Thursday, April 24, 2014

Hannah Arendt and CBC Ideas

Last night I listened to CBC Radio Ideas show on Hannah Arendt.  Truly remarkable radio programming as is so common with the brilliant Paul Kennedy's Ideas Not only did we hear clips of Hannah Arendt herself with her amazing passion and force but also we heard several other philosophers discussing her work.
Her most controversial is obviously her discussion of Eichman in Jerusalem.  I read much of her book  when it first appears years back.  Having so enjoyed Jay Lifton’s , the Nazi Doctors, I loved Arendts summation that evil is banal.  There is nothing ‘radical’ about evil.  Her term ‘banality of evil’ derived from this discussion of ‘ordinary’ ‘thoughtless’ men lacking the capacity for true thinking. Her studies on totalitarianism caught my attention years back when I read  Erving Goffman's classic, Asylums. I was a psychiatrist in a major asylum at the time and everything Goffman wrote about this "total institution' was true.  Arendt's philosophical insights dovetailed with Goffman's sociological profundity.
Arendt was mostly interested in freedom. On CBC Ideas, one commenter said she’d be very concerned today about our tendencies to large government with even larger beaurocracies.  It really was the bureaucrats that made Auschwitz so frightening.  Like Kafka’s Castle the people were doing their disconnected tasks.  Everyone was ‘performing’ a job without consideration of the whole.  Today the Matrix movie takes this idea to the natural end.
The point is about morality and Arendt believed that for morality a person had to have the capacity to think.  She saw the horror and cruelty of thoughtlessness as truly disturbing.
Born 1906 she died 1975, a truly extraordinary thinker.
I’m thankful to CBC Ideas for their insights into a subject I’d already taken an interest is so could appreciate how thoughtful the programming had been.  I’d gladly listen to the CBC podcast again.

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