Tuesday, June 26, 2012

#177 / Forgiveness

I have recently discovered that The Hannah Arendt Center For Politics And Humanities at Bard College has a regular blog. Now I subscribe. You can, too.

On June 11, 2012, the Arendt blog entry was titled "The Alternative To Forgiveness," which Arendt has identified as "punishment."

In The Human Condition, Arendt positions punishment as an alternative to forgiveness ... All actions, Arendt argues, are necessarily unpredictable and irreversible. We cannot know with certainty what will happen as a result of our actions, nor can we undo them. These two uncomfortable facts about action might otherwise paralyze us from doing anything, but thankfully we have the ability to make promises about the uncertain future and to both seek and grant forgiveness, absolving past harms. Were it not for these faculties we would be unable to reconcile our own finite existence with the fundamental plurality of the human condition. Without forgiveness in particular, we would be forever "confined to one single deed from which we could never recover; we would remain the victims of its consequences forever, not unlike the sorcerer's apprentice who lacked the magic formula to break the spell."

Forgiveness can resolve the fact of irreversibility because, Arendt succinctly notes, it is able to put "an end to something that without interference could go on endlessly."
This observation essentially claims that forgiveness is "revolutionary" (in the way that Arendt consistently uses the term), because forgiveness can allow a whole new story to begin. Without forgiveness, the stories we tell ourselves, and the stories we tell our children, will be nothing but the cyclical repetitions of the stories of all the insults and injuries that we have suffered in the past, however clothed those stories may be in new designs.

Unless we can free ourselves through forgiveness, our present existence is constrained and confined in the warp and woof of our own past actions, and of the past actions that have done us harm. It is only forgiveness - and forgiveness to the point of forgetting - that will allow us to escape that woven constraint of wrongs done and suffered, and that will permit us to move ahead, in new directions, and to make a new path.

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