I cannot believe the media Mecca.
They’re only trying to peddle reality.
Catch it on prime-time, story at nine.
This whole world is going insane.
I cannot believe the media Mecca.
They’re only trying to peddle reality.
Catch it on prime-time, story at nine.
This whole world is going insane.
I don’t know where my copy of Dune is. It is likely still at my parents’ house, although they may have also packed it up and sent it to me, in which case it is now in a box hidden away in my own home. Although I had rewatched the Dune movie recently, courtesy the unknown location of my book, I hadn’t had the opportunity to read the novel since I was a teen. Until now.
I was able to borrow a copy of Dune and so pushed myself, in the scant time allotted, to read it through. I have succeeded, and I am the better for it. My memories from having read Dune in my younger days did not do it justice. This is a book as relevant today as it ever was, so a refresher was definitely in order.
First off, reading the book in the shadow of Lynch’s film helps clarify how he got it so wrong. Watching the movie, I focus on scenes that are meticulously reproduced out of the book – up to and including the inner-dialog of the characters (for which Lynch was criticized). In the early chapters of the book (for example Paul’s Bene Gesserit test with the gom jabbar, or Paul’s father rescuing a spice harvester from a worm attack), I realize how much the film has created the images that I now imagine as I am reading. Yet, there are other key pieces of the story that are entirely absent. Taken as a whole, it is clear that Lynch missed the mark when it came to capturing the essence of the story. Is it because someone failed in their artistic vision for the film? Maybe. Probably. But the 1984 movie also looks like a project that someone started with fantastic ambition, but left it half-way done. Scattered amidst beautiful sets and detailed scenes are mere sketches of what should have been the rest of a movie.
We wonder about this today as yet another attempt at bringing Dune to the big screen is underway. Will the new filmmakers see what Lynch got wrong and get it right this time? One would think they’re trying to. Otherwise, why bother making yet another stab at a project that has fallen flat already three times? On the other hand, I did seem some internet mumblings that the new film may be trying to “update” the Dune story for today’s audience. A “woke” Dune for the Twitter age could be an even worse disaster than the previous three put together, but it also wouldn’t surprise me.
Because in many ways, the story of Dune appears to be ripped from today’s headlines. The Arab/Islamic traditions of the Fremen who are bringing jihad to the imperialists that would oppress them – surely we know all about this. It is easy to forget the world of the time when the novel was written. For example, Herbert seems to have used Lawrence of Arabia as an inspiration for Paul-Maud’Dib, a move that seems anachronistic in an age raging against cultural appropriation. The Bedouins may have seemed alien and inscrutable, but the were clearly on the side of good*, fighting against the twin scourges of the Imperial German Army and their Ottoman minions.
By the time Frank Herbert began** publishing Dune in 1963, he had the award winning Lawrence of Arabia as inspiration. The situation in the Middle East, however, had changed quite a bit. While England was still involved in the Arab world, they were no longer the supporters of Arab nationalism that they had been 45 years before. It was to the Soviet Union and socialist ideology that insurgent Arabs were turning. And while England’s loyalty was ambiguous in the recently-concluded Suez Canal crisis, the United States (Herbert was American) had come in on the side of Egypt. Behind this story may lurk a longing for the simpler world of the First World War.
If one looks at Dune as a mere retelling of WWI, then what is the role of the Spice. Spice could easily be considered allegorical for petroleum, as long as one isn’t sticking to the Lawrence of Arabia theme. By the dawn of the 20th century, oil was becoming an important commodity. England had converted her fleet’s future from coal to oil before the start of WWI, creating a world in which military power and access to petroleum would be inexorably linked. However, oil wasn’t discovered in Saudi Arabia until 1938 (preceded by Persia in 1908). It would have to be World War II that could start getting us closer to the idea that oil, this substance that foreign powers consider priceless, can be controlled and simultaneously considerably less valued by the native desert dwellers.
Fast forward to today and the terror cells of Osama Bin Laden and the badly-ruled tyranny of the Taliban or the Islamic State, and the opportunity for analogy becomes less and less clear. But can you create a film based on the future of the Arab/Desert/Islamic culture while ignoring its present? Or does our better understanding of how an insurgency fights a foreign “empire” inform our understanding of Maud’Dib‘s two year campaign against the Harkonen which the book breezes past?
Consider too the heavy ecological overtones. The concern over the environment was familiar to the author and his readers in the 1960s and 1970s, but the emphasis is quite a bit different these days. Can you imagine the permitting required to geoengineer a desert so as to be amenable to human life?
I don’t know where the new, Villeneuve project is taking** it, but I foresee traps aplenty. The director has said he would like to make the Star Wars that could have been, “to do the Star Wars movie I never saw.” Like Lynch before him, he proposes a “Star Wars for adults,” although he has also said he expects his product to be very different than Lynch’s version. Perhaps his best course is, as in Star Wars, to ignore the continuity with our current world, to ignore the stab at timely allegory, and simply tell the Dune story taking place in (ours or another) galaxy far, far away.
By contrast, Frank Herbert has placed the world of Dune in our galaxy, as a continuation of our own people and culture. So we see what will be become in 10s of thousands of years, or do we? Because, in many ways Dune portrays that culture as having regressed. The “known world” of Dune is ruled as an empire cast along the mold of the Holy Roman Empire. The Emperor is politically powerful, but not absolutely so. He answers to a electoral body made up of other noble houses, all of whom (including the Emperor himself) derive a significant share of their power from their joint ownership of CHOAM. From our viewpoint today, CHOAM seems like the anti-capitalist’s dystopian nightmare – a single corporation that controls all commerce in the universe. Sort of like Google, but more so. Or is it, rather, meant to be a stand-in for the East India Company? Given his other backward-looking themes, I’d tend to lean towards the latter.
In technology also, he shows a regression. His backstory becomes more plausible as the years go by. Herbert imagined that society had created sentient AI and that this intelligence stops serving mankind and seeks to enslave us. To resist and, ultimately, overthrow our creation, we humans must develop our minds to rival the capabilities of computers. This results a world that, despite being so far into our future, has remarkably little advancement in technology. Instead, we have powers akin to magic, cultivated by a handful of specialized schools. It isn’t intended to be magic, per se, because these abilities are meant to be extensions of real-world human biology, but its as good an explanation for magic as is found in most fictional worlds. Maybe the world of Dune should be thought of less as the HRE but instead a high medieval fantasy world. The Wheel of Time in space.
Frank Herbert specifically said that his “science fiction” shouldn’t be thought of as scientific. Futuristic writings of the 60s (and preceding that time) might be divisible into two classes. Some science fiction was intended to be predictive – imagining the impact of advancement, typically in science and technology, on humans. What are the implications for space travel, or computerization, or surveillance technology, for example. The second class uses the passage of time to create a society that can be used as a new background for the story. Against that background, the author can explore aspects of human nature in ways that aren’t possible within a historical or contemporaneous setting. Herbert’s work is often cited as a prime example of “soft science fiction” in that he deliberately glossed over the details of technology in his stories, focusing only on the human interactions.
That said, I think it is impossible to imagine (and re-imagine) the world of Dune today without being sucked in by today’s technology. Part of where Herbert ended up had to do with the world in which he was writing. In the late 1950s, when he began working on the story, it was possible to imagine a world where sentient computers would rule over us, but the details of those machines were impossibly futuristic. Technology has, in some ways, advanced beyond Herbert’s conception and beyond the future as written in Dune. Herbert began writing shortly after the release of Forbidden Planet wherein, you may recall, travel to the moon was projected at 100 years out. Today, the hand terminals of The Expanse seem light-years ahead of Dune while at the same time looking like barely an improvement on today’s technology.
The anti-AI backstory can smooth over a lot of this conflict. If man has struck down AI, he probably have to avoid the internet as well. It leaves inconsistencies. One can imagine the sophistication of a control system capable of making an ornithopter work. It requires significant advancement over what we have today, but it is still conceivable. Success would ride on well-integrated micro-controllers that manipulate the aerodynamic surfaces in ways that mimic the flight of birds. While conceivable, I would say its definitely more advanced than, say, the forbidden accounting software that is replaced by the Mentats. Similarly, the control system for an individually-worn projectile shield would be quite elaborate.
In this, Herbert in his simpler time had an advantage over us, today. He lived in a world where “thinking machines” filled entire rooms. The miniaturization of computer technology was as inconceivable as as faster-than-light travel or future-revealing drugs. On the other hand, control systems had predated computer technology by generations. Herbert may not have been able to imagine how a system of flywheels, hydraulics, and rudimentary electro-mechanical designs could fly an ornithopter or project a body-shield, but mankind had some 10-20,000 years to figure that out. Today, however, it is impossible for me to forget about microcomputers. They are so accessible and effective, why would one even consider an alternative?
The technology of Dune needs to be thought of as plot devices rather than technological wonders to make sense. Why shields? Well, with shields, guns are mostly ineffective. It allows the world to return to the “sword” part of the “swords and sorcery” without having to eliminate the rather basic technology of firearms from human memory. This then creates a problem with the shields themselves, which is solved by a clever rock-paper-scissors mechanism. Energy weapons (lasguns) have been developed, but cause megaton scale releases of destructive energy when they interact with shields. Thus, nobody uses lasguns, for fear of setting off the shields. Then, on the planet Arrakis itself, the shields can’t be used because they’ll get you eaten by a worm. All we’re left with are knives and swords, and a good measure of sorcery. QED. Do we really want do kill the buzz with an analysis of the technological evolution that created it?
Unfortunately, this presents problems for those who would bring Dune to the screen. We won’t be pleased to see a 2020 Dune set in some odd, circa-1960 rocket technology world (I’m picturing Twilight Zone and the like). We’ve got decades of on-screen sci-fi that tell us what we should expect to see and a successful movie is going to have to build on that.
Consider another Dune creation, the “weirding way.” This is a Bene Gesserit discipline that allows the sisters to excel at combat through a mastery of mind and body. In the book (and lets stick with the original for this post), the actual art isn’t detailed. Where it is used, it described only in general terms. Lynch’s re-interpretation of the power was a true abomination of cinema. He suggested had it related to the Bene Gesserit “voice” power and had the Atreides family develop some kind of device to convert shouts into energy blasts. I hope we never see anything like this again. However, given that film is a visual medium, the audience will expect to see an illustration of this remarkable power critical to saving the lives of Paul and Lady Jessica and so amazing to the Fremen. Since Lynch’s film was made, I can think of a few movies that illustrated a similar faster-than-human-perception combat as described in the book. Interview with the Vampire, for example, attributed a similar power to the undead and showed it on screen through blurred movement – letting the audience perceive it as a non-initiated might perceive it within the film’s world. Compare and contrast with The Matrix, where slow-motion depiction is used to demonstrate what faster-than-a-speeding-bullet reaction time feels like to the wielder.
Getting Dune right has a lot of appeal. In some ways, the goal is tantalizingly achievable. Despite being a futuristic space-opera, the story is mostly focused on conversations between individuals or small groups. It is almost suited to a stage play, which should make it easy to capture on screen. What flummoxed Lynch was the Herbert’s ubiquitous internal dialog. This might actually have been easier to portray in a stage play (where breaking the fourth wall is less disruptive) than in a modern movie. If that can be solved through something that seems natural and aesthetic, converting the books could really work. Given the current state of the sci-fi genre, a filmmaker would probably want to recreated some of the battle sequences that were “off stage” in the book version, just because that’s what films do best. In this the filmmakers can pick and choose without straying from the book, which would seem easier than when one needs to remove scenes that are too large to film.
Harder still will be creating “Star Wars as it was meant to be” while at the same time faithfully bringing Dune to the big screen. These goals may wind up being in conflict. I don’t know. Like everyone else, I will be eagerly waiting to see what comes out later this year. I’m glad I had a chance to read the book in anticipation.
*The ending of Laurence of Arabia is morally ambiguous. Having led the desert people to a victory that they cannot sustain, T. E. Laurence returns to the England that steps into the power void left by the defeated Ottoman Empire. Laurence was never the prophet that Paul Atreides is in Dune. Or is he?
**The first publishing of the Dune story was in the magazine Analog (later Astounding) starting in 1963. The text was significantly reworked for the book version, published in 1965.
**Or has taken? It is already in post-production.
A recent opinion poll by Georgetown University addressed the question of civility in American politics in the lead-up to the 2020 election. An article on the results lead with the headline “7 in 10 say US ‘on the edge of civil war.'” Given that this is a thought that I’ve expressed before, you’d think I’d revel in the confirmation bias of it all. Unfortunately, the article doesn’t quite match the headline.
The text indicates that the 7 in 10 is really a rounding off of a 67% number, already leaving me feel a little cheated. But even the 2/3rds isn’t really explained. To get to where that number comes from, you’ve got to drill down into the Georgetown University documents to grab a “Republican Analysis*” of the results. In that we see that the number is actually an average (mean) of numerical scores where pollees were asked to rank the country on an incivility scale of 0 (no political division) and 100 (edge of a civil war). With this understanding, the headline isn’t just cheating, it is flat out wrong. The poll says nothing like what the headline implies.
As to the poll, it has some interesting features. Predictability, the partisan identification of the respondents determined where they focused their blame. Short answer; it’s the other guy who created this uncivil atmosphere. Republicans blame Democrats, The New York Times, CNN, and MSNBC. Democrats blame Donald Trump. Well, they also blame Republicans and Fox News, but mostly Donald Trump. A slight majority from both sides blame Facebook and Twitter. No surprises thus far. However, there was one pair of questions that I think really has a tale to tell. Remember, respondents indicate whether they agree or disagree.
It almost seems like a choice. Which do I want? Do I want political harmony achieved through compromise? Or do I want a strong advocate that protects the nation from the ideas which will do it harm? The answer? Both, thank you very much. Support for both statements is in the mid-80% (a number that is almost synonymous with unanimity when it comes to poll data). There is a slight variation based on party affiliation, but everyone favors both more and less compromise simultaneously. In fact, over 60% of respondents strongly favor both. Although it isn’t reported in the summary how many said yes to both, simple math says it is probably a super-majority. Sadly, this also shouldn’t surprise me.
The original article, with its disturbing headline, quotes the executive director of Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service, Mo Elleithee. I’m not sure from where they extracted the quote but, in this case, I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt. Elleithee explains the apparent contradiction, articulating my own interpretation but describing better than I have been able. He says, “It seems to me what they’re saying is, ‘I believe in common ground, it’s just that common ground is where I’m standing. As soon you move over to where I am, we’ll be on common ground.'”
But lets set aside the actual poll results for a moment and return to that titillating headline. The prospects of an impending civil war is actually discussed a little in the “Democrat Analysis,” so the statement isn’t entirely disconnected from the source report. As that analyst points out, Democrats rank incivility at slightly higher (i.e., slightly closer to war) than Republicans. I’ll extrapolate from poll results and say if we temper the results by discounting those that say that civil war is inevitable unless Donald Trump is immediately removed from office, we have essentially a consensus across the political spectrum.
So let’s assume, despite the absence of confirming results in this poll, that roughly 2/3rds of Americans have a distinct fear of impending armed conflict within our society. I’m going to propose that this group could be further divided into three subgroups. The largest, roughly half, is concerned about what they see as growing chaos in civility and public discourse and worry about where that will end up. The other half, we’ll divide equally (for lack of a better idea). This group has a clear idea about who will be starting the war, should it come; but they are split on whom to blame. One half sees violence as coming from the “other.” They see those people, who aren’t them or like them, escalating the rhetoric and incivility into violence and open conflict. The remainder, by contrast, sees people like themselves being pushed beyond a breaking point.
The link that I followed to get to the article about the poll (on log at the bottom of the sea) comments on two likely triggers for escalation and how these triggers are stated policy of one of the parties (quite possibly the electoral-favored party at that). It reminded me of a mental exercise that I’ve gone through.
Let’s go back to that 25% cited above that believe that civil unrest is imminent and that it is the irrationality of the “other side” that will be the cause. For example, to a progressive who is actively fighting against conservative policy and politics I would ask; “Is there a cause so dear to you that you would defend it by any means necessary?” It strikes me that for anyone who is not a dedicated pacifist, there must be something, for you, that crosses the line. Something that you can say, “If you do this, I will fight you. I am willing to break the law or resort to violent resistance if you [insert intolerable action here].” The point is to frame the exercise so that you are not thinking about those irrational others. No “Antifa is horrible, WE would never do that” to cloud your judgement. You must think about what would put you and yours over the edge. I might also ask conservatives, but I think I already know what they would say.
Not having done the actual questioning, I presume to predict the answers. For the left I think their top three issues would be, in ascending order of severity:
For the right I guess the top three issues (again, ascending order) would be:
As Uncle said, these last three have emerged explicitly in the platforms of Democrat presidential candidates, in one form or another. Or, at least, that’s how I see it. As to the three causes of the left, I understand that the left perceives these to be the goals of Republicans in general and the Trump presidency in particular, but I think they are incorrect.
Of course, if I’m going to be intellectually honest, I’ll have to say that were I of the opposite persuasion I’d probably make exactly the opposite statement. I can cite specific legislative initiatives that touch on all three of my liberal hot-button issues. Efforts to redefine the start of life so as to restrict abortion are indeed happening. There is considerable resistance to the bringing in, under the umbrella of protected civil rights, the issues of gender identity. Similarly, the arguments over Voter ID, citizenship, and even the welfare state all have a racial component that one can see as more-or-less important. Worst case, a significant political loss (including something as imminently possible as a Conservative replacement for Ruth Bader Ginsberg) could trigger all three of my end-of-the-world scenarios. On the other hand, the threat of my (were I from the left) policy to the right is not nearly so severe as the polemic of my opponents would imply.
Former presidential-candidate*** Beto O’Rourke’s assertion that he would deny favorable tax-treatment to certain religious groups can hardly be likened to the burning of churches or feeding worshipers to the lions. Similarly, changes to the Constitution are themselves part of the Constitutional government. Particularly where we can determine that a 230-year-old structure no longer serves justice, aren’t we duty-bound to improve upon it? The election of Senators was changed to be of a popular vote, and that didn’t destroy**** our Republic. Finally, even the most strident (O’Rourke again) gun confiscation language isn’t a wholesale gun ban; the target is a specific subcategory of rifle*****.
One last, barely-related thought. It seems to me one difference between a “civil war” and simply “unrest” is the existence of a alternate governmental entity. In the American experience, that has consisted of legitimately-elected State governments within the colonial or Federal system. For most modern civil wars, there is an identifiable faction (a subset of the government, such as the Army or political party, or, in today’s Middle East, an organization structured through its religious beliefs). Civil Wars that predated America’s often had the sides coalesce around nobility with (more or less) legitimate claims to power. Without that structure, you probably will get no more than a series of street demonstrations which are eventually “put down” by the government. Even if that government is eventually replaced through democratic or pseudo-democratic means, that’s hardly a “civil war” or even a “coup d’état.”
I’m not sure what this all means in our present context. Are we really headed for “civil war” or just “civil unrest.” I’ve read the assertion that revolution won’t come until the people are desperate and starving – which may or may not be true for massive civil unrest, but seems entirely unnecessary for civil war. Civil war requires the combination of organization and willpower from that alternate government. That entity may use civil unrest as a impetus for their action, but I don’t think it is a necessary condition. Extended periods of civil unrest (or, for that matter, an unresolvable civil war) may lead to a “failed state” situation. That is, the existing governmental structure can break down to the extent that individuals or regions are left to their own devices. One assumes this would be accompanied by an escalation in criminal activity as well as harm to the economy and freedoms of the regular people caught up in it. It is this last that many “preppers” imagine as the situation they are preparing for and likely, in this country, would be identified by most as a state of civil war.
But, like I said, I’m not sure what that means.
*I reference the Republican Analysis mostly because that was the first one I clicked. In a cursory reading, the analyses are broadly similar, although I happen to find the language of the Republican version a little clearer. Read both to try to avoid bias.
**I use the term “gay” knowing, right off, that it isn’t what I mean. I feel that to try to be more accurate means wading into the politics of sexual identity, and I don’t want to go there. This term is used instead understanding its implicit reference to the politics of years-gone-by.
***I feel good about writing that.
****No longer trying to have an open mind toward the progressive cause, I actually think the direct election of Senators was a huge mistake. The addition of the 17th Amendment in 1913 is probably one of the most significant contributors to the influence of big money in U.S. elections.
*****Or perhaps pistol. Apparently, Uncle Joe Biden now wants to ban all 9mm caliber handguns. Picking the most popular caliber of rifle and pistol and then saying it is THAT which needs to be confiscated… is this crazy, stupid, or crazy like a fox?
Do you ever get the feeling that the story’s too damn real and in the present tense?
Or that everybody’s on the stage and it seems like you’re the only person sitting in the audience?
I recall when the French T.V. series Les Revenants was released in the United States. It has something of a buzz about it and I made a point that I was going to watch it. However, by the time it was released in the U.S., there was already an English language version under development. In fact, I dare say part of the push to talk up the French series was to generate interest for the American version. By the time they made it to Netflix, I had both available to me at roughly the same time.
I wasn’t sure which one to watch first. Should I try to see the original, and then watch the U.S. version be able to judge it as an adaptation? Or should I start it off with the material that was meant for me specifically? Surely setting a show in the Pacific Northwest, rather than France, would make it easier for me to follow some of the more subtle references, assuming there are any? I recently watch The Killing, the U.S. version, without first taking in the Danish series, and it seemed to work out OK. There were certain moments where I became aware that, for example, all the names were Danish or that the landscape, while convincingly Seattle, was an awful lot like Denmark. Culturally, though, it matched my own.
In the end, Netflix has made the choice for me. The U.S. series is being removed from their streaming offerings by the end of the week so I have that long to try to make it through. The show is well done, and so I am certainly happy to give it a try, I’m just not sure I have enough time to fit it all in. It is a short series, only 10 episodes in all. Having not reached the end, I still don’t know yet if all will be revealed. I’ll leave that to you to find out on your own.
Instead, a little bit on the title. The French series was based on a French film from 2004, also with the same name. The film version was translated into English as “They Came Back.” It is also identified as a “zombie film.” It deviated from the “zombie” formula in that the risen weren’t monsters, mindless or otherwise, whose presence threatened the rest of us. They didn’t eat human flesh nor did they pass on their curse to those they came in contact with. Nevertheless, they are “the other,” something not entirely human (as we, the living, define ourselves) and so, perhaps, they are in some other way a threat to our existence. One that we don’t immediately appreciate.
When the series was recreated for the American audience, the translated title is “The Returned,” which is also how it is reference in Amazon for the original, French version. Now, revenent is derived from revenir, meaning “to return” or “to come back.” So the noun form, certainly, implies “They who have returned.” However, in French, le revenent, is also understood to mean “the ghost.” It probably wouldn’t refer to a zombie, where one might expect to see, much as in English, the actual term zombie or perhaps “living dead.”
They concept behind the show, the return of the dead, wouldn’t seem to have much grounding in reality. I wonder, though. It may be a bit of a fringe following, but there are a growing number among us who anticipate, and wholeheartedly believe in, some form of a Singularity. Such is defined as an advance in technology, most often attributed to advanced (possibly sentient) Artificial Intelligence (AI), that would overturn many of the rules by which society has thus far functioned. One of the more sought-after benefits is an end to aging. This could be brought about by advanced medical science that would allow the repair of the aging effects upon our bodies to grant us extended youth and immense life-spans. An alternative possibility is that the advancement of AI would allow humans to transfer their consciousness to a computer, allowing an immortality of mind, if not of body.
For me, this raises a certain philosophical question. Imagine you are offered the opportunity of transferring your mind to a computer. You are assured that, upon doing so, you will continue to live on, forever. Imagine also that this idea appeals to you (although, for many it may not). You are assured, including by those who have undergone the process before you, that indeed your sense of self remains intact through the transfer. However, you suspect differently. In an Invasion of the Body Snatchers type of scenario, you begin to suspect that those advising you are simply clever AIs who want to profit by assuming the identity of living persons, whom they can then eliminate without arousing suspicion. How could you know?
Imagine it this way. What if I told you that every night, when you go to sleep, your mind actually dies. In the morning, a new person, and new
As a character in the show says, “There’s only one way to find out.”
There was a rash of films being removed from Netflix coincidental with the turn of the calendar to February. Too many, in fact, for me to watch them all before they were gone. Besides Touch of Evil, I managed two comedies. Well, I started one and then watched another.
I started watching Whatever Works but I couldn’t manage to finish it. It is a newish/old Woody Allen picture. Newish, as it was released in 2009. Amazingly, that only puts it among the last dozen “new” Woody films. It is also old, however, because it was made using a script written in the early 1970s. Allen created the project with the intent to star actor Zero Mostel, of Fiddler on the Roof and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. When that was no longer possible, the script was shelved.
On-line reviews of Whatever Works were mostly flat. The biggest complaint was that the main character, played by Larry David, was unlikable. I’ve long been a fan of Woody Allen films (although I’ve mostly stopped watching his stuff made after 1990) and it doesn’t sound too different than a lot of his work. It sounded like a complaint from, perhaps, a younger generation who couldn’t quite appreciate Woody’s style. The problem is, they’re right. The main character is just so unpleasant as to be, not simply an exaggeration of the Allen New York archetype, but an absurd and unrealistic characterization of the ultra-liberal, ultra-intellectual, Queens denizen. It becomes hard to tell whether it is supposed to be caricature or what Allen imagines someone really smart would say if he weren’t held back by societal norms.
The character (Boris Yelnikoff, for what its worth) finds a beautiful 21-year-old (played by Evan Rachel Wood) on his doorstep and she moves in with him. As she is from the deep South (Louisiana and Alabama), she is morbidly stupid and takes everything literally. Once again, Allen seems like he might have been trying to say something about cultural clash but decided that rural, Southern culture equates simply to “dumb.” Naturally, the girl falls in love with the geriatric Yelnikoff. I turned it off before they got married.
It all seems so self-indulgent.
Next, I went to another film that’s been on my watchlist for nigh on fifteen years.
Back in the 2002 time frame, a new generation of zombie movies began coming out. Up until that point, I had never gone for the shock-horror genre and so had never watched any of the original Romero films. The first of the Resident Evil movies and 28 Days Later (both 2002 films) marked a resurgence of the genre. Predictably, I had no interest in Resident Evil, both because of the horror genre and due to an utter lack of interest in video-game-to-big-screen conversions. I did, actually, put 28 Days Later on my watch list and soon-after rented it, based on its positive reviews. The other positive review I read around that same time was for Shaun of the Dead. Very positive, in fact. It also went onto my list, but I never managed to watch it.
When it eventually game out on Netflix streaming, Netflix’s algorithms determined that this was a film that would be a must-see for me. In this case, I figured they were probably right but somehow still never got around to watching it. Not until, that is, they decided I would no longer get the chance.
They were right. It is funny. It is also clever, particularly in the core gag wherein the characters repeatedly don’t notice that the zombies are not alive, because, who can tell the difference these days? It also has no trouble holding up after 15 years and 2,000 intervening zombie movies.
So, why Zombies?
Past generations had few qualms about making movies with stock enemies. Frontier Indians, Mexican bandidos, Nazis, Zulus… whomever needed to be cast as villains could also be dehumanized on the screen without a second thought. In the current environment, however, it gets harder and harder to demonize a stereotype. Russians, maybe, still can be cast as criminals and gangsters (and I’m sure Donald Trump’s shadow can keep that going for another decade or so). North Koreans might do if you’ve accidentally cast some other Asian nation and need to backtrack. But, frankly, we’re running out of bad guys.
George Lucas suggested pitting us against masses of robotic soldiers and, in doing so, demonstrated its stupidity. Why would flesh-and-blood creatures engage in a war of attrition against mass-produced machinery? Makes no sense. Peter Jackson raised the bar, somewhat, with his Orcs – still mass produced (per the film, at least) but nevertheless a foreign race competing for our living space. At the same time, they were a foreign race whom it cannot be “racist” to discriminate against because they’re evil. Kind of like MAGA hat-wearing Catholic School teenagers. But unlike the red-hatted masses, they’re pulled out of the realm of fantasy and so limited in both their allegorical potential as well as their suitability in a large number of film genres.
Enter the Zombie. The Zombie is human and, indeed, is (much like our ideal society) a wonderful mix of gender, ethnic group, body type, and sexual orientation. At the same time, they are obviously “the other.” They can be immediately identified as not-one-of-us and also have absolutely nothing that engenders sympathy. But being human, they can easily (and as subtly as necessary) be stand-ins for whatever fellow humans we consider the new enemy. They also, if films are any indication, likely to spring up at almost any time for a wide and wild variety of reasons.
Mindless, slow witted masses are perhaps something we all feel these days. Don’t we all fantasize about taking the world back from them?
[F]or most people on the left political violence is a knob, and they can turn the heat up and down, with things like protests, and riots, all the way up to destruction of property, and sometimes murder… But for the vast majority of folks on the right, it’s an off and on switch. And the settings are Vote or Shoot Fucking Everybody. And believe me, you really don’t want that switch to get flipped, because Civil War 2.0 would make Bosnia look like a trip to Disneyworld.
The quote is author Larry Correia relaying a conversation he had with a friend. It’s part of a larger article where he tries to articulate, for a reader who might lean to the left, why gun confiscation is a terrible idea. It is in response to a tweet by one of California’s representatives to the U.S. House, Rep. Eric Michael Swalwell Jr. Salwell replied to a gun activist that the apparent “war” he wanted with gun owners would be a short one because the government has nukes.
Salwell has been mentioned as a potential 2020 presidential candidate and has expressed an interest in running.
I know a few “folks on the right.” This analysis rings true.
The other day I read an article which analyzes the prospect of mass, armed violence on America’s near horizon.
I began thinking about it in the context of my recent post where I talked about the sense that people on the left witness an entirely different reality than that of people on the right. I have several times thought to share the above article with her, asking how she would interpret its analysis. To me I think the conclusions sound spot on. She has also expressed concerns that the downward spiral of America’s discourse is irreversible. But does she seem the same causes as I do? Doubtful. Would she agree with the “solutions” presented in this article? Even more doubtful.
I have yet to share this article anywhere but with you, my readers. The problem is, it is a fairly substantial article, much of which talks about the failed policies of America’s progressives.
There is a quote that I am unable to find. I thought it was from this article, but search as I might, I can’t locate it. It may have been in a referencing link to this article, or taken from another context about the same situation. The point, essentially, is that once we descend into violence, the question of who is at fault, who started it, will be of little concern to the participants. Historians may write about the roots of America’s Second Civil War and try to attach some blame, although even then it is more likely they will just bolster the righteousness of the ultimate victors.
It seems apparent that we are already, today, beyond the point where there is an identifiable perpetrator and victim. The reactionary forces within our body politic are prepared to retaliate against the latest attack, regardless of what lead up to it. In this sense, the long discussion of how and why the acts of progressives have become intolerable is mostly irrelevant. Can a liberal reader see through what is essentially an assault on their identity into the analysis that, I would say, makes for the meat of this article?
And what is that?
The author proposes that the 2018 and 2020 elections will be the next catalyst that will propel this country forward into its “new equilibrium.” By that, he means a new stable state that comes after the highly volatile situation we find ourselves in today. That state may take any number of forms but I think it’s impossible that we stay in the current political environment for much longer. Just as the author states that he does not predict the outcome of the elections, only what the results of the various outcomes will be, I also think dwelling on the righteousness of the winners and losers is a distraction from the analysis that he presents.
From hours after the results of the presidential election of 2016 became apparent, the left has focused their efforts on the election of 2018. In that, you may feel they are on the side of the angels, or you may disagree their near-maniacal anti-Trump focus. In any case, I think we can all agree that a plan and the intent to bring it to fruition indeed exists. Should the left “win” the election in a week or so, every tactic they have employed to get to that end will be, to them, justified. We also know that 2018 is merely preparatory for 2020. The goal of a 2018 victory will be to impeach, or at a minimum obstruct, Donald Trump.
I put “win” in quotes as this is subjective. What is a win for the Democrats? Gaining a majority in the House and Senate? Just the House? Is merely picking up a certain number of “red” seats sufficient? How about for the Republicans. Is merely holding on to the Senate sufficient to be a victory? All this is important because what happens next is less dependent on the political makeup of the resulting government and more upon the various sides’ perception of what happened.
I’ll also take a moment for a bit of an aside. The author uses the terms “the left” and “the ruling class” to be mostly interchangeable. To a progressive activist like my friend, however, these are opposites. I think it is important to consider that a progressive could (and, now that I think about it, probably has) written a very similar article talking about the sinister power grabs of the ruling class and how the reactionary right hands the means to do that. To the right, Donald Trump is the corporate outsider, hacking away at the alligators as he attempts to drain the swamp. To the left, he is the perfect example of a corporate overlord, a member of the elitist class that endlessly brushes aside any attempts to constrain, through democracy, attempts to curb their destructive behaviors.
He makes (roughly speaking) a four-branch tree of outcomes, based on Republican versus Democrat victories over the next two elections. Essentially, he predicts all but one will end in warfare. The Democratic takeover of the Presidency he gives as a kind of a default outcome, in that it follows in more-or-less a straight line the path that we are on. He foresees that party and the ruling class, having dispensed with the niceties of civil discourse, now in possession of the full power of State apparatus. They face off against a group, now completely cut off from power, that has learned a hard set of lessons from the “resistance” that put them there.
The article speaks about the fact that self-restraint, the inner control which prevents us from entering into violence against our fellow citizens, has already left the building. From my personal experience, his description of those on the right is accurate. He writes, “The conservatives, among whom the zealot’s taste for taking the speck out of the neighbor’s eye is not widespread, revere self-restraint in principle, but are learning to transgress against it in practice.” In this he contrasts them with liberals, for whom he says restraint is “anathema in principle as well as in practice.”
I think he simplifies a more nuanced situation. I note he uses the word “restraint,” and that is important. Conservatives are apt to talk a good game. Violence in defense of home and family, or even honor, is often talked about and even considered justified. It is but rarely invoked. Liberals often mistake the sentiment that “so and so deserves a good ass-kicking” to imply a propensity to do just that. Yet, it is exceedingly rare because whatever the conservative might think could be done, their sense of higher purpose restrains them.
Progressives on the other hand, I think, define violence a little differently. Screaming in someone’s face or denying a Trump supporter’s humanity is, whatever it may be, not violent. Nobody is shot and nobody is stabbed, so no “restraint” is required. Indeed, screaming a political figure and his family out of a restaurant may feel less inappropriate then the idle comment post-incident that “They better not try that on me, I’m armed.”
Point being, just as the author sees the progressive left as having pushed conservatives over the edge into violence, no doubt progressives themselves see the reverse as true, and the truth of it just as obvious. I make that point, perhaps, to help liberal reader get through the accusatory parts of the linked text. I also think it is why the current downward spiral is unrecoverable – in our minds, we are already reacting to actual violence perpetrated upon us by the other.
Back to those four outcomes. The author proposes that the only chance of peace in our time is a double Republican victory.
A loss in November will cause the left to question their emphasis on “resistance” and the tactics they used against Kavanaugh. Indeed they may temper their approach. In contrast, success in November tells them they are on the right track and need to ramp up their efforts further. His one downside for a Republican victory is that he figures it will lock-in Trump as the standard bearer for 2020 which, in his words, “would add its own level of uncertainty to the outcome.”
Two losses in a row would send a clear message to the left that this country is on the wrong track and put the ball of reconciliation into their court. Having failed to run Trump out on a rail and faced with eight straight years of Republican rule (plus decades of a conservative majority on the Supreme court), they would have every reason to seek a fair compromise. Such a compromise, he suggests, might be found in allowing States to go their own way.
So how would the other side view these conclusions?
Of course, if you are on the right, your only solution is a solid string of victories and every other way leads to disaster. Similarly, I’m sure the left sees the only way to peace via winning in November, impeaching Trump, and then putting Hillary into the White House in 2020. What, though, comes of their consideration of the author’s prediction about the results of that outcome? Do they intend to “crush” the “alt-right,” but see them as such a fringe minority that they don’t matter? Or do they figure conservatives, unlike themselves, will accept reversals at the polls with quiet dignity (and when did they start viewing conservatives so generously)?
These things I would like to know.
The hackneyed phrase in circulation among anti-speech liberals is “freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences”, which like most hackneyed phrases is a lie in service to an injustice. As a matter of fact, freedom of speech means nothing if it does not come with freedom from consequences. The only acceptable response to argument is counter-argument. It is never violence, it is never expulsion from society, it is never imprisonment or fines, it is never economic punishment–for if any of these things is allowed, then open debate is infringed. And if open debate is infringed, then our democracy itself is controlled by those with the power to sanction speech. Because men benefit from sanctioning criticism of their misdeeds, this inevitably means the ruin of democracy itself.
[…S]omeone a thousand miles away, whom you have never met, and to whom you have no meaningful social relationship, can attack you for your speech. Here I am drawing a distinction between arguing against you, which is permissible, and attacking your speech rights themselves, either by direct or indirect suppression. In this we have a one-way exercise of power and its only point is to prevent your speech rights from being exercised. This is as much in violation of the right to free speech as is a government agent fining or jailing you for criticism.
Important in this distinction is the element of balance. If two people wish to disassociate from each other over a difference of views, that is permissible and natural. If a group hears the speech of one person and chooses to ignore him, that is permissible and natural. But when groups of people choose to punish a speaker, or large corporations choose to take away his voice in public venues, then there is an imbalance that is plainly evil. The right not to hear speech is easily exercised, but it cannot extend to the right to force others not to hear it, or it becomes tyrannical.
Full post is here.