August 11, 2008 - August 4, 2008
. Every once
in a while, the curtain parts and you get a glimpse
of the great 'progressive' vision of the human race. When it happens,
I'm always reminded of the irony that Hollywood and show business types
generally are so devoted to the left wing of the political spectrum.
Their more natural philosophical home is libertarianism -- the "get the
hell off my back and stay off my back" core of conviction that unites
almost all sectors of the right against the drab coercive
egalitarianism of the left. Of course, there's usually a camouflage
principle at work. The left's obsessive desire to control and regulate
and 'fix' the lives of the common people they presume to speak for is
rarely aimed at the elites who lend an air of glamour to their dreary
goals and totalitarian policy prescriptions.
In their utopian ideal, if your next-door neighbors lived like the Kennedys, you'd be an eyewitness to a swarm of social workers, child welfare bureaucrats, officers of the court, and other custodians of secular morality descending to sting the family into the correct state of 'freedom' -- drug-free, booze-free, tobacco-free, SUV-free, fat-free, cholesterol-free, sodium-free, wealth-free, religion-free, obsession-free, risk-free, hyperfertility-free (two kids and then a vasectomy, you hear?), and consumer excess-free. Then they have the nerve to lecture the rest of us about tolerance. Christians say, "Hate the sin but not the sinner." It's the leftists who say (if only to themselves), "Hate the sinner, too, because he refuses to listen to me."
It's really no accident that it's the richest who hate riches the most and the most sybaritic who hate excess of all kinds the most. They despise themselves and rather than face that unpleasant fact, they choose to despise others instead. There's no more obnoxious breed of secular moralist than the ex-smoker or the reformed alcoholic. The great solipsistic battle against their own continuing temptations turns all the rest of us into a foil for their personal ego dramas.
That's why the curtain parts from time to time, as it did Friday, in the pages of the LA Times, where someone named Eric Lucas was allowed to publish a singularly ugly little exercise in narcissism called "Sobering up on Heath Ledger." It begins:
As soon as I read these two paragraphs, I knew the author was himself
either a 'reformed' drug addict or drunkard. This particular kind of
heat and vitriol is unmistakeable. Who else would be acting as if Heath
Ledger had done something to him?
And so it proved to be:
There's no room in Eric's cosmos for Thoreau's "beat of a different
drummer." He's at pains to list all the artists of various genres to
whom he is infinitely superior because he has managed to live
more years than they did:
Ah. AA. What a perfect example of the liberal paradigm. Everyone
flattened to the level of an anonymous statistic. Which becomes a
source of actual pride to all the people who abandon belief in the
uniqueness of their own experience in favor of a role in the great
secular morality play whose sole learning point is the virtue of
refraining from vice. And yet this is a virtue which somehow elevates
its late-blooming exemplars to heights so exalted that its true
believers view every other form of attainment with contempt:
Uh, no. Dylan Thomas was an incredibly uncommon drunk. That's what the
earnest and self-righteous reductionists of human experience
continually fail to understand. A drunk was one of the things he was, and drunk
was perhaps intrinsic to other aspects of his being, but drunk is
hardly a complete description of the man. Unless you subscribe to a
faith which obliterates all considerations of interior life and settles
instead on external numerical measurements: years lived, income earned,
debts paid (and unpaid), taxes paid, appointments kept, attendance,
punctuality, showing up for
as long as possible. It's the same kind of ludicrous argument Neal
Boortz has tried to make about smokers.
He doesn't smoke, so he's demonstrably smarter than all these fellas (most of
whom were also pretty accomplished drinkers).
I'm not making the case that artists are entitled to misbehave and therefore aren't culpable for their personal irresponsibility, the pain they cause those around them, and the damage they do by way of setting a bad example. My point is a more modest one. The bad things they do are bad things. But in many many cases, they have also produced extraordinarily good things, which means that it's an act of self-aggrandizing arrogance to dismiss them out of hand because they don't conform to our rote definitions of worth.
That's why condemnation of such complicated personalities is far more common among leftist social engineers than among Christians, libertarians, and even (gasp) conservatives. It was Lenin and Stalin who denounced most of western art and writing as "decadent." It was Mao who delberately set about exterminating the cultural legacy of his own nation's past, including its participation in the western enlightenment. It is today's "progressive" academy which has systematically condemned all the greatest cultural contributions of western civilization as racist, sexist, and inherently meaningless so that they can be reacted to spontaneously, without learning or respect, in a new genre of self-obsessed masturbation called deconstructionism or 'post-modern scholarship.'
I'm not a fan of every name on Eric's list of damned worthless substance abusers. But it would never occur to me to dismiss their lives and works simply because they died young due to their own reckless behavior. Some people do what they're moved to do in a very short period of time. Some people even seem to belong to a very specific period in time, and their deaths almost seem an affirmation of their identity with the era in which they briefly shone. To me, for example, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison were -- each in their own way -- such perfect personifications of the sixties that I cannot imagine how pathetic they'd be if they'd survived to undergo the nostalgia tours and other indignities of those who have outlived their moment.
Regular readers here will know that I deplore the sixties and therefore have very mixed feelings about these dead stars. But I would be a liar if I failed to admit that Eric's outrage doesn't do a damned thing to diminish my affection for Hendrix's version of "All Along the Watchtower," Joplin's "Piece of My Heart," and Morrison's "The End." I can agree that they weren't "stolen from us" without wiping them off the slate altogether. It's likely that they departed this life because they wanted to. (As it is also possible that Buddy Holly and Patsy Kline did the same thing. What would Eric have to tell us about that?) And I'm heartily suspicious of anyone who can wipe the slate clean of them.
Yes, it's sad and troubling that young people confuse talent and substance abuse to the degree that they abuse substances in the hope that such behavior will confer or resemble talent. But who is doing more to promote this false equation: those who can appreciate the talent and distinguish between the positive and negative attributes of the artists; or those who piss all over the works of the artists who managed to kill themselves in the course of producing them? The latter is essentially an argument that what looked like talent was only intoxication. That's the most dangerous possible message to send to youngsters. Because when you're young, the last thing you aspire to is being a sour old cynic with a "five years sober" pin in your sock drawer putting down all the beautiful, brilliant, tortured geniuses and stars who didn't survive to become as colorless and dull as you are.
Colorless and dull. Everybody. That's the real progressive vision. If Hollywood and the artistes ever wake up to that fact, they will terminate their romance with the left. In the interim, let this one conservative suggest that no harm will be done to anyone if Heath Ledger gets an Oscar for his final role. I say this as one who was repelled by the few clips of "Brokeback Mountain" I have seen. The young man is dead now. There's no need to piss on his grave. Certainly not to sustain the inflated self-congratulation of Eric Lucas on his fragile sobriety. That would be his problem. Not mine. Not yours. And not Heath Ledger's.
Here's one final question for all of you leftists who were also annoyed by Eric's little tantrum. Who is it you're willing to trust to tell you how to live? Every time you vote for more government, you are transferring another part of your autonomy to bureaucrats who think the way Eric does, who assume they're superior to you because you make mistakes and the committee/agency/program they report to doesn't make human mistakes because it's not human at all. It's the government.
We had to show you the poster above. Not that it means anything or
contributes anything to the argument. It's just that we found it while
searching for evocative images of "Miss Sadie Thompson." And
every single day of life is improved by a fresh view of Rita Hayworth,
another worthless drunk who will never ever die. This one's in French.
Sexy, n'est-ce pas?
P.P.S. The sound file is from "Under Milk Wood," a play by the 'common drunk' Dylan Thomas. It goes down easier than Eric's little essay, don't it?
LAWYERS. Sigh. You could make the case that Vincent Bugliosi has finally gone nuts in the endless quest for attention that began with his graduation from Santa Dumbshittia Law School (or wherever it was). But the truth is, there's a bigger lesson here. Lawyers are the very worst possible people to have any input, of any kind, into the American political process.
Why? We've alluded to it before, but never quite head-on. That's an omission we're going to correct right now. Legal education is the forced destruction of intuition and common sense in favor of the narrowest case that can be made for or against the defendant in some legal action. That's what the LSAT (law boards) test for: how adept are you at ignoring what's obviously true in service to some counter-intuitive letter of the law? Ignore all your upbringing and native judgment and we'll make you an attorney. Continue to act as if discriminating human intelligence matters, and you'll get a 420 on the boards and ride the long train home in disgrace.
I have no doubt that Vincent Bugliosi is, or was once, a smart man. But his mind has been destroyed by the fact of his having been a prosecutor. Does anyone else watch the documentary shows on crime aired by the History Channel, Discovery, Dateline, and 48 Hours? It's only on the FBI Files that no case can be brought without first wiring every conceivable witness and guaranteeing immunity to everyone but the one, most egregious wrongdoer, usually 15 years after the crime. Elsewhere, prosecutors are single-mindedly focused on quick convictions, regardless of the facts. They will do absolutely anything to secure and sustain a guilty verdict. Mere facts, DNA testing be damned, do nothing to mitigate their certainty that an indictment, however obtained, guarantees guilt. One could, I suppose, sympathize with their plight. In Ohio, they always win, no matter how gossamer their case. In California, they always lose, no matter how rock solid their forensics. No wonder the attorneys come to regard the American judicial system as a game.
But it isn't a game. The nub they keep forgetting is justice. The job of prosecutors isn't convictions; it's fact-finding, truth. But whatever it is they do to students in law school seems to eliminate this simple mission from their minds. They graduate, they pass the bar exam, and from then on they think justice is whatever selective and distorted configuration of evidence they can bamboozle a jury into accepting. A courtroom victory is their only notion of truth. Sad. Pitiful, in fact.
It's a pernicious kind of miseducation. It devalues truth as you and I understand it: what the hell happened, why, and who's responsible? For them, the end point is actually the beginning: Here's what I insist the truth is, and now -- ladies and gentlemen of the jury -- permit me to remake all the facts so that you will believe my theory of the case is true.
In short, lawyers are expressly taught to lose track of what objective truth might be. They're trained to start out with a particular point of view and then arrange (or misrepresent) the available facts to reflect their predetermined position in such a way that no reasonable person could disagree.
Which works great when you're a criminal prosecutor. Who the hell knows that your theory of the case is based on an inkling of a hunch that's somehow congruent with your political aspirations? Only maybe it doesn't work so great when you're just freelancing, when your motivations are more ideological than nominally protective of the public at large. When every Tom, Dick and Harry can see that you began with the desired outcome and worked your way back, through all the customary prosecutorial tricks, to the narrowest, most technical case anyone could make against a defendant everyone knows you hate in the most visceral possible way.
There is a lesson here. Everyone, including us, knows that Vincent Bugliosi is smart. Yet everyone in the left-leaning media, including every major media outlet from the NYT to the Comedy Channel, has ignored Bugliosi's newest book, The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder. Extreme leftist blogs regard this as a conspiracy. Everyone else knows that he's leading with his chin; it doesn't matter how good a lawyer you are if you fail to understand the essential nature of the case before you. Some people do.
Which is Bugliosi's fatal error. And that of a whole passel of lawyers who are belaboring the Bush Adminsistration with nonsensical legal cudgels. The War on Terror, including the War in Iraq, isn't about due process. It's about defending the United States from foreign enemies who want to kill us. It's the one most legitimate power the founding fathers gave to the president. He gets to conduct foreign policy as he sees fit. If we disagree, we can vote him out of office. We don't get to prosecute him for abridging the constitutional rights of Confederates, Germans, Japanese, Koreans, North Vietnamese, Cubans, or Iraqis. Because they're not Americans. They're foreigners, not protected by the Constitution. (Sorry. Jefferson never anticipated the sole-superpower outcome.) And we also don't get to prosecute our presidents for the death of American troops he has sent into harm's way. He's the Commander-in-Chief. (Talk to Abraham Lincoln about acceptable casualties pursuant to bad war-time decisions.) If he orders them into battle with whiffle bats against machine guns, we can vote him out of office, but he's still within his rights to give the big speech and then withdraw to his secure bunker: We don't want him hiding in a bunker, but who could realistically expect a modern commander-in-chief to lead his troops personally into battle (unless he was McCain)?
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
Who doesn't get this? Lawyers. The Democrats always nominate lawyers. Like Bugliosi, they always have some case they can make, yet somehow it's never a case for you and me, but only for some enemy of our country with a fancied grievance against us we're supposed to take seriously. Because a lawyer is telling us we should. So here are the necessary questions: Who is it out there who really believes in lawyers? And why? When have they ever done anything that wasn't about making their own careers more prosperous?
Which brings us finally to time present. Obama's a lawyer. McCain's a soldier. They're both
assholes, but who would you rather trust?