Friday, June 30, 2017

#181 / An Argument Against Disruption As An End

I have extolled the writings of Hannah Arendt on many occasions, and I have particularly recommended her 1963 book, On Revolution

I was delighted to learn, therefore, a few days ago, that an essay by Hannah Arendt, apparently never previously published, is now available in the latest edition of The New England Review.

The essay is titled, "Thoughts on Poverty, Misery, And The Great Revolutions of History." You can read it, online, by clicking that link. The essay will also be included in Thinking Without a Banister, Essays in Understanding, Vol. 11, by Hannah Arendt, edited by J. Kohn. This volume of Arendt's writings is scheduled to be published by Schocken Books in January 2018, where the essay will apparently carry the title: “The Freedom to Be Free.”

I was struck by one of Arendt's observations, in particular: 

Machiavelli knew enough to say the following: “There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things.” With this sentence, I suppose, no one who understands anything at all of the story of the 20th century will quarrel. 

I don't know, of course, if Arendt, who died in 1975, would have applied Machiavelli's insight to the conduct of our contemporary technological innovators, who are aiming to create a "new order of things" in our human world. Many of these "Masters of the Universe" proclaim that disruption is good, in and of itself. I think Arendt might have quarreled with that notion. I certainly do.

That the American Revolution was successful, says Arendt, can be attributed to our "great good luck," with a significant part of that good luck being related to the absence of extreme poverty. The American Revolution did, and successfully, initiate a "new order of things," speaking politically, but we don't have an easily copied formula upon which we can rely. 

The technological disruptions of today have a tendency to impoverish those at the lower end of the economic scale, by eliminating the individual employment that sustains  99% of the populace. It is unjustifiable to take for granted that the "great good luck" of our revolutionary past will continue to be with us, as new technologies attempt to disrupt, and then to reconfigure and revolutionize, our social, political, and economic realities.

Machiavelli was pretty smart. 

I think Arendt might join me in saying, we'd best watch out!

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