Episode 33: On Revolution (Of various types)


It all started when…

            I couldn’t post last week. If you’re a subscriber you probably noticed. If you’re new here, you may have still noticed. It depends on your player, I think. Some make missed posting days more obvious than others do. But that’s irrelevant.

            Normally, the Miscellany Media Studios twitter will have some sort of update if any of us hit some sort of snag when we should be posting. It didn’t last week. I didn’t know what the message should say and our new social media guy didn’t feel comfortable making the judgment call. Which is okay and to be expected. Really, both things, the lack of an episode and the lack of an update, are related.

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            This episode has been difficult for me. It’s somewhat emotionally charged and the script just doesn’t seem to fit together no matter what arrangement I try. I’m having a hard time finding the line between not enough of an explanation and too much of one. Which—if my self-awareness is right—happens a bit too often. I’m working on it but not there yet. But the stakes felt higher with this episode. This episode just comes with an extra weight for me. Partially because someone else is tangentially involved. And this episode is—in a small way—a message to him or a part of a letter to him that I didn’t have the strength to write down at the time.

            Not that I want him to listen to this. God help me, I’m still afraid of his reaction to half the things I say and the way I occasionally mispronounce words I’ve only ever read. That’s just what happens when you look up to someone, I guess.

            Also, this episode is something akin to an explanation to you, my audience. My weird relationship with this book is what started the train of thought that led to this podcast.

            For many reasons the pressure is on. But I managed to get something together, though I’m still not sure if I accomplished what I set out to do.

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            I think all my hedging and apologizing from the past few episodes has really been leading up to this one: a sort of context specific break from the norm. Also known as “it’s a holiday I must be festive” type episode. Or a holiday special if you’re a little less cynical.

            As a (quote) “Christmas” special, I should talk about something that I’d call a gift of some sort. And considering that’s most of what this podcast has become, I just need to raise the stakes a bit. I need to find the ultimate gift. And this is it.

            It’s not fiction. It’s not really a piece of media. And there’s very little reason for anyone to be interested in this train of thought because it’s pretty niche. I’m not making this episode because I think anyone who jumped into this show wants to hear it but because I feel the need to throw these thoughts out into the world and off my shoulders. And they’ve been on my shoulders for almost four years now.

            But then again, this show is increasingly becoming more of a confessional for me. So maybe this episode is just inevitable. Maybe I just need to rip the band aid off when the timing seems remotely right. Not great but remotely okay. And that’s unfortunately now-ish.

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            Hi. It’s M. But if you are a certain person listing to this. You might know me by a very different name. Welcome to my little corner of the internet.

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            Let me explain a few things before I get to the heart of it. I read this book in college. In a small seminar class that turned out to change my life.

            And that’s a phrase that can be problematic. Because it’s thrown around far too often. Even I use it a lot. And when I use it, it’s because it’s true. Or I think it is true and consistent with how I understand the term and how I understand my life. Relative to my life story, I use that phrase to discuss the little changes that made up this big cosmic shift in my life right around college. Every piece mattered. I mean it. One thing gone and everything falls apart. For simplicity’s sake, the two major pieces are this class and the mentor I’ve mentioned in passing in another episode or two.

            One professor might have shifted my perspective on myself, but this class shifted my perspective on the different things I could do, the different paths I could take as it were. It changed what I thought I could do with my life. Before, I thought there was self-sacrifice or blind materialism and nothing in-between. Objective concerns aside, this was subjectively bad for me because I didn’t mesh well with either of those things. After this class… Nope. There’s a lot out there, even if you have to search out the best paths yourself while other people wholeheartedly try to convince you there’s no path out there in those woods.

            This class taught me that thinking—even if I wasn’t an employed academic in an ivory tower—could be a life philosophy and not just a practice, and this life philosophy, no pun intended, one fit me perfectly. It was the last piece I needed in this new life I was building for myself. And it just so happened to be foundational. I needed it. In conjunction with other things, yes, but I still needed it.

            I said as much to him. Multiple times. Not in person but in thank you notes. After all, I’m not as good at in person interactions as I am in writing, so sometimes, I just try to avoid them. Either way, I can justify it, I guess. Notes like that endure better than memories do. And maybe that means something. Maybe that was relevant to him. However, because of that I did keep it vague. For better or for worse, who’s to say…

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            So much of ourselves is locked away in our own minds, where even our most intimate friends and dearest family can’t see the full picture. It’s not so much a choice but a logistical issue. One that cannot be worked around. There’s no way to transplant someone on the outside into our inner world, and even if we could, there would no amount of time they could spend inside of us that would show them or teach them everything. And even if this were somehow scientifically possible, I doubt we’d ever let that happen.

            I wonder if this is especially true for me. That so many things happened in my life that landed in unexpected ways that now everything about my reality is a little… off, relatively speaking. Of course, I have no way of knowing that. That’s how it all works, after all. I also don’t know if this bothers anyone else. That, wouldn’t be so hard to find out. I could always ask. But I don’t know how or if this seems like a reasonable question to anyone who isn’t me.


            It’s a lot of things to consider, a lot of thoughts to juggle, and a lot of reasons to say nothing at all. So I often don’t. As both a default and a coping mechanism, I err on the side of saying very little, aided by the fear that no one wants to hear what I have to say. In the moment, anyway. There’s a finite amount of time and when you’re out and about, it seems to move a lot quicker.

            Also, I was afraid of him. It wasn’t that he came across as a jerk or overly strict or unfair in anyway. Or that I thought he would do me wrong if I crossed him. He had just had a very a specific type of voice: the kind that’s great for a voiceover or if you for some reason needed to cast a traditional, stereotypical “God-voice.” Second, it seemed like he knew everything. You could ask him a question, and in addition to an actual answer, he’d suggest articles and books relating to the subject off the top of his head and with no time to rack his brain for that information.

            Third, I looked up to him: a sentiment I always followed up with “please don’t hate me.” I valued his opinion, and while it wasn’t definitive by any means especially when it came to my worth, I didn’t have the consist self-esteem required to fully believe that.

            And so, I kept quiet. I said the bare minimum to justify the sense of gratitude I felt, enough to fill the space in a thank you know, but that was it.

            Now, I do wonder if I should have said more. If that would have meant anything to him. But that’s an explanation I need to put off for now and not for you all.

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            Today, I want to talk about the book On Revolution by Hannah Arendt. Not the usual fare for this show, as I’ve said.

            Hannah Arendt was a political theorist, or that’s the term she preferred over “philosopher,” whose name has gained increasing relevance in recent years. I think I’ve seen one of her other books The Origins of Totalitarianism on the front desks of many bookstores or with those bookseller recommendation cards, pretty much everywhere I go. She wrote on a variety of different subjects. Her thoughts, sometimes scattered, were seemingly linked by her experience as a German Jewish woman affected by the atmosphere of 1930s Germany and the rise of Nazism.

            She was able to escape to the US and made that her new home, but instead of turning away from politics as some sort of scapegoat or just a waste of time, she took to it, dissected it, but came just shy of outright preaching. At least to me. She always seemed uninterested in the act of preaching. It meant interaction on some level whereas—to her—there was investigation, thought, and political theory, largely solitary activities. I always assumed that to her it was all about ideas and truth, considering in her texts, she came across rather blunt and without any sort of “social acceptability filter.”

            And look, if you’ve heard some of the critiques of her other works and have serious concerns about her as a result, I’m not going to dismiss those as irrelevant. I do think it’s part of her disinterest in the social protocols and dictums we’ve made up for ourselves. And that we made those rules for a reason or two, at least. But if you want a more specific, more indepth retort, I have adopted one, but it’s the one my professor had. So forgive me for being vague, but if I go into details, I’m tipping my hand a bit too much. And you’ll know who taught me if I go into it.

            I want to leave him out of my absurdity whenever possible. Odds are, he’s got his own life to deal with. And maybe he genuinely doesn’t want my explanations. All his prerogative. I’m not taking that from him.

            As for me, I’m not even sure I want him to hear this episode. I’m not sure what the best thing is other than to just say it.

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            On Revolution is a discussion of two sister revolutions that happened fairly close together but took very different directions: the American Revolution—which Arendt hailed largely as a success—and the French Revolution—which was a disaster but is still well studied and even emulated. It imploded and still somehow that’s the standard. Arendt was trying to make sense of all it. And for her, the turning point was when the French Revolutionaries panicked, forgot about freedom, and focused on tending to the masses. While understandable, losing sight of the foundation for the sake of the walls wasn’t a great long term solution.

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            But I’m not here to talk about theory—be it the actual theory or the horribly boiled down theory I just spat out. I’m also not here to talk about her philosophy at all but a single line.

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            “Pity, taken as the spring of virtue, has proven to possess a greater capacity for cruelty than cruelty itself.”

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            I was sitting in a café with my best friend and younger sister. It was a usual morning for us: up before the rest of campus, killing time or doing required readings in a silent hallway while the faculty and staff scrambled to get something done before the rush of students brought a host of unexpected responsibilities and problems. As a typical morning and as a typical activity, it maybe should have been nothing. But it wasn’t.

            Instead, it was like seeing an old friend in a new light. There’s that rush of warmth and familiarity, but it was coupled with mystery and promise. No, it was more than a visit but a reunion that ushered in a new era of your life. Almost like reconnecting with your high school sweetheart and not necessarily falling in love all over again but realizing that that person is always going to be a part of who you are.

            You see, it was a more eloquent version of a thought I had almost a decade before I took the class when I was still in the haze of post-my-father’s-funeral. Not his death. I never fully got out of that, but the funeral presented its own challenges. Like trying to find my father’s friends to invite them to the event. Turns out: he didn’t have many.

            But that’s neither here nor there. The relevant one concerned the flowers people sent, often in lieu of their attendance. Fair enough, I guess, if you can’t make it. But I wonder how much was a genuine “can’t” versus an equally genuine “won’t” or “don’t want to.” And look, I don’t want to go to funerals either. But they could just left it at that.

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            My father died just before Easter. We rushed his funeral preparations just to get him laid to rest before Holy Thursday. If not, he’d have to wait. Likely too long. We’re Catholic. In Catholicism, liturgies go on and can go well, but particularly during Holy Week, they can be planned tightly. With little to no room for any surprises, like a funeral. Logistically or liturgically. Sure, our priest would have made room, but at the time it felt like a big ask…So we didn’t ask. We just tried to get everything together.


            When someone dies, the tradition in the US is to send flowers. Usually to the family from a flower shop. In the digital era, most shops let you order online either directly through their website or through a central nation-wide hub. But either way, the second you log onto that website you will be bombarded with some sort of seasonally appropriate special or deal. That’s how capitalism works. Also, not really a deal all the time or not to the extent they want you to think. I think they just want to take advantage of the seasonal trends. Like when they advertise Easter lilies. What other flower are you going to fill your homes with for Easter than one that has the word “Easter” in the name? Or your church? Probably your church. They’re just making the process as easy as possible.

            That’s… that’s all it’s supposed to be.

            But still, our family ended up with a small apartment full of Easter lilies. And then those Easter lilies ended up being my responsibility. Which—if you know anything about that type of flower… you were probably better off than I was. They are incredibly difficult flowers to take care of, and when they are given as a gift, the expense involved compels the recipient to at least try. Try and fail. And then feel terrible about their failure.

            As if I didn’t already feel bad enough.

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            Now, there may be a theological reason to send someone Easter lilies in a wake of a death. After all, in Easter, Jesus rose from the dead and made it possible for all of us to do the same. However, those people who sent us those flowers weren’t very religious, though. So I doubt they made the connection. In fact, they hardly seemed to know us. Or, that’s what I thought.

            In the weeks after his death, Dad was all I wanted to talk about. Largely because… Well, actually it was probably just a coping mechanism, but everything seemed to remind me of him. I had a story relevant to almost everything and every context. And these tales were flowing from my mouth. I was desperate to tell them.

            And sure, it might have been annoying. I can admit that. Think back to an earlier part of the episode. This is something I understand far too well. And maybe I knew that even then. Hindsight isn’t great for that sort of thing. But still, they told me or my mom that they would do anything to help us. “If we needed anything” was how they said it. And all I needed was someone to listen, some sort of audience, no matter how passive or disinterested.

            But no, I was dismissed, the subject was changed, and all of that done supposedly in my best interest. Because, you know, it would hurt me to talk about him. It would upset me, or so they said. And maybe they weren’t wrong. Maybe what I needed was not to think about him so much. But have you ever heard the old saying about dying twice? First, you die when you physical die, and then you die a second time, when no one speaks your name death.

            Maybe that’s not completely accurate. But the idea of a double loss that mirrors this double death certainly rings true. At least in my experience. After all, those stories were all I had left of Dad once he was physically gone when dead and laid to rest. That’s almost like two different losses when it first happened. But details aside, the act of storytelling, the act of giving breath to these tales, gave me something to hold onto, and that too was stripped away. Supposedly for my own sake.

            And in the meantime, everyone else was free to whisper.

            “It’s a pity,” someone else said. And they were right. Just not how they intended to be.

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            This is something I tried to explain in a graduate school paper once, but I’m not sure it worked out right. It’s a hard thing for me to be objective about, and that’s what you need to do in an academic paper, so maybe I missed my mark. Pity is a weird thing. We call it a virtue, we say it pushes us to alleviate the suffering of other people. When we feel pity, we see someone suffering, we share in that despair, and then we are moved to fix it. Which makes us feel good. We feel important, larger than ourselves, and as if we have conquered in some small way something that could have destroyed us.

            And therein lies the problem. Because pity isn’t just a sentiment. It’s almost like an action that requires an object. Someone needs to be the recipient of that pity. You cannot have pity without someone to be pitied. And if pity makes you feel good or leads to something that makes you feel good, then you have every reason to not completely fix someone’s situation. Because if you can, you lose that high. You just need to feel good in the moment. That’s all you’re after. And really, no one—not even the recipient—actually matters.

            I’ve thought that for a while, but I could never say that. People don’t like being called out on the true motives of their supposed good deeds. And maybe you too, dear listener, recoiled when I said that. And in many ways, this sentiment has almost being a crutch. So maybe it was even a little cruel for me to kick it. Even as a young teenager, I knew that and felt compelled to be silent.

            Instead of actual help and care, I got flowers that were impossible to care for and had to receive them graciously. And to add salt to that specific wound, Dad had the green thumb in the family. I’m guessing it skipped a generation or two. That was something else I couldn’t talk about.

            I received a gift that turned out to be a burden. And I had to smile when it happened.

            In thinking that, knowing that I couldn’t say it aloud, made me feel so much more alone. I tried to push that thought, and for a while, it worked.

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            That line was the spark that pushed me headlong into political theory and into a life based (often) on too much thought and introspection. It’s what led me to tear through things like media in my own specific way. Not that I told my professor any of this.

            This is what I did tell him: that I believe we seek out heroes as a way of mapping out possibilities. Their accomplishments show us what can be done in a world that is seemingly always telling us no. And it does this in a way that plays into our human nature quite well. After all, we are social creatures; we learn and experience things best with others. The ideal composition of that group may vary according to personality types, but I’m not going to get too into the thick of that here.

            As for me, I just needed a very specific type of example. One that had certain details. And Professor, you unintentionally gave me that….


            This professor handed out notes at the start of each seminar. These packets had more of the nitty gritty: dates, names, outlines of the larger argument in case we didn’t get into everything, and—most importantly—biographical details of the author herself.

            Hannah Arendt lost her father at age seven. No word on when she lost her ability to tolerate what she thought was nonsense or what type of flowers were sent to her in the wake of her father’s death. I always thought that was interesting thing to know, but yeah, that’s not going to happen.

            Hannah Arendt had been through some of the things I had been through. And in response, she had gone her own way. And she showed me I could do the same. I could live my life against supposed common sense. I could live my life according to what I knew to be true. That train of thought underlies a lot of her arguments in her other books, but I don’t think I would have paid attention if it wasn’t for that book, for that specific line, and the care that was put into make those packets for us.

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            That line, that book, that class did change my life. After all, it might have been a bad idea for me to go to graduate school, to take the job I currently have and genuinely love, or to do any other number of things. But I did those things, and I’m better off for them. Also I’m potentially on the verge of some big shift in my life. Not going to go into specifics, but it’s something I could have never seen coming four years ago. And never would have embraced if it wasn’t for that class.

            I’m happy, and I’m not going to care about the sentiments other people impose on me. Because really. It’s not doing me a bit of good.


            Another thing I’ve said to him: That I believe there’s a difference between intention and effect. The exact degree of responsibility involved in effects as a result of that… I’m still trying to work that out. Now, I wonder what his understanding of all that is.

            Because, Professor, yes, you were just teaching a class and doing a job, but you gave me a gift that semester. One that has spiraled into something unforeseeable. You’re the only person in that entire life shift I never thanked in person, and I regret that. I also regret a number of others things that you may or may not know about.

            But thank you… I don’t think I could ever say that enough.


            On a lighter note, dear audience, I do owe you an episode, and I will try and get that out as soon as I can. It may mean a double upload one Sunday, but I’m not going to count on it, and it certainly won’t be next Sunday. For better or worse, I think we’ve crossed some sort of bridge here, so thank you for letting me take this detour.

            And I hope this new year is full of “gifts” literal or otherwise, media-based or real life based for you all and all those near you.

            Thanks for being here.

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