Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Replacement Federalist Papers

Education must have an end in view of the kind of person to be educated, but speaking of such an end is surely grandiose and pretentious. In egalitarian fashion you might ask, who the hell are you to educate anyone with a view toward such an end regardless of what it is?

So let’s get more prosaic and talk numbers. In Texas Rick Perry has introduced the idea of a baccalaureate degree for the cost of no more than $10K. You may wonder how does this work? Let me explain.

The $10K college degree is related to “dual credit” courses, and it’s a “win-win” situation in terms of the least common denominator. Parents save a lot of money for general education courses for their children, in that their high school kids can take college credit Math, History, Government, English, Psychology, Sociology, and a few other college transferable courses offered from the local community college. Usually this means that the “dual credit” class meets at 7:00 AM, in order to fit in with the busy schedule of these young high school students. The local community colleges like this because it puts butts in the seats, and butts in the seats is the basis of their funding, so it increases their enrollment. If the high school student does it right, he graduates with nearly 30 to 60 hours toward an Associate’s or Bachelor’s college degree. And if the college does it right, it can put nearly 25% to 35% of the student body in enrollment for requisite state and federal funding. With regulations making for uniformity of coursework in all classes in terms of measurable student learner outcomes, such students can graduate from high school with most, if not all, of their college level “general education” credits.

It’s “win-win” situation for both parental and college budgets.

Everyone is educated (or accredited), and no one learns anything. Or at best, what used to be taught in high school is now given college credit.

Against this “dumbing down” one could speak of an education in the great books, Plato and Aristotle and such, and with good texts one could raise the question about the best life simply. One must study such things in a way to know how to ask the right questions, and it seems that the $10K college education classes meeting at 7:00 AM in high school could meet this criterion.

In Government class, we read the Declaration, the Constitution, selections from the Federalist, the Anti-Federalists, Calhoun, Lincoln and Douglas, Wilson, T and FD Roosevelt, Kennedy, Reagan, and many others. We read many good and great current political scientists and political commentators. We try to understand the debates of American politics as it has been handed down to us, and as it currently exists—even if it means watching Stephen Colbert. As a gentle guide, I always try to point toward an understanding of current issues as best as we can with a view to the common good in terms of the best that has been thought and done in the American political tradition.  We have debates in my class. We have guided debates that are open to whichever opinions are expressed. We ask how can those expressed opinions point to the common good (which is a thing in dispute). It’s a big deal in my class.

But this is all idealizing.  Usually it is a challenge to get Johnny to stay awake in class at 7:00 AM. It is all a joke. And if these basically illiterate students fail it is all the instructor’s fault, even though no one does the reading or studies for the tests in the first place. So the teacher engages in serious grade inflation. In class, the teacher may speak of the importance of deliberation, but these eighteen year olds (or sixteen year olds) at 7:00 AM have only deliberated with the forearm that their heads rest on. To be sure, one could fail them all, but then one would be fired. At 7:00 AM one is just glad that the students show up, and they get college credit for taking multiple choice scantron tests where everyone is wasting their time. But they get college credit.

It’s the best of the best, and one ought to be impressed with such eighteen—or sixteen—year old dedication that shows up at 7:00 AM.

So I think of the band the Replacements. They were were an ‘80s band who raised questions regarding how one ought to live one’s life in a way that mattered even if it were, or especially if it were, at 7:00 AM. The album Tim (1985), for instance, had many songs, such as “Swinging Party” which required one to think about how one lived one’s life up to 7:00 AM . This song speaks of keeping the party going, but it also speaks of those who are exhausted by the party itself. So the party is what it is, but it also not enough to truly satisfy deep spiritual longing. Another song, “Left of the Dial,” speaks of a way that such a party can’t be captured on the radio that everyone else is listening to—it is left of the dial. Whatever it is you’re looking for, it is music left of the dial. It’s played on 88.7, or even more left than that. “College music” it used to be called, and it was often listened to at 7:00 AM (or 3:00 AM), but it wasn’t listened to in class. The music on the left of the dial played music that wasn’t the usual music, and you loved that music in part because it was outside the mainstream class even at 7:00 AM, or more reasonably at 9:30 AM.

You were looking for something else, and the Replacements sang to that desire—especially at 7:00 AM. Dual credit courses teach you to wake up early and nothing much more than that. It’s worth $10K.

Peter Lawler would call such music as the Replacements “emo,” and he’s probably right about that, but that’s only because he has found out or at least opened a question regarding the truth of what it means to whine about one’s own. The truth about who we are is another matter beside whining, but who we are and what we are supposed to be doing is a worthwhile question even at 7:00 AM.

So the Replacements may not have serious lyrics. Carl Scott would provide plenty of reasons to place the Replacements as a nothing in seriousness. After all, they sang songs about a “little mascara” that left you crying.

The Replacements have no songs about brotherly love, and being an ‘80s Gen X band, they do not speak to the great task that a generation must take on. Instead they sing personal songs about experiences with flight attendants.

I realize that all these points are ridiculous, but that is the point. It is a matter of taking such great texts like Plato and Aristotle or Augustine or even the Federalist Papers, and attempting to show how their questions address current concerns. The Replacements happen to be a band that make Pascalian questions of diversion in the face of human finitude and infinity for real. I see no problem with bringing this issue up, except for the fact that for some reason the Replacements’ music doesn’t speak to this younger generation. They’d rather listen to the Boomer music like the Beatles than the Gen X music of which the Replacements is an exemplary case in point.

Surely it’s the web and globalization that makes the Replacements a forgotten band. The youth listen to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys and Motown. I’m glad that the youth know all about this great music, but why don’t they know of the Replacements, and more importantly, why do they not feel the importance of the Replacements?

The Replacements provide a view of the kind of person that is to be educated.  While their music and lyrics may be knowing and even prudent, the person speaking in their songs has no deluded grandiose vision. Trying as best as he can to live a good life in terms of personal relations, this person doesn’t obsess about political matters. It’s a music that speaks to ambitions apart from political ambition. These songs could, a la Springsteen, try to speak to matters beyond his personal matters. But the Replacements remain eminently personal and particular. Short of speaking to pubic matters, they don’t impose their personal as political. Are they libertarian? Far from it! There is a good beyond subjective morality. But their songs recognize a limit to politics by carving out a private realm to which politics cannot and ought not touch. In that sense the Replacements speak of that which transcends the political.

I suppose I ought to teach my students more Springsteen and less Replacements, but at 7:00 AM I just can’t seem to care. As it is I teach nothing, even when we read the Federalist Papers. And at 7:00 AM it seems that my students cannot care for much anything either. The foreheads on their forearms are more important than even the Replacements or Springsteen or the Federalist Papers could ever say.

But they get a college education at 7:00 AM regardless, and at the end of the day it will be worth $10K. These students will discover the intricacies of their forearms, if only they could listen to the Replacements or, even more, read the Federalist Papers.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Two Halves of Skyfall: Technocracy and One's Own

One could divide the action of latest James Bond movie Skyfall in half. There is the first part where Bond, MI6, and the cause of England conscientiously follow their strict regulations—and as a consequence they lose several battles. Then there is second part where Bond and the best that is England return to their ancestral roots—roots combining judgment, fortitude, and daring in order to overcome a ruthless enemy in the here and now. By presenting a return to roots, the movie asks us to ponder the question concerning how much change there must be in order to return to what is always considered to be right, and furthermore the question concerning whether such a return now is possible—let alone necessary or desirable. Does Skyfall present an innovation that truly returns to what is best, or does it tread on thin ice in a way that suggests that one must be open to whatever fortune always already confronts one in an unforeseeable manner regardless of alleged timeless principles? In order to say something intelligible in this post, I’ll leave that question unanswered.

The first half of Skyfall is all about rational control. There are the policies, procedures, and protocols of MI6 which govern the activities of the spies and the spies who spy on them, and all this control is on behalf of a secure and peaceable U.K.* All must follow the rules, and they will all be held accountable. With satellite audio and video communications, let alone the internet and CCTV—the assistance of the latter, to which, a nameless bureaucrat desperately implores during an emergency he witnesses live onscreen—it seems to be the case that the abstract, general, settled, and standing rules are best preserved when they are recorded, assessed, and analyzed in their minutiae. The new data driven culture of evidence at MI6 will run all of this material through various sophisticated statistical models in a way that is accountable to the rationale governing the whole thing. That is to say, nothing—not even the shadows—will be outside the rule of rational control.

There seems to be a hope that the rule of law can be realized in its completion when everything is brought to light under the complete rational control of modern technologies of communication and surveillance (even if that completion is somewhat inconducive to the aims of ordered liberty). The bureaucratic technologists will record billions of pages of text and thousands of hours of audio and video, and this database will apparently allow for rational on the spot scientific decision-making in the future. Probably no one will actually ever read, listen to, or see this information. That is, it will not be noticed until someone with a large amount of time and a partisan axe to grind decides to look into the details in the first place. In other words, when it comes to issues like the rational control of the intelligence, politics will continue to exist despite the predominant authority of statistical science.

When “mistakes are made,” as inevitably they must, public hearings will use this scientifically gathered information to bring those “responsible” to answer to the public world of daylight. In this way, it is hoped that giving strict scrutiny to what remains of the ever-dwindling shadow world will ferret out the truth of things in and through an open process of constructive criticism. Such critical procedures will hopefully make the world in the future that much more immune to the asymptotic goal of preventing error. Security and peaceableness for all will be made that much more guaranteed.

If this techno-bureaucratic order is evidence of a lack of trust in those, who like Bond, are deputized to carry out their various missions in situations of extreme danger and risk of life, it still has the justification of being an orderly and controllable way to carry out policy with an eye toward ever-increasing rational and technological precision. If light can be projected into each and every crevice and interstice where shadows may remain, then one can ponder the hope of making real the superfluity of MI6 (or at least the James Bonds of this world) in the name of a fully transparent society of perpetual peace.

Nevertheless, the world of Skyfall is not there yet. James Bond remains a secret agent, even a 007 agent with a license to kill, all the while working in the midst of this technological and administrative regime with its anomalous politics.

So these rational rules must control James Bond and his cohorts, even if it means the probable death of Bond. Under such surveillance, noble deeds done in the name of serving one’s own country get translated into Benthamite calculations of the greatest good dictated according to the latest regulations by the panoptic observers at a distance. In this way James Bond as an agent becomes easily replaceable by any other agent, and his service and sacrifice is understood as a mere calculation in the service to the good of the greatest number. Even M succumbs to this logic when she orders Eve to shoot despite the fact that there is obviously no clear shot. Could Bond have retrieved the secret list of agents had Eve not taken that shot? The audience is left to wonder, but one must do what is required under orders.

Besides, there would have been no movie—or at least not this one.

If Bond is to survive as an MI6 agent, he must undergo thorough physical and psychological analysis upon his return to duty, no matter how personally humiliating it may be to his sense of pride. Every agent, regardless of experience, must pass these tests. In these tests, there is no question of unquantifiable innate virtues and dedication to country. In Skyfall, M realizes her earlier error of judgment when she fudges the data to allow Bond to pass the tests, or at least that is what Silva would have him believe.

Silva offers Bond a kind of freedom, but it is a freedom that accepts the general regime of rational control which is apparently indicative of MI6’s current modus operandi—even if Silva uses such freedom of action for evil ends. Perhaps Silva lied to Bond about M’s disregard for the scientific evidence of his rehabililatory tests. It does not matter. Perhaps MI6 is not as bureaucratically restrained as it appears to be, but that insight requires Bond and the audience to believe that Silva represents a total lie. Silva, the techno-bureaucratic ruler par excellence, has to be denied. Eventually Bond is able to come to such a denial. M, in her data fudging may have rejected it too, but at that point, data fudging or not doesn’t matter because other unquantifiable virtues must come to the forefront in order to do what is right.

The second half of Skyfall portrays both Bond and M rejecting the technocratic view of the current MI6, as well as Silva’s own shadow version of it.

When Bond—with an earpiece directing him from headquarters—fails to prevent Silva’s raid on the public hearings investigating the death of several MI6 agents, he realizes that he must use other modes. Against all procedure, he commandeers M away from her MI6 handlers, and together they drive his pristine 1960s Aston Martin to the dilapidated ancestral Bond estate called Skyfall in Scotland. As he drives away, M asks, with a semi-serious deadpan voice, if Bond is going to disregard policy. The answer is an unspoken but definite yes. With their mutual locking of eyes in a rearview mirror, they both agree that such radical, but not unprecedented, action is required to defeat Silva.

So the audience is meant to wonder what Skyfall may mean. Well, when the technological advances fall through the sky and disappear in efficacy—the advantages to which some appeal as if they were gods—what else can one do but return to one’s own? This own is particular, but to properly fight an enemy one needs to know one’s terrain, and where else does one know one’s own than with one’s own as it were. So Bond returns to Skyfall. This is not psychobabble, nor is it Glenn Beck, dig your own well, get lots of guns and gold, and have five years worth of Campbell’s soup and MREs. It is simply a place that one needs to know in the most extreme of circumstances to fight against an enemy like Silva—even if that place implies something more general like one’s own nation or country. While a Silva-like character may always be there, one need not arrange one’s whole life around such a contingency, but one must be able to go to one's own when necessary.

To quote a poem other than Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” at the end of the day, Bond returns to the bare ruined choirs of the local church. True, M sadly cannot survive despite Bond’s best efforts, but his efforts perceive a love more strong that even he must eventually give up. Fighting for M and himself--and his country--is worth fighting for despite the world of rational control. Bond’s efforts and M’s death are shown as events of noble sacrifice beyond the Benthamite greatest good for the greatest number. Something important remains despite such calculation.

James Bond’s estate Skyfall suffers from neglect, but this character was one who historically, from Connery to Craig, never was shown to have a past anyway. Of course his estate is in disarray.

The latest Bond movies, i.e., the Daniel Craig movies, have revealed aspects of Bond’s past, and suggested that that past is somehow important. Does this personal history diminish his importance as a hero who appears out of nowhere as the Bonds were in the past? Perhaps. But it doesn’t diminish his heroism in general. James Bond (as Daniel Craig) may be an orphan, but out of the past he still knows how to defeat the enemy in the changing circumstances of today, and he does it as Bond always did, with better style and taste—panache—than anyone else ever could.

I’ll try to connect Skyfall to the several movies it references in a later post, but I’m getting tired of talking about this movie. So maybe not.

*One of Skyfall’s many ambivalences regards the status of the real entities and names for the country or nation that Bond serves. Is it England, Scotland (currently resonant of the idea of independence), Wales, the U.K., Great Britain? As Paul Seaton (in the comments) notes, M’s battered Union Jack bulldog tchotchke suggests the remaining importance of the U.K.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

More Short Thoughts on Skyfall (But This Time With Spoliers)

Skyfall is bookended with two (what turn out to be) near drowning scenes. We see James Bond at beginning and at end of the movie struggling for air underwater and under circumstances of great duress. In both cases, the sense is that Bond is literally in over his head at the limit of life and death.

In the first scene, after being shot by his MI6 cohort, Bond finds himself underwater after a great fall from a bridge outside of Istanbul. In this sequence, it seems that he is saved by the silhouette of long and slender feminine fingers as the scene transforms itself into the usual, but in this case atypical, opening credit montage found in all the Broccoli produced Bond films. In this case, the credits are atypical because of their emphasis on blood and death—especially the death of James Bond himself. We see tombstones emblazoned with the name James Bond.

In the very next scene, we see Bond alive, and assume he has survived near drowning through his own self-determination, because we have no other information. Perhaps a woman saved him, but we don’t know where he is or how he got there after his previous ordeal. We simply find him meandering through a low budget tropical island paradise—a paradise that hints at the pleasures of a barely seen beautiful naked woman, and nights apparently spent drinking whisky on the beach with drum circle hippie drop-outs.  Almost as if it were an afterworld appropriate for the lassitude of those who experience the burdens of responsibility to be ultimately unbearable, Bond seems to have found a place off the grid, where nobody knows his name, and where he can be free from the troubles of personal risk taking in the name of queen and country. Is this what Bond looks like in the underworld? Perhaps it is better to be a slave than dead.

In the other near drowning scene toward the end of the movie, we find Bond holed up in his ancestral estate in the Scottish Highlands named “Skyfall.” In an attempt to save M's and his own life, he waits there for the villain Silva's inevitable attack with a booby trapped to plan to foil it. During the attack, Bond finds himself under the necessity to shoot his gun through some ice that drops him deep into the dark waters of a loch. We again see him struggle for life underwater, and this time fighting one of his adversaries. Bond then shoots a gun through the ice from below in order to reach the surface and escape his death. This time we actually see him save his life on his own with his typical skill and daring. In terms of the movie, his actions allow him to save the day—or almost save the day—at the end of the movie.

In Skyfall the resurrection theme is pervasive. James Bond comes back from the dead, and so does the franchise. Older movies and their various tropes (visual and verbal) also make a comeback. The old school ways return—whether it is in terms of the toys of espionage, a return to traditional gender roles, or a return to the ancestral estate. Also, there is a return to the idea of the importance of the nation, serving it honorably and without tongue in cheek.

I’ll have more to say on Skyfall later.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Think On Your Sins: On Skyfall

Would it be too much to suggest a deeper meaning to the message that the latest Bond villain, Silva (Javier Bardem), repeatedly sends to MI6’s M (Judi Dench) in the latest installment of the James Bond franchise, Skyfall (dir. Sam Mendes)? Perhaps, but I’ll venture such a claim nonetheless. “Think on your sins” not only alerts the viewer to the personal revenge motive that guides the villain in his destructive pursuits, but it also points toward an acrostic code—“toys.” As such, this message points to the importance of “toys” throughout the history of Bond movies.

In these movies, the good guys and bad guys alike develop and deploy the most ingenious and deadly toys, as they play cat and mouse in their attempts to thwart the other’s designs. The toys have included all sundry of clever weapons, cameras, recording devices, tracking devices, underwater breathing apparatus—and all contained in the size of an actual ball point pen or wristwatch. Of course, there have also been the cars—the Aston Martins and Jaguars and Lotuses and BMWs decked out with bullet proof windows, machine guns, submarine capability, remote control, and the obligatory ejector seats. And this list only describes the toys supplied by Q at the intelligence headquarters, i.e., the toys for the good guys.

So it seems that the idea of toys provides some sort of thematic motif in Skyfall. In fact, at one point, Silva boasts that Bond (Daniel Craig) need admire (and beware) his “toys.” However, despite the emphasis on toys, Q (Ben Whishaw) provisions 007 with a mere palm recognition handgun and a simple radio transmitter. Bond retorts, “It’s not exactly Christmas, is it?” In this 21st century Bond film, the toys and gizmos and gadgets remain relatively lo-fi and DIY—muskets, sawed off shotguns, various improvised explosive devices, and even daggers.

To be sure, in this movie computers and high-tech knowhow are pervasive, but even that has a ring of the familiar to it. Bond catches up with news at a beachside bar with the help of a flat screen and Wolf Blitzer. A bit more like you and me, he reads text messages received on his smart phone. Silva is a genius computer hacker (reminiscent of Julian Assange), and the youthful Q is only one of “six people in the world” who knows how to encrypt software in order to make “obscurity” useful for the sake of “security.” But the audience has seen all of this before in the Mission Impossible and Die Hard movies, and it has even seen it as early as Sandra Bullock in The Net (or was it Whoopie Goldberg in Jumping Jack Flash?).

It turns out that in Skyfall, in order to save the day, the old school know how needs to reassert itself. And reassert itself it does.

Must one wonder which sins need to be thought on other than those alleged to M's culpability?

Skyfall alludes to earlier Bond flicks and its various toys in part to comment on its own dearth of toys. For fifty years, James Bond has morphed from Connery to Lazenby to Moore to Dalton to Brosnan to Craig, and perhaps Skyfall suggests that the franchise had become too enamored of the toys at the expense of character and story. Perhaps that emphasis had been detrimental to what Armond White calls the serious moral and political intent that once characterized popular entertainment. This newest Bond movie admirably and successfully attempts to restore some of that seriousness.

Skyfall alludes to many other movies as well—like Mission Impossible (dir. Brian De Palma), Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (dir. Brad Bird), The Silence of the Lambs (dir. Jonathan Demme), the Dark Knight movies (dir. Christopher Nolan), Carlito’s Way (dir. Brian De Palma), and Straw Dogs (dir. Sam Peckinpah).

Skyfall also has an extended quotation from Alfred Lord, Tennyson’s “Ulysses.”

In future posts, I plan to speak to all this intertextuality, and infer perhaps what Skyfall has to say about important themes regarding technology, globalization, nationalism, tradition, politics, bureaucracy, the relation between the sexes, war, enemies, espionage, secrecy, intelligence, and several others. Of course, I really can’t speak to all of this, but as a popular movie with immense cultural resonance, Skyfall is surely a commentary on how these themes manifest themselves in the current era.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

All Right Is Not Alright

So I saw the move "The Kids Are All Right." I know this movie was the talk of last summer, but I knew I wouldn't like it then so I waited for it to be released on video to see it. I saw it in December on DVD, and I found it enjoyable. It is an entertaining movie. Contrary to my expectations I found it to be funny. The characters were well written and played, and the plot kept me guessing. I didn't realize there would be as much explicit sex, but that is--in the nomenclature of today's laid back acceptance--all good. But I still think the whole premise, at least insofar as it dealt with the male characters, is utter bullshit.

I hate message movies even if I am ineluctably drawn to them. I have some weird sense that I must keep up with what everyone else is talking about. So I see all kinds of movies. Christ, I saw "The Transformers" just to see what it was all about (It sucked). So I watched "The Kids Are All Right." I have no problem with homosexuality per se, but I find that strident defenses of it (like this movie) lack any sense of proportion, reality and reasonableness. "Milk" was similar, but a better movie.

So even though I'm writing about this film many months after its hype, it is still one of those movies like "Million Dollar Baby," "Chocolat," "Amelie," "Kinsey," "The Wrestler," "Wall Street, Pt. 2," etc. that I feel compelled to see because "everyone" is talking about it. It if it is too late to talk about it, then so be it.

The first thing to be said about this movie is that unfortunately it is not the great film documentary about the rock band The Who called "The Kids Are Alright"--a film which is itself named after a great song by the same band. I wouldn't mind the shortcomings of this film if it were at least as wonderful as the Who's "1921" from "Tommy." Okay, maybe this is too strong a criticism, but then why name this movie as such? If you don't want to be compared to the Who, then don't (mis)name your movie after one of their songs. Granted, I watched "The Kids Are All Right" not "The Kids Are Alright." I wished I had seen the latter. At least in that film, the alcoholism and social dysfunction was taken for granted, and as a result that band made some of the most interesting rock music of the last 50 years. Instead, in "The Kids Are All Right," we the audience are supposed to applaud this daring unconventional family that can't dare enough to let the sperm donor be a part of their lives. Instead they treat him like shit--or rather as a sperm donor, i.e., scumbag.

Yet I can't get over this ridiculous title. Remembering my 7th grade teacher--a woman whom our class secretly but collectively called Colonel Kampe (so named for her almost militaristic demand that we memorize grammar, punctuation, parts of speech, as well the Emily Dickinson poem "There Is No Frigate Like a Book")--all right and alright were important distinctions. Alright is a word that points to an adverbial sense of doing just okay or fine. After your boyfriend has broken up with you, I see you and ask, "Are you doing alright? " Whereas all right points adjectively to a collective noun where all are in the right. If I am a State Department spokesman after a terrorist blows up an embassy I say, "Everything is all right."

Already you may get the sense why I think the Who's music (and documentary) is alright, but I don't think the kids in the movie of the eponymously named film are all right. In fact I think this all right notion regarding this movie constrains any independent thought. Everyone must be all right, and this is not alright it seems to me. I don't want to be a part of all right (in this case), even though I'm doing alright. David Foster Wallace has a short story about "Good People." They are all right--all the right opinions, attitudes, habits, etc. Count me out!

This is a movie about confused sex. No one can make it alone. We need others to provide for us as we provide for them. The origins of the family stem from the basic needs that each of us demands. Whether it is simply providing for a home, or providing for the guidance of children who need many years to be instructed in the right way, the family is an institution that has been formed through the mists of tradition to help us in our life. In spite of these things, we're all confused.

This movie showed the ways in which these women could not provide for their children, let alone for themselves in a deep manner. The mores, character, education and culture that the family provides is seriously stunted in this family. These women, after many years together, and all the accoutrements that a yuppie lifestyle provides, are confused--and so are their children. This reality may be true of everyone in the movie, but call me the virgin in the whorehouse to exclaim that this family would be better off with man.

I enjoyed watching these fucked up people even as I knew I was being indoctrinated into considering the limits of what makes a family. That fact made the fun of the movie continually present as the nagging admixture to the shocking fact that Joni and Laser had two mommies (Jules and Nic) and an unknown sperm donor (Paul).

Why is Paul considered the bad guy here? At the end of the day, this is an anti-male movie--even as it shows that Paul has a good influence on Laser. Laser realizes that hanging out with his dope snorting, Michael Vick animal cruelty friend is not good after he has spent time with his "father." Apparently it is better to confirm the lives and "commitment" of two aging lesbos than it is in confirming the formation of a young man. In fact, these women want him to be gay, and they reject the only male figure--as limited and weak and irresponsible as he is--to be a formative figure in his life.

Of course, after all these years Paul can't be these kids father, but these kids needed a father and Jules and Nic could not provide this. Yes, they raised the kids well, but there is more to life than getting into a good college.

If anything, this movie confirmed my prejudice in favor of the monogamous mommy/daddy family.

As Harvey Mansfield pointed out, there is a lack on "manliness" in today's culture. This movie confirms that to the nth degree.

The Who may not be John Wayne, but when they sang about "The Kids Are Alright," they meant it. Roger Daltrey may have been short, but he was a fighter. A fighter for what? It is true that manliness must be coupled with things for which one should be manly. But let me give a song for Laser--not from the movie. It's The Who's rendition of a Mose Allison Song called "Young Man Blues."

Perhaps it speaks to manliness. Maybe this is the point of the whole movie, but I can't imagine Hollywood greenlighting a film with as reactionary views as mine. However, these days I don't know. Are the kids really alright/all right?

Update: Spoken more fluently than me is this review of the movie.

Update 2: Of course there was no religion or any relationship with God represented in this movie. Maybe in the sequel I could pose as someone who could show Laser that Christianity perhaps speaks to his deepest longings. I would have to be a professor/teacher type character. Maybe at a community college. Oh wait, I already teach at a community college. Don't worry, I'm not breaching the separation of church and state. As a Catholic I don't believe in the priesthood of all believers.

But that would require belief--see my Thoughts on Lessing below.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Lessing's Choice

I have been ignored for what I have to say is my whole life. I am ignored amongst family, friends and business colleagues. No one gives a shit what I have to say. So encountering blogosphere shunning should not come as a surprise.

I used to contribute posts to a blog that took its starting point the films of Brian De Palma. This was no ordinary fansite. It included film students, critics, and all sort of sundry film makers. The conversations extended beyond the apparent disconnected facts and data regarding particular De Palma films. It also avoided the typical issues of the life of celebrity film maker Brian De Palma. Instead it dealt with the craft, the themes, the issues of film making that Brian De Palma and his movies had raised. In a relatively intelligent manner, this web page brought up issues of philosophy, politics, history, ethics, aesthetics as these issues emerged in the films of De Palma (and ultimately elsewhere). Yes there were plenty of analyses of predecessors and epigoni. However, the site dealt with all sorts of issues that could really carry on the conversation (as an Oakeschott or a Rorty) could appreciate. When I first contributed, I found thoughtful and appreciative respondents to what I wrote. However, as time went on, I became more irascible, and I found myself in pariah status with the web site monitors as well as with the other contributors. Perhaps I made excessive statements. Perhaps I picked fights. Nonetheless, I found myself alone in my own comments. Other contributors began regularly ignoring my remarks, and I found that what I had to say became simple reactive inanities to what was not said. I found myself in a cyber world of solipsistic criticism that made impossible the necessary friendly criticism of me that allowed me to see myself. What I wrote became so distasteful to others that I was no longer worth acknowledging.

This is a tend with other sites I attend. Whether it is the Leo Strauss group or the Postmodern Conservative blog, my career as a writer has followed a similar trajectory. First, I am one of the most interesting an scintillating of respondents (even if I exaggerate my excellence). Then I become a writer to whom others refer. I become a benchmark of sorts for those who wish to offer a dissenting opinion. Then comes the remarks that "Presnall" sounds like something of a crank. Which is followed by complete disregard by the other writers and respondents, concluding in a complete silence to anything I write. All this leads me talking to myself.

I suppose my utter disregard for following the arguments of others in the name of what I consider where the truth leads me inevitably leaves me in my own solipsism. This of course makes it sound like I defend the radical questioning of convention. This is not necessarily true. Instead, I am a radical critic of such radical critique. This double critique confuses many as they naively wish to say something worthwhile in the surety of their own opinion. However, I tend to wish to deflate such ambitions to speak what is worthwhile. My own standards are ridiculously high, and these standards make me hated by those who speak persuasively to others in the terms that most can accept. In the best of rhetorical traditions, my friends and I--whether on the De Palma page, the Strauss page, or the PomoCon page--share a concern with the same questions. What motivates us to thought, wonder, or questioning is the same. We share a sense of the general parameters of the human problem--socially, politically, theologically, culturally politically. Not to sound like a sociologist of a Dilthey or Mannheim type, but we share the same content in terms of what is at stake in our questions. We are all Gadamerians here. Nonetheless, given what I write, they just don't care for what I have to say in response to these fundamental issues.

I used to think my shunning was due to my lack of learning. There are some huge big brains and some of the most erudite and thoughtful human beings writing on these pages. It is intimidating to find myself writing in such company. However, I came to realize that I am quite erudite and learned too--if not as much as or even moreso than some of the others writers frequenting these web pages. Hence, I judged that the shunning had less to with erudition than a judgment of my character. In this view I am not only ignorant but distasteful. I tend to state things wrongly or in a way that is not fitting. So it was all a personal criticism of me and my character.

What do you do in such a situation? Do I embrace myself and say 'fuck you" to all your shit-for-brains (SFB) accounts of the way you alll don't understand me? This seems too extreme and beyond my own sense of self-uncertainty. Do I try to figure out why I don't fit in and try to remediate the problem? I have given up on trying to fit in since I was in high school--at the earliest. I have never fit in and so I don't care for that. Perhaps all this is the problem, but it seems to me overly simplistic. I myself have no problem following the law, adhering to conventional morality, and performing the duties of family, career and country--in fact I have excelled in these things on several occasions.

I am only left to conclude that it is my opinions which are nefarious. I will admit that I cannot articulate my opinions in the best manner possible in every argument. I am not the best writer, wordsmith or rhetorician in the world. Perhaps I need more study more in order to speak my mind, since I do not know everything in literature, history and politics. Maybe I need to specialize more and then I could have a basis of particular authority from which I could speak to a more general audience. But I am pretty well knowledgeable of all sorts of specifics--much more than many people I know. I am too specialized. So, to state it again, it is my opinions that are dubious. Perhaps I'm specialized in the wrong things, but this assumes that there are specialists who can truly take their knowledge and translate it to the truth of the whole for what is needed to know. As if there were an important statement that could be made in a way that way others could assent to. I doubt it. Others simply don't like what I have to say.

So what is it I have to say? I doubt the things that people in my position think are important. I'm not stupid. I recognize the need to mask one's own opinions. In fact I do it all the time. I recognize that I don't hold the absolute truth in absolute knowledge. I qualify what I say--even if I am a student of Hegel. I may recognize that knowledge in the modern world resorts to knowledge or education in a circle--encyclopedia. But I never state it as such. I like to be an empiricist too. I stick to the facts like everyone else.

I think I become anathema because I call out the truth of all empiricism which is the dog philosophy of cynicism. This at least explains the basis of my rhetoric. However, the first thing I aim my cynicism towards is cynicism itself. I hate deflationary, self-spirited rhetoric for its own sake. This gets me into trouble because I like to prick the balloons of any and every cynic.

So I have no positive teaching. I am all negative. Admittedly I am no reformer. I cannot tell you how to lead your life. To be sure, I have standards. They are true and right too. But I have no way of making you live become what is the true and right life. I try to persuade toward what is called philosophy. In contrast to philosophy, coercion leads to an ignorant lawlessness which is lawful on the basis of the fear of punishment--but there is a tradition that one is dragged by the scruff of one's neck out of the cave. Is coercion itself the basis of philosophy? But who drags anyway?

Lacking someone to drag us out of the cave, or lacking the insight of one's own that images are images, it seems that we need a god who metes reward and punishment. Perhaps such fear--including fear of divine punishment--is our lot. I suspect a lot of our current moralizers (on the one hand) and philosophers (on the other) just simply want to keep fear of divine punishment in its place. I have no desire to destroy this belief either, but when I call out others of their obfuscating this issue, they get angry and then they ignore me.

So I will continue to think and write what I say, and I won't pretend to speak frankly of philosophy and god is dead while at the same time pretending that god is the ultimate judgment of one's particular and personal sense of life. Why not just say say--fideistically--that god is judgment? Why come up with so many sophisticated arguments in a post-theistic age?Don't worry about it. The cat is out of the bag. God is dead, and no matter what kind of rhetoric is deployed cannot cover the fact--this deadly truth as Nietzsche puts it.

So we should return to first questions. Reason and revelation. Ancients and moderns. Philosophy and poetry. Law and life. Rule and discretion. Theory and practice. Public and private. Individual and community. Progress and return. Transmission of the past and rejection of the future. Athens and Jerusalem--or Rome? or Mecca!

Lessing posed the question of God with two hands. Long before the red or green pill of the poplar movie The Matrix, Lessing picked up on the ancient myth of God offering two hands. One hand was the life of eternal questioning--the joy and adventure of seeking after that which can be known even to the point of never knowing it. This mode seeks after newness and is interminably unsatisfied. It maybe happiness, but it is unsatisfied in its answer. It thinks honesty, probity, redlicheit is what the best way of life is for a noble and true human life. One should never rest certain anything. In this hand, the knife edge of continual questioning the most fundamental things must be one's fate.

The other hand of God holds the answer to every deep question that stems from the deepest erotic longing. These are the answers to the kinds of longings that plague you in even in the midst of your own most self satisfaction. These answers provide relief to such an unspeakable longing that it is satisfaction in such a way that one need not nor ever wish to seek beyond what already is (or what has been given). Such knowledge provides the confidence of facing up to the challenges of this world because there is nothing that can challenge the ultimate truth of what one already has. This is not smugness, but clarity regarding what is truth. It is true enlightenment.

This is an eternal dispute between unbelief and belief.

Given the response to what I write, I guess I have an ineradicable unbelief. An ineradicable, ontological unbelief. I am not happy with such a situation, but that should be expected in such a mode of life. So be it. It makes no friends even if friends are what I desire. My probity says there are no friends even if my desire wishes for them to be. Derrida in his lectures of friendship liked to quote Montaigne quoting an old saw, "My friends, there are no friends." I guess this is where I am. Derrida in the same lectures then examines the question of the enemy in Carl Schmitt. Unfortunately, this is my position. I don't endorse Schmittian politics, and I whish to choose Socrates over Polemarchus, but I have no friends nonetheless.

The typical response is like a pop song, "You only give what you get."

This is my giving.

All of this navel gazing certainly explains my anathematic position regarding the De Palma, Strauss, or PomoCon blogs. Who would want to read such a self indulgent asshole as me?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Pinball Wizard

Truly a great song by the Who. But I always wondered what deaf, dumb and blind meant. Like the crowd I wondered how he did it. "How do you think he does it?"

But the more you think about bumpers and flippers, one wonders if one does not always stand like a statue playing by intuition. These things provide for externalized ways of living one amongst another. Pinball, blindness, deafness, and dumbness have no community.

Pinball is a pretty lame image to make this case insofar as it is dated--but pinball, with its jerky shuffling of the ball, may be a true image of how one must make one's way in the world in modern bourgeois, democratic, capitalistic, liberal societies these days. The pinball image may not hold up, but let me nonetheless hand my pinball crown to Pete Townsend for attempting to speak about what is true.

You may ask--what is true in a silly song about gaining recognition for mastery at something as ridiculous as pinball for one who is deaf, dumb and blind? Of course, it is easily answered in the see me, feel me, touch me, heal me refrain. But what does all this mean? Listening to you, gazing at you and following at you. Right behind you and on you I see the glory and get the story.

The you is surely important here, but so is the me that can't hear, see or speak.

This must be some sort of social psychology put to music. Is it typically Lockean in that we have no judge with common authority by nature? Is it Hobbesian in the ways in which Tommy's fame leads to the one answer to all questions?

Is it the typical British Marxist stance that popular culture serves as an anodyne for the suffering of the working class. The sigh of the oppressed in an alleviating opiate that shows itself in the new sensation of Tommy's fame?