To Repair or Not To Repair

When something is broken, we as human beings make it our goal to repair it; however, not everything can be repaired, and perhaps not everything should be repaired. Elizabeth Spelman talks about physical ruins such as the Acropolis in Greece in order to make hint to physical things that shouldn’t be repaired because of their great teachings about ancient societies in both their life and death. We cannot make “Babylon, Palmyra, Troy, Angkor Wat, the Acropolis, Tintern Abbey, [or] Machu Picchu” (Spelman 103) as whole as they once were, in fact we may run the risk of destroying them altogether in an attempt to repair them, so therefore we leave them alone to rot into extinction without further human touch. So what should be done with abstractions that are be left to the weathering of interactions, such as relationships and ideas, along with those ruins?

Ruins can function as some of the most useful tools for us to see the past. Whether it be practical history or connections to the spiritual world, ruins can offer us insight into the past. Some people see “ruins as [an underscore of] the difference between imperfect, palpably mortal humans and a perfect, immortal God” (Spelman 106-107), personifying the spiritual aspect of disrepair. Ruins show humans that we are not entirely good at making things last. Our cities crumble, our civilizations fail, and we survive solely on a succession of consecutive failures which only stand to exist so that we can progress more toward perfection. We do not attempt to repair these things but instead to one-up them in another inevitable failure. It is these failures, in essence, that make us human and divide us from God, who is perceived to be the highest standard of perfection that we only know how to achieve through death, a standard which lacks the need for repair as everything created will live on in perfection. In a more specific example, however, “at least some contemporary American Indians [see] the ruins of ancient tribal communities…not [as] places where ancestors used to live but where their spirits still reside” (Spelman 110). Native Americans view their surroundings as the events that had occurred within them, according to this observation by Spelman, so upon seeing abandoned villages of their ancestors, they see it as still filled with spiritual life, thus not needing repair. In this sense, our dead relatives can teach us a lot about our apparent desperate need for repair that perhaps is not necessary at all.

Repair is also questionable in use for human bonds. The examples that Spelman relied on was that of Holocaust survivors and how their minds and attitudes are scarred by the atrocities that they prevailed through, but sometimes repair isn’t necessary on a much smaller scale. Quite vaguely, Spelman closed chapter six with the words “the forces of evil…cannot do irreparable harm. But sometimes they can” (Spelman 123), which can be interpreted in several ways. This first depends on one’s definition of evil: villainous people, school bullies, death, etc. In my definition, evil surrounds death and departure. Death might mean putting down the dog that you’ve had for fifteen years. You’ll probably get over it with the sight of a new puppy in Fido’s place, making this evil not irreparable, but what of when a relationship ends? We all know the saga of the couple who goes through a “rough break-up” twice a month, but what of the more final break-ups, the ones in which there is no turning back from? It could end from infidelity or a lack of love but either way it will be followed by the death of a relationship and the departure of both parties. In that sense, the evil that followed their relationship is irreparable. This evil fractured the lives of two people and brought them apart.

Irreparability is very flimsy. If not caught in time, repair is not an option for a civilization or relationship. But if caught in time, repair can be done and either can continue to stand strong. It all lies along the line of whether or not humans are in good enough of a conditioned to repair other things rather than themselves and their willingness to do so.

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The Greatest Divide

Throughout chapters four and five of Repair, Elizabeth Spelman discusses the idea of justice in great detail. She touched upon the different kinds of legal justice, such as restorative healing and retributive punishment, one of which locks perpetrators away without trying to repair the damage they had done and the other tries to heal the victim, society, and the perpetrator as well; however, she made more intriguing comments in chapter five as she talked about the argument of reparations versus apologies.

Spelman finished the chapter with some very insightful words, whether or not they may be valid is a different story. She wrote that “even if reparations mean never having to say you’re sorry, they may sometimes be the necessary prelude to learning just what one is sorry for” (Spelman 101). She based her argument mainly on James Baldwin’s refusal of a white apology for slavery, a refusal of which claimed that the white race as a whole did not understand what they were apologizing for, as though they were listening through a wall for hundreds of years of disgusting mistreatment of other human beings, and that’s where I feel that her argument loses its validity. As people know, an argument is only as strong as the evidence that holds it up, so saying that an entire race of people within America doesn’t know right from wrong is blasphemous.

Baldwin had the audacity to say that white people “have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it” (Spelman 91) which, to put it shortly, is a bit skewed from the truth. It is unlikely, if not impossible, for an entire race of people to know not what their ancestors had done. While it is true that they may not know exactly what had been done to slaves in America’s beginning, the growth of social media and cinema, while not entirely accurate, can give us an idea such as Django Unchained and other related movies that deal with slave labor. But I digress, a refusal of black forgiveness of a white apology seems just as inhuman. Racism still exists in America, there is no way to deny that fact, but slavery, on the other hand, is nonexistent. So tell me, James Baldwin, how could the dastardly slave owners who whipped and beat people who should’ve been viewed as their equals apologize now when they’re all dead and gone? Would it be better if their innocent and better educated offspring did it? What would the gain of the black community be if I were to apologize for what my great-great-great grandfather had done? Nothing that can be said or done can make slavery okay but people like Baldwin are key characters in making sure racism lives on.

Imagine, if you will, a world in which we live without rigid lines of black and white. One where we live in peace and harmony and judge people on the quality of their being, not on the color of their skin. This world can exist as a reality if we simply leave the past in the past. There’s no need for a race war over slavery or segregation or any such eras in history, for they no longer exist. Spelman held up Baldwin’s statement that whites “are too pathetic to be blamed for what they’ve done…[calling] the white soul…crazed, irrational, deeply doubt-ridden, their cruelty more hideous for being gratuitous, as natural as breathing” (Spelman 95) but words like that only divide us further as a nation. It’s too late for a white apology, for the perpetrators lie six feet under the ground with their victims next to them. We are all equal in death, so why not be equal in life. There needs to be no black forgiveness of a white apology, there needs only be love. In the words of Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr., “hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” (King), so let us give up our petty differences and relieve them to the past. Let us be brothers and sisters, as we will be buried together as just that.

The Mortality of a Tool

Repair comes in various faces and forms, applied in far different situations, each requiring its own careful study in order to deal with the situation correctly, but perhaps this isn’t truly the case. Elizabeth Spelman’s book Repair deals with the parts of life, physically and emotionally, in which repair is necessary. She explores the different kinds of repair, such as basic repair, restoration, and conservation, while also touching on the different methods as used between men and women.

Her explanations of the different kinds of repair and gender are rather thought-provoking, such as how men and women each react to the need for emotional repair in different ways. Men will refer highly to “consistency—that when another case comes along it will be treated in the same way” (Spelman) in such the way as the team of women attempted to conserve the slashed painting. While men rely on consistency, “women, on this view, do not share the assumption that the proper resolution of [a] dilemma requires the application of a governing law or principle” (Spelman) such as Willie the mechanic, who works tirelessly just to make sure that a car will run again, no matter the parts or method to achieve that goal. The reason that this is notable in the book is not simply because of the interesting difference in choice as decided by gender, but also because in the respects of physical and emotional repair, gender roles switch in how they deal with the approach. Emotionally, women are case-specific, while men treat each case the same; however, physically, the team of women treated every case of painting the same but Willie, a man, is unspecific to each case that came across his shop. One can only wonder if Spelman was incorrect in her assessment of gender roles or if perhaps repair is so much more complex and ever-changing than we can comprehend. This one small blunder opens up so many questions related to repair. Is this the only exception? Can one’s profession affect their decisions when dealing with damage? Is there any real way to predict overall how a population will repair things and people who are damaged?

Spelman’s form of writing also creates a sense of belittlement in the eyes of time. While subtle in most parts of the first three chapters, lines such as “the repaired but patently unrestored cars emerging from Willie’s garage offer no illusion that time doesn’t have to pass, that decay doesn’t have to happen, that damage doesn’t inevitably occur” (Spelman). Lines such as this one are very effective in providing Spelman with an added effect to what she actually says. Aside from only talking about Willie’s repair work, Elizabeth Spelman adds the underlying effect of time that she conveys throughout the book thus far. The theme of time, too, provokes questions from the reader, but in this respect more to their own lives rather than within the book’s pages. Spelman’s powerful writing puts themes of true human mortality in the back of a reader’s head as each and every word translates to real life situations. You’re nothing less than forced to respect the fact that things will break, whether they be relationships, cars, phones, pencils, or even lives. There only lies the question afterwards of what can be repaired? A relationship can be mended by time and effort, a car can be brought to Willie and be back on the road in a day, a phone can be taken to the store and fixed up in a hurry, a pencil can be taped together, and a paramedic with the right training can revive a dead man. But there is still the other side of life. A relationship may crash and burn with no light left to care for, a car can be totaled, one’s phone may be destroyed, a pencil may just be thrown away, and a life might just end as abruptly and suddenly as when it started. Spelman expertly gets the reader thinking of how brittle life is and how truly mortal we are, perhaps urging us to get up and go before it’s too late and our mortality consumes us as well.