If only things were so simple. Photo by dunechaser
Went to the Barefoot Film Night, after a long while. Gritted my teeth through War Made Easy (Video), and got in a lovely bitch fight over – after a long time – ideas. As in, the idea that there is a liberal ‘truth’ – some estimable truth that journalists and governments must find. That perhaps I can swallow, but where I choke is that the public (especially Americans) are somehow stupid, and need to be given this truth by someone else. It is this idea that metastasized into communism and – in the grand historical experiment – has failed. You cannot trust intellectuals or politicians to give truth. I do believe that any sustainable system must begin with personal responsibility and small government. Which is why I call myself a conservative, and adulate Obama. Because I grew up in Columbus, Ohio.
Columbus is a Republican town. Has been, will be, since our founder King Thompson made a safe place to get away from the Negroes and the Jews. I went to bible study with well meaning evangelicals (interesting conversation) and saw a George Bush (Senior) rally with Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s middle America, and they vote Republican.
And this video, and many liberals, think that they’re idiots. That they goosestep into war and are content to be lied to and deceived. That they are some null entity for propaganda to ‘brainwash’. And it’s not true. They may be wrong, but they’re not stupid.
Based on what I learned in Psychology I just glaze over when I see the words ‘propaganda’ and ‘brainwash’. Because it’s not that simple. It’s dudes from Media Studies attributing superhuman powers to TV and images when real life is much more complex, and real, and borne on many currents of biology, evolution, psychology, sociology, and only then media. Just cause you see it on TV doesn’t make it TV’s fault.
A big thrust of War Made Easy is that it’s the politician’s fault for being assholes, and the media’s fault for not pointing it out. And I think that’s fundamentally false. War is not an anomaly and Genghis Khan wasn’t discussed by severed heads on MSNBC. War is the default. Killing people is damn fun and you get new property and wives. Peace is the anomaly, and if you want to call anyone crazy (as in abnormal) it’s those that live in peace. And peace is a mutual trip we should take, understanding all the while that it is a strange one.
Lib or Con
For me, the liberal answer to the obvious problems in the world is ‘fix it’ whereas the conservative answer is ‘don’t break it’. The rub is that liberalism works (at running America) while conservatism fails spectacularly. And yet I think true conservatism fundamentally right. The modern liberal philosophy is predicated on a benevolent government that does the ‘right thing’. Yet the liberal philosophy does not specify exactly how we get these things done, it’s only an imperative. An argument I’ve had a thousand times is
‘There’s war in the world’
‘If only they’d stop it’
The assumption here is that there if we could just find ‘they’ and tell them what was going on, everything would be fine. There is an assumption that someone is in control. In War Made Easy this takes the form of scary US Presidents who obviously enjoy random problems in other countries. As if there’s been a grand conspiracy to fuck everything up for the last 100 year that liberals just discovered. In fact, I don’t think anyone’s really in control. There is no ‘they’ in whose ear you can whisper ‘Psst, war is bad’.
The conservative position would be to acknowledge that the world is complex and nuts and to focus on not breaking it any further. As in, let’s figure out what’s been working, generally stay out of new and risky ventures, and sorta hedge our bets and muddle through. George W. Bush has obviously killed that ideology, skinned it and worn it like sheep’s clothing.
I don’t think war is any politician’s fault or the media’s fault, and I don’t believe in any political or rhetorical truth fairy to dictate a way out. I just want my government to generally chill the fuck out and, restrain itself judiciously (as per the Constitution) and allow people to generally function. And I don’t expect it to end war or suffering per se, I just want it to chill everything out as much as possible so people can breathe and think.
Which is why I disdain liberal indignation at the world and the yakkos running it. One, I think it’s pretentious eyewash, and two, it’s simply not that actionable a world-view. Any philosophy which looks down on the majority of the population as stupid is not a very useful one. Not in the sense that it doesn’t make sense, but in the sense that a psychological model which writes off the majority as dumb isn’t much use in predicting or influencing behavior. And the point of any philosophy is to give you some actionable model for the world, with which to make better decisions. Any theory should be testable, verifiable, and – crucially – falsifiable. A world view which says ‘this is the answer and everyone else is stupid’ is none of the three. There’s just not much you can do with that theory, besides feel good about yourself for a) knowing the truth and b) not being stupid. Which is stupid.
All this to say, I can’t say I liked the movie, but I did enjoy thinking about it.