Archive for the ‘James Agee’ Tag

What Price Human Dignity   5 comments

“The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”

— Bertrand Russell

This Old Porch Lincoln (1 of 1)-3 b-w blog“This Old Porch” — Image by kenne

At What Price Human Dignity

Our world is complex and confusing; actually, it’s a crazy world out there. Part of the craziness is the tendency to label and patronize groups in ways of lacking human dignity.  Such acts toward others deprive them of their dignity, the one thing that belongs to us.

“When we are really honest with ourselves, we must admit that our lives are all that really belong to us. So it is how we use our lives that determines what kind of men we are. It is my deepest belief that only by giving our lives do we find life. I am convinced that the truest act of courage, the strongest act of manliness, is sacrificing ourselves for others in a totally nonviolent struggle for justice. To be a man is to suffer for others. God help us to be men!” Ceasar Chaves at the end of a fast and a Mass of Thanksgiving.

Being a rural Alabama child in the 1940s, I was nurtured by a southern environment still recovering from the Great Depression.  To this day, I possess images of poor working people who own little more than their dignity, each day a struggle not to lose.

Later, in my twenties, I saw some tenant farmer families’ photos and immediately identified with the people in the images.  Walker Evans, who, along with James Agee, was assigned by Fortune magazine in 1936 to document the lives of tenant farmers in Alabama took the  photos.   When Fortune declined to publish their work, Agee and Evens published a book entitled “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” in 1941.  Although the original edition only sold about 600 copies, it is considered a classic in American art. Many credit their work, along with Roosevelt’s New Deal, to help address the depression era issues of social responsibility and human dignity.  Like so much art, especially that which affectively captures life’s anguish, this recognition came only after death.

Agee and Evans tried to distinguish between what was real and what was actual by avoiding judgment by a commitment to interaction — doing as they would be done by. 

It’s not always easy to make sense of what we may see while trying to learn what we believe and where our ethical concerns might require us to go. In doing so, we are drawn not to an explanation but the profound compliment dependence and use.

“Hope is both the earliest and the most indispensable virtue inherent in the state of being alive. If life is to be sustained hope must remain, even where confidence is wounded, trust impaired.” — Erik H. Erikson

— kenne

Alabama2006-11-13-25Lincoln b-w blog“Rural Alabama” — Image by kenne

(First Posted October 8, 2008)

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