man.”
  • 41. “Tools and instruments are so intensely worldly objects that we can classify whole civilizations using them as criteria.” Making
  • 42. On making as creating durability “Moreover, while usage is bound to use up these objects, this end is not their destiny in the same way as destruction is the inherent end of all things for consumption. What usage wears out is durability.” “From this viewpoint, the things of the world have the function of stabilizing human life, and their objectivity lies in the fact that—in contradiction to the Heraclitean saying that the same man can never enter the same stream— men, their ever-changing nature notwithstanding, can retrieve their sameness, that is, their identity, by being related to the same chair and the same table.” “If one construes, for instance, the nature of use objects in terms of wearing apparel, he will be tempted to conclude that use is nothing but consumption at a slower pace…[but]…destruction, though unavoidable, is incidental to use but inherent in consumption.”
  • 43. On the general disposition of the Maker mind “[W]e find the typical attitudes of homo faber: his instrumentalization of the world, his confidence in tools and in the productivity of the maker of artificial objects; his trust in the all-comprehensive range of the means-end category, his conviction that every issue can be solved and every human motivation reduced to the principle of utility; his sovereignty, which regards everything given as material and thinks of the whole of nature as of “an immense fabric from which we can cut out whatever we want to resew it however we like”; his equation of intelligence with ingenuity, that is, his contempt for all thought which cannot be considered to be “the first step . . . for the fabrication of artificial objects, particularly of tools to make tools, and to vary their fabrication indefinitely”; finally, his matter-of-course identification of fabrication with action.”
  • 44. On making as violent interruption of natural cycles “Material is already a product of human hands which have removed it from its natural location, either killing a life process, as in the case of the tree which must be destroyed in order to provide wood, or interrupting one of nature’s slower processes, as in the case of iron, stone, or marble torn out of the womb of the earth.” “The experience of this violence is the most elemental experience of human strength and, therefore, the very opposite of the painful, exhausting effort experienced in sheer labor.” “where God creates ex nihilo, man creates out of given substance, human productivity was by definition bound to result in a Promethean revolt” “quite different from the bliss which can attend a life spent in labor and toil or from the fleeting, though intense pleasure of laboring itself which comes about if the effort is co-ordinated and rhythmically ordered,”
  • 45. On laboring defeating making “homo faber, the toolmaker, invented tools and implements in order to erect a world, not—at least, not primarily—to help the human life process. The question therefore is not so much whether we are the masters or the slaves of our machines, but whether machines still serve the world and its things, or if, on the contrary, they and the automatic motion of their processes have begun to rule and even destroy world and things.”
  • 46. On the limits of utilitarian, means-ends reasoning “…which Lessing once put to the utilitarian philosophers of his time: “And what is the use of use?” “Thus the ideal of usefulness permeating a society of craftsmen—like the ideal of comfort in a society of laborers or the ideal of acquisition ruling commercial societies” “The ideal of usefulness itself, like the ideals of other societies, can no longer be conceived as something needed in order to have something else; it simply defies questioning about its own use.”
  • 47. On why making is not the same as acting “[U]tility established as meaning generates meaninglessness…Homo faber, in so far as he is nothing but a fabricator and thinks in no terms but those of means and ends which arise directly out of his work activity, is just as incapable of understanding meaning as the animal laborans is incapable of understanding instrumentality.” “Only in a strictly anthropocentric world, where the user, that is, man himself, becomes the ultimate end which puts a stop to the unending chain of ends and means, can utility as such acquire the dignity of meaningfulness” “Plato saw immediately that if one makes man the measure of all things for use, it is man the user and instrumentalizer, and not man the speaker and doer or man the thinker, to whom the world is being related.” “while only fabrication with its instrumentality is capable of building a world, this same world becomes as worthless as the employed material, a mere means for further ends, if the standards which governed its coming into being are permitted to rule it after its establishment.”
  • 48. On trade and commerce as making++ and almost action “it is only in Kant that the philosophy of the earlier stages of the modern age frees itself entirely of the common sense platitudes which we always find where homo faber rules the standards of society.” “Smith, distinguishes man from animal. The point is that homo faber, the builder of the world and the producer of things, can find his proper relationship to other people only by exchanging his products with theirs, because these products themselves are always produced in isolation.” “When homo faber comes out of his isolation, he appears as a merchant and trader and establishes the exchange market in this capacity.” “In so far as homo faber fabricates use objects, he not only produces them in the privacy of isolation but also for the privacy of usage,” “To act in the form of making, to reason in the form of “reckoning with consequences,” means to leave out the unexpected,…where the “wholly improbable happens regularly,” it is highly unrealistic not to reckon with it”
  • 49. On value and worth (price and pricelessness) “Value is the quality a thing can never possess in privacy but acquires automatically the moment it appears in public.” “the worth of a table by depriving it of one of its legs—whereas “the marketable value” of a commodity is altered by “the alteration of some proportion which that commodity bears to something else.” “The confusion in classical economics, 37 and the worse confusion arising from the use of the term “value” in philosophy, were originally caused by the fact that the older word “worth,” which we still find in Locke, was supplanted by the seemingly more scientific term, “use value.” “Marx did not summon up the “intrinsick” objective worth of the thing in itself. In its stead he put the function things have in the consuming life process of men which knows neither objective and intrinsic worth nor subjective and socially determined value.”
  • 50. On art as the outer limit of making as worldly action “…a number of objects which are strictly without any utility whatsoever and which, moreover, because they are unique, are not exchangeable and therefore defy equalization through a common denominator such as money” “their durability is almost untouched by the corroding effect of natural processes, since they are not subject to the use of living creatures, a use which, indeed, far from actualizing their own inherent purpose—as the purpose of a chair is actualized when it is sat upon—can only destroy them. Thus, their durability is of a higher order than that which all things need in order to exist at all; it can attain permanence throughout the ages.” “Because of their outstanding permanence, works of art are the most intensely worldly of all tangible things”
  • 51. On cognition as maker-thinking “Thought and cognition are not the same. Thought, the source of art works, is manifest without transformation or transfiguration in all great philosophy, whereas the chief manifestation of the cognitive processes, by which we acquire and store up knowledge, is the sciences. Cognition always pursues a definite aim, which can be set by practical considerations as well as by “idle curiosity”; but once this aim is reached, the cognitive process has come to an end. Thought, on the contrary, has neither an end nor an aim outside itself, and it does not even produce results” “Thought, therefore, although it inspires the highest worldly productivity of homo faber, is by no means his prerogative”
  • 52. On the market (agora) as an an almost-public (polis) “more than sheer economic activity is involved in exchange and that “economic man,” when he makes his appearance on the market, is an acting being and neither exclusively a producer nor a trader and barterer.” “exchange itself already belongs in the field of action and is by no means a mere prolongation of production” “Marx’s contention that economic laws are like natural laws, is correct only in a laboring society, where all activities are leveled down to the human body’s metabolism with nature…where no exchange exists but only consumption.” “what they show there is never themselves, not even their skills and qualities as in the “conspicuous production” of the Middle Ages, but their products.” “the power that holds this market together and in existence is not the potentiality which springs up between people when they come together in action and speech, but a combined “power of exchange” (Adam Smith) which each of the participants acquired in isolation.”
  • 53. On “genius” as a frustrating maker archetype of actor “the phenomenon of the creative genius seemed like the highest legitimation for the conviction of homo faber that a man’s products may be more and essentially greater than himself.” “to be one’s own slave and prisoner is no less bitter and perhaps even more shameful than to be the servant of somebody else.” [This is Boyd’s “be somebody or do something?” trap. Doing in Boyd sense is Acting in Arendt sense] “It is the hallmark of the “intellectual” that he remains quite undisturbed by “the terrible humiliation” under which the true artist or writer labors, which is “to feel that he becomes the son of his work,”…in which he is condemned to see himself “as in a mirror, limited, such and such.” “Workmanship, therefore, may be an unpolitical way of life, but it certainly is not an antipolitical one.” “Let physicians and confectioners and the servants of the great houses be judged by what they have done, and even by what they have meant to do; the great people themselves are judged by what they are.”
  • 54. Action “…to start new unprecedented processes whose outcome remains uncertain and unpredictable whether they are let loose in the human or the natural realm.”
  • 55. On action as generative process beginnings “the human capacity for action, for beginning new and spontaneous processes which without men never would come into existence, into an attitude toward nature which up to the latest stage of the modern age had been one of exploring natural laws and fabricating objects out of natural material.” “Whereas men have always been capable of destroying whatever was the product of human hands and have become capable today even of the potential destruction of what man did not make— men never have been and never will be able to undo or even to control reliably any of the processes they start through action.” “While the strength of the production process is entirely absorbed in and exhausted by the end product, the strength of the action process is never exhausted in a single deed but, on the contrary, can grow while its consequences multiply;”
  • 56. On the defining, frustrating aspects of action Exasperation with the threefold frustration of action—the unpredictability of its outcome, the irreversibility of the process, and the anonymity of its authors*—is almost as old as recorded history. * Stories being enacted by authors, but without there being an author — only post-facto historians who can tell the story after all the actors are dead. “nobody is the author or producer of his own life story.”
  • 57. On action, freedom, and sovereignty “…the burden of irreversibility and unpredictability, from which the action process draws its very strength.” “to accuse freedom of luring man into necessity, to condemn action,” “The only salvation from this kind of freedom seems to lie in non-acting, in abstention from the whole realm of human affairs as the only means to safeguard one’s sovereignty and integrity as a person. (which materialized into a consistent system of human behavior only in Stoicism), their basic error seems to lie in that identification of sovereignty with freedom” “tradition, identifying freedom with sovereignty [fails to grapple with] the simultaneous presence of freedom and non-sovereignty”
  • 58. On action, forgiving and promising “the predicament of irreversibility—of being unable to undo what one has done though one did not, and could not, have known what he was doing—is the faculty of forgiving. The remedy for unpredictability, for the chaotic uncertainty of the future, is contained in the faculty to make and keep promises. The two faculties belong together in so far as one of them, forgiving, serves to undo the deeds of the past” “Without being bound to the fulfilment of promises, we would never be able to keep our identities” “Both faculties, therefore, depend on plurality, on the presence and acting of others, for no one can forgive himself and no one can feel bound by a promise made only to himself; it is very dangerous to use this faculty in any but the realm of human affairs.” “forgiving and acting are as closely connected as destroying and making”
  • 59. On action as appearance and performance “All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them.” (Isak Dinesen, quoted by Arendt) “For in every action what is primarily intended by the doer, whether he acts from natural necessity or out of free will, is the disclosure of his own image.” “Human plurality, the basic condition of both action and speech, has the twofold character of equality and distinction. If men were not equal, they could neither understand each other…[if] men were not distinct, each human being distinguished from any other who is, was, or will ever be, they would need neither speech nor action to make themselves understood.” “The calamities of action all arise from the human condition of plurality, which is the condition sine qua non for that space of appearance which is the public realm.” “the light that illuminates processes of action, and therefore all historical processes, appears only at their end, frequently when all the participants are dead”
  • 60. On pluralism “human plurality is the paradoxical plurality of unique beings.” “all organic life already shows variations and distinctions, even between specimens of the same species. But only man can express this distinction and distinguish himself…Speech and action reveal this unique distinctness.” “A life without speech and without action, on the other hand…is literally dead to the world; it has ceased to be a human life because it is no longer lived among men.” “The popular belief in a “strong man” who, isolated against others, owes his strength to his being alone is either sheer superstition, based on the delusion that we can “make” something in the realm of human affairs—“ make” institutions or laws, for instance, as we make tables and chairs, or make men “better” or “worse” 14—or it is conscious despair of all action, political and non-political, coupled with the utopian hope that it may be possible to treat men as one treats other “material.”
  • 61. Action as unpredictability of humans “It is in the nature of beginning that something new is started which cannot be expected from whatever may have happened before. This character of startling unexpectedness is inherent in all beginnings and in all origins.” “The new always happens against the overwhelming odds of statistical laws and their probability, the new therefore always appears in the guise of a miracle.” “The fact that man is capable of action means that the unexpected can be expected from him, that he is able to perform what is infinitely improbable.” “Yet while the various limitations and boundaries we find in every body politic may offer some protection against the inherent boundlessness of action, they are altogether helpless to offset its second outstanding character: its inherent unpredictability.”
  • 62. On Speech “Without the accompaniment of speech, at any rate, action would not only lose its revelatory character” “No other human performance requires speech to the same extent as action.” “but if nothing more were at stake here than to use action as a means to an end, it is obvious that the same end could be much more easily attained in mute violence” “Because of its inherent tendency to disclose the agent together with the act, action needs for its full appearance the shining brightness we once called glory” “The connotation of courage, which we now feel to be an indispensable quality of the hero, is in fact already present in a willingness to act and speak at all, to insert one’s self into the world and begin a story of one’s own.”
  • 63. On the nature of the public “The whole factual world of human affairs depends for its reality and its continued existence, first, upon the presence of others who have seen and heard and will remember.” “For action and speech, which, as we saw before, belonged close together in the Greek understanding of politics, are indeed the two activities whose end result will always be a story with enough coherence to be told”
  • 64. On action and relationships “all affairs that go on between men directly, without the intermediary, stabilizing, and solidifying influence of things.” “Action and speech go on between men, as they are directed toward them, and they retain their agent-revealing capacity even if their content is exclusively “objective,” Most action and speech is concerned with this in-between,” “produces” stories with or without intention as naturally as fabrication produces tangible things.” “nobody is the author or producer of his own life story.”
  • 65. On action as starting infinite improbability* event streams “Men, though they must die, are not born in order to die but in order to begin.” “To act in the form of making, to reason in the form of “reckoning with consequences,” means to leave out the unexpected” “it would be unreasonable or irrational to expect what is no more than an “infinite improbability.” “where the “wholly improbable happens regularly,” it is highly unrealistic not to reckon with it” * This idea is basically the same sentiment as “it is easier to create the future than to predict it.” The key to action is not the fact of choosing a future, but choosing one that would be improbable without human agency in the loop. Entropy makes glasses break but cannot make them. Humans can.
  • 66. On starting, leading and ruling “To the two Greek verbs archein (“ to begin,” “to lead,” finally “to rule”) and prattein (“ to pass through,” “to achieve,” “to finish”) correspond the two Latin verbs agere (“ to set into motion,” “to lead”) and gerere (whose original meaning is “to bear”). 16 Here it seems as though each action were divided into two parts, the beginning made by a single person and the achievement in which many join by “bearing” and “finishing” the enterprise, by seeing it through.” “But they all have in common the banishment of the citizens from the public realm and the insistence that they mind their private business while only “the ruler should attend to public affairs.” “The supreme criterion of fitness for ruling others is, in Plato and in the aristocratic tradition of the West, the capacity to rule one’s self. the equivocal significance of the word archein, which means both beginning and ruling” “[O]nly the beginning (archē) is entitled to rule (archein).”
  • 67. On action and greatness “action can be judged only by the criterion of greatness” “as long as the polis is there to inspire men to dare the extraordinary, all things are safe; if it perishes, everything is lost.” “Greatness, therefore, or the specific meaning of each deed, can lie only in the performance itself and neither in its motivation nor its achievement.” “Against it stands the conviction of homo faber that a man’s products may be more—and not only more lasting—than he is himself, as well as the animal laborans’ firm belief that life is the highest of all goods.” “Both, therefore, are, strictly speaking, unpolitical, and will incline to denounce action and speech as idleness, idle busybodyness and idle talk, and generally will judge public activities in terms of their usefulness to supposedly higher ends—to make the world more useful and more beautiful in the case of homo faber, to make life easier and longer in the case of the animal laborans.”
  • 68. On action as naturally disruptive* “The frailty of human institutions and laws and, generally, of all matters pertaining to men’s living together, arises from the human condition of natality and is quite independent of the frailty of human nature. The fences inclosing private property and insuring the limitations of each household, the territorial boundaries which protect and make possible the physical identity of a people, and the laws which protect and make possible its political existence, are of such great importance to the stability of human affairs precisely because no such limiting and protecting principles rise out of the activities going on in the realm of human affairs itself.” *Yes, her description of action is pretty much the Silicon Valley understanding of Clayton Christensen disruption, except at a societal level rather than just market level.
  • 69. On technological action into non-human nature “But the action of the scientists, since it acts into nature from the standpoint of the universe and not into the web of human relationships*, lacks the revelatory character of action as well as the ability to produce stories and become historical, which together form the very source from which meaningfulness springs into and illuminates human existence.” * Shades of David Graeber here, but an evil-twin understanding of it, legitimizing disruption rather than harmonizing.
  • 70. On laboring and bliss “The “blessing or the joy” of labor is the human way to experience the sheer bliss of being alive which we share with all living creatures” “…bliss which can attend a life spent in labor and toil or from the fleeting, though intense pleasure of laboring itself which comes about if the effort is co-ordinated and rhythmically ordered” “labor’s sense and value depend entirely upon the social conditions,”…as long as the animal laborans remains in possession of it, there can be no true public realm, but only private activities displayed in the open. The outcome is what is euphemistically called mass culture, and its deep-rooted trouble is a universal unhappiness”
  • 71. On making and happiness “His “happiness,” the sum total of pleasures minus pains, is as much an inner sense which senses sensations and remains unrelated to worldly objects as the Cartesian consciousness that is conscious of its own activity.” “If modern egoism were the ruthless search for pleasure (called happiness) it pretends to be, it would not lack what in all truly hedonistic systems is an indispensable element of argumentation—a radical justification of suicide.” “The right to the pursuit of this happiness is indeed as undeniable as the right to life; it is even identical with it. But it has nothing in common with good fortune” “most people in their “pursuit of happiness” run after good fortune and make themselves unhappy even when it befalls them, because they want to keep and enjoy luck as though it were an inexhaustible abundance of “good things.” “utility established as meaning generates meaninglessness…Homo faber… is just as incapable of understanding meaning as the animal laborans is incapable of understanding instrumentality.”
  • 72. On action and meaning “[Action involves] the interrelated faculties of action and speech, which produce meaningful stories as naturally as fabrication produces use objects. “the division between knowing and doing, so alien to the realm of action, whose validity and meaningfulness are destroyed the moment thought and action part company, is an everyday experience in fabrication” “But the action of the scientists, since it acts into nature from the standpoint of the universe and not into the web of human relationships, lacks the revelatory character of action as well as the ability to produce stories and become historical, which together form the very source from which meaningfulness springs into and illuminates human existence.” “Men in the plural, that is, men in so far as they live and move and act in this world, can experience meaningfulness only because they can talk with and make sense to each other and to themselves.” “Greatness, therefore, or the specific meaning of each deed, can lie only in the performance itself and neither in its motivation nor its achievement.”
  • 73. On verbs versus nouns Condition of Vita Contemplativa “even if there is no truth, man can be truthful, and even if there is no reliable certainty, man can be reliable.” Implied for Vita Activa Laboring: Even if bliss is transient, humans can be blissful Making: Even if the world cannot be durable humans can be worldly Acting: Even if there is no ultimate meaning, human action can be meaningful
  • 74. Contents 1. Who was Hannah Arendt? 2. Arendt’s mental models 3. The history of the world according to Arendt 4. Nature of laboring, making and acting 5. Critical issues with the philosophy 6. Augmentations and upgrades: Arendt++
  • 75. Does it work? Upto a point, and only for analysis. 1. Trumpism as a textbook example of the self-destructive nihilism of homo faber trying to make meaning out of means. 2. Cronyist elite failure as a textbook example of late-stage “everybody is labor” household mindset of establishment. 3. SJWs exactly fit the idea of an antipolitical collective force: one cannot appear or act in the social as one can in the public. 4. The commons as a weaker substitute for the public than even the market 5. Hipster-craftsman version of Maker movement as ineffective reaction against the victory of Laboring Man rather than something new. 6. Lifestyle design and popularity of stoicism as retreat from action and trade as a weak substitute. 7. Weak action potential of wealth due to ideals of “private” and “property” that confuse sovereignty for freedom (“fuck you money”) 8. Limitations of money and agora when they attempt to serve the roles of action (including speech) and polis 9. Failure to create a “global” cosmopolitan culture that is not a mere extension of elite eurocentric tribalism
  • 76. Action World Real Man™ Real Men™ (plural) Here be Notional Ancient Greece (NAG), whence we fell What Arendt Thinks She’s Doing
  • 77. Action World Real Man™ Real Men™ (plural) This is the only acceptable human condition… but there’s no there there; “the way the Greeks never were” What she actually ends up doing
  • 78. Real Humans Acting Man Homo Faber Maker/Producer The nirvana fallacy lies in a too-tight, too convergent/ hedgehoggy construction of ‘human’ Animal Laborans Laboring Man Philosophers
  • 79. This is probably more like it Varied other crap we haven’t yet learned to explore, let alone model, either individually or collectively, with way more room for variety than she comprehends in her mental model of pluralism, which is why her notion of action is so restrictive and impoverished Politicking Making Laboring Philosophizing
  • 80. The basic problem with Arendt is that she treats highly restrictive leaky reifications as leakproof absolutes, creating a) impossible conditions for… b) impossibly noble [aka “Dead Greek Male”] humans, within … c) impossibly pure polities, engaging in… d) impossibly tight notions of action… e) to constitute “public action by humans” that… f) only existed in a notional Ancient Greece The solution is to loosen, de-stack, refactor all the definitions, because they’re mostly distinctions of degree rather than kind. (She also seems to have a lot of personal demons she’s projecting onto her theory… but that’s another story)
  • 81. Contents 1. Who was Hannah Arendt? 2. Arendt’s mental models 3. The history of the world according to Arendt 4. Nature of laboring, making and acting 5. Critical issues with the philosophy 6. Augmentations and upgrades: Arendt++
  • 82. The Human Condition was written in 1958. Arendt died in 1975. We can do better… • Medium-message coupling (McLuhan): Fabricating the world within which action happens is actually an active means of shaping the action. Not mute craftsmanship. • Play theory: Apply Huizenga (Homo Ludens) and analyze her notion of action in the world as a manufactured theater that is not quite as consequential, and a good deal more ceremonial, than she imagines. • Generative poiesis: Treat the generativity of poiesis (infinite game a la Carse, Finite and Infinite Games) properly. Especially computational action (Turing-complete mechanisms acting in NP-hard domains with machine learning breaks her “making” models pretty dramatically) • Action potential of labor: Recognize the (non-collective) action potential of seemingly compromised “laboring” humans as a low, but not zero probability of breakout, individual political activation • Action potential of making: Recognize (non-trading) action potential of seemingly compromised means-end “making” latent in generative mechanisms and perpetual beta modes
  • 83. • Network as Polis: Reimagine her simplistic notions of polis and agora as (for instance striated-smooth actor networks) or Twitter • Add the Commons: The Commons is not properly modeled in her philosophy, due to the deep prejudice against the social • Disruption: She almost gets at disruption (this is a natural fit), but then gets trapped in function fixedness. Read disruption as political action where meaning of world can get recoded by new actors. • Creating Publics: Recognize that publics can be created by action, they don’t need to exist a priori. See Corey Robin, “How Intellectuals Create a Public” • Leaks as feature, not bug: Her radically purist posture on separating intimate, private, social and public realms seems to a) reflect some of her own demons b) cripple the ability of the theory to handle such basic things as politicians having affairs or cronyism and collusion c) autocratically impose her particular mode of being human as an ideal. Reconstruct as a leaky calculus of fuzzy enactment forms and modes • Add Darwin: Her understanding, and incorporation of Darwinian evolution is really bad. She doesn’t seem to appreciate its significance at all, possibly because it is an existential threat to her notion of action unless it is strengthened. Strengthen, build it in.
  • 84. • Include aesthetics: she essentializes such things as compressive elegance as the identifying features of worldly objects, “real” thought, speech, and action. There is no reason they cannot be properties of production, cognition and laboring in more modern understandings. • Cyclic Action: She concludes (in the historicist Whig/Abrahamic tradition) that all uninterrupted feedback loops belong with laboring and “metabolism with nature” and therefore equally to be suffered rather than viewed as a source of generative action potential. It is possible to build a consistent metaphysics of action in her sense within cyclic views that are nevertheless irreversible, unpredictable, and un-authored: Second Law, Karma and Taoism. But the cost of adopting them is dumping the strong public-private separation and the idea of a distinctly artificial “world” within which to act. • Compassion: In her strict separation of private and public, and reliance on the Christian frames of forgiveness and promise-keeping as the basis of worldly action covenants, compassion falls through the cracks. Arendtian action philosophy somehow manages to be empathetic and cruel, pluralist and sociopathic, all at the same time. A stiff dose of Buddhism is probably required to fix it.
  • 85. Arendtism in a broader context of action philosophies Unworldly Centered on Self Centered on World Worldly Durabilitism (Arendtism) Asceticism Marxism Impermanance-ism See notions of self- actualization of the slave through work Defining element is actually not action per se, but world-durability as a value and aspiration. Some aspects of Japanese philosophy seem similar. Impermanance (opposite of Arendt’s “durable world”). Mostly Buddhist, some flavors of Saivism, unpopular in West (Schopenauer, some Neitzsche). Do not confuse with anti-realism (Maya) Stoicism and Friends in West Most schools of Asian philosophy (sadhna construction of action)
  • 86. Where should doerism live? Sovereign Durable World Impermanent World Free Creative Destruction Sovereign Leisure Arendtian Action Inner Striving Requires public/private separation (“content” vs “presentation” of life itself…like XML) This is where we are right now, but haven’t yet accepted it. Durability of world as a sufficient but not necessary condition of action. Requires making to acquire more action characteristics it currently has and public/private /social to dissolve. Traditional locus of monastic traditions (experiential rather than scholastic philosophy, so not vita contemplativa in Greek sense) What SV is in danger of defaulting to: mistaking sovereignty for freedom, and degenerate exit-ism for action. Alt name: fuck-you-money-ism
  • 87. One more for the road why not Life Negation World Negation World Affirmation Life Affirmation Open for Occupation! Tailor-made position for SV doerism: Deny “world” in Arendt sense, affirm life. Avoid Marxist trap of world-as- household and generative cyclic action being reduced to “laboring.” Arendtist Western Avoids traps of Marxist dead-ends, but creates an impoverished false consciousness of Real World™, Real Men™ and Real Action™ (“LARPing Notional Ancient Greece” syndrome) Classical Western Inevitably ends up caught in Marxist dead-ends familiar attractors Classical Eastern Avoids trap of durable-worldliness, but at the cost of negating life itself, and retreating into an acting dead aspirational mode of action
  • 88. Big question revisited Does Silicon Valley: (a) Act (b) Make (c) Do something in-between (d) Do something entirely new, with no precedent? The answer is (d) — creative destruction as worldless sine qua non of action, which does not require a durable world to exist. Action in an Arendtian “world” is good. Action in a worldless reality is better (as in, not attached to the durability of the fabricated environment of human existence as a pre-condition for political action). Some updates to human mind OS may need to be installed.