Saturday, March 22, 2008

Hollywood Filmmaker Gives Up Kool-Aid

One of thousands of liberal slogans is that a liberal is only a conservative who has been arrested. (There's an answering slogan that a conservative is only a liberal who has been mugged, but I digress).

Like most liberal slogans, its lack of thought doesn't keep us from grasping the basic myth: in this case, the myth of liberals who are created by some transformative trauma, usually some disappointment, conflict, betrayal, or injustice suffered at the hands of a higher authority, such as being arrested by police, being forced by a housing commission to live in substandard dwellings, or being denied admission to the University of Michigan with only a low "C" average.

Liberalism is reactive, always explaining its energy in terms of historical events to which it can only respond--events it mentions as if the names themselves explain their significance: Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement, Watergate, Iran-Contra, Katrina, the 2000 election.

I don't actually believe liberals are regular people who only become liberal in response to transformative experiences. I believe most liberals are born that way--that is, they are born with perfectly good minds, but infantile and unformed, and then their parents, their teachers, their elders, their churches, reinforce a certain view of the world that is actually quite compatible with the normal stages of being an infant, a toddler, and a small child--dependency, helplessness, and confidence that the Parental Unit knows all, will provide all that's necessary, all in exchange for obedience. If you want to hear liberal discourse in its purest form, spend an hour listening to small children playing some game at recess, and then watch any Democratic committee hearing on C-SPAN for an hour: the amount of attention both groups pay to resolving both what is fair and whose turn it is is just remarkable.

But as people mature--as they begin to learn to think of others, learn their parents, teachers, and other authority figures are imperfect and don't know everything, that there are things in life that must be worked for, and not simply received, and that one begins to learn the meaning of standing on principles in a world that doesn't necessarily agree with yours --liberalism is no longer compatible. It is subjective and me-centered, rather than objective and capable of considering the good of all.

In short, liberalism as a worldview equates with a stage of childhood that we are meant to develop out of.

When a youngster doesn't develop out of it, he will resent and hate his parents and teachers for being imperfect and failing to provide him everything, he will see it as an injustice that he has to achieve things on his own, and he will be narrow and intolerant towards anyone who holds different principles than his--and his principles invariably will be macrcosmic abstractions about the planet or peace that he can use to look down and despise others, but that don't require the slightest check on his own smallest impulse toward lust, anger, or envy.

Such are teenagers, in their acute form. Most adolescents go through these phases, anyway, and people somehow manage to live with them. It's when they get older and active politically that the worst of the trouble begins, especially if they get a majority in both Houses.

It's only human nature to follow the path of least resistance. If a youngster is surrounded by liberals at home, in school, and amongst his peers, not only will he have to work extremely hard to discover alternative ideas, but he faces the risk of the disapproval and scorn of friends and families. For most adolescents, scorn and rejection are the highest price they can imagine paying for anything.

That's when liberals need a transformative experience, one that will force them to think, and not just feel something and react. Because liberalsim is premised on a kind of internalized dismay over what's happening to us?, rather than a deliberative approach to what do we want to make happen?, it can never form the basis for intelligent political action. Fear of rejection, laziness, and an immature emotional approach to how things are supposed to be are all non-rational, and often irrational, bases for a political philosophy. "Obama makes me feel good, I don't know why, but I'll vote for him." "Iraq makes me feel bad, I don't know anything about it, but I'm for getting out now." "It sounds unfair wealthy people got a tax cut, too, and that makes me angry, so I guess taking everyone's tax cut away (even mine) makes as much sense as anything."

No one thinks his way into becoming a liberal, not even the fabled conservative who getsarrested. He doesn't convert because he's thought about his arrest--but because he's been traumatized by it.

But even so, whereas Mr. Conservative Who Got Arrested will be counseled by his therapist that, OK, you got arrested, it was upsetting, how can you move on? Don't let it define you--he will be counseled by his newfound liberal friends to refuse to even consider moving on, because he must make his trauma the foundation of his new political identity as a victim, as an aggrieved person, as a creditor demanding his due of government apologies, reparations, and "a place at the table."

Which is why I say liberals can think their way into being conservatives, but not vice versa.

On that subject, filmmaker, writer, and playwright, David Mamet has written an article in the Village Voice proclaiming himself as no longer “a brain-dead liberal.” ("Heretic! Mamet vs. the Greek chorus.)"

I'm not an expert on Mamet's work, though I found his 1994 Oleanna an extremely powerful comment on feminism and university life, and wondered at the time about this Hollywood director and his un-PC point of view.

Jonah Goldberg at National Review Online has written the following about Mamet's development:

Mamet vs. the Greek chorus.

By Jonah Goldberg

David Mamet, considered by some to be the greatest living playwright, has proclaimed for all to hear — but few to listen — that he is no longer “a brain-dead liberal.”

Mamet uses the phrase “brain-dead liberal” in quotation marks precisely because he was never actually brain dead. Rather, he just told the relevant parts of his brain to play dead whenever inconvenient facts staged an assault on his cranial bunker.

“As a child of the ’60s,” he recently wrote in a startling and lively essay for The Village Voice, “I accepted as an article of faith that government is corrupt, that business is exploitative, and that people are generally good at heart.”

But Mamet has changed his mind. The accretions left from wave after crashing wave of reality made it impossible for him to carry the load of his cognitive dissonance. For years he’d called NPR “National Palestinian Radio.” He’d realized that while government may be incompetent, corporations at times myopic, and the military imperfect, seeing politics through the prism of a Thomas Nast cartoon (you know, where industrialists are cast as pigs in tuxedos feeding at the public trough) might not be as wise as, say, The Village Voice believes it is.

“I began reading not only the economics of Thomas Sowell (our greatest contemporary philosopher) but Milton Friedman, Paul Johnson and Shelby Steele ... and found that I agreed with them: a free-market understanding of the world meshes more perfectly with my experience than that idealistic vision I called liberalism.”

Mamet invokes John Maynard Keynes’s response to criticism that he changed his mind: “When the facts change, I change my opinion. What do you do, sir?”

Michael Billington might have a different response. “I am depressed to read that David Mamet has swung to the right,” wrote the Guardian’s theater critic of more than three decades. “What worries me is the effect on his talent of locking himself into a rigid ideological position.”

This response is quite simply perfect, a Picasso of asininity, a Mona Lisa of moronic imbecility. Mamet, a dashboard saint of angst-ridden cosmopolitan liberalism, has set out to read widely and carefully, exploring how his outdated political pose no longer tracks with reality or with his own understandings of the world, and Billington worries that Mamet is locking himself into a rigid ideological position. Mamet has, Houdini-like, gone through the painful process of regurgitating a key to the chained-up straitjacket in which he’d been trapped, and after the required internal dislocations has emerged to think freely about the world, and this guy somehow thinks Mamet’s trapped himself.

The playwright has explicitly rejected dime-store Marxist categorical thinking, embracing instead the idea that whatever differences people bring to the stage of life based on their varied experiences, human nature is universal (at least to humans) and people are, well, people. Of course, some are evil, some good, most a complicated mixture of the two. But simply because a person represents or works for The Government or Big Business — or, for that matter, Fashionable Minority X, Y, or Z — doesn’t mean you know all you need to know about them. A business card is not a Rosetta Stone for deciphering a man’s soul.

But don’t tell this to those who define sophistication and nuance by a work’s ability to confirm preconceived notions. A writer in The Independent frets that “so complex and profound and gifted a playwright should now seek to reduce his own work and his own politics to simple concepts.” People like this see more complex hues in, say, George Clooney, than in a painter’s color wheel.

Clooney proclaimed not long ago, “Yes, I’m a liberal, and I’m sick of it being a bad word. I don’t know at what time in history liberals have stood on the wrong side of social issues.” Ah, yes, there’s fine-tuned, historically informed thinking on display!

Mamet has committed the sin of free-thinking in a world that defines it as “ideological rigidity” while dubbing conformity “diversity.” Already, critics are saying his work is slipping. Soon, they will say his work was never that great to begin with (that’s what they’ve been doing to Dennis Miller for his heresy). The more Mamet rejects the divine pieties of the Left and thinks for himself, the more the Greek chorus of straitjacketed “free thinkers,” their heads shaking in unison, will tsk-tsk Mamet’s rigidity.
© 2008 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great- also see:

David Mamet's Revision