Speak to me Hannah

hannah arendtWhile I’m bogged down with generals preparation, instead of disappearing for two weeks I’ll inundate ya’ll with the best nuggets I come across. Last night I was reading Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition and having the spine-tingling experience of having someone communicate exactly the thoughts I’d been having over the past few weeks (only much more succinctly and eloquently, of course). On the topic of how identity is perceived:

In acting and speaking, men show who they are, reveal actively their unique personal identities and thus make their appearance in the human world, while their physical identities appear without any activity of their own in the unique shape of the body and sound of the voice. This disclosure of “who” in contradistinction to “what” somebody is—his qualities, gifts, talents, and shortcomings which he may display or hide—is implicit in everything somebody says and does. It can be hidden only in complete silence and perfect passivity, but its disclosure can almost never be achieved as a willful purpose, as though one possessed and could dispose of this “who” in the same manner he has and can dispose of his qualities. On the contrary, it is more than likely that the “who,” which appears so clearly and unmistakably to others, remains hidden from the person himself, like the daimōn in Greek religion which accompanies each man throughout his life, always looking over his shoulder from behind and thus visible only to those he encounters.

And a complete surprise, Arendt seems to have conceived of social networks before Jane Jacobs or Stanley Milgram (1958 for Arendt vs. 1962 for Jacobs):

The realm of human affairs, strictly speaking, consists of the web of human relationships which exists wherever men live together. The disclosure of the “who” through speech, and the setting of a new beginning through action, always fall into an already existing web where their immediate consequences can be felt. Together they start a new process which eventually emerges as the unique life story of the newcomer, affecting uniquely the life stories of all those with whom he comes into contact.

But more importantly, she describes the relationship between the identity of the individual and the ties that they encounter. I can’t seem to find anything on the web relating this passage to the history of social networks as a discipline, but then again I’m sure many people invented them even earlier.

5 thoughts on “Speak to me Hannah

  1. Do you mock me?!

    Ha, I know that people aren’t as interested in Hannah Arendt as Bubb Rubb, but I’m trying to represent myself in the most complete form. I can be boring sometimes too.

  2. i am right there with you cam, and once was even in love with a girl who was named after this famous hannah (much prettier though). arendt is one of the most fascinating and focal intellectual figures of 20th century. if you’ve read marx, you must read arendt.

    on a related note, you may want to check out erdos & renyi, 1960, publ math debrecen 6, 290 for their work on random graphs and implications for networks social and otherwise.

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