Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Big Blank Out of '08

So cities around the world are going dark for an hour as a sign of "solidarity" with the earth/environment and to highlight the "threat" of human caused global climate change (in one direction or another since it seems that any "change" from whatever is "normal" is caused by us)? Why stop for an hour? Why not keep them all off all the time, every day, every month, every year? We can join those prophets of a couple hundred years ago, the Luddites, and smash all the lights. We can even devote whole days to the task (obviously not the nights) of destroying these "threats" to our and, more importantly, our planet's survival; these horribly insidious coils of tungsten and tubes full of gas.

Millions of people have already given up the benefits of hundreds of years of scientific knowledge and research and achievement in their food (for all of those "organic" consumers out there, I'm referring to you), why not go another step? A few "brave" prophets have even willingly given up the advances of medical science, the car, and the house. We can return to candles, or even better, live in pitch darkness as people did before candles were made cheaply available. Granted, there won't be much of a night life, but then again, night lives only consume energy, and energy consumption "hurts" our beloved planet and environment. What better way to prove our "solidarity" and "concern" than this, a minor sacrifice of our enjoyment of life? Life itself, in the exhalation of carbon dioxide is harmful, and the methane produced by the animals we use to support our continued existence in large numbers has been pointed to as a leading culprit in harming our "pristine" globe. Something must obviously be done.

The world is going mad in its attempts to undo civilization and its greatest achievements. We are so far removed (in the Western world anyway) from the horribly tragic and meagre material existence of only a few centuries ago that we can, without the slightest bit of thought, throw it all away without even looking back (or thinking we should even have to look back at all). That the governments in allegedly free countries around the world can actually forcibly deny power to those who would otherwise be willing and able (that is to pay) to use it is a travesty and a bleak sign of the state of things.

It's hard to imagine why Bin Laden and his cronies hate the West so much and want to destroy it right this very moment. The West, by and large, hates itself and given a few more years will willingly destroy itself and everything that made it great. Few western intellectuals defend western technology and science. In fact, the case is quite the opposite, they excoriate both as mere fronts for power and imperialism, clever masks for racism and ultimately "arbitrary" anyway, no better than "alternative" ways of dealing with reality like "magic" and other forms of mystical denials of reality practiced by primitives around the world in the past as well as now. Even more, Western science and technology are far worse because they assert an intellectual superiority which is illusory (according to these learned thinkers) and which have caused the subjugation of the entire world, its people and environment, under the pillage of their evil parent: capitalism.

Western intellectuals will not stand up and combat their foes around the world largely because they agree with them and do not see them as foes. Obviously they, for the most part, disdain Bin Laden's religious fervor, but they do not disdain his hate for the West, because they also hate it. Ever since Rousseau and Kant declared war on the Enlightenment and all that it had set in motion (every achievement of the West, in science, art, government, etc. can be traced back to that movement or the Renaissance which slightly preceded it) it has become the default position of nearly every Western intellectual to lament the achievements of the west, to fret, to whine, to wring their hands and contemplate some alternate "Utopia." Unfortunately, politicians and large numbers of people (who ignored these intellectuals for the most part, which in turn contributed greatly to their whining) are now jumping on the bandwagon of taking western achievement out of its historical and necessary context.

Now we can apparently have free governments without respect for individual rights. We can have all the material benefits of western civilization while we destroy the very foundation of their production. We can have the west without the west. Of course, all of this is a horrendous contradiction and quite impossible. Giving up Western civilization and not lifting a hand or a mind in its defense will not lead to a paradise of all the material benefits of the west minus all those western ideas that are apparently so despised by western leaders, intellectuals, and growing segments of the people. It will lead to North Korea, a country far "ahead" of the west in killing those evil lights. Just look at the satellite photos of that country at night, it exists in darkness amid a sea of electricity. They are certainly in solidarity with their environment. If that is our goal as peoples and as a civilization then we must stop kidding ourselves about having our cake and eating it too.

We will have the benefits of the intellectual achievements of our illustrious forefathers, which requires us to acknowledge what those benefits require; which requires that we stop apologizing to everyone for our alleged faults and misdeeds and actually proclaim the superiority of our way of life to in the face of competing alternatives. Or, alternatively, we will try the impossible and fail. Our affluence and abundance is currently so great, so unbelievably vast, that the idea of it vanishing seems impossible and absurd. It would certainly mark the greatest collapse of any civilization in the history of the world, but it is not, regrettably, impossible. Ideas and actions have consequences in reality. To persist in the irrational folly of the savages, which is what I will now refer to environmentalists as because that is clearly what they are intellectually, will lead us to the very state of existence which they desire. A state of existence almost too horrible to contemplate and a state of existence which will make the murderous designs of history's most evil tyrants seem like slaps on the hand in terms of death and destruction.

Bin Laden need only wait. At it's current rate of decline, the West will do the job for him. It may take a little longer than he would like, but the job will get done all the same and more fundamentally and lastingly than his crude methods could ever hope to achieve. This big blank out of '08, in ways poignantly symbolized by the hour long blackout, is a troubling sign indeed for everyone who unabashedly loves Western civilization and all that it means. Let it be a call to action. If we do not point out the cause and effect of ideas and actions, defend our greatness against all-comers, at home as well as abroad, then this will be only the first of increasingly longer and more devastating blackouts and blank outs in our near future. Where it will lead should be incentive enough to get started.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The First thing I'm going to do......

If you're currently or have been a graduate student, then you're already well aware that at some point, usually before you are able to begin seriously working on your dissertation, the last piece of the puzzle on the road to earning your Ph.D., you are required to take some sort of formidable qualifying examinations. Some schools require both written and oral components, while others "just" administer an oral examination. My oral exams will be held at noon on May 15.

I have been asked numerous times what I plan to do after they are over, assuming I pass of course. Well, aside from an obvious celebration of some sort, my plans are very, well, some might say mundane. My only goals after the exams are over and before I transition into full-time dissertation mode will be to read three works of fiction. What are they?

Amusingly and to my great regreat I began reading Victor Hugo's The Man Who Laughs before I began graduate school in the summer/fall of 2005, but was not able to finish it before my classes started and it has been sitting on my bookshelf with bookmark in the middle ever since. This I must finish immediately after my orals are completed.

Next, to my great surprise and joy, a scholar working in the National Archives of France discovered very recently a "new" novel by Alexandre Dumas which happens to be set during one of my favorite periods of French history, the revolution and age of Napoleon. The novel is titled The Last Cavalier and I will read that after I finish with Hugo.

Finally, and I've been longing to do this for some time now, I will reread what I believe is the greatest novel ever written, Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. I first read it over ten years ago (when I was 13 years old) and while I am confident that I understood it then in spite of my age, I am anxious to read it again in the light of eleven additional years of knowledge and experience. I am also deeply in need of spiritual replenishment, which I know I can count on in the pages of that wonderful opus. I am anxious to not let the cynicism and misanthropic tendencies of the current epoch (and my own take on it) become the overriding impetus behind my own thought and spirit.

After that is complete, then I will begin working steadfastly and seriously on my doctoral dissertation so that I am not in graduate school for another three years if I can help it!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Thus the death of unity (and that's a good thing)

With the controversy over his two decade long association with a demagogic blowhard strangling his campaign, Illinois Senator Barack Obama'a Rousseauean appeal for universal unity and unpartisan politics is being destroyed by his own capacity for the disingenuous. Sitting idly by while his "spiritual mentor" condemns the country for "crimes" it has not even committed for twenty years, Obama expects the sort of divisions and hatred fostered by such rhetoric to be undone in the course of one political campaign because he speaks well and wishes it were so. This is the primacy of consciousness at its worst/best.

It is also a sign of one of two things. Either Obama is supremely foolish or he is the typical unprincipled demagogue of modern American politics cleverly masquerading as a unifying "leader." Either he is a major league dope who cannot connect cause and effect (irrational, unsupported, inflammatory, and racist ideas shouted out by his "spiritual mentor" leading to and fostering a divisive hatred) or he is a dangerous sort of ambitious person seeking to eradicate partisan animosity through unification of the body politic in and around his own person. I have set this up as a mutually exclusive dichotomy, but that is misleading. He can, and probably is, both of these things. His big league dope bona fides have been on display openly since day one in his allegedly "inspiring" oratory. His complete disregard for cause and effect, the long term consequences of his policy ideas, and the absolute bone-headedness of his approach to dealing with our enemies has been damning him on this front since he launched his campaign in Springfield last year. But his call for a unified and undivided body politic that can focus on our "problems," which he always associates with various "public" enemies (businessmen, "special interests," and "extremists" that is those who dare to oppose the idea that citizens owe the country or their communities their "service" instead of selfishly pursuing their own happiness), is a dangerous echo of Rousseau and all of his one-party state intellectual heirs. Who are those heirs? Well, only insignificant historical blips like fascists and communists who did and do insist on one party homogeneity in their politics. I think the results of this sort of un-partisan politics are obvious.

His call to get "beyond" our current political divisions is ridiculous and dangerous. A one party consensus behind anyone, aside from a George Washington type figure who would be committed to principles of limited government and was not obsessed with power (in other words, a person who no longer exists in our political universe), would be disastrous. The only thing saving the constitution and our remaining memories of "limited" government is the division in our government both in form and parties. And even that division only slightly breaks the headlong dash into further and further socialism and the command economy. Were significant pluralities or, yikes, majorities of the parties and independents to suddenly unite behind the leadership of one man who proposes to use the power of the state to fulfill promises of resources to his unified horde of supporters we are all in serious trouble, particularly if we happen to have any of those resources.

The current two party system is bad enough in that is has institutionalized two altruist political parties and, through force of law, hampers third party challenges to their supremacy. Basically, these two groups are fighting and battling over power as opposed to many extreme policy differences (though some occasionally crop up). To suddenly unite them behind one "leader" is frightening. Even more frightening is the large-scale gullibility of the electorate of hearing Obama promise this state of affairs and responding positively. And it's not just the run-of-the-mill democratic primary voter idiots either (in fairness, the run-of-the-mill republican primary voter is also an idiot), but prominent and occasionally intelligent intellectuals (like Joseph Ellis among others). Were the electorate, or most of it anyway, virtuous and knowledgeable of history and political philosophy, the rights of individuals and committed to liberty in all spheres then, perhaps, the danger of a unified body politic would be minimal. But even that ideal polity and citizenry would need to be restrained and checked against violations of individual rights. In days like this, one realizes that the rise of a national demagogue (and this has happened before, in 1932 for instance) is indeed possible.

Fortunately, the American people, even the supremely gullible, are generally skeptical and disdainful, again generally, of hypocrisy. That Senator Obama, who claims to be a unifying leader who embodies every and all conceivable qualities which the great mass of the American people hold in common, is sitting by while his "spiritual mentor" accuses the government of the United States of unleashing biological warfare upon its own citizenry and the rest of the world, murdering "innocent" people without offering any context, and bringing the just fury of Islamic terrorists upon itself explodes his logic. Ironically, Obama has been wrapping himself in this man's coattails in order to appear sufficiently religious and pious. That goal was ridiculous. His call for unity is just plain dangerous (even in wartime, a loyal opposition is useful and necessary). Now one irrational desire is destroying another. And who says there is nothing good in American politics these days?

Saturday, March 01, 2008

No Movie For Actual People

I haven't seen very many movies lately, I have been working mostly and nothing has much interested me to be quite honest. While toying with the idea of seeing There Will Be Blood, a movie based upon American socialist Upton Sinclair's novel Oil!, mainly because Daniel Day-Lewis appears to deliver another amazing performance (as opposed to any affinity I have for the themes of this anti-capitalist story or the originator of them), I decided to throw caution to the wind and see the recent winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, No Country for Old Men. If you have not seen the movie and are desirous to do so without having plot and ending spoiled for you, then stop reading now.

What an awful film. Unlike other pictures made today which morbidly focus on evil villains, but which still have alternative characters who eventually kill them (for instance Bruce Willis kills John Travolta in Pulp Fiction or Tim Roth gunning down Michael Madsen in Reservoir Dogs) this movie fails to offer up some alternatives to Javier Bardem's chillingly psychopathic killer. Instead there is an impotent old Texas sheriff played by Tommy Lee Jones and a horribly unlucky sap played by Josh Brolin, who achieve nothing. Bardem, playing the evil killer Antoine Cheguern whose entire motivation as a person is basically to kill and rob but mostly to kill, moves through the world as an unstoppable force which the "good" and less evil people in the movie can only pathetically try to avoid before he destroys them, and destroy them he will. Brolin's character (and his wife who I will talk about in a moment) come as close as the film will allow to an actual heroic character in that he is the only one Bardem hunts that he doesn't actually kill, and he injures Bardem at one point.

I will back up for a moment to explain why Bardem is after Brolin. Drug deal between Mexican cartel and American dealers goes bad in the desert, everyone dies and Brolin stumbles upon this and finds an untended case with two million dollars in it which he takes home. Bardem is seemingly some sort of hired gun who the American dealers hire to find the bag, which has a transmitter in it. When they give him the tracking device he, of course, kills them and sets off after Brolin. The dealers then hire Woody from Cheers to track down Brolin and Bardem. Brolin, who is also being chased by the Mexican cartel people, manages to evade and injure Bardem who then proceeds to perform his own medical repairs while Brolin (who is injured) gets treated in a Mexican hospital where he is found by Woody, who tells him about Bardem and the need to make a deal with him (Woody) before Bardem finds him (Brolin). Of course, Woody seemingly forgets his own cautions and gets trapped and subsequently murdered by Bardem without the hope of even putting up a fight. While one can hardly sympathize with Woody's character, this scene is well acted and painful to watch.

So now Bardem threatens the life of Brolin's wife, giving Brolin the unhappy alternative of bringing the money to Bardem and being killed or continuing to run in which case Bardem would kill him, his wife, and get the money anyway. Brolin refuses. Of course, in classic anticlimax the Mexicans kill Brolin, Bardem gets the money, Tommy Lee Jones has a number of pointless conversations, almost unwittingly captures Bardem or gets killed by him depending on how you look at it, and the movie ends. The psychopath walks off into the sunset, unmolested by anything except occasional bad luck, certainly not by any "heroes," they either do not exist anymore or are retired, and babbling, old men (hence the title). The country, and the world, is a place for Bardem and men like him to do as they please.

The most terrible scene in the movie comes very near the end and involves Brolin's widow. So now that her husband, and for good measure mother (who dies of natural reasons I guess), are dead, Brolin's wife returns home to find Bardem waiting to "keep his word." As he had promised her husband that he would kill her, he must finish the job. When she points out that he doesn't have to, he laughs and tries to unburden himself further of responsibility by flipping a coin and telling her to call it. In the only truly heroic action in the movie she refuses to let him escape his responsibility and tells him that he will be the one murdering her, not the coin. Of course, this film is so abysmally bleak that even such heroism cannot prevail against Bardem's unstoppable evil and, without dramatizing it, we all know he kills her.

Tommy Lee Jones's sheriff, the old man in the movie, has the sense and capability to do his job and catch Bardem, but instead throws up his hands to the universe and calls it quits. Moaning about how bad things are (the movie is set around 1980) and shaking his head at how little respect exists compared to when he was younger, he doesn't even pretend to struggle for what it is he values (and even that point of definition is very vague). At the very least Bardem's monster is purposeful, and therein lies the insidious imputation of the film. Evil gets things done (is rewarded) and never is punished in any real way by anything, be it man or the universe, not even that, but people don't even try to stop it from winning.

This is not the world as it can and should be, it's not even the world as it is (not yet anyway, and certainly not in 1980). This is the world as it should never be. It is a horror movie of a different sort than those we are used to. There are no zombies or aliens, no vampires or puppets, not even any insane maniacs (Bardem's character is clearly not "unhinged" in the clinical sense) or the sort of unrelenting campy blood fests which generally characterize that genre. Instead, No Country for Old Men portrays a world where the worst evil does as it pleases, triumphs over everything essentially unopposed and those who know better ramble about dreams and do nothing. "Horror" is the only word fit for that sort of universe.