Tag Archives: mirror

Review of “The Force Awakens”: a film for Boomers. It’s about us.

Summary:  The new Star Wars film shows how well Hollywood understands us. Not just what we want in a film, but the deeper themes that appeal to us. As such it provides a valuable mirror of early 21st C America, one well worth studying. There are spoilers. Lots of them.

The Force Awakens poster

———— Spoiler Alert!  ————

The Force Awakens is a pastiche of George Lucas’ 1977 Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope. The plot is almost identical, although with key differences in tone and especially character development. The original gave us a classic hero’s quest. We first saw Luke as a callow farm-boy and watched him grow into a competent young man — with his real growth lying in the future. Han also grows into a hero.

The Force Awakens is a tale of grrl-power. Rey (Daisy Ridley) appears on screen as an independent, intelligent, bold, and brave women. She fights and chases off two thugs. She is a skilled engineer and starship pilot (immediately doing acrobatics with the Millennium Falcon). She masters the Force instantly: she frees herself from restraints, controls a guard’s mind, is an ace shot the first time she fires a blaster, and defeats a trained Sith the first time she wields a light-saber.

Daisy Ridley as Rey

Daisy Ridley as Rey. A long way from Lucas saying “There are no bras in space.”

She can grow more powerful — at this rate she’ll be a god by episode three, bringing “balance to the force” — but has no flaws to overcome. Like so many female protagonists these days, she is a “Mary Sue” (an omnicompetent fantasy character, admired or loved by everyone in the story;more about this in the comments).

John Boyega plays Finn, the dorky sidekick and love interest, another paring of an alpha girl with a beta boy (like Peeta and Katniss in The Hunger Games, Hermione and Ron in Harry Potter). Beaten up by Rey at their first meeting, Finn later abandons her. Rey and Han Solo repeatedly rescue him. He lies to Rey about being with the Resistance. He lies to the Resistance’s leaders about the critical plot point.

The story is ramshackle, filled with plot holes. It has more action and less dialog than the original, giving it that theme-park-ride-experience pioneered by Pirates of the Caribbean. The galaxy seems like Smallville: Han bumps into Rey and Finn while they’re flying away, Rey stumbles upon Luke’s light-saber, Finn sees Rey escaping the enemy base. Flight between stars takes minutes.

The emotional flow is erratic, lacking the clear simple sweep of the original. The musical accompaniment is crude, even for a summer blockbuster.

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The unspoken issue of the election: America’s descent into darkness

Summary:  Perhaps the most valuable information, & the most difficult to obtain, is not that about the world, but about ourselves. Hence these posts seeking “mirrors” in which we can see how we have changed and what we’ve become. This post looks at the results of the war on terror. Not the effects on the terrorists (who seem either unaffected or even stronger) but on our national character. It’s the most important issue never to be mentioned during this campaign.

He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.
— Aphorism 146 in Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil (1886).

Statue of Liberty in the darkness

 

Assassination of jihadist leaders. Torture by the CIA, added by doctors. Torture in Abu Ghraib prison. A mass campaign of assassination, even including American citizens. Etc, etc; we all know the list. After 14 years of moral decay we have become a New America. But we were warned about the danger of this path.

“The French … The Israelis … The Americans … {these deeds} proving that he who fights terrorists for any period of time is likely to become one himself.”
— Martin van Creveld in The Transformation of War: The Most Radical Reinterpretation of Armed Conflict Since Clausewitz (1991).

We concealed this transformation from ourselves — if not from others — with hypocrisy, as describe in “The Uses of al-Qaeda” by Richard Seymour in the London Review of Books, 13 September 2012.

Alan Krueger’s authoritative What Makes a Terrorist: Economics and the Roots of Terrorism (2007) was notable for being unable to define its subject. Krueger admits that it might have been as well to discard the word in favour of the more cumbersome ‘politically motivated violence carried out by sub-state actors with the goal of spreading fear within the population’.

This excludes state violence, narrowing the field to insurgency or subversion of various kinds, but not all insurgent groups that Krueger – or the State Department – calls ‘terrorist’ make it a strategic priority to target civilian populations. Insofar as they do, they don’t necessarily differ in their methods from state actors. In the ‘war on terror’, a cardinal claim of ‘civilised’ states was that, unlike their opponents, they did not target civilians. Suicide attacks cause indiscriminate slaughter and are an indicator of barbarism; surgical strikes are the gentle civilisers of nations. There is little evidence for a distinction of that sort in the prosecution of recent wars.

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Why is America militarizing, becoming a 21stC Prussia?

Summary: Like fish in water, we cannot easily see the trends shaping our world. Such as the militarization of America, both foreign and domestic. We’re becoming in some ways like Prussia, sad since Prussia/Germany proved that the time for such behavior has passed. It’s not too late for us to take the reins of the nation and change course.  This is a sequel to Why are we militarizing American society?   {2nd of 2 posts today.}

“Know thyself.” — Carved into Apollo’s Oracle of Delphi.

Know Thyself

After so many years of US wars in so many nations — mostly against purely local insurgencies — a question arises that requires an answer. It’s frequently asked by our most perceptive geopolitical analysts.

  1. Is America Addicted to War?” by Stephen M. Walt (Prof International Relations, Harvard), Foreign Policy, 4 April 2011 — “The top 5 reasons why we keep getting into foolish fights.”
  2. Is America Addicted to War?” by Paul Solman (journalist), PBS, 28 November 2011
  3. America: Addicted to War, Afraid of Peace” by Gregory A. Daddis (Colonel, US Army; Professor History at West Point), The National Interest, 11 June 2015 — “After decades of being at war, the United States has come to the point where it can’t live without it.”
  4. “Hi, I’m Uncle Sam and I’m a War-oholic” by William Astore (Lt. Colonel, USAF, retired) at TomDispatch, 15 June 2015.

It’s not just our fighting overseas — more frequent than by anyone else since WWII — or our massive military/intel spending (a multiple of the spending by all our potential enemies combined), but the way America conducts its affairs. Looking at this Franz-Stefan Gady (foreign policy analyst, East West Institute) asks “Is the United States the new Prussia?” at the Small Wars Journal.

In few other democratic countries in the world have more generals found places in administrations or indeed have become heads of states (one notable exception is Israel). Almost every four-star general in the United States sooner or later is presumed to have presidential aspirations. Interestingly, it is the presidents who were former generals who usually display the least confidence in the performance of the armed service, such as George Washington, Grant, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. The military influence can be seen acutely in foreign policy. A report by the Advisory Committee on Transformational Diplomacy states…

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Are government workers America’s dumbest people?

Summary:  Today a journalist explains that government workers are “America’s dumbest people.” It’s an episode from social media, the stages of our time on which people dance out their values and beliefs. These conversations provide a mirror in which we can see western society, and from which we can deduce the hidden forces molding our society.

Bainbridge Colby on hatred and faction

A conversation about our polarized time

A good story starts with the action. AP: “Federal Government Suffers Massive Hacking Attack“. Next we turn for a reaction from a notable journalists on Twitter, a intelligent person whom I respect. It’s a trivial vignette, but telling about our time (and the 2nd such conversation I had this week on Twitter). He tweets the AP story with this framing…

“Dastardly Chinese discover identity of America’s dumbest people. So what are they going to do with this knowledge?”

This is a commonplace of our time — quite daft but stated as obvious fact even by intelligent, educated people. Much like belief that Bush Jr. is like Hitler, Obama is like Lenin, Blacks are inferior (or degenerates), or 97% of scientists believe that anthropogenic global warming will prove catastrophic by 2100 if not stopped. What happens when these people have their belief questioned?

My reply: “Is that a statement of tribal identity? Does it seem sensible or funny otherwise?” His reply…

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Dreams of apocalypses show the brotherhood of America’s Left & Right

Summary: Left and Right in America are in many ways mirror images of each other, as many posts here have shown. No surprise, since we’re all Americans. If we recognize this, perhaps we can better communicate with each other, and perhaps even work together better.  {1st of 2 posts today.}Apocalypse

 

Left and Right share a belief in the coming apocalypse, although they differ in the nature of the end times. Is it Cultural collapse or resource exhaustion? National bankruptcy and currency collapse or climate catastrophe? Mass social disruption or … they both agree on that.

These nightmares seem to be gaining an increasing grip on the American imagination, as fear becomes the major marketing tool in our politics — across our political spectrum. Does this provide a basis for communication, and perhaps working together?

Here are excerpts from two books I recommend that give deep insights into our culture. The first is by one of the top social critics of our generation. The second is deep and complex but brilliant,  well-worth the effort to carefully read it (his description of us is imo dead on target).

 

An excerpt from Christopher Lasch’s
The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations (1991)

The Waning of the Sense of Historical Time

As the twentieth century approaches its end, the conviction grows that many other things are ending too. Storm warnings, portents, hints of catastrophe haunt our times. The “sense of an ending,” which has given shape to so much of twentieth-century literature, now pervades the popular imagination as well. The Nazi holocaust, the threat of nuclear annihilation, the depletion of natural resources, well-founded predictions of ecological disaster have fulfilled poetic prophecy, giving concrete historical substance to the nightmare, or death wish, that avant-garde artists were the first to express. The question of whether the world will end in fire or in ice, with a bang or a whimper, no longer interests artists alone.

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Why are we militarizing American society?

Summary:  Previous posts in this series showed how America has militarized. Today we ask “why”? The answer is superficially obvious, but the deeper reasons are mysterious. This is the conclusion to a series about the militarization of America.    {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Purgamenta hujus mundi sunt tria: pcatis, bellum, et frateria.”
-— This world is purified in three ways: by plague, by war, by monastic seclusion (proverb).

The new Statue of Liberty

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Contents

  1. Why are we militarizing?
  2. Cui Bono?
  3. Is America militarizing?
  4. Other posts in this series.
  5. For More Information.

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(1) Why are we militarizing American society?

“War is one of the great agencies by which human progress is effected.”

— Opening of “The Benefits of War” by Stephen Luce (Rear Admiral, US Navy), North American Review, 1 December 1891. He founded the Naval War College and was its first president.

The previous posts in this series described some aspects of the militarization of American society, from our geopolitics to our entertainment. Now for the big question: why? Few people agree with Admiral Luce’s enthusiasm for war, mostly burned out of western culture by the horrors of WWI and WWII.

We know why people of the Military Industrial Complex support the militarization of society; as Ike warned us in 1961. But why have we responded so enthusiastically to this militarization? Previous generations of Americans mocked militarized states like Prussia, all those marching soldiers in their fancy uniforms while instead we built a great nation.

So I asked one of the brightest people I know, Steve Randy Waldman (he writes at Interfluidity). He replied that for 120 years foreign wars have been good for America (as a whole, with the sacrifice of only a small fraction of our people). From 1846 – 1966 — from war against Mexico to the turning point in Vietnam — wars destroyed our rivals and stimulated our economy (e.g., the stimulus of debt-fueled WWII spending decisively ended the Great Depression), often bringing us new territory.

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The neocons captured the Star Trek universe, as they’ve captured America

Summary:  This post looks at the evolution of the Star Trek “universe” from 1964 through today, using it as a mirror to help us see how we’ve changed. It gives us a clear picture, but one we might not want to see. This is the second in this series about the militarization of American society; see the conclusion tomorrow.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

GARTH: “You, Captain, are second only to me as the finest military commander in the galaxy.”
KIRK: “That’s very flattering. I am primarily an explorer now, Captain Garth.”

— From “Whom the Gods Destroy”, first aired January 1969. It was a different America.

Spock: vulcan peace sign

Contents

  1. Evolution of the Star Trek universe.
  2. The evolution of Star Trek is America’s.
  3. Other posts in this series.
  4. For More Information.

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(1) Evolution of the Star Trek universe

One often-mentioned aspect of the great Star Trek saga, first conceived in 1964 and still running, is that it provides a mirror showing the evolution of American society. The longest trend is its gradual militarization. Roddenberry pitched it as a “Wagon Train” to the stars, explorers moving though a new universe of wonders. The Enterprise met new peoples, sometimes hostile, sometimes friends, sometimes incomprehensible.

Mostly episodes in the original Trek featured exploration, commerce, and diplomacy. These took place during a cold war with the Klingons and Romulans, with some conflicts and even battles (echoing the geopolitics of the 1960s). There were shows about frontier clashes (“Balance of Terror”, “Arena”, ), proxy wars (“A Private Little War”), cold war gamesmanship (“The Enterprise Incident”, “Journey to Babel”), fighting off invaders (“By Any Other Name”), and an outbreak of total war (“Errand of Mercy”).

But these were more than offset by the explicitly anti-war tone of the series (“The Doomsday Machine”, “Day of the Dove”, “Spectre of the Gun”, “The Corbomite Maneuver”, “A Taste of Armageddon”, and the twist endings to “Errand of Mercy” and “Arena”).

The series slowly grew darker, generation by generation, as the Star Trek universe shifted from Roddenberry’s original vision to that of today’s neocons. Deep Space 9 was a war story. Voyager journeyed though a realm of high tech races that resembled the Balkans. I consider this among the darkest of scenarios, where sentient species develop god-like powers without intellectual, moral, or spiritual growth.

The last series, “Enterprise” wars are ever-present: between Andorians and Vulcans, an invasion by the Sphere Builders (in which millions on Earth were killed, and the planet itself escaped destruction by seconds), and a temporal cold war (which briefly turned hot and almost destroyed our time line).

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