Saturday, December 3, 2011
Violence and Unity
So, I thought I had completed my meditation on Hannah Arendt's "Reflections on Violence" with my last post, but it seems that I've come up with a bit of an epilogue to go with the three previous posts, which are in order:
So, here goes:
Violence is divisive. Violence separates the hunters from the prey, the attacker from the target, the winner from the loser, the victor from the victim (as the saying goes, you're either one or the other, which represents a cynical worldview, of course). Violence is a zero sum game. Violence performed on one's self is internally divisive, but that's another story.
Technology is divisive. Technology separates the user from the used, the individual from the world, the actor from the acted upon, the subject from the object (technology objectifies the world, and the others who inhabit it).
Violence/technology is an I-It relationship, to use Martin Buber's terminology.
Power is unifying. Power brings together the ruler and the ruled, government and citizen, in consent and cooperation. Power binds us together (for good or for ill), in creating, maintaining, repairing, renewing, and revising the symbolic order.
Identity is unifying. Identity is a shared sense of self, group membership, imagined community, a common ground, a common name, an interconnectedness.
Power/identity is an I-You relationship, an I-You becoming Us.
All too often, power/identity is established through some larger form of divisiveness, a shared identity among insiders in contrast to outsiders, the identification of the other against which we define ourselves. Identity established through divisiveness is the same as power established through violence, it carries the seeds of its own disintegration, it is not sustainable. Divisiveness corrupts because any insider group can sense that they might, at some point, become outsiders, and that the only way to prevent this is to single out some other insider group and treat them as outsiders.
The problem before us is one that we have faced throughout our long history: How to overcome division and forge a truly unified identity. The name for this identity is no mystery: it is humanity. To achieve a global human identity there must be a global human power, a symbolic order, a mutual empowerment based on consent and cooperation.
Does this sound utopian? I am reminded of Buckminster Fuller's remark that we are in a race between utopia and oblivion. And even if it's not possible to achieve absolute unity, we certainly have made some significant progress towards that goal, and it certainly seems to me that we have the potential to make a great deal more progress if we have the will to do so.
And I think Hannah Arendt would agree that this positive sense of a will to power begins with thought, I believe she would agree with McLuhan that nothing is inevitable if we are willing to contemplate the possibilities and the consequences of our actions. And I think Arendt would say that we have to start by thinking, that it's only when we stop thinking that solutions seem hopelessly utopian and problems become insurmountable.