Re: [ox-en] Copyfarleft: Response to Stefan Meretz
- From: adam moran <adam diamat.org.uk>
- Date: Mon, 14 Jan 2008 13:05:20 +0000
Wed, 9 Jan 2008 02:19:25 [PHONE NUMBER REMOVED] Stefan Meretz wrote:
Sun, 6 Jan 2008 22:55:26 +0100 Dmytri Kleiner wrote:
and also the basic distinction of
labour from labour-power ("work" and "work-force"),
Here, you are right. I translated the german aquivalents wrongly. Graham
already points me to this fault.
Sat, 05 Jan 2008 14:21:01 +0000 graham wrote:
Anyhow, a comment on language rather than contents:
Arbeit/arbeitskraft are normally translated as labour/labour-power.
The phrase 'work force' or 'labour force' means "all the individuals
employed by a particular enterprise", it never means arbeitskraft.
If you really prefer not to use 'labour power' because it is too
technical (ie. only used by marxists) then 'ability to work'
(arbeitsvermogen) would be a possibility.
'Arbeit' can be translated as 'work' rather than 'labour' if you wish,
but there is a traditional distinction based on the footnote by Engels
to Capital Ch. 1 (English translation,
"The English language has the advantage of possessing different words
for the two aspects of labour here considered. The labour which creates
use value, and counts qualitatively, is Work, as distinguished from
Labour; that which creates Value and counts quantitatively, is Labour as
distinguished from Work"
i read some work by Mary Dietz *On Arendt* that introduces a different
take on the above categories ...
Arendt begins *The Human Condition* by distinguishing among three
"general human capacities which grow out of the human condition and are
permanent, that is, which cannot be irretrievably lost so long as the
human condition itself is not changed." 
The three categories and their "corresponding conditions" are
* labor and live
* work and worldliness, and
* action and plurality;
together they constitute the *vita activa*. 
Arendt envisions labor, work, and action not as empirical or
sociological generalizations about what people actually do, but rather
as existential categories intended to distinguish the *vita activa*
and reveal what it means to be human and "in presence of other human
beings" in the world. 
These "existentials", however, do more than disclose that human beings
cultivate, fabricate, and organize the world. In an expressly normative
way, Arendt wants to judge the human condition, and to get us, in turn,
"to think what we are doing" when we articulate and live out the
condition of our existence in particular ways. 
Underlying *The Human Condition* is the notion that human history has
been a story of continuously shifting "reversals" within the
*vita activa* itself. In different historical moments from classical to
the contemporary age, labor, work, and action have been accorded higher
or lower status within the hierarchy.
Arendt argues that some moments of human experience -- namely those in
which "action" has been understood as the most meaningful human
activity -- are more glorious and free than those in which either "the
labor of our body or the work of our hands" is elevated within the
*vita activa*. 
Hence her reverence for the age of Socrates and the public realm of the
Greek *polis*, and her dismay over the ensuing events within Western
culture and political thought (including liberalism and Marxism), as
citizen-politics is increasingly lost and the world of action is
displaced by the primacy of labor and work.
The critique of the modern world that *The Human Condition* advances
rests on the claim that we are now witnessing an unprecedented era in
which the process-driven activity of labor dominates our understanding
of human achievement. As a result, we live in and celebrate a world of
automatically functioning jobholders, having lost all sense of what
constitutes true freedom and collective public life.
When Arendt calls
* "life" the condition of labor,
* "worldliness" the condition of work, and
* "plurality" the condition of action,
she means to associate a corresponding set of characteristics with
* Labor (*animal laborans*) corresponds to the biological process of
the human body and hence to the process of growth and decay in
nature itself. Necessity defines labor, insofar as laboring is
concentrated exclusively on life and the demands of its
Labor takes place primarily in the private realm, the realm of the
household, family, and intimate relations. The objects of labor
-- the most natural and ephemeral of tangible things -- are the
most consumed and, therefore, the least worldly. They are products
of the cyclical, biological, life process itself, "where no
beginning and no end exists and where all natural things swing in
changeless, deathless, repetition". 
*Animal laborans* is also distinguished by a particular mentality
or mode of thinking-in-the-world. It cannot conceive of the
possibility of breaking free or beginning anew;
"sheer inevitability" and privatization dominate it. Hence, Arendt
refers to the "essential worldly futility" of the life process and
the activity of *animal laborans*. 
* Work (*homo faber*), in contrast to labor, is the activity that
corresponds to the "unnaturalness" of human existence. If "life"
and the private realm locate the activity of the *animal laborans*,
then "the world" locates *homo faber*.
Work is, literally, the working up of the world, the production of
things-in-the-world. If *animal laborans* is caught up in nature
and in the cyclical movement of the body's life processes, then
*homo faber* is, as Arendt puts it, "free to produce and destroy".
The fabrication process, with its definite beginning and
predictable end, governs *homo faber* activity. Repetition, the
hallmark of labor, may or may not characterize work; at least it is
not inherent in the activity itself. The objects of this activity,
unlike those of labor, are relatively durable, permanent
endproducts. They are not consumed, but rather used or enjoyed.
The "fabrications" of *homo faber* have the function of
"stabalizing" human life and they bear testimony to human
Insofar as they are all *homo faber*, human beings think in terms
of gaining mastery over nature, and approach the world itself as a
controllable object, the "measure of the man." This tendency to
objectify things and persons in the world is a foreboding of, in
Arendt's words, "a growing meaningless, where every end is
transformed in to a means," and even those things not constructed
by human hands lose their value and are treated as instruments at
the behest of the "lord and master of all things." 
The corresponding mentality of *homo faber*, then, is a rational-
instrumental attitude concerned with the usefulness of things and
the "sheer worldly existence" made possible through human artifice.
Understood as an existential "type", *homo faber* is that aspect of
human beingness that places confidence in the belief that "every
issue can be solved and every human motivation reduced to the
principle of utility." 
* What Arendt calls "action" stands in sharp contrast with, but is
not unrelated to the activities of labor and work. In order to act,
human beings must first have satisfied the demands of life, have a
private realm for solitude, and also have a stable world within
which they can achieve "solidity" and "retrieve their sameness ...
their identity." 
At the same time, human beings possess an extraordinary capability
that neither labor nor work encompass. They can disclose themselves
in speech and deed, and undertake new beginnings, thereby denying
the bonds of nature and moving beyond the means-end confines of
*homo faber*. 
Without action to bring new beginnings (natality) into the play of
the world, Arendt writes, there is nothing new under the sun;
without speech, there is no memorialization, no remembrance. 
Unlike either labor or work, action bears no corresponding singular
Latin synonym, perhaps because Arendt means for it to capture an
aspect of human life that is essentially collective, rather than
solitary or distinguished by the "separateness" of persons. This
collective condition, where speech and action materialize, Arendt
calls "the human condition of plurality." 
Plurality is perhaps the key concept in Arendt's understanding of
action. She uses it to explore the situation humans achieve when
they "gather together to act in concert", thus finding themselves
enmeshed within a "web of relationships". 
In general terms, plurality is the simultaneous realization of
shared equality and distinctive, individual differences. Arendt
calls it "the basic condition of both action and speech." 
Without equality, individuals would not be able to comprehend each
other or communicate, and without distinctiveness, they would have
no reason to communicate, no impetus to interject themselves as
*unique* selves into the shared world.
Plurality, then, is the common condition in which human beings
reveal their "unique distinctiveness." Arendt presents this in terms
of a paradox:
"Plurality is the condition of human action because we are all
the same, that is, human, in such a way that nobody is ever the
same as anyone else who ever lived, lives, or will live." 
Thus, plurality promotes the notion of a politics of shared
Because Arendt introduces plurality as a political and not a
metaphysical concept, she also locates this common condition in a
discernible space which she calls "the public" or the "space of
The public exists in stark contrast to the private realm; it is where
the revelation of individuality amidst collectivity takes place. The
barest existence of a public realm "bestowed upon politics a
dignity", Arendt writes, "that even today has not altogether
Arendt's concept of plurality as the basic condition of action and
speech allows her to reconceptulize politics and power in significant
ways. Put simply, politics at its most dignified is the realization of
human plurality -- the activity that simply *is* the sharing of the
world and exemplary of the human capacity for "beginning anew" through
mutual speech and deed. 
Power, which Arendt understands as "acting together", maintains the
space of appearances; as long as it persists, the public realm is
Politics is the activity that renders us something more than just the
*animal laborans*, subject to the cyclicality of human biological
processes, or the *homo faber*, artificer of the world.
When Arendt characterizes action as the only activity entirely
dependent on "being together" and "the existence of other people", she
intends to posit the existential difference between politics on the
one hand, and labor and work on the other. She also wants to use
action as a way of getting us to consider yet one other dispositional
capacity we possess -- something she variously calls common sense,
judging insight, or "representative thinking". 
Representative thinking can be distinguished from both the process
logic of *animal laborans* and the instrumentalism of *homo faber*
insofar as it is guided by a respect for persons as distinctive
agents, as "speakers of words and doers of deeds."
In order to flourish, the public realm requires this way of thinking;
it proceeds from the notion that we can put ourselves in the place
of others, in a manner that is open, communicative, and aware of
individual differences, opinions and concerns.
Without question, Arendt understands politics as existentially
superior to both labor and work. Thus she has often been interpreted
as devaluing the latter, or worse, as having contempt for the lives of
the poor and working classes -- in her own words, "the vast majority
of humankind". 
Here it is worth repeating that Arendt presents labor, work and action
*not* as constructs of class or social relations, but rather as the
properties of the human condition which are within the range of every
Likewise, our "world alienation" is not a matter of rising masses or
threatened aristocracies, but has to do with the fact that, as
*humans*, we are rapidly losing our collective capacity to exercise
power through shared word and deed, and succumbing ever more steadily
to an existence governed by the instrumental calculations of
*homo faber* and the process mentality of *animal laborans*.
Freedom is fast disappearing in the face of the sheer survivalism and
automatic functioning that is the condition of the modern world.
 Hanna Arendt, *The Human Condition* (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1958), p.6.
 Ibid., p.7.
 Ibid., p.22.
 Ibid., p.5.
 Arendt takes the phrase in quotes from Locke, and uses it to set
off her discussion of labor and work as the human activities
elevated in both liberal and Marxist thought.
 Arendt, *Human Condition*, p.96.
 Ibid., p.131. For a helpful clarification of the relationship
between labor, work, and action and the mentalities Arendt
associates with them, see Pitkin, "Justice".
 Arendt, *Human Condition*, p.144. Or, as she puts it, *homo faber*
the creator of human artifice, is also a "destroyer of nature",
 Ibid., pp.136-7.
 Ibid., p.157.
 Ibid., p.305.
 Ibid., p.137.
 Ibid., p.190.
 Ibid., p.204.
 Ibid., p.7.
 Ibid., p.244.
 Ibid., p.175. The spontaneous political uprising of the Chinese
people in Tiananmen Square was one of the most dramatic examples
of what Arendt means by "action" and "plurality". What arose there
was a community of equals, "where everyone has the same capacity
to act ... and the impossibility of remaining unique masters of
what they do, of knowing its consequences and relying upon the
future" (p.244). Arendt calls this the "price paid for plurality"
-- for the joy of inhabiting together with others a world whose
reality is guaranteed for each by the presence of all. Hence her
emphasis on the "unpredictability" and the "boundlessness" of
action, as well as its inherent glory and irreducible
 Ibid., p.8.
 Ibid., pp.52,204.
 Ibid., p.205.
 Ibid., p.9.
 Ibid., p.204.
 Arendt develops the dimensions of this mentality more fully in her
essay, "The Crisis in Culture", in her *Between Past and Future*
(New York: Viking Press, 1961), pp. 220-4. In contemporary
terminology, the capacity to judge is communicative, not
 Arendt is well aware that, throughout history, vast numbers of
people have been prevented from realizing their existentially
highest human activities. See *Human Condition*, p.199.
Wed, 9 Jan 2008 02:19:25 [PHONE NUMBER REMOVED] Stefan Meretz wrote:
Btw. can you or someone explain "punching the clock and working for the
man"? Is it an idiom?
"Punching the clock", refers to the automated clocking-in and
clocking-out process, some work places have. Each worker has their own
named card, and you put this card in the clock slot at the beginning and
end of each shift and the clock "punches" your card with a time, date stamp.
"Working for the man" ... maybe this can be thought of as "Working for
the cybernetic machine" ... although it is usually a man relaying the
Contact: projekt oekonux.de