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« Psychology Linkage | Main | Something is Rotten… »

March 13, 2008

Mamet Reads Sowell

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Playwright David Mamet takes stock of life as he has experienced it, scrutinizes his actual beliefs, reads some Thomas Sowell and Shelby Steele -- and finds that he's no longer the true-believin' leftie he once was. (Link thanks to the Tory Anarchist.) Nice passage:

What about the role of government? Well, in the abstract, coming from my time and background, I thought it was a rather good thing, but tallying up the ledger in those things which affect me and in those things I observe, I am hard-pressed to see an instance where the intervention of the government led to much beyond sorrow.

But if the government is not to intervene, how will we, mere human beings, work it all out?

I wondered and read, and it occurred to me that I knew the answer, and here it is: We just seem to. How do I know? From experience. I referred to my own -- take away the director from the staged play and what do you get? Usually a diminution of strife, a shorter rehearsal period, and a better production.

* MBlowhard Rewind: I described my own adventures in rightie thought, and discussed the history of the director. (Scroll down a bit.) Theater productions didn't always have directors, you know.



posted by Michael at March 13, 2008


I think that this change of heart has a lot to do with being an old fart.

I listen to and talk with the young, and I want to argue with them until I realize I thought the same dumb crap when I was their age.

I marvel at the passion among the young to "change things," partly because I suspect that things might have been better in many ways in the past, and party because I know that change that seems positive in the present often turns out to be negative in the future.

Every generation seems obsessed, in particular, with changing the way humans deal with sexuality. I was when I was young, too. Thanks to Roissy for pointing out that Eliot Spitzer was playing the vicious game of the feminists when he became a crusader against prostitution.

Every generation of men gets taken in by chivalry and wants to believe that past generations of men were total bastards who abused women. I thought this also when I was younger. It took a long time and a lot of experience to learn that women also have a dark, evil side. When I understood that, my father's and my grandfathers' attitudes toward women and sexuality began to make a lot more sense.

Tradition has a purpose. It's not just myth and habit. Tradition is the collective experience of humans.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on March 13, 2008 5:24 PM

Mamet is still a leftie, but apparently of the libertarian stripe now. In other words, he's a free market liberal. I'm not sure he would be happy in such a world if it came to pass, because his style of liberalism would prevail in areas like big cities while traditionalist conservatism would make a big comeback in smaller towns and rural areas. Eventually, the liberals would become unglued at the traditional practices in areas outside their control and we'd soon get...well, what we have now. I don't think do-gooders are capable of keeping their hands out of government, and with the connivance of business interests, it is a poison brew. Over to you, David.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on March 13, 2008 5:33 PM

I'm supposed to applaud because this lifetime lefty has seen the light, sort of, in late middle age?
Even comparing the government to a stage director is false. At least the stage director is the stage director, in most cases, due to the accrual of expertise about the theater, which he then brings to bear in order to maximize the performance of his actors, not to mention the critical changes he often makes in the script, in pacing, lighting, the set, etc. In other words he's a pro, with an expertise narrow but deep. And he doesn't tell the theater owner how to run the actual physical theater.
Government, on the other hand, is composed of tens of thousands of mediocrities (just like you and me) with next to no expertise about huge swathes of human activity, who nevertheless miraculously seem to know how to run EVERYTHING and don't hesitate to bless us with their dictats.
One thing I guarantee, if you called Mamet on his change of heart and asked him to publicly throw his weight behind a smaller government movement he would turn on you in an instant as a heartless reactionary. I'd bet anything on that.

Posted by: ricpic on March 13, 2008 10:29 PM

Hm, sounds like he traded a facile, knee-jerk leftism for a facile, I-got-mine conservatism. Hardly an inspiring or original dramatic arc.

Posted by: Steve on March 14, 2008 2:06 PM

ST, Charlton -- That's a lot of wisdom you're sharing.

Ricpic -- Funny rant.

Steve -- I'm not sure I'd want anyone taking Mamet too seriously as a political thinker. Gotta admire his ability to turn whatever flits through his brain into a dramatic media event, though - a play, a Voice article ... Takes balls (or something) to be that assertive, and that sure of yourself. Get out of the way, world, I'm having half a thought!

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 14, 2008 2:21 PM

David Mamet has a sly wit, an ear finely-tuned for the rhythms of human speech, and the deep wish for broad, social relevance that plagues many of our not-quite-major thinkers. (I know; I am susceptible to it myself. I crave, therefore I blog.)

On the other hand, while I'm a smidge behind Mr. Mamet, age-wise, I'm as resolutely liberal (if we're slinging around labels, which it seems we are) as I was when I cast my first vote nigh on 30 years ago. If not more so.

It's just informed and tempered by years and years of exposure and experience. I "get" things a bit better now, including extreme viewpoints, whether I like them or not (I don't, generally for the record, no matter what they are.)

I suppose what I'm saying is that I am with Shouting Thomas on one point: there is resident evil in all of us...right alongside the resident joy, lust, kindness, wisdom, hope, fear and canned peas. Accepting that as part of my world view, as well as part of myself, was a Mother-May-I giant step forward in thinking.

Not to mention peace of mind.

Posted by: communicatrix on March 14, 2008 10:37 PM

I find things to endorse in what Mamet writes, but I also recognize his inconsistencies, and my own.
I find anti-utopianism a better default position than excess utopianism, but that's not the whole of it. I myself find a skeptical, tragic, restrained view more satisfying at this point in my life than an overly idealistic one. But it's odd that, having made that tragic point, Mamet seems to conclude that groups of such assholes will always sort out problems best if left to their own devices. Let's be real: sometimes they will not work it out, and will require that institutions constrain and limit ('if all men were angels there would be no need for government'--Madison). Further, even if Mamet is right that stranded bus travelers will come up with their own shake and bake Mayflower compact, what then? You end with a compact--a form of government, embryonic but governmental nonetheless, under which terms people surrender something of themselves in return for something else.
No, what we have here--or at least what I am struggling with--is the challenge not just to be 'anti-' something, but to be affirmatively 'pro-' something else. Ideological struggles often end up as seeming Gordian knots because people, say, start communist, turn to anti-communism, turn again to anti-anti-communism, and get lost in the morass. In the preference to reject rather than endorse, it's easy to lose the thread to what actually makes sense.
So Mamet rejects liberalism, or at least a certain NPRish version of it. Cool. Me too. But sheesh, to then conclude that government never leads to 'much beyond sorrow' is ludicrous. Schools? National Defense? Police? Rejecting fashionable liberalism does not mean endorsing Ayn Rand. In this sense, Mamet here reminds me of David Horowitz. Beware the intellectual bully--he will jump from one rampaging horse to another. Mamet pretends to a moderate view here, but I think he's just gone to the other side.

Posted by: fenster moop on March 16, 2008 8:46 PM

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