The Human Condition: Message Lost in the Capitalist Machine

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The Human Condition: Message Lost in the Capitalist Machine


In The Human Condition, by Hannah Arendt, the fundamental qualities of human behavior are described and analyzed. These qualities are first described by discussing the different entities present in the lives of Athenian Greeks. This partition of human life into separate units is supposed to be applied to modern American society as well, however, the structure of today's social order differs from that of ancient Greek. These disparities cause the analysis and ideas projected on the human condition to be contrasting as well.


Arendt refers to the three elements of the human condition as vita activa: labor, work, and action, which correspond to the reason which humans have been granted life. According to Arendt, labor is the biological functions which define life itself, work is the artificial function of human existence and so defined as "worldliness," and action is activity that goes on between man and matter and leads to the permanence of a particular human's existence. These divisions are important in viewing the human life as a whole, seeing how Arendt divides it into two realms: the private and public. The private realm is where work is executed and labor is present, and a hierarchical family is the basis of activity with the male at the top. Since work and labor are when humans are at their most natural state and in touch with their biological functions, this is the simplest sphere of life. The public realm, which only exists for the dominant figure in the family, is most closely related with action and is where man gains a sense of freedom. This freedom comes from the fact that when humans meet in public, they discuss ideas and exchange views. Through this exchange, thoughts are developed free from the constraints of private life and primordial necessities. In this respect, freedom in the ancient Greek world was defined as the ability to contemplate thoughts and discuss socially. This is where the morals and ideals of society are formed and a common good is derived which creates a social standard.


These social standards and their methods of development were valid during the days of ancient Greece, but are not contemporaneous with modern American society. The society of modern America, which coincides closely with the society of the rest of Western Civilization, cannot be analyzed on the same levels that Arendt evaluates ancient Greek culture in respect to her proposed human conditions.

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"The Human Condition: Message Lost in the Capitalist Machine." 25 May 2018
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In today's world, the public life and private life are too closely intertwined to define their purposes the way Arendt has. If the private life is related to work, and the public life is related to thought and contemplation, than modern America's social structure would imply a role reversal. This is due to the fact that the artifacts produced by humans, which in turn affect the social structures and institutions, are further developed and completely different. It is partially because of these disparities between man-made products that priorities have experienced a polar change, which is more directly related to the differences in Arendt's society and that of modern America.


The fact that modern technology succeeds that of Athens is a major factor in the creation of different cultures.


"The world of which the vita activa spends itself consists of things produced by human activities; but the things that owe their existence exclusively to men nevertheless constantly condition their human makers." (Page 11)


Since the products of modern American civilization have been brought into everyday patterns, the way life is lived has changed proportionally. The introduction of machinery such as computers and factory machines have allowed for decreased thought on the part of the average person, therefore, according to Arendt, a decrease in freedom. According to American standards and the Constitution, however, these people are technically and rightfully free, which provides that her definition of freedom is not valid in today's world. The increase in man-made products and rise of an economy-based society has led to the divergence of priorities. In ancient Greece, the most important aspect of the vita activa was thought, where as today, in Western society, it is work. Because of the value placed on work, it is now emphasized in the public realm and has replaced original thought and contemplation. Introspection and deliberation, if any even occurs within an individual's mind, is considered private and done so on a familial level, or, as an exception, in a university or educational institution. The decisions of the collective good of society are left to those of the governing body, whose purposes are so tainted with re-election that contemplation no longer occurs. With Arendt's ideas of public and private realm untrue in modern civilization, her views on the human condition cannot apply as they did for the ancient Greeks.


As society develops, it creates a normal good that it expects out of its members as well as the structure of the institution. In Athens, social contemplation, the exercising of freedom, was in small city-states, but modern America is a much larger and more diverse place than a simple city-state. As society grows larger, the values, common good, and goals become more and more vague, making it more difficult for the introspections of every member in society to exercise their abilities for thought and decide the values of their society. This could qualify as a reason, which, in today's culture, the decisions of society are determined by a select few (government), and the average member turns work into a higher priority, since their thoughts don't show any results anyway. Arendt's philosophical argument holds true to human conditions ideally. The priorities and actions of ancient Greece were ideal, and so the argument holds true in this respect. The structures of modern American society have strayed from the ideal and moved toward the mere functional, causing Arendt's case to be lost in the furrows of capitalism and technology.

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