Quondam Dreams

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Hannah and Me

Someone sent SF Chron columnist Jon Carroll a quote from Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism, and he wrote a column about it. You should go read it.

Here is the quote; I hope that those of you who can't be bothered to click on that link will at least give this a look:

"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."

I've been thinking about Hannah Arendt quite a lot lately, and how different things were when I first discovered her work. It was twelve years ago that I took a seminar on her, and when we were able to write papers about keeping a careful watch for the signs of encroaching totalitarianism or general thoughtlessness. Now, I'm not saying we're descending into fascism any time soon; I'm just saying, every time I look around, I see more things that correlate to points in Origins and Eichmann in Jerusalem, and it's really starting to scare me.

I'm not going to try to summarize Arendt's writings here. Not only would it be close to impossible, but it would be utterly missing the point. If you're interested, there's a nice series of essays at the Library of Congress's Hannah Arendt Papers collection. Or go pick up some of her books. They're not easy reads, but I promise you they're worth it.

In "if you don't have a sense of humor about things, you're screwed -- plus, who wants to listen to nonstop doom and gloom?" news, The Bush Twins Party Hour has finished its first season. Success! Yay! While we search for a larger venue for the second season (whenever that turns out to be), we're working on getting some clips up on the site. (And if you happen to have a theater that can accommodate at least 50 people close to the stage, and doesn't mind that there's alcohol involved, lemme tell you about this little political comedy show we've got...)


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