It seems to me that Hannah Arendt’s wonderful book Men in Dark Times needs a sequel for our times. I think she would have wanted to recognise the practical thoughtfulness of Michelle Obama, for example. Be that as it may, on the recommendation of a friend I have started reading Donna Haraway’s extraordinary Staying with the Trouble (from which I quote below). It is wonderful to find a book that, for example, understands the value of the work of an artist like Ursula Le Guin at a time when so much of what passes for art is simply an exercise in either exemplifying possessive individualism or the corrosive cynicism that shadows it. This is a book that speaks to many pressing concerns – its ‘string figure’ motif also strikes me as a powerful analogue for what I would characterise as ‘deep’ or ‘narrative’ mapping – and is enormously encouraging to read at a moment when bigotry and demagogy, personified by men like Trump and Farage, appear to be the dominant forces in both the UK and the USA.
But, as we all know, appearances are deceptive.
Gina Miller now needs police protection for herself and her family from the death threats that have flooded in as a result of her having spoken up for the rule of law. But, on the strength of her interview in the Guardian today, she remains exactly the type of exemplary citizen and businesswoman we need to make kin with in what Haraway wants us to see as the Chthulucene age. I am enormously fortunate to know some women in the USA who, as Elizabeth Warren has urged, will I know do everything they can in their own places to recuperate and amplify what is response-able and generous in American culture. They may, to quote my Dakota friend Mona Smith, still be trembling from the result of the election. However they know, as she writes, that now: “we have to hold tight to our visions for the earth and it’s critters. One step in front of the other. One hand held out at a time. Our need to be kind to each other is so clear. I am seeking things that bring me hope”. She sites the fact that the American Civil Liberties Union is “declaring war” on Trump and points to the fact that Standing Rock water protectors are standing firm and gathering support. And, like Haraway, she recognises that one of our biggest challenges is not to succumb to the worst case pictures that keep creeping into our heads.
Like many people I am troubled, indeed tired to the bone, from struggling against the specific injustices and misery created by a system dominated by the commonplace thoughtlessness which, as Haraway reminds us by drawing on Hannah Arendt, engenders the banality of evil. The same evil Arendt saw personified in Adolf Eichmann. In a man who: “could not be a wayfarer, could not entangle, could not track the lines of living and dying, could not cultivate response-ability.” All because he already knew who he was and what he needed to do, and so didn’t need to think in Arendt’s sense of that word. As Haraway reminds us, thinking, thought, is not “disciplinary knowledge or science rooted in evidence, or the sorting of truth and belief or fact and opinion or good and bad”. It’s important to remember this, less we imagine that the thoughtless are somehow unintelligent. No, they are simply people who are too busy with: “assessing information, determining friends and enemies, and doing busy jobs” to attend carefully to the ebb and flow of the world as it is. They are too busy ‘being’ a particular role: a scientist, activist, artist, academic, business person, or whatever, to have time to become, to be ‘entangled’ into newness, as Haraway might put it.
Anyway I can’t help thinking that, if Hannah Arendt were alive today, she might well write a sequel to her earlier book, one entitled Woman in Dark Times.