Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Children of Men

Saw Children of Men yesterday afternoon. First reaction, when you go to see it (and I say you must) make sure you don't have to do anything afterwards--perhaps even including drive an automobile. I was in a daze for a few hours afterward--got on the wrong bus, then got on the right bus but got off at the wrong stop.

The people on the bus became different after this movie, in this state. I was quasi-shell shocked or something. Underneath the faces, most broken and worn down, others trying to be cordial (non-threatening anyway) at best, I sensed more viscerally how thin the veneer is separating so-called civilization from barbarity and despair.

But underneath that was a layer of love.

I guess I should say at this point spoiler alert--although I'm not sure I'm giving away any details of plot, just random images from the movie. But if you want to go in without any pre-judgment, don't read on.....

The movie was for me the greatest dystopian vision ever. The details the scale of the vision was really to me jawdropping. Scene after scene of dilapidation, random wild animals running through buildings/yards/streets, mud everywhere. Along with the ubiquity of weaponry in this day and age.

This movie is also not for the squeamish. Scenes are enacted that are drawn directly from the pics released of American prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, e.g. black hoods, barking dogs at naked men's genitals, as well as the cages straight outta Gitmo Bay prisoner complexes. [At least Director Cuaron spared us the goofy girl giving the thumbs up next to the abused and/or the mock rapings].

Plus just a lot of regular ol' close up murder and mayhem.

I openly wept during the movie (not the only one)---almost groaned out loud. And not just a little tear, sappy-ending kinda thing, it was flowing, streaming down my face. Not my usual.

One key theme--without I hope any spoiling of plot--is the issue of "illegal immigration." Britain to stave off complete social anarchy post the inability of women to give birth, hordes up all illegals and deports them. You see them repeatedly in the movie on buses, Auschwitz-like, heading to the redeployment camps or whatever sanitized name the government gives them. Inside that "refugee camp" are neighborhoods for ethnic groups--you even see a brilliant re-enactment of a Hamas-Palestinian funeral. The body being carried around on a mat, with green banners, hooded men shouting "Allahu Akbar" and firing semi-automatic weaponry in the air.

The other constant critique of religion running through it was the correct vision that in such a situation, the rise of apocalyptic religious groups--self-flagellators like during the Black Plague of Medieval Europe, renuncers, who instead of contributing anything positive by way of help of the broken or prayer-visualization of another birth, blame themselves and others, giving self-centered meaning (in a twisted way) that clearly defines the reality involved. Plus the interesting character of the midwife--whose constantly chanting "Om Shanti" in the midst of this nightmare as well as gives the staid line that "everything happens for a reason." Just an different non-theistic version of the same impulse as the Renunciates. Although As Buddhist/Easterner she comes off as more "gentle" and "loving" than the evil Christians or Muslims but whatever.

The hope, the child, Cuaron I think, purposefully tries to de-mystify (cf the joke about her virginity). Our Eve, curses constantly, is a little wacky. And our hero, the everyman, the anti-hero, more like most everymen (alcoholic, despairing, cynical), etc.

But the issue of the immigrants I think was crucial. And particularly given the European context was key--the director is Spanish. In Europe, more than America, there are national identities much more tied to past racial histories.

Identity in the globalized world is going to have to be multi-layered (in all directions) held together simultaneously. Identities within identities within identities cascading unendingly. Countries and their identities they promote will have to be about the countries ability to offer jobs, personal growth, opportunities, clear legal statues and public order, etc.

Otherwise we will continue to experience such maneuvers to simply stop the flow of human beings in the global world. And just to be clear, this is serious danger (already partially realized) towards the commodification of human bodies and nation-states. That is why I support so strongly same level responses from churches, thought groups, religions, that can help console and give strength to people in the transitions.

What the foreign policy of the West should be for the 21st century is to bring every human being from the disconnected to the connected global playing field. That means the integration of the "Gap"--i.e. all of Africa, Middle East, Central Asia, Carribean and Andean South America.

And making the transition from tribal-agrarian-black market (red/blue) economies to orange rule of law/free-r markets in the beginning increases rage, traditionalism, anti-maket reactions, and all the rest. Which is precisely why the foreign policy of the United States should not be the unilateral attempt at democratization--those are the people with their increased rage and anger who are going to vote in this scenario (see Palestine, s. Lebanon, and Iraq).

On the far side of the transition, there is much greater peace and prosperity--though nothing resembling total human fulfillment. But it at least creates the social-political-economic platform that allows for free time so that such a fulfillment can be reached.

Minus that vision, the vision will increasingly hold sway that the foreign policy and domestic philosophy should be battering down the doors and protecting the West against barbarism (Clash of Civilizations, Islamo-fascism, whatever).

As I've said before, the problem with these conservatives is not that they believe in the traditions too much it is that they don't believe in them enough. They don't believe in the power of these traditions to have influence and wisdom beyond their original context (read my Antonin Scalia critique there if you like). Mark Steyn is a good example of this trend. Or the female pastor from Jesus Camp (Mark Steyn is much smarter than her btw). She talks about using the Palestinians as a model/foil to judge how our Christian American children should be raised.

In other words, the policies recommended: return to our roots exclusively, fight the enemy who is not like us, etc. are oddly simliar to the goals/strategies annunciated by the islamic jihadists.

Because there is a downshifting in the spiral to try to deal with this enemy, there is a secret (and unconscious, undiscussable) attraction to the enemy. As in the adage: What you meditate upon you become. Not 100% of course. Mark Steyn or whoever isn't an Islamic terrorist obviously, but just in contours you see the similiarity. What they hold in common, I'm arguing, is that neither groups believes--though they would never admit this and in fact argue the opposite but for me their actions speak otherwise--that their traditions are strong enough to exist in the post-traditional global world.

The flip side of that is having to live with the de-absolutizing of one's traditions: traditions/identities as holonic.

A Mark Steyn-like analysis only focuses (correctly) on the rising tide of anger/frustration that accompanies groups heading into the modern world. And then simply tells them to become like a group that has already made the transition (e.g. America)--which is his version, seems to me, of the recognition that things are better on the far side. But that isn't going to work--each people have to give their own stamp to this structure. There is no help from the middle. Politically that has shown up as not dealing with Hezbollah, Hamas, and any other elected Islamist groups, as I've said repeatedly on this blog. As a result, Israel, itself still holding out as a country trying to maintain a historical-racial-religious-national identity in a global world is now at its weakest point since at least the 70s and possibly since 1950. To do so Israel has maintained and is again building up occupation of the West Bank, which has and continues to erode any moral standing the country has--no matter how evil (and they are) many groups within the occupation.

That separation between civil law/justice at home but double standard for the occupation was Children of Men's Britain. It is a dark, mean-orange if you like. Instead of creating places/institutions for the stations of life (the levels of consciousness that every human is born to deal with), you simply cut off the elite modernist (however they become defined) from the rest. And that vision, correctly the movies underscores, is bereft of population, of children and hope. The higher always has less span than the lower. The higher cut off from the lower is its own suicide.

And in the short/medium term, politics on the large scale I argue has to work on security, economics, political stability (Maslow's hierarchy), freeing the spiral so that humans can make the choices they need to make to go into these new stages. Economics and military protection are not the end all be all. Humans have to make choices. But many need help (from those who have the luxury) to foster situations that promote such choices.

Churches, what is usually considered in American discourse now right-wing, but even NGOs etc are the ones who will have to push more for on the ground actions to break the political realms open--free speech, religious freedom, etc.

Because in the short-medium term with the emphasis on security and markets, many of the countries that will make the transition will be one-party authoritarian states (e.g. China, Russia, Singapore, South Korea & Taiwan of the 80s). Not all but many (blue before orange). Not the "American Century" , nor some UN-loving multicultural world where everybody holds hands and sings Kumbaya. But a world that is possible, where many things can be made better, but where nothing is perfect by any stretch. All of which is lost by fear-mongering of Global Warming, Islamic Terror and all the rest. They are potential and in certain cases actual problems but the focus needs to be on what can be created and have faith that vision is stronger.


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