Mittwoch, März 12, 2008

David Mamet Grows Up...and What Does Star Trek Have To Do With It?

One of the sites I peruse briefly almost every day is my old favorite free rag, the Village Voice. As a native New Yorker, this remains, for me, the best channel back to the petty politics and absurd priorities of borough meetings of the greatest city on Earth.

David Mamet seems to have finally grown up. He usually blogs over at the Huffington Post, that gaggle of left-wing opportunists.

But in this article in the Village Voice he describes how he has finally grown up. Of course, he doesn't say that, but rather:

I took the liberal view for many decades, but I believe I have changed my mind.

And he's got reasons:

And, I wondered, how could I have spent decades thinking that I thought everything was always wrong at the same time that I thought I thought that people were basically good at heart? Which was it? I began to question what I actually thought and found that I do not think that people are basically good at heart; indeed, that view of human nature has both prompted and informed my writing for the last 40 years. I think that people, in circumstances of stress, can behave like swine, and that this, indeed, is not only a fit subject, but the only subject, of drama.

I'd observed that lust, greed, envy, sloth, and their pals are giving the world a good run for its money, but that nonetheless, people in general seem to get from day to day; and that we in the United States get from day to day under rather wonderful and privileged circumstances—that we are not and never have been the villains that some of the world and some of our citizens make us out to be, but that we are a confection of normal (greedy, lustful, duplicitous, corrupt, inspired—in short, human) individuals living under a spectacularly effective compact called the Constitution, and lucky to get it.

For the Constitution, rather than suggesting that all behave in a godlike manner, recognizes that, to the contrary, people are swine and will take any opportunity to subvert any agreement in order to pursue what they consider to be their proper interests.

To that end, the Constitution separates the power of the state into those three branches which are for most of us (I include myself) the only thing we remember from 12 years of schooling.

The Constitution, written by men with some experience of actual government, assumes that the chief executive will work to be king, the Parliament will scheme to sell off the silverware, and the judiciary will consider itself Olympian and do everything it can to much improve (destroy) the work of the other two branches. So the Constitution pits them against each other, in the attempt not to achieve stasis, but rather to allow for the constant corrections necessary to prevent one branch from getting too much power for too long.

By Jove, I think he's got it:

...a free-market understanding of the world meshes more perfectly with my experience than that idealistic vision I called liberalism.

Hey, everyone should be, at some point in their lives, a liberal. It's a good thing. It's a warm and fuzzy feeling, and it's nice to think that people are fundamentally good everywhere and at all times, and by gosh, we need the government to run things for us.

But it is also good to grow up and realize that this is the real world, that you can't have that pie-in-the-sky or, more importantly, that if you give people a utopia, they will do their best to ruin it. They will spend their time finding out how to exploit the system: if you want a utopia, find another set of sentient beings.

Over the last several weeks I've been watching Star Trek: The Next Generation with my wife. What has struck me more and more with each episode is that the Federation is an impossible political system, and those that hold the Federation in contempt for those aspects that the Federation finds so hugely important are generally the best characters.

There are those who characterize the Federation as being fascist; those who see the Federation as being imperialistic, in the Marxist sense; or that it is, actually, a kind of Marxist utopia. Fundamentally, though, if the Federation actually existed, it would more likely be deeply corrupt and decadent, which may or may not be appealing to the reader.

The point I'm trying to make is that just as Star Trek's Federation is a non-viable form of government that requires a different species to actually work, so is liberalism: it's a nice story. But just like escapist literature, it's not reality.

So let's quote William Shatner, the indomitable Captain James Tiberius Kirk, the epitome of the imperialist aspect of Star Trek, on Saturday Night Live:

You know before I answer any more questions, there's something I wanted to say. Having received all your letters over the years, and some of you have come hundreds of miles to be here, I'd just like to say, get a life. Will you, people? I mean for crying out loud, it's just a TV show. I mean look at you. You've turned an enjoyable little job that I did as lark into a colossal waste of time. I - I mean, how old are you people? What have you done with yourselves? You (points to member of studio audience) must be almost 30, have you ever kissed a girl?

So, kudos to David Mamet for getting out of his parents' basement and starting to live in the Real World.

How many liberals have stayed that way when they actually have to meet a payroll?

Only those who were rich to begin with or for whom money has no meaning.

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