Sunday, October 1, 2017

Why the Universal Declaration is Remarkable (Part 3)

The writers of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were able to witness the outcomes of
social othering first hand.  They saw it for the dead end it was.  They rejected it out of hand. 

But that also required them to come up with something new. 


The direction they took

Hannah Arendt was an important philosopher of the time. Her writing quite possibly had an impact.
It certainly had an impact on me. 

Here are a few samples of her thinking that seem relevant to me:

1. Our human future depends on both our capacity to make promises to each other and our capacity to forgive:

“Here, the remedy against the irreversibility and unpredictability of the process started by acting does not arise out of another and possibly higher faculty, but is one of the potentialities of action itself. The possible redemption from 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, whose “sins” hang like Damocles’ sword over every new generation; and the other, binding oneself through promises, serves to set up in the ocean of uncertainty, which is the future by definition, islands of security without which not even continuity, let alone durability of any kind, would be possible in the relationships between men.”
-- Hannah Arendt


2. Our future depends on balancing personal responsibility and allowing space for the fresh, uncertain vision of others: 
“Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it, and by the same token save it from that ruin which except for renewal, except for the coming of the new and the young, would be inevitable. And education, too, is where we decide whether we love our children enough not to expel them from our world and leave them to their own devices, nor to strike from their hands their chance of undertaking something new, something unforeseen by us, but to prepare them in advance for the task of renewing a common world.”

― Hannah Arendt


3. There is grave danger in marginalizing voices that diverge from the norm. Such voices may be the only ones 'crazy' enough to speak their hearts in the face of powerful State interests. As a case in point (as well as some powerful comments that foreshadow history repeating itself):

“In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. ... Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.”
― Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

 “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.” 
― Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind

“The aim of totalitarian education has never been to instill convictions but to destroy the capacity to form any.” 
― Hannah Arendt
 

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