Banality of Evil

You will be gladly excused if you have never heard of Hanna Arendt or Adolf Eichman, but you will not be excused if you are guilty of not thinking. Arendt’s book “Eichman in Israel” is a work that remains to be understood. Ardent brought forth the term, ‘banality of evil’, that has been co-opted to mean many things. It remains relevant. The other day I attended a lecture by Seyla Benhabib, “Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: Fifty Years Later.” On this topic Peter Ludlow recently published an opinion piece, Eichman in Israel

In “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” one of the most poignant and important works of 20th-century philosophy, Hannah Arendt made an observation about what she called “the banality of evil.” One interpretation of this holds that it was not an observation about what a regular guy Adolf Eichmann seemed to be, but rather a statement about what happens when people play their “proper” roles within a system, following prescribed conduct with respect to that system, while remaining blind to the moral consequences of what the system was doing — or at least compartmentalizing and ignoring those consequences.

Read the rest here. Also for a cinematic introduction to this chapter of history see the 2012 biographical film directed by Margarethe von Trotta, “Hannah Arendt.


Photo credt John Hogg

This is it. Gregory Maqoma’s back is to the audience. If you’re going to dance with your back to the audience, you’re going to reveal something when you turn around. If you are going to dance history, you are going to lose something in translation. This could be a protest against language, but it is not. It is a collaboration of dance and language. It is an experiment in conserving language. If you’re lost in your language, you’re lost in identity. I got lost in this show Exit/Exist last night. It was a compelling expression of an unknown history into a physical dance.


“When you step into that movement you’re stepping into a part of yourself that is missing.” Maqoma says after the performance. Exit/Exist is a modern dance that tells the history of the renowed Xhosa chief Maqoma. What is happening is he isn’t dancing a history so much as collaborating with his ancestor’s stories to tell a new story. The whole thing from start to finish is an enthralling collaboration of ideas, things, movements, times, histories, and people.


Exit/Exist was created by choreographer and director Gregory Maqoma to tell the story of chief Maqoma of the Xhosa nation. Gregory Maqoma is himself a direct decedent of chief Maqoma. Sometimes you only know enough to know that you don’t know. When it comes to dance I know that I don’t know, but I can feel it. Even more so I know that my ability to place any struggle of the Xhosa (a people native to South Africa whose notables include Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu) into context is mostly futile. In this way I think dance breaks through. Even if I utterly fail, I can try to imagine Chief Maqoma’s traditions. I can watch them being pulled into the complexity of the contemporary world with dance. But actually, Maqoma’s world was as equally complex as our contemporary world, like this dance itself.


Gregoy Maqoma and the Vuyani dance theater with their show Exit/Exist are in Seattle till the 27th then in early November they take the show to Brooklyn then Los Angeles. The music for this show is done live by the South African vocal group Complete. You should check these amazing artists out and go see this performance, or any live performance as soon as possible because sometimes, like it was last night, performers are on.

Box within a Box

My skepticism for this concept was quickly displaced by engagement.  This dance with technology is impressive… Nearly everything you see is pre-programmed, controlled by a master script. The man experiences a role reversal, to interact naturally with the technology.

From this distant vantage point

“From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here, that’s home, that’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.


The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.


Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.


The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.


It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

-Carl Sagan

Welcome to Common Observer

Common observers abound, but the uncommon observation is what intrigues. Welcome to Common Observer the new blog, online magazine, zine, aggregator, compendium of oddities, opinion platform, and all around host of raconteurs. It is surely going to be an evolution. This is where it begins.


Common Observer will be a place for science, philosophy, art, culture, and so much more. We will create and aggregate content on any topic which is compelling. Currently that we is just an I, The Astronomist, but I plan to add other editors and contributors as it all evolves. I have done the intense blogging thing before and it seems to me that having help is more than reasonable. I’d like to make a collaboration of Common Observers so if you have uncommon observations to make speak up over at @CommonObserver.


We must reason as if we are the most common observer

The name Common Observer has its origin from a few places. First off, we are all common observers. I think the phrase came into my consciousness when I was reading about observer selection effects in science. The idea is that all our observations are inherently biased by the mere fact of observation – only that which can be observed may be observed.  All evidence is gathered by those who are suitable observers and thus some observations are impossible and all observations are biased. It has been argued that we must reason as if we are the most common observer. That is you can’t reasonably claim your observations are unique if you want to extrapolate larger conclusions. And yet we maintain that each observation is unique. For a more detailed look into exactly this see the about Common Observer page.


An uncommon observation is something that challenges our human condition of common observation. A poem, a theorem, a dance, an equation, a painting, a story, a novel, or a theoretical truth may all be uncommon observations about the world we inhabit. Lets make uncommon observations that raise new questions.  Welcome to a place of uncommon observations.