Friday, December 20, 2002

reese's pieces
Some useful words from Charley Reese on the direction of democracy, or rather its current downward spiral, and on why Dubya needs to put up or shut up. Of course, he'll do neither.
merry christmas and a happy new war
Wishful thinking continues to abound, but come the end of January, the antiwar movement will almost certainly be protesting an actual invasion rather than a threatened one. And the reactivation, or should I say reinvigoration, of the COINTELPRO mentality means they'll likely be doing so under surveillance, while the Ashcroftian vision of American freedom gets clearer by the day. Meanwhile, the "Rebuilding America's Defenses" timetable for aggressive war in multiple theatres continues apace, as the Prince of Darkness explains.

So hey. Happy holidays, I guess.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

agrajag might have something to say about this
David Brin once again has an excuse to harangue us poor ignorant dopes about how the Enlightenment is good and hierarchy is bad -- because the rest of us just haven't noticed, apparently -- this time in the form of the Two Towers flick.

I'm actually more sympathetic to some of what he says than many of the respondents on Salon. Let's face it, though, there isn't much new here. Brin isn't the first to be disturbed by the implicit racism of Tolkien's world, with its tiny minority of white Westerners doing battle with a colossal swarthy horde (including the "cruel Haradrim" and the wild "Easterlings," who never merit more than a passing mention as tools of Sauron in any of Tolkien's works). Nor is he the first to find something wanting in the simplistic good versus evil dichotomy of Tolkien's tale. Nor is he the first to notice that Tolkien is a Romantic who likes pastoralism and despises the ugliness of industry.

More annoying, though, is that this isn't the first time Brin has ranted about how such-and-such fictional work is somehow "Homeric" and bent on inculcating us with the values of serfs rather than citizens. He trotted out this same line about Star Wars, after all. This whole point rests on a simplistic division of viewpoints into the "forward-looking" West and the "backward-looking" Everyone Else, a dichotomy which just doesn't hold. It never seems to occur to Brin that progress isn't as simple as looking forward and locating the Golden Age in the future; much more importantly, it involves awareness of what's useful -- and what's harmful -- in tradition. As a result, this is just not that interesting as a line of critique.

There are spots where it gets a little more interesting -- when Brin talks about bridging the gap between "art" and "science," for example. Although there's something a bit pitiful about his pretensions for SF having laid a "superhighway" between these two cultures, it's a valid point to raise. Similarly, he's right on the money when he urges people to take a critical and active approach to reading, rather than being passive receptors. If more fantasy authors had taken this advice to heart, fantasy literature as a whole might well have been spared many a dreary Tolkien clone.

It would be nice to see Brin tease out lines of inquiry like these. Myth criticism just isn't his bag.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

perchance to dream
Today's rant prompted by this rare bit of conservative introspection.

These must be tough times for American conservatives. These are people who, for the most part, spent the nineties in a kind of dreamworld. In their minds, communism had been vanquished -- proving the justice and perfection of its mirror opposite, Capitalism, which formed up with Christianity and Freedom into a kind of Voltron-religion of the Good Guys. America was at the End of History, the final product of human labours to produce the perfect society.

The only real thunderheads on the horizon were the old guards of Liberalism, Communism's evil second cousin which lay behind Many Nasty Plots to undermine American will and power -- like electing a Democratic President on a platform largely stolen from Republicans, or supporting outmoded notions like International Law and the United Nations, or clinging to quaint relics of the past like socialized medicine or welfare programmes or affirmative action.

This was the mentality of people who had been bewildered by the bad press the Vietnam War wound up getting and sought endlessly to rehabilitate it; people whose main reason for disliking Nixon wasn't his ham-handed attempt to undermine democracy, but rather that he didn't listen enough to their sort of people. People who longed for days when they could pine for the Glories of War without getting sniped at by liberal peaceniks, who spent years waiting for the chance to reshape American society to their will -- which any half-intelligent person would admit was the right way to do it, if only those whiny bastards would stop complaining.

The Bush Administration -- the most extreme single embodiment of this worldview yet to wield power in the States -- finally got that chance in the form of 9/11. But here's the catch: many American conservatives are finally starting to notice that the emperor has no clothes.

It's occurring to guys like Timothy Carney that maybe, just maybe, lurid fantasies borrowed from Rambo flicks aren't the basis for a sustainable foreign policy; that possibly, George Bush's folksy Texan charm (I guess charm is in the eye of the beholder) isn't really an excuse for failed and potentially disastrous policies; that perhaps, just perhaps, those darn "liberals" might have sort of a point about a couple of things.

In many quarters, the move toward consciousness is grudging in the extreme. A growing number of conservatives are, for instance, tossing around the notion that maybe this whole Iraq war thing is a tad hasty -- but they'd still rather be sniping at the existing peace movement rather than doing anything themselves. There's hope in that it's even dawning on Screaming Pundit William Safire that the magic word Freedom doesn't mean too much if you don't have, you know, freedoms; but how galling it must be for people who've spent years preaching about the totalitarian ambitions of Berkeley professors to realize where the real threat has been, all this time.

The awakening is beginning, but it's quite possibly too little, and too late. We'll be finding out soon enough.