Dark Times

“I borrow the term [“dark times”] from Brecht’s famous poem ‘To Posterity,’ which mentions the disorder and the hunger, the massacres and the slaughterers, the outrage over injustice and the despair ‘when there was only wrong and no outrage,’ the legitimate hatred that makes you ugly nevertheless, the well-founded wrath that makes the voice grow hoarse. All this was real enough as it took place in public; there was nothing secret or mysterious about it. And still, it was by no means visible to all, nor was it at all easy to perceive it; for until the very moment when catastrophe overtook everything and everybody, it was covered up not by realities but by the highly efficient talk and double-talk of nearly all official representatives who, without interruption and in many ingenious variations, explained away unpleasant facts and justified concerns. When we think of dark times and of people living and moving in them, we have to take this camouflage, emanating from and spread by ‘the establishment’ – or ‘the system,’ as it was then called – also into account. If it is the function of the public realm to throw light on the affairs of men by providing a space of appearances in which they can show in deed and word, for better and worse, who they are and what they can do, then darkness has come when this light is extinguished by ‘credibility gaps’ and ‘invisible government,’ by speech that does not disclose what is but sweeps it under the carpet, by exhortations, moral and otherwise, that, under the pretext of upholding old truths, degrade all truth to meaningless triviality.

Nothing of this is new.

(Hannah Arendt, Preface to Men in Dark Times)

Technoscientific Angst

“The anguish of artists and poets is celebrated by societies that expect justice and happiness in the future regardless of their current conditions. Anguish is accepted and endorsed not so much as a judgment about the present but as a means to envision and usher in a different future. Oddly enough, those who are members of the technoscientific community are discouraged from playing the same social role as do artists and poets; their anguish is neither acknowledged nor displayed. On the rare occasions when they express professional anxiety, personal anguish, or cultural angst, they are invited to leave the technoscientific community. I find this situation unfortunate, disturbing, and socially harmful. It is reasonable to believe that if members of the technoscientific community were encouraged to display their concerns publicly and thereby enhance the critical involvement of society as a whole (as did, for example, Joseph Rotblat, the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize laureate), we might be spared in the future the horrors of the past, like those of Auschwitz and Hiroshima.”

From the Preface of Raphael Sassower’s Technoscientific Angst: Ethics And Responsibility (1997). Compare Don Ihde’s remarks discussed here.