Inevitably, many, most, if not nearly all camps this year will write a security kritik and a Heidegger kritik, perhaps a capitalism kritik, and then leave it at that. These are tried and true literatures and unfortunately in coaching high school students on kritik, we rarely push the bounds for new literature to expand critical debates. In this post, I will suggest that perhaps there are other critical concerns that may be related to our well-tread kritiks, but open up different possibilities for kritik debate. I will argue that the work of Hannah Arendt may offer us a different standpoint from which to kritik the quest to explore space beyond the mesosphere. This post will not be filled with cards, but will discuss the general contours of the kritik and its strategic value.
Hannah Arendt, in The Human Condition, seeks to answer the question, what is the nature of human society and how has it reacted to unprecedented change in the modern age? The book, published in 1958, begins with a meditation on the meaning of the launching of Sputnik into space. She writes, “The immediate reaction, expressed on the spur of the moment, was relief about the first ‘step toward escape from men’s imprisonment to the earth.’” (1) Why do we have this desire to leave the earth? Arendt argues that it’s because of a deep desire to escape the human condition, which is the condition of plurality of human life, with its attendant uncertainty, spontaneity and uncontrollability. She speculates that,
It could be that we, who are earth-bound creatures and have begun to act as though we were dwellers of the universe, will forever be unable to understand, that is, to think and speak about the things which nevertheless we are able to do. In this case, it would be as though our brain, which constitutes the physical, material condition of our thoughts, were unable to follow what we do, so that from now on we would indeed need artificial machines to do our thinking and speaking. If it should turn out that knowledge (in the modern sense of know-how) and thought have parted company for good, then we should indeed become the helpless slaves, not so much of our machines as of our know-how, thoughtless creatures at the mercy of every gadget which is technically possible, no matter how murderous it is. (The Human Condition, 3)
So here, we have several debate-worthy claims: the desire to escape the earth, left unexamined, will lead us to a position where we accept the technological solution to all problems, unable to critically evaluate for ourselves whether they create the type of life that allows thought and human action, leading to our subservience to murderous technological thought. Arendt forces us to think about what it means to be human as opposed to a mere biological life process and argues that if we leave technology unexamined politically (not by politicians, mind you, but by individuals who constitute human society), we will no longer be able to live life as humans. The alternative? Well, in some regards, asking and answering the question, what is the Human Condition, through the process of kritik is the alternative because we could leave the means-end thinking that dominates the way the aff thinks about politics. This is a “thinking kritik,” not a representations kritik. The aff thought about the world incorrectly. We should think about it differently. Because the plan is not a part of this thinking, but rather, only its conclusion, the kritik may very well come to the same conclusion, but with radically different results (some call this a Floating PIC. I just call it an irrelevant question of the debate.)
Arendt has an extremely idiosyncratic use of concepts, but she is very clear in terms of setting out the priorities of human life, what human community is for, and the perils of science. This makes her both accessible, but tricky because her idiosyncrasies make her malleable in debate yet her prose is extremely clear (in distinction to Heidegger). Her own intellectual commitment to understand how Nazi Germany could have happened makes her easy to assimilate to current ways of understanding in debate, but the standard sorts of responses do not work against her because, ultimately, she does not reject anything in toto; she only believes that the political sphere has to exclude certain things, like means-end logic, in order to provide a space where freedom is actually possible. Plus, some people who are the favorites for impact calculus are interpreters of Arendt (George Kateb comes to mind as an author who has shown up recently in debate that provides arguments for valuing freedom above security). Plus, she actually wrote about space exploration. Beyond this preface, she wrote an essay called “The Conquest of Space and the Stature of Man.” These are all reasons I find Arendt an intriguing author on this year’s topic and I’d implore debaters to consider branching out from both the oft-trodden kritiks of old and to consider who else may have something to say about this year’s topic. Plus, she was never a Nazi (here that, Schmitt and Heidegger?) If Arendt isn’t your cup of tea, that fine, but there is educational and strategic value to considering the work of different authors who are not easily assimilable into the already-known universe of kritik literature.
In order to do this, you need to learn your authors well. Just as the best debaters know everything about their aff (if you do not know the status of negotiations with the Taliban, current reports from Gates and Petraus on our troop successes and setbacks, and the political situation of Karzai, you probably will not sound nearly as good on your COIN aff than those who do), the best kritik debaters know a lot about their primary authors. The difference between running a kritik as a strategic option and being a kritik debater is the ability to speak knowledgably about how the author’s entire worldview works. Even though the majority of Arendt’s work is not about space, reading her major works will give you a leg up against any affirmative who just has their stock K answers without ever having read the author in question. If your season is over and you want to be one of those kritik debaters who other teams are scared of, use this time now to invest in a position and an author to a degree that will be impossible at camp. Think about how their arguments fit into debate and what standard aff claims they answer. Then, you will be at least two steps ahead of any affirmative team for a substantial part of the year. Continue reading, even if there are no cards to be cut. Knowledge is invaluable (see Max Hantel’s earlier post if you doubt me).