The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Saturday, December 17, 2005

yet another reason to think nice thoughts about Viggo Mortensen

As if being Aragorn son of Arathorn wasn't enough.

Viggo Mortensen blasts President Bush


"...I’m against cheating, greed, cruelty, racism, imperialism, religious fundamentalism, treason, and the seemingly limitless capacity for hypocrisy
shown by Bush and his administration.”
*happy sigh*


Amanda said...

[Sighs along with Span]...Oh that Viggo--He is just so perfect what with the extreme athleticism, talented, senstitive artistic side and multi-lingualness. I keep waiting for him to announce a cure for cancer. I'm he could find one if he put his mind to it.

Span said...

did you ever hear that interview he did with Kim Hill (radio)? i didn't want to listen cos i thought he might look like a tosser, but actually he was even better than i could have imagined! he must be every leftie hetero woman's imaginary boyfriend methinks.

ok, now no one is ever going to mistake me for a guy blogger again. or at least if they do they will assume i'm gay ;-)

Amanda said...

No, didn't hear the interview. I did go to his exhibition at the City Art Gallery though

maps said...

Ah, sorry to rub you up the wrong way again old chap, but faced with a contest between one of the tossers responsible for inflicting the flatulent softcore fascism of LOTR on New Zealand, on the one hand, and George Dubya, on the other, I'm inclined to take what some Marxists call a 'third campist' position. A pox (or preferably a smart bomb) on both their houses, I say.

I don't think Mortensen is taking a stand at all with comemnts like these, because the views he is expressing are mainstream in Hollywood. It'd probably be much more injurious to his career if he came out strongly for Bush.

What beats me is how this nonentity can sneer at the stupidity of the people who vote for Bush - because it is these Confederate flag waving, Bible bashin', trailer trash types, and not Bush himself, that are the real targets of stuck up Hollywood liberals - and yet contrive to spend a goodly chunk of his life helping make films as awful as LOTR.

I mean, words like 'racism' and 'imperialism' describe LOTR quite as well as they describe Bush's politics. As Michael Moorcock's book 'Wizardry and Wild Romance' shows, Tolkien's writing was driven by his obsessive fear that the south of England, aka the Shire, with its awful idealised countryside and countryfolk, was about to be over-run by rough northern blokes (ie the orcs) led by nasty Bolshy intellectuals (evil wizards) and supported by ungrateful natives in other parts of the Empire.

The sad thing is that in the space of a few decades the pathetic ramblings of an embittered old Oxford Don - writings which were so bad that they could only be published originally by a crank religious outfit - have become a myth that thousands of people on the other side of the world have assimilated.

I was driving through the Urewera forests with some mates who had been out of the country for a while, and one of them said 'That's what I love about New Zealand bush - looks so much like LOTR'. If that's not cultural imperialism at work then what is? LOTR has affected the way we look at our country, taking us back to the nineteenth century conception of New Zealand as a 'new Britain' and, in all too many cases, expunging the real history of the New Zealand from the minds of Kiwis who had only just been getting used to the facts of that history. Forgive me, then, if I don't think Mortensen some kind of anti-imperialist hero.

Amanda said...

I think thats a bit harsh on poor old Tolkien. I agree on rereading the books as an adult I was pretty appalled at the class and race aspects but you can also read the books as a product of Tolkien's war experiences and as an anti-Modernist anti-Industrialisation, pro trees fable. Then the picture of the author that emerges is far more complex and also far more humane.

maps said...

There is certainly a very healthy British tradition of romantic repulsion against industrialism and its effects on humans and the environment, but Tolkien comes at the fag end of this tradition and lacks all of its progressive features.

Where Blake in poems like 'London' and William Morris in his utopian novels decry the effects of industrialisation on the working class that the industrial revolution created, Tolkien identifies this class completely with all the negative aspects of industrialism. In doing so, he dehumanises them more surely than any mill owner or coal baron.

Where the likes of Morris wanted to get rid of the ugly aspects of industrial society by empowering workers, Tolkien wants, however quixotically, to exterminate them. In common with reactionary contemporaries like Evelyn Waugh and TS Eliot, Tolkien retreats from the modern world into a vision of an idealised middle ages society, a society ballasted by a happy peasantry that knows its place.

He is rather like those middle class Western 'primitivists' whose response to the impact of industrialisation on the people of the Third World is to demand that those people leave their dark satanic mills and teeming cities, don grass skirts, pick up spears, and run around in the bush in noble savage mode.

(All the failings described above could be forgiven, of course, if Tolkien were a great writer, like TS Eliot. At least then he would provide us with an unforgettably vivid picture of his own alienation. But reading LOTR is like watching ditchwater percolate...)

Amanda said...

Well comrade, I wouldn't be so quick to extoll the virtues of Morris. He, and the whole arts and crafts movement weren't a fan of labour saving kitchen design. Got to keep those women in the kitchen experiencing the dignity of labour... for hours and hours, and hours, and hours. In fact he wasn't much different than the modern day Western primitivists you complain about. And his wall paper designs were horrible.

Richard said...

I'm not a great fan of Tolkien but that isn't because of his politics - I just never really "got into" his writing -his books are so long! -but Scott (Maps) may have a valid view here - it does irritate me when people talk of how beautiful NZ is in tw wake of Jackson's films etc (one American's comment - "I know there isn't anything to do in NZ but it's a very beautiful country..." (!!) I then tell them about the very high youth sucide rate -the deforestation and so on..but back to Tolkien and the LOFTRs - it has link to Wagner's 'Ring Cycle' -- which in comparison is an awesomely superior work - which is natural (the ring appears in the first part I did see the first movie) as Tolkien and C S lewis were scholars of Old and Middle Englis and so on - & Chaucer (Middle English) - they would in many ways tend to be reactionary -as they felt that anything after Shakespear was "too modern" -but I think things such as The Hobbit and the Ring are harmless enough - there is a part of us that loves a world of wizards and magic and so on - the message maybe "fascist" (I haven't realy read any of it so cant say) but I admire T S Eliot's poetry greatly and Pound's and the latter has been accused of being fascist. Great literature is often written by
"reactionaries". I don't think many "great" writers are ever concerned with the working class...perhaps Blake was the most revolutionary of the "romantics"...

I survied Biggles and Enid Blyton and the Maugham as a boy (I had Orwell maybe as an antidote) so I have no doubt people will survive Tolkien -

The film I enjoyed by Jackson is "Heavenly Creatures", that I felt was great movie, - all the others that I have seen I found either repellant or a bit tedius (derivative).

But I love especially the first Star Wars.

But Maps raises some good points.

Psycho Milt said...

Every time maps hears the word culture he reaches for his revolver...

Personally I doubt Viggo Mortensen devoted a whole lot of thought to whether LotR could be interpreted as unfavourable to the working class - being an actor, he was probably more concerned with lesser aspects like whether it was a good movie or not (and as it turns out, it was a masterpiece, the very dogs bollocks, and he a great contributor to that outcome).

Maps, if your friend had told you that what he loved about LotR was that it looked like New Zealand, would that be an example of NZ's appalling cultural imperialism at work? Cultural imperialism is one of those terms like political correctness, it basically means "stuff I don't like".

It might be annoying to a good materialist that millions of otherwise intelligent and well-educated people around the world get all enthusiastic about a story featuring elves and goblins, but sometimes a materialist just needs to get a life, y' know what I'm sayin'? Many of the most hard-core leftists will take Narnia, LotR, Bad Taste, Brain Dead and Meet the Feebles over didactic socialist realism any day of the week. And good on 'em.

maps said...

Hate to have to point this out to you old chap, but books like LOTR, let alone the Narnia series, are as didactic as the worst examples of 'socialist' realism. Most of us got the subtext of the 'Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe' when we were about seven, but you seem still to be reading in blissful ignorance. Perhaps then you shold hold off posing as the ultimate arbiter of literary merit?

As for Peter Jackson, I'm one of many people quietly hoping that his latest ludicrous movie will fall flat on its face, or at least fail to become the runaway success that will be needed to recoup the $294 million wasted on it. As soon as Jackson decamps to Hollywood to make car commercials and the parasites and hangers on he has amassed follow him we can get back to the good old days when the New Zealand film industry was expected to make films which said something about New Zealand. That doesn't have to mean didacticism or staid realism - there is more genuine, visionary fantasy in five minutes of a movie like Vincent Ward's 'The Navigator' than there is in the whole LOTR trilogy.

I agree with Richard's point about the merits of Eliot and Pound - if a writer has to be a fascist then he should at least compensate by being a genius...

Cheezy said...

Maps, am I allowed to hate LOTR with all of my black little heart, and at the same time fully approve and agree with what Mortensen said about 'Team Bush', whether it was daring or fashionable (or merely mainstream) from a Hollywood-career-perspective or not?

Cos I reckon I do, y'know....

Anonymous said...

I don't really want to get drawn into this discussion, but I would like to point out the laziness of comrade Pyscho Milts lumping together of Bad Taste (a fuckin great movie) Meet the Feebles (equally cool) and LOTR !! gimme a break. You just trying to show off that you know all their names? coz the movies couldn't be more different.


Anonymous said...

Oh and out of interest MAPS

Exactly HOW is T.S Eliot a fascist?

I've heard him called it before and I never got it. Pound is obvious but orthodox Christian Eliot?


Span said...

i have to say i'm rather surprised that this has turned out to be one of my most controversial posts of the year. but do keep going!

Anonymous said...

OMG and I've just got back from posting smug "nah nah you stupid Americans over analayse stuff to much and anyway we earthy Kiwi's don't do navel gazing crappola" type comments in one of those King Kong reinforces white stereotypes about black men raping white women Yank blogs...

Talk about being punished for hubris, these comments make me want to bash a Hori and call him a lebo.

maps said...

Whether you'd call Eliot or even Pound a fascist depends on your definition of fascism, and the part of their lives you're discussing, but Eliot's persistent anti-semitism and friendly relations with fascist groups is documented in many places.

You can find the anti-semitism in the poems themselves, for instance in 'Gerontion':

"My house is a decayed house,

and the jew squats on the window sill, the owner,

Spawned in some estaminet of Antwerp,

Blistered in Brussels, patched and peeled in London.

The goat coughs at night in the field overhead;

Rocks, moss, stonecrop, iron, merds."

Eliot was always attracted to the politics of the far right, but he was particularly smitten by an organisation called Action Francaise, which was founded in response to the Dreyfus Affair and wanted to abolish the Third Republic and re-establish the monarchy in an authoritarian Roman Catholic state. Eliot wrote very favourably about Charles Maurras, Action Francaise's main ideologue.

The paradox of Eliot is that such a wildly innovative writer should hold such reactionary, backward-looking views. Living at a time when Western 'civilisation' looked likely to die at the hands of war, or workers' revolution, or both, Eliot felt that the only way he could conserve the cultural traditions he loved was to find a radically new form for them.

'The Wasteland', his greatest work, samples scores of masterpieces of the past, throwing excerpts from them together on the page in fragmentary form. 'These fragments I have shored against my ruin', Eliot writes near the end of the poem.

Tolkien is a different kettle of fish -
instead of doing anything interesting with his angst he indulges in a wet dream of an idealised middle ages.

Psycho Milt said...

Tim: I lumped Bad Taste, Meet the Feebles and Braindead in with LotR because they're like, made by the same person, not because they're similar movies.

Maps: I'd say just the opposite, most of us absolutely did not get the subtext of the Narnia books when we were 7, we picked it up later. I read them to my son when he was 6 and just started on them with my daughter - neither of them will have a clue that Aslan's meant to be Jesus and the cruel and corrupt darkies meant to be Arabs. As for LotR being didactic, what exactly does it teach us? Elves good, goblins bad? Don't trust evil magicians? Extremely powerful magical objects can be dangerous? I'm sure most people don't mistake these for valuable life lessons.

Your assessment of Peter Jackson is just bizarre. The time for him to take off for the USA was when he was handed wads of cash to make LotR, not right after he's successfully delivered 2 Hollywood epics out of NZ. And it's hard to imagine anyone in the film industry here regarding a return to filmmaking as a cottage industry to be a good thing. The Navigator was a good film about NZ. LotR is a Hollywood action trilogy that for once doesn't suck. Believe it or not, there's room in this country for both kinds of film. That whole thing about NZ art having to tell something about NZ both sucks and blows - artists can make whatever the hell kind of art they like, and if it says nothing whatsoever about this country, that doesn't make it bad art.

Anonymous said...

Pscyho - the theme of the thread was of course the 'softcore facism' of LOTR, to bring in for comparison a student flick like Bad Taste seems merely - (title repeats here).

I will however agree with you about - 'That whole thing about NZ art having to tell something about NZ both sucks and blows' - I think ANY movie made in NZ will tell something about NZ by default, it doesn't need to be blatant.

That said a major Hollywood pic like that Cruise Samari one, or LOTR doesn't say anything INTERESTING about NZ, it shows some nice tourism board style scenic shots and little else. Give me Smash Palace any day of the week.

MAPS - re Eliot.

I will plead ignorance, unforgivable ignorance. I'm pretty familiar with most of Eliots writing, and I've read one biography which neither mentioned his anti-semitism nor the Action Francais! very interesting to read up on it.

In the biography I read, Eliot was this warm generous eccentric patron of the arts, with conservation catholic views. The problem with issues like anti-semitism is that their emotive nature can blow them up out of proportion. There is so much more to Eliot (and Pound) than their anti-semitism, though it remains distasteful.

merry xmas to you all.


Amanda said...

Do you know I thought the theme of the thread was actually Viggo is dishy?

But I totally agree with the point that artists can and should make whatever art they want. And I think it is a mistake to allow their perceived personal failings to taint your enjoyment of their work. And, while not excusable, Eliots anti semitism should be seen in the context of his times, when it was a fairly mainstream view.

maps said...

There's a tendency here to try to wall 'art' off from 'life', by insisting that an artist's political opinions and behaviour, and the political context in which their work is received and used, should not interfere with judgements of their work. I can understand that this desire to wall off art and politics might be prompted by a distaste for the conception of art as propaganda, and for simplistic political readings of complex works of art like, say, Eliot's poems. I certainly detest didactic art and simplistic political readings of works of art myself.

The trouble is that by treating art as basically autonomous from politics we actually accept the schema of the reductionists who want all art to be propaganda. Whether they are Stalinists or right-wingers, they typically divide art into 'self-indulgent' stuff, ie 'weird' or 'difficult' or 'irrelevant' stuff they can't easily reduce to a simple political message, and 'good' or 'conscious' or 'wholesome' stuff, ie simplistic propaganda. They dismiss the supposedly self-indulgent stuff as basically a bourgeois/decadent bohemian luxury with little relevance to the lives of ordinary people in the real world. If we celebrate, say, the poems of Eliot as autonomous works of art unaffected by the life and politics of their author then we are in danger of accepting that Eliot has nothing to say about anything but poetry - that reading him is an escape from things like politics into a different world, a world of Literature.

I think that the extremes of art as propaganda and art as escape are both dead ends. What we need to do is relate art to the real world it springs from, without reducing it to a simple reflection of or commentary upon that world. I don't think my comments in this thread have been too reductionist - if I were only interested in judging people's art by the standards of their politics, then I'd be lumping Eliot in with Tolkien as a bad writer, not defending him as a genius.

Psycho Milt said...

I can agree with most of that, but I think in Tolkien's case, reading him actually is an escape from things like politics into a different world. Considering what he's trying to tell us about England or the working class is a study in irrelevance - what makes or breaks it is whether you've any interest in the world he's actually writing about. Apathy Jack's been ripping into LotR big-time over at Brain Stab and it's been extremely funny and deadly accurate - but the bottom line is, Tolkien's a genius of the nerd world, and Jack isn't a nerd. For people like me and Peter Jackson, who are nerds, LotR is a work of genius.

Amanda said...

Well I'm undeniably in the nerd camp too. I don't in fact find LOTR to be pure escapism. Some of it is very harrowing and it touches on some human universals in a way that is very meaningful to a lot of people. Things like courage and friendship and loyalty and not giving up even when all hope is gone and living with the choices you make. Maybe it all sounds very trite put like that but those are things that matter at the very deepest of human levels. To me it is a complex though admittedly deeply flawed work of genius. It meant a lot more to me as an adolescent than it does now but I think in part that is because I internalised a lot of it and it became part of who I am.

I guess with any work of art that might conceivably offend there is always going a personal balancing act going on as to when the artistry of the work outweighs the offensiveness. In the case of LOTR (to me) the artistry way outweighs the offensiveness by a long shot. Same with TS Eliot. Robert Crumb though the scale is constantly teetering.

maps said...

Does the fact that LOTR is an escapist book, and most of the people who like it read it as an escape, mean we can't analyse it in relation to the real world?

As an analogy, consider the tourism industry, which is also largely based on escapism - huge billboards with pictures of sun-drenched tropical islands which you see driving home from work in the mid-winter rain, etc

Can we not conbsider questions like what drives people to consume escapist holidays (read Tolkien), why are some destinations more popular than others (why is LOTR more popular than the Gormenghast triology), why do some ad drives succeed better than others(why was LOTR geek fodder twenty years ago when it is mainstream now), what is the relation between the actual place - Rarotonga, Fiji, wherever -that is consumed as an escapist fantasy and the consumers themselves (how do the Maori who still have land grievances in the Hauraki plains region feel about being assimilated to myths of good-hearted peasants by the occupants of the tour buses heading to the hobbit village there), and so on? If we can ask these sorts of questions about one escapist activity, why not another?

Anonymous said...

of course you should be able to analyse the escapism of LOTR or even Robert Ludlum for that matter. The issue is what conceptual base you attack it from psychological, economic, political, cultural etc, pretty soon you'll end up writing a doctorate on the subject.

LOTR is way more popular than Gormenghast because LOTR is Escapism. Escapism for Joe Bloggs who can follow the simple language / characters / setting / easily. Gormenghast is more investigation than escapism - Peake explores the evocative extremes of the english lanuguae.
He also attempts to expound on the most profound characteristics of what it is to be human. It's not what Joe Bloggs is looking for in terms of escapism.

You're right though, it would be a fascinating topic to look into exactly what this 'need for escapism' is in general. A lot of 'dumb tourism' seems to be merely vanity, 'oooh and here's me in front of the Taj Mahal or the cathedral in St Petersberg' or whatever (would they actually go on holiday if there was no such thing as cameras?) - I wonder if that sort of tourism (including the busloads of Jap non-entities that continously roll through our land) shouldn't be banned? It tends to have a detrimental effect on the cultures / countries where it happens - it adds nothing to society -
and is ultimately just a form of bourgoise idleness.


'Tourism is Sin' - Werner Herzog

Psycho Milt said...

This is of course why I gave up on socialism - you sooner or later find yourself listening to stuff like how tourism should be banned because it contributes nothing to society and is just a form of bourgeois idleness. Life really is too short for that.

Anonymous said...

Not only do they use up their natural resources to support the growing tourism industry, but they also deprive local population of what is righifully theirs. It is sad to see how developing countries try to stay afloat in this competitive world, how they are pressured to do everything and anything so that they could be economically one step up from where they were before. Yet, all they do is take and take without putting much back in. It doesn’t work that way, in fact, everything and everybody in some way depend on one another. - Negative effects caused by tourism industry can be very costly to the country and its population.

For the island of Jamaica as well as other islands, the effects include pollution animal and plant extinction, coral reef destruction, inadequate sewage and waste disposal system, deforestation, destruction and erosion of the beaches. This doesn’t seem like a lot, but as the time goes by, the problem intensifies especially if there is nothing done about it. Local community suffers as well, through shortages of water and natural resources; most of the local population of Jamaica does not directly benefit from the industry at all. An example of this would be the food that is used by hotels, it is exported and almost nothing is purchased from the Jamaican community.

“Tourism is the most direct way for people to make money,” explains Marina Radic from Sunce, a local environmental group. “But unless it’s developed carefully, we’ll see the Dalmatian Islands go the same way as many other parts of the Mediterranean — covered in concrete.”

Already, holiday homes and tourist apartments, many of which are built illegally, are spreading out from the island towns. Developers too are buying up land, presumably to build large resorts. It’s not hard to see that if the building continues unchecked, then the Croatian side of the Adriatic Sea could eventually look the same as the Italian side: completely urbanized from north to south.

This would not just destroy the character of the islands — it would also destroy one of the largest contiguous stretch of pristine nature in the entire Mediterranean.

“Mass tourism often destroys local culture, and doesn’t contribute significantly to local income,” explains Paolo. “In many cases, most of the profits flow to foreign tour operators and investors. For example, 2/3 of the income from Mediterranean tourism over the last three years went to fewer than 10 tour operators from northern Europe.”


Anonymous said...

Until 1962, Ladakh remained almost totally isolated from the forces of modernisation. In that year, however, in response to the conflict in Tibet , a road was built by the Indian Army to link the region with the rest of the country. With it came not only new consumer items and a government bureaucracy, but also a first misleading impression of the world outside. Then, in 1975, the region was opened up to foreign tourists, and the process of 'development' began in earnest.

Speaking the language fluently from my first year in Ladakh, I have been able to observe almost as an insider the effect of these changes on the Ladakhis' perception of themselves. Within the space of a little more than a decade, feelings of pride gave way to what can best be described as a 'cultural inferiority complex'. In the modern sector today, most young Ladakhis-the teenage boys in particular-are ashamed of their cultural roots and desperate to appear modern.

In addition to these psychological changes, economic pressures led to a breakdown of the rural economy with people flooding into the towns in search of scarce jobs. In the last three decades, I have watched the capital of Ladakh turn into an urban sprawl. Now the streets are choked with traffic, and the air tastes of diesel fumes. 'Housing colonies' of soulless, cement boxes have eaten into the green fields and spread into the dusty desert, punctuated not by trees but by electricity poles. Piles of rusty metal, broken glass and discarded plastic packaging fill the gutters. Billboards advertise Coca-Cola and powdered milk. The once pristine streams are polluted, the water undrinkable. For the first time, there are homeless people in Ladakh and crime is increasing. Ethnic friction between Buddhists and Muslims-unheard of previously-escalated to open violence in 1989.

maps said...

I'm a bit sozzled but I'll make an effort to break this thread through the big three-oh barrier with another pedantic post.

It's notable that the first of the novels in the Gormenghast series was popular almost as soon as it was published, shortly after the end of the Second World War.

Many British critics felt that, with his elaborately and lovingly described fantasy world-in-miniature, Mervyn Peake had catered to the need to escape the austerity of the 1940s, which saw extensive rationing not only of food but of books and of other forms of entertainment. I don't think, then, that we can consign Gormenghast to the ghetto of high art. Peake's trilogy was a genuine popular success.

Ironically, mass tourism was one of the bugbears of reactionary British intellectuals like Tolkien in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Increased spending power and leisure time and cheaper transport meant that large numbers of workers were able to escape on weekends and Bank Holidays: seaside towns like Blakpool and Brighton were especially popular. Many intellectual guardians of the old order were disturbed by this new mobility of the working class, just as they were disturbed by mass literacy and the rise of the paperback.

I don't think there is a fundamental differnce between nineteenth century holidays in Blackpool and Brighton and twenty-first century holidays in Ibiza and Majorca and Fiji. A balance needs to be struck between a recognition of the negative features of mass tourism and an appreciation of its function as an escape from the pressures of ordinary life for large numbers of working class people.

Tourist destinations can be seen as temporary utopias, which allow the acting out of fantasies and identities which are repressed in 'real' life. In a sense, then, they are no different from William Morris's equally evanescent visions of an alternative, utopian society. I think that we should reform escapism rather than condemn it outright. The trouble with LOTR is not so much Tolkien's escapism, as the type of society he wants us to escape to!

sagenz said...

span - the difference between bush and mortensen/maps/tim is that bush must exist in the real world. nearly 3000 people died in a single attack on America's financial heart. He and his administration have reacted in the best way they have been able. Bringing democracy to 50 million people is slightly more real and more admirable than posturing about hypocrisy and whether "we" should reform mass tourism. ( Which "we" arseholes - the people have already chosen)

Psycho Milt said...

I'm not sure that POTUS (whether Republican or Democrat) does exist in the real world, given the layers that his every experience has to get filtered through. That's an aside though.

It's been pointed out on many occasions that when you're attacked by a terrorist group consisting largely of Saudis operating out of Afghanistan, invading Iraq is an odd response. Putting those 150,000 troops put on the job of finding Bin Laden might have been a more understandable response. Bringing democracy to 50 million people is one way of putting it, but invading a sovereign state and imposing your own form of govt on it is another. Personally I don't think you can give democracy as a gift, if people don't have to win it for themselves it doesn't mean anything. For every person in Iraq that sees the occupation as a golden opportunity to fight to bring democracy to Iraq, there'll be another who sees foreigners telling him what to do at the point of a gun and will decide to do something about that. It amounts to a craps game with people's lives, which someone living in the real world would have taken a little more seriously before picking up the dice.

Here in the Gulf states there are people writing in to discussion groups calling democracy a "failed experiment", as though any of them had any experience of living in one. From their point of view, their peaceful, wealthy police states make a really attractive contrast with the violent anarchy in places like Iraq and Lebanon. It's not a good look, and the US administration must be dreaming if it thinks it's improving the image of democracy in those places.

sagenz said...

Invading Iraq was never about Al Qaeda or Oil or even WMD. It was about the fact that democracies dont attack democracies. We will see in ten years as to whether the strategy has been successful. Ten years of containment after the first gulf war clearly did not work so give the New Iraq a realistic timetable. Independent opinion polls in Iraq give clear majorities approving the removal of Saddam and believing in the future. Your anecdotal opposition to democracy proves nothing more than the fact the ruling classes in your police states have access to dicussion boards

I always find it curious when people on the left argue in favour of oppression and dictators. Why is that?

Psycho Milt said...

Sagenz, you were the one that connected the Twin Tower attacks with the invasion of Iraq ("bringing democracy to 50 million people"). If you meant Afghanistan instead, I apologise.

Re discussion boards, keep in mind I was talking about the Gulf States, not Egypt or Syria. There aren't any downtrodden working-class types here, they import foreigners for that. It's the general population that has access to discussion boards.

I always find it curious when people on the right find objections to invading a sovereign state and imposing your own form of govt on it to be "arguing in favour of oppression and dictators" - after all, it's a non-sequitur. I'll repeat my argument, and you can show me where I argue for oppression and dictatorship:

1. You can't give democracy as a gift - if people haven't won it for themselves, it won't mean anything to them.

2. When you invade someone else's country to impose democracy, for every democrat you create you'll be creating someone else who's willing to take up arms to eject the occupiers.

3. That makes the result unpredictable. It amounts to a crap shoot with other people's lives. On that basis it would be nice to see it taken a little more seriously by the crap shooters.

Knock yourself out.

sagenz said...

There are around 25 million in each of Afghanistan & Iraq. no apology required
Iraq was a construct of the western powers. The UN is flawed because it gives equal votes to dictators and democratically elected leaders.
Why should soveriegnty be more sacrosanct than basic human rights? It is on that fundamental point that I will approve the removal of any dictator on the way to a less oppressive regime. If you argue in favour of the status quo, that is arguing in favour of dictators.
1. France - Is that why De Gaulle wanted french troops to enter Paris? Japan, Italy, Kosovo, the list goes on and on...
2. if you are right that means they are filling your conditions set out in 1. Iraqi's are fighting insurgents & occupiers. It is foriegn terrorists fighting foreign soldiers that are causing most of the mayhem. I have faith the Americans will leave when security permits.
3. The Americans seem to be taking Iraq very seriously. What is your point. The results are indeed uncertain, but conditions have already demonstrably improved in both Iraq and for democrats throughout the Middle east. Over a longer period of time living standards and life expectancy will rise to normal levels.

just answer this question - Why should soveriegnty be more sacrosanct than basic human rights?
The rest is just fluff

Psycho Milt said...

Because the alternative is going back to war as diplomacy by other means. Basic human rights would amount to more than sovereignty if we could trust powerful nations to do the right thing - but we can't. Powerful nations act in their own interests, not out of an altruistic desire to promote democracy. The USA is no different from any other country in this respect. As an example, suppose the Soviet Union had decided it was important to depose dictators in Central America back in the early '80s and and had sent over a large invasion force. No matter how altruistic the motive, the net outcome would have been that all of us left alive would be glowing in the dark.

1. France and Italy won democracy for themselves in the 18th and 19th centuries. If Kosovo ever becomes anything but an unpleasant mess it will surprise everyone involved. Japan is perhaps an example, given that they weren't a democracy already, but then the Japanese are unlike everyone else in so many ways it's hard to count.

2. Absolutely. I can only hope that the invasion does eventually have a good outcome, in that the Iraqis who do see it as a golden opportunity to bring democracy in manage to beat the ones who prefer to take up arms against the invaders. But that outcome would owe as much to luck as good management.

3. What is my point? My point is that when you start a war you're throwing the dice, and gambling other people's lives on the result. Even worse, if you go into it drastically underestimating the capability of your enemy, as Hitler did in Barbarossa, you can make a lot of trouble for yourself - as Bush has done in Iraq. Bush's motives may be positively noble in comparison to Hitler's, but they both made the same mistake, and ended up spending years on a war that they figured would take weeks. It might well turn out that Bush's crap shoot comes up "stable democracy" when the dice stop rolling, but a lot of people will have died in the process and it could still come up "theocracy", "civil war", "failed state", or "military dictatorship". That was foreseeable before the war started and it's exactly why potential crap shooters should think carefully before doing it. But on a positive note at least Bush, unlike Hitler, won't see his crap shoot coming up "best shoot yourself now before they break the bunker door down".

sagenz said...

So if you see a woman across the street being beaten up by someone who is obviously their partner and you have the power to intervene, should you?
Before you try to rebut with the obvious "assault is against the law" - not in all countries. This is a basic moral question. At what point does basic human decency override the legitimate desire to avoid violence.

Psycho Milt said...

I'm not a pacifist sagenz, no chance of me bleating about assault being against the law. I don't think your analogy's a good one, because it doesn't take into account that a powerful country has strategic interests, which don't really come into play for a person witnessing a domestic dispute.

I think this is a better analogy. You see a woman across the street being beaten up by their husband, and you go over and put a bullet through his head. But it turns out you have some interests best served by the guy being dead, you plan to take responsibility for the woman and see to it that she turns her life around to how you think she should be living it before you'll let her make decisions for herself again, and the cleanup crew for body disposal is run by your friends at taxpayer expense. I'd say, don't expect to be universally regarded as an unambiguous hero.

sagenz said...

and the problem with a bullet through saddam's head would be?

seriously though - we get somewhere in between the 2 analogies, both of which are simplistic. saddam has not yet had a bullet in the head but use your terms. Knowing that you will be accused of corruption is it still worth it?

are you really saying it is better to avoid criticism of acting for the wrong motives by doing nothing?

Clinton achieved that in rwanda and 800,000 people died.

Psycho Milt said...

I guess apologies are due to Span for using this thread like a personal discussion forum, given that we both have our own blogs(!). But she hasn't complained, so:

The thing about Clinton is something else I can't figure out. Everyone lays the blame for Rwanda at his door as though the USA is some kind of Armed Offenders Squad that didn't respond to a call-out. Like Yugoslavia, Rwanda is surrounded by other countries on a continent not short of resources. If Rwanda is in trouble, the points of contact are:
1. its neighbours
2. other African states
3. the United Nations
in that order. The USA does not appear on the list.

I have to answer your question with a question, sorry: is it a good idea to invade another country using the pretext of acting to help them when you're in fact simply pursuing your own interests, knowing full well that other powerful countries like Russia or China might figure it's a good trick and try the same thing themselves at some point?

Span said...

nope, no complaints from me, it is interesting to read your debate!

sagenz said...

thanks span - I was wondering the same thing myself.

The UN is no more than the sum of its parts. The Tsunami reaction is a case in point. it was real live australian and then american military forces that reacted with actual help. UN bureaucrats then arrived later with press conferences.
Blair pushed the US to do something on Kosovo despite there being no US strategic interest.
imho the right decision was made on Kosovo and the wrong one on Rwanda.

Recognise the reality of power. If it is used in a morally reasonable way to bring peace food democracy then surely it is a good thing.
Russia & China misuse their power anyway. Tibet? This is where I have such a problem with the anti war attitudes. By being so vociferously anti war and anti succour to the oppressed you provide the real dictators with imagined justification for really oppressive actions. There is just no real moral comparison between the actions of the US in bringing democracy to Iraq and the likes of tibet.
But people are anti the neo conservative actions because of the people like Bush/Cheney/rumsfeld who are leading them. examine the action rather than the motivation. Iraq is free of an oppressive dictator.

btw. not sure why neighbours do not have even more of a vested interest than the worlds leading democratic power in achieving security.

Psycho Milt said...

I think I do recognise the reality of power. That's why I think starting a war isn't using power in a morally responsible way to bring peace, food and democracy - instead, it's staking people's lives on a throw of the dice that maybe will come up peace, food and democracy, or maybe will come up any one of a number of even more unpleasant situations than we had before. It could well turn out that the Americans do manage to bring peace, stability, democracy and wealth to Iraq, and I hope they do, and no doubt if that happens there'll be much gloating on right-wing blogs about those of us who thought the invasion was a bad idea. Which would of course be the same kind of gloating a gambler indulges in when, having bet his last dollar, the dice come up 7.

sagenz said...

I think that is where we agree to differ. It starts to get circular. I think the moral imperative is to act against tyranny in the same way as a policeman or a citizen has an obligation to protect an individual from violence and you think that soveriegnty/not starting wars trumps acting against tyranny. Different value judgements.
I wont be gloating but I will be arguing that the long run example justifies more robust action on the likes of Zimbabwe & North Korea.
an interesting discussion, thank you and thanks span for the forum.

Span said...

the thing is if military intervention is justified where do you stop? it seems to me that the main criteria for intervention (read: invasion) by the USA are:
1. current political situation is endangering US economic interests directly (i.e. oil in Iraq)
2. there is a publicly palatable reason eg WMD, current despotic dictator, etc
Both, not either, must be satisfied.

There ought to be a better set of criteria than that, if intervention is to be a tool for improving the world (even if it's by the UN).

no worries about the forum - i never would have thought that a post about the wonders of Viggo Moretensen would be amongst my most controversial of the year!

maps said...

What's perhaps most striking here is the level of agreement between the liberal left, represented by span and psychomilk, and the hard right, represented by the misnamed sage.

You appear to differ not over the question of imperialism, but over the conditions under which it's acceptable for imperialism to intervene in countries like Iraq.

Span said...


actually maps I was trying to point out that military intervention is a slippery slope, regardless of the "justification".

i can't imagine any criteria which could be applied fairly, and i'm far from convinced that some kind of "GloboCop" approach, by the UN or the US or anyone, would be a good idea.

perhaps before you accuse me of being an imperialist you could actually read my comment properly?

Anonymous said...

one of the major issues with sage is his idealism. He constantly uses the term 'moral' - morally reasonable way to bring peace food democracy - the moral imperative is to act against tyranny - et al.

it's very sweet and all, but exactly how slowly does it need to be said to you sage before you realise that US intervention in Iraq is not based on 'moral considerations' ?

30 000 civilian deaths so the Americans can set up a satellite state in the middle east is not a moral consideration. It is greed and arrogance. There is enough information out there on the web for you to learn this yourself sage, otherwise you should consider changing your name. Could I suggest 'headinthesand' ?


maps said...

'i'm far from convinced that some kind of "GloboCop" approach, by the UN or the US or anyone, would be a good idea.'

Except in the Solomons, East Timor, and Bougainville, for starters? Without exception, Alliance members that I have spoken to have favoured those globocop interventions, on the grounds that they were examples of imperialist powers acting in a moral manner.

There really is no qualitative difference between the arguments deployed by these Alliance members, and by Green MPs like Keith Locke, and the arguments of sage. Or is there?

sagenz said...

maps - i agree with your last comment. which is as much a suprise to me as you. there is no qualitative difference. the difference is the political acceptability of the US actions. The Iraq war was not politically palatable because it was the US not because people really thought saddam should not be removed. I have no problem with "Globocop". It would be nicer if it was formed of democratic nations with military force but the US carries the can. C'est la vie

Tim - how slowly do I have to say the US did not spend $200bn and bring democratic elections to get their hands on $15bn annually of oil. If you believe that you really are stupid. Read the thread. It really is about their own security. They are bright enough to realise jihadism will only be stopped by making prosperous democracies. If they buy oil from a prosperous independent democratic Iraq in 15 years time Bush et al will have achieved their aims. how hard is that to understand. they fought a 50 year cold war ffs.

Psycho Milt said...

Cheers Maps. I could get irate about being called "liberal left" if it wasn't coming from someone who uses words like "imperialism". Here's a tip - the world won't let itself be summed up by an ideology, no matter how much you'd like it to.

Yes, I do happen to think there is a qualitative difference between capitalist democracies and third world dictatorships, religious nutjob theocracies or tribal soups. Marx thought so too, as I recall - in the progress of history, capitalist democracies are the peak, until socialism replaces them. But personally I don't feel like I need Marxist theory to back me up on the superiority of the Western democracies to shitholes like Iraq, Sudan or North Korea - lots of people are already voting with their feet. Contempt for democracy is real easy when you're living in one - I'm not, and boy do you gain a whole new respect for Western Imperialism under those circumstances.

maps said...

The liberal left dream of harnessing imperialism (usually via the UN) and using it to reform impoverished tyrannies of the Third World into social democratic paradises will always fail, because the relative democracy and prosperity of the First World is built upon the impoverishment of the Third World. You can't have one without the other.

Imperialism exists by superexploiting the Third World, and, when put under pressure, it is able to bribe its own working classes at home with a welfare state and higher wages with a portion of its superprofits. These bribes ensure a certain political stability.

In the Third World, there are no such goodies on offer, because government is able to recoup so little of the wealth that flows out of economies hopelessly dominated by foreign capital. For this reason, democracy is difficult to maintain - people use their democratic rights to organise and demand reforms which simply cannot be given. Even defensive struggles, like the struggles against the privatisation of water and gas in Bolivia in recent years, can quickly provoke revolutionary crises of the whole system, crises which can usually only be contained by the cessation of democratic rights and massive repression.

The only Third World countries which have been able to provide decently for their people have been the ones which have expropriated the property of imperialists and abolished the 'free' market. Cuba, which is virtually the only Third World country with First World standards of health care, is the outstanding example (though the undemocratic nature of the country's political system must be acknowledged). Venezuela is developing into another example.

The liberal leftists of the First World are like the liberal Christian missionaries of the nineteenth century - they wring their hands at the abuses of imperialism, then try diligently to implement a kinder, gentler imperialism, which invariably turns out to be far from kind and gentle in practice.

In Australasia, the liberal left has in the last few years played a crucial, perhaps even indispensable, role in the rehabilitation of the ideology of militarism and imperialism, which had taken a heavy blow after the defeat of the US and its allies in Indochina in the 1970s.

The Australian political establishment marvelled at the way that the 'intervention' in East Timor in 1999 'made the country feel good about its military again', opening up the possibility of new deployments farther afield.

The backing of the left for the intervention convinced many people that it couldn't really be motivated by the same old imperialist interests behind the wars of the 60s and 70s. The 'humanitarian' arguments for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were developed in the 1990s by the liberal left, and playtested in East Timor.

Since then, the liberal left has championed the extension of aggressive interventionism to the Pacific, by championing the imposition of neo-liberalism at the point of a gun in the Solomons.

The Solomons invasion was motivated by a desire to defend imperialist economic interests, maintain a collapsing IMF programme of 'reforms', and prevent the extension of French influence in the Pacific. It also provides a blueprint for the Iraq-style recolonisation of the entire Pacific. 'About time' was Australian Green leader Bob Brown's reaction to the landing of Australian troops. Draw your own conclusions.

maps said...

When psycho milt claims that Marx thought that capitalist democracy was the highest stage of human development short of socialism, and a stage that all societies had to pass through, he is perpetuating a very old myth.

I deal with the history of this myth, and with the way that it has been used to defend every imperialist war since the nineteenth century, up to and including the Iraq disaster, in my essay 'This is a socialist war' in the latest issue of 'Red and Green'.

But here's a quote from the hairy guy himself, from one of the last things he wrote, the preface to the 1882 Russian edition of the Communist Manifesto:

'in Russia we find, face-to-face with the rapidly flowering capitalist swindle and bourgeois property, just beginning to develop, more than half the land owned in common by the peasants. Now the question is: can the Russian obshchina, though greatly undermined, yet a form of primeval common ownership of land, pass directly to the higher form of Communist common ownership? Or, on the contrary, must it first pass through the same process of dissolution such as constitutes the historical evolution of the West?

The only answer to that possible today is this: If the Russian Revolution becomes the signal for a proletarian revolution in the West, so that both complement each other, the present Russian common ownership of land may serve as the starting point for a communist development.'

What Marx is saying here is that Russia and other 'backward' countries do not necessarily need to go through a stage of capitalist development before it becomes socialist. (A similar argument was of course put forward by lenin and Trotsky in 1917.)

To say otherwise is to condemn the peoples of these countries to the horrors of capitalist development in the name of some historical 'necessity' (and indeed, many leftists in NZ have tried to do this, by using a misreading of Marx to justify the expropriation of the Maori people in the 1860s and 70s as historically necessary and progressive).

Psycho Milt said...

Well, I figured you'd ignore the tip about the world refusing to be summed up by an ideology...

I'll also skip the fact that you seem to have been too busy filtering my arguments through Marxist dogma to actually note what they were saying, because there are a couple of other points in your comments too interesting to pass up:

1. Cuba. It's a criticism often made of Nazi Germany that the people of Germany were willing to put the material comfort that Nazism brought them ahead of basic human freedoms - they gave up their freedoms in exchange for airships, autobahns, full employment and Kraft durch Freude vacations. Socialists are generally pretty contemptuous of this kind of thing - except in the case of Cuba, where the lack of any basic human freedoms can be set against universal health care and found good. Fetch a bucket!

2. Capitalist democracy as the highest yet-achieved form of society. Unlike Maps, I think of Karl Marx as just a clever bloke with some good insights into the nature of capitalism, not some kind of Prophet. Unfortunately, Marx was an incurable optimist when it came to socialism being just around the corner, and his view of the prospects for socialist revolution in Russia reflect that. That he was wrong in this case is obvious to anyone but his disciples - consider for a moment for instance, whether the murderous peasant dictatorships established in Marx' name in Russia, China and Cambodia could be considered preferable to "...condemn[ing] the peoples of these countries to the horrors of capitalist development..." Duh-uh - gee, I dunno, what do you think?

maps said...

Cuba as Nazi Germany and Lenin as Pol Pot? Is this psycho milt or sagenz talking? Difficult to tell the difference, isn't it?

sagenz said...

maps, I am trying to determine whether you are an elaborate parody or you really believe what you are writing. South Korea, Taiwan, Israel, singapore, would be examples of countries successfully embracing capitalist democracy and raising their living standards over the course of decades. I would do a little more research and give it more thought but frankly have seen what stalin and communism achieved and think your arguments for socialism/communism are akin to arguing the earth is flat.
I hope you are not psychologically scarred Milt by being compared to a wing nut idealist such as myself.

Psycho Milt said...

No worries - frankly sagenz, I have no idea what I am any more - clearly Maps hasn't either. I've been reduced to "I know a lot about politics and I know what I don't like". Letting an ideology rule your life is one of those things I don't like.

Just to put me even more thoroughly in the "lapsed Marxist" camp - there should be no doubt for any modern Marxist that Lenin utterly betrayed socialism by overthrowing the democratic capitalist govt that was due to take over in Russia, given that by doing so he instituted one of the most murderous tyrannies ever seen, one that killed interest in socialism in every country where people valued their freedom, and damn near brought about the end of Western civilisation (of which Marx was a part and socialism was meant to become a part, before anyone starts prating about imperialism again).

PS - just a reminder Span, anytime you want to say "Isn't it time you stopped drinking and went home Milt?", I won't play the belligerent drunk with you. I'm a chronic outstayer of welcomes...