The Unrepaired and the Irreparable

In chapter six of Spelman’s Repair, she writes of what we perhaps should not repair, despite our natural inclination to the past. Ruins are her first example, crumbling and decaying remnants of ancient cities and monuments. We should preserve them for many reasons, besides the fact that they are strangely alluring for morbid joy or reminding ourselves of our own mortality. For one, we preserve them for their authentic connection to the past. Many people today can stand where great philosophers taught and religious ceremonies were held.

If ruins speak of and speak to humans’ relationship to their gods and to nature, they also mediate our relations with other humans, both living and dead. Plato may no longer be with us, but standing in the Acropolis, the living philosopher can imagine being in conversation with him. (107)

An even greater connection can be made by someone if the original structures were constructed by ancestors of their racial identity rather than just our precursors as human beings. Ruins can also remind us not only that we may die, but that we can make mistakes. A reminder of mortality can be as simple as watching a clock for too long, but ruins show that even the mighty will crumble and fall at a misstep. The ruins of Rome bring to mind their belligerent concurring and over reliance on slaves as a crutch for their society’s economy. Repairing ruins destroys their meaning, almost as if we are pretending the past never existed.

But not everything that breaks can be fixed. The skills we repairing animals have to learn include the self reflexive one of coming to grips with the limits of those skills and figuring out what to do in the face of the irreparable. In many cases the judgement that is something is irreparable is not straightforward and the declaration of irreparability represents the result of struggles over when, where, and how to use our reparative resources. Moreover, both reparability and irreparability have their consolations, so we can’t assume that declarations of irreparabilty are always and everywhere met with dismay or disappointment.

Thinking in terms of what we should not repair reminds me of a much more personal struggle that every human will go through in their own life time. Some may see their current life as ruins, far from the glory days that they once had. A star athlete in college gets injured before going professional, growing old and unable to let their memories rest or seek out new enjoyable experiences. A man laid off from his dream job becomes depressed and develops an eating disorder. A happy romantic couple breaks up and neither one of them are truly ready to have another person in their lives yet but both immediately search desperately anyway. Not only are the damages of time unrepairable through restoration, but searching for repair in our lives because we can not accept what is broken, not accepting that we sometimes do not have control over what is broken, or not realizing that we were never really “broken” to begin with, is simply destructive.

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Reparations and Apolpogies

The best way to seek forgiveness is possibly both reparations and an emotional apology. Not everyone will be willing to hear out or answer an apology. This is explained by Spelman,

“The one to whom the apology is offered can threaten the exe­cution of the apology if she disagrees with the description of that for which the apology is offered”(84), “Silence is-but does not seem-an option for the person to whom the apology is offered”(85).

Using solely reparations is cold-hearted and harder to grasp onto for the one who is offered the apology. We see an example of this in chapter five when Spelman discusses the reparations the United States government gave to the surviving victims and their families of the Tuskegee. Regardless of the hefty ten million dollars, the African-American community is understandably still frustrated with the government. Although the lack of emotion in the apology from Bill Clinton comes more from the lack of validity in his emotion as he was uninvolved in the U.S.’s racial atrocities rather than how legitimately sorrowful he may feel, this is still a strong example of how just reparations are not enough.
When others refuse to hear out my apology, a great way to coerce them into communicating is to use immediate reparations first. For example, in an argument between friends, the apologizer can first ask to take the one harmed out to dinner. This shows that the apologizer is invested and is willing to “pay the price” to talk to the other person without impersonally paying them cash, as well as it being a nice gesture. It may not get them speaking at first, but at least they’re at the table. Then I can begin a genuine apology that they’ll be able to hear and consider. Nine times out of ten this works for me.  No one is happy with solely reparations unless they are completely uninterested in what the potential apologizer has to say in the first place. It is the combination of both that can truly get the job done.

On the opposite side, In chapter 4 of Repair, Spelman discusses the difference between restorative justice and our current justice system. She states that they are both flawed, which is true. Restorative justice works on a fairly open ended case-by-case basis of “punishment” which is hard to enforce as fair when the accused cite precedent. Using a combination of both, with restorative justice variating and traditional justice being the base, I believe we can make a fair and reparative justice system. Say for example, two people both commit robberies, one of a local mom-and-pop shop, and one of a franchise. Both should receive the same sentence from a jury in our justice system. Although the one who stole from the mom-and-pop shop had nearly run them out of business and the community would have suffered because they are emotionally attached to the owners and their memories of visiting the store. That criminal would not only have to apologize to the owners but also other local community members. The criminal who robbed the franchise would in turn only have to apologize to the chain owner as the corporate owners would not have let the store go out of business.

Home as a Human Repair Shop

The way Spelman relates the household to self repair in Repair: The Impulse to Restore a Fragile World is a great starting point to allow the reader to relate the concept of repair to their entire lives. The previous descriptions of cars and paintings being repaired are interesting, but for us to truly relate, a connection to our own functions as humans is necessary. The concept of repair is intuitively connected to inanimate objects, as the word repair is already commonly referred to for fixing machinery, one of her primary examples. Showing that us as humans require repair every day in our own repair shop is important. Not only must we bathe and rest, but as children we learn, as parents we teach, as spouses we support, and as a family we cooperate. Through these experiences, we repair ourselves and our family physically and mentally to leave our houses and take on the world.

 

Perhaps one of the most interesting ideas brought up by this example is that we can not only relate this to our own lives, but also to the more fortunate, political figures, successful businessmen, or celebrities. While some may idolize or demonize those above us, they all in some way have this household where they return to. For example, presidential candidate Donald Trump has been in the media’s spotlight time and time again, well known for his many lucrative ventures and failures. Although, regardless of his financial or political standing, he at least has to repair his signature hair style for some form of consistent public appearance. The need for a “household” or somewhere to return to at the end of the day for physical or emotional repair is important in anyone’s life for many reasons.

 

In parallel, Spelman herself brings up the troubling issue of one without a home, what we refer to as “homeless”. When we think of a homeless person, a disheveled wanderer comes to mind, maybe even that their previous home was not the model household for self repair.  This is someone sad, broken, and living undefined without loved ones to take them in and look after them. Lacking these essential needs only dampens the determination towards getting a job and putting their life back on track. Short term goals such as finding food for the day and shelter for the night become primary concerns. Instant gratification habits like drugs and alcohol become far easier to fall into for an escape from reality. Without a “repair shop”, a person’s life can unravel and fall apart.

 

In conclusion, I admire the way Spelman allows the reader to relate to her ideas from their closest personal lives to those around them. When reading Repair, I am constantly reminded of ways in my own life that I strive to repair my emotions, relationships, and material belongings. Whether it be sleeping in my dorm, visiting my parents on the weekends, or restringing my guitar, repair is everywhere. Not only can this concept be related to my own life of a middle class average American, but to those of all backgrounds.