Sunday, March 16, 2008

Brain Living

David Mamet is a great playwright. Sere and vulgar and elegant and eloquent. You must read his piece on why he is no longer, in his words, a "brain dead liberal" -- which piece he has entitled, "Why I Am No Longer a 'Brain-Dead Liberal'".

It's such a pleasure to see it. He wondered, "how could I have spent decades thinking that I thought everything was always wrong at the same time that I thought I thought that people were basically good at heart? Which was it? I began to question what I actually thought and found that I do not think that people are basically good at heart; indeed, that view of human nature has both prompted and informed my writing for the last 40 years. I think that people, in circumstances of stress, can behave like swine, and that this, indeed, is not only a fit subject, but the only subject, of drama."

It's like redemption, the way the light finally shines through.

He arrived at his new insight by actually thinking about politics, "which is to say, about the polemic between persons of two opposing views." Get it? It's profoundly unsafe to assume that you're right. The other guy may be an idiot. He may be an obvious idiot. That's not uncommon. But he's not an idiot because he disagrees with you. He's an idiot because he does not consider an issue on its merits. Theory matters more than reality. That's idiotic. We don't of course have to be in a state of perpetual instability. We do need to formulate our principles rationally, and return to them upon occasion to compare them with the broader base of knowledge that our continuing experience will have brought to us.

"I began reading not only the economics of Thomas Sowell (our greatest contemporary philosopher) but Milton Friedman, Paul Johnson, and Shelby Steele, and a host of conservative writers, and found that I agreed with them: a free-market understanding of the world meshes more perfectly with my experience than that idealistic vision I called liberalism."

Human nature? "The Constitution, written by men with some experience of actual government, assumes that the chief executive will work to be king, the Parliament will scheme to sell off the silverware, and the judiciary will consider itself Olympian and do everything it can to much improve (destroy) the work of the other two branches. So the Constitution pits them against each other, in the attempt not to achieve stasis, but rather to allow for the constant corrections necessary to prevent one branch from getting too much power for too long.

"Rather brilliant. ..."

He observes that Americans live every day "under rather wonderful and privileged circumstances -- that we are not and never have been the villains that some of the world and some of our citizens make us out to be, but that we are a confection of normal (greedy, lustful, duplicitous, corrupt, inspired -- in short, human) individuals living under a spectacularly effective compact called the Constitution, and lucky to get it."

Of course, you and I have understood all this for all of our adult lifetimes. Having a realistic understanding of how the world works is a good rule-of-thumb definition of being an adult. There is no shame, though, in blooming late. We celebrate wisdom where ever we find it. My religion understands this most deeply. We have a father who waits for us to tire of pig-living. By this example, it is so very easy to welcome those who have gone astray but have returned, like little children, to a love of meaningful justice, albeit with a hard-won and necessary apprehension of our human frailty.

It's not the most beautiful thing to say, but how very lovely, to say, once more or for the first time, Welcome home, friend.


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