David Mamet is a famous American writer, who has distinguished himself in every area of endeavor: plays, screen plays, film director, essayist, and author. You name it and he’s done it, and done it well. By his own admission (see below), he was also just as liberal as you’d assume an older, intellectual Jewish man in the Broadway and Hollywood world would be. But no longer. Mamet has stepped out of the closet and done so loudly and articulately in The Village Voice:
John Maynard Keynes was twitted with changing his mind. He replied, “When the facts change, I change my opinion. What do you do, sir?”
I wrote a play about politics (November, Barrymore Theater, Broadway, some seats still available). And as part of the “writing process,” as I believe it’s called, I started thinking about politics. This comment is not actually as jejune as it might seem. Porgy and Bess is a buncha good songs but has nothing to do with race relations, which is the flag of convenience under which it sailed.
But my play, it turned out, was actually about politics, which is to say, about the polemic between persons of two opposing views. The argument in my play is between a president who is self-interested, corrupt, suborned, and realistic, and his leftish, lesbian, utopian-socialist speechwriter.
The play, while being a laugh a minute, is, when it’s at home, a disputation between reason and faith, or perhaps between the conservative (or tragic) view and the liberal (or perfectionist) view. The conservative president in the piece holds that people are each out to make a living, and the best way for government to facilitate that is to stay out of the way, as the inevitable abuses and failures of this system (free-market economics) are less than those of government intervention.
I took the liberal view for many decades, but I believe I have changed my mind.
As a child of the ’60s, I accepted as an article of faith that government is corrupt, that business is exploitative, and that people are generally good at heart.
These cherished precepts had, over the years, become ingrained as increasingly impracticable prejudices. Why do I say impracticable? Because although I still held these beliefs, I no longer applied them in my life. How do I know? My wife informed me. We were riding along and listening to NPR. I felt my facial muscles tightening, and the words beginning to form in my mind: Shut the fuck up. “?” she prompted. And her terse, elegant summation, as always, awakened me to a deeper truth: I had been listening to NPR and reading various organs of national opinion for years, wonder and rage contending for pride of place. Further: I found I had been—rather charmingly, I thought—referring to myself for years as “a brain-dead liberal,” and to NPR as “National Palestinian Radio.”
This is, to me, the synthesis of this worldview with which I now found myself disenchanted: that everything is always wrong.
Please read the rest here. Every word is worth taking in.
I was particularly charmed by the NPR story, because I so completely understand it. When I started listening to NPR in the mid-1980s, it shaped me as a liberal. I unthinkingly accepted the world view it offered. However, as the years rolled by, whether because it got more strident and biased, or because I got more knowledgeable and discriminating, I started getting angry at the stories.
I got angry at the Israel stories, which I found were offensively biased (I love Mamet’s “National Palestinian Radio” quip). I got angry at the stories that advocated euthanasia in America, even though I’ve always understood that America is not like Holland, with its cradle to grave care, so that there would be an economic incentive for American families to press a loved one to end it all before using up the money. I now know that the situation is even worse in socialized states because, while familial love will be a strong pushback against urging suicide, states looking at the bottom line will not have any emotional problems with hastening their expensively sick citizens to their deaths. I hated the stories that positively presented “ethics” classes at high school, classes that didn’t actually teach any morality, but just devolved into discussion groups about people’s feelings. (Stealing is bad, except if it feels good to steal.) I hated the unwavering and increasingly irrational anti-George Bush stories, stories that had an emotional content completely inconsistent with the underlying facts.
I found myself driving in the car screaming at the radio (very uncharacteristic behavior for me, I assure you) and, news junkie that I am, I started searching for alternatives. These alternatives turned out to be Rush Limbaugh, Dennis Prager, Michael Medved and Hugh Hewitt. I thought that I’d be screaming at them (radio-wise), but couldn’t have been more wrong. Sometimes, listening to their shows, I felt like one of those bobbleheaded dogs people have in the back of their cars, because I was nodding so much in agreement. Nor did I feel that I’d just converted mindlessly from one true belief to another. On NPR, shows were presented as tight little stories that pushed one inevitably towards the reporter’s conclusion — all without the reporter ever admitting to a bias. On talk radio, the host freely admitted to his bias — and then defended it. He used the facts to make his case. He took on calls hostile to his position. He invited guests with whom he disagreed. It was a revelation to me.
I don’t always agree with what my talk radio hosts say, but I always agree with the intellectual honesty they show, with their openness about their bias, and with their willingness to defend their position and, if necessary, to concede any errors, factual or theoretical, that they have made.
And that’s just one point in Mamet’s essay with which I agree. He describes so precisely the intellectual journey I made, one in which I learned to examine the liberal shibboleths with which I’d been raised and to recognize that they don’t apply to the real world. Instead, they posit exactly the same world Marx and Engels believed existed in mid-19th Century Europe, and act as if nothing has changed. As if no World Wars have come along, as if modern technology didn’t exist, as if economics are still Keynesian, and as if Communism, rather than proving to be an abysmal totalitarian failure, is still the last, best hope of mankind.
Mamet has beautifully articulated Progressivism’s failure to align political theory with the world in which we actually live. He’s chosen to do so in the Village Voice, a well known liberal publication. (And kudos to the Voice for publishing his essay.) I wonder if his thoughts will affect any of his readers, by helping them to reexamine their own unthinking beliefs. Given the defensive narcissism that characterizes Progressive thinking, though, I rather doubt that will happen. He’ll be reviled as a traitor, chastized as someone whose mind is going, or simply ignored.
In this regard, it’s worthwhile checking out the comments to his essay. Some congratulate him on making the journey they made themselves, as I do; some riff in their own little wonderland; and some are incredibly angry and abusive that someone would leave the true faith. I’m reprinting a small handful of those that fall into the last category, since I think they illustrate my point about the defensive narcissism of the Progressive true believer:
Michael on Wed Mar 12, 2008, 12:01, says:
I had no idea a talent like David Mamet could be so shallow. I love his plays but if he thinks Thomas Sowell is even a mediocre mind then I have to conclude Mamet is in serious mental trouble.
This article seems to say “we’re all
troubled humans muddling through so let’s forget about advancing ourselves:. To hell with that mantra for the weaklings. And equating a punk mind such as Bush’s with Kennedy in any way, much less sophistic minor comparisons suited to the purpose, is not a substitute for real thought.
All in all this is a pitiful article and I am sorry to see this talent abuse himself.
tom on Wed Mar 12, 2008, 11:57, says:
If government can’t run things just let the free market do it? That’s worked out just great the past 7 years.
Mr. Mamet, I’m afraid you’ve become a lazy citizen. Our government isn’t something you just vote for every 2-4 years and then send off to do it’s job. You need to stay engaged. Our form of government isn’t a wind-up toy, it’s a child and it takes constant supervision and guidance from We the People.
Put simply: Get involved.
Deadhead on Tue Mar 11, 2008, 21:18, says:
We’re not braid-dead [sic], David. We just don’t like pulling the wool over our eyes.
Does this mean that you’ve given up on democracy and thrown in with the authoritarians? Aligning yourself with Milton Friedman suggests tacit support of the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Just asking.
On Bush and JFK: The former’s crimes in Iraq and the latter’s crimes in Cuba prove both men were following the same flawed logic of global hegemony. Saying they’re the flip side of the same coin illustrates nothing but the stranglehold Wall Street has on our political process.
The view that government shouldn’t interfere in the lives of the citizenry is the view of anarchists, not conservatives. On the contrary, conservatives believe that government should intrude again and again, in the form of subsidies, tax breaks and bail-outs for “the corporations.”
Happy election season, indeed.
Your reference to National Palestinian Radio is borderline racist. If you want to send me a link to the last NPR report that was sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians, then I’ll be happy to eat crow.
Tony on Wed Mar 12, 2008, 03:15, says:
The idiocy of this piece is evident right away from the author’s gross over generalization that government has never done anything right or leads ONLY to “sorrow.”
Then, he continues to talk about “magnificent” schools and the jury system, both of which are products of government.
The government builds roads, schools, employs police officers, firefighters and manages that military you are so proud of.
Stick to making mediocre movies, moron.
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