Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Fifty-One Percent

I take a fair degree of crap, (along with constructive criticism, not the same thing) here on the interweb and elsewhere, for taking a negative view of humanity as a whole. Some would even go so far as to use the term "elitist," which (when applied as a negative) used to be an insult meaning "guy who thinks he's better than everyone else" but now tends to be an insult meaning "guy who thinks." To be frank, for the most part I can live with either one. I'm far less fond of the various permutations of "hypocrite;" more specifically the question of how a blogger who calls himself a Patriot and plasters a giant American flag at the top of his page can be so "down on" his fellow countrymen vis-a-vi their various voting and filmgoing habits - i.e. the opening paragraphs of THIS review: http://moviebob.blogspot.com/2007/11/review-mist.html

Now, my normal inclination would be to point out that that's essentially the same thing as asking "how can someone who claims to love hamburgers hate McDonalds?," but since I've got a fairly juicy bit of objective evidence for my discontent to present shortly I'll entertain the query and offer the best answer I've got: I love America because of the ideals it represents, was founded on and on it's better days actually lives up to. Go actually READ the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Seriously. Then read up on the guys responsible for it on the intellectual side. Read Jefferson. Read Franklin. Hell, want to mainline the good stuff? Read up on Thomas Paine, the guy who helped inspire those fellas. Within all that, the basic fundamental greatness of America is revealed: America is great because there IS an "I" in it - because all of the then-revolutionary ideas in this nation's inception grew out of a STILL-radical notion that the protection of the rights and freedoms of The Individual were of paramount importance.

That, I'd posit - with only the sum total of human history to back me up - is the reason WHY this country works and indeed works so well: Placing primacy on the individual encourages... DEMANDS, in fact... that said individuals live up to the label, i.e. that they be capable of free thought, independent reasoning and possess a reasonable degreee self-sufficiency. This is how we manage to weather things like Civil Wars, Depressions and mentally-deficient leadership better than most other large-scale nations: A society that derives it's strength from collectivism (see: Imperial Rome, the Middle East NOW, the Soviet Union) can be devastated simply by striking the "weakest link," while a society largely comprised of individuals capable of independent thought and strength can endure through major 'wounds' because the fates of all AREN'T all bound together.

Individualism, of course, has it's drawbacks; chiefly that it's HARD. Making your own decisions, living with them, having to offer folks you don't agree with the courtesy of coexistance... these aren't easy tasks. Not everyone is up to them. Some would rather sacrifice liberty and individuality for an easier route... a "greater good." They would prefer that a State - or perhaps a Church, or a Dictator - simply tell everyone exactly what they are and are not allowed to do or say or think, thus taking the terrible burden of decision-making and responsibility off of them. There're a lot of words, historically, to describe such people; but I prefer the most direct: They are weak, and they are COWARDS.

In our current world, the greatest illustration of this basic conflict comes on the question of Government Censorship - because it cuts to the very heart of the question: Do you have the fortitude to be an individual where living in a free society means having to frequently endure the doing and saying of things you find distasteful in order to ensure that YOU may do and say things others find distasteful? Or are you weak in mind and spirit, and thus willing to not only discard your freedom but steal the freedom of others in exchange for a more "mellow" state of things? Do you want expression to be free and unfettered, accepting the "Survival of the Fittest" prolonged slugfest that comes from such? Or do you want expression to be controlled by The State in order to avoid any feathers getting ruffled or tummies being made upset? Just about every great "social issue" of our time comes down to that essential pair of choices.

Now, then. The reason I tend to get so down on "the folks" sharing America with me is that, looking at the broad societal trends of our time, I can seldom escape the mounting dread that Americans in that first category, i.e. the folks who actually value freedom, was slipping into the minority. It's a fast-paced, scary world, and that tends to make people wobbly and more eager to throw freedom away in order to feel safe or pretend to right some percieved wrong. But I never had a hard number to attach these impressions to.

Until today.

"The Escapist," the really wonderful online Video Game news organization currently best-known for hosting the brilliant "Yahtzee" Croshaw's "Zero Punctuation" game reviews (http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/editorials/zeropunctuation), carried with it a poll by the Opinion Research Corporation regarding how American's were feeling about the idea of the Government stepping in to regulate violent/explicit video games. Lots of numbers in there, but here's the big one: 51% of those surveyed "believed the government should be regulating the actual content of the games." Not just the SALE of the items, or the application of a rating system. 51% of Americans, apparently, want the Government telling artists what they can and cannot put in their work.

You can see it HERE:
http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/79582-New-Survey-Shows-Majority-of-Americans-Want-Government-Regulation-of-Games

51%. A margin wide enough to win an election. 51% of Americans do not want to be free, and do not want others to be free. 51% of Americans want The Government to curtail individual rights, the very foundation of our country, in order to make them feel safer and comfier. Because they are weak. Because they are cowards. Because they don't have the spine to deal with making their own decisions. They want the Government to do it for them, and for you.

In other words, folks, 51% of Americans have no business calling themselves "Americans."

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Your point of view is interesting considering it's a bit of a paradox as it relates to your opening paragraph.

Your thesis question would seem to be why you consider yourself a proud American when you decry the viewing habits of other Americans as you did in your previous review of the the Mist.

You proceed to make a detailed speech about the rights of the individual being a cornerstone of the American way of life.

If that's so and you support that concept, isn't it slightly hypocritical to condemn, even if it's only in a printed opinion, the viewing choices of others because they don't follow your own? If a group of individual people decide they don't want to see a horror movie like the Mist and would rather see Transformers or a Tyler Perry movie or This Christmas or so forth, aren't they exercising the very virtue that you hold dear: to make their own choice about what they consider entertainment?

As for your video game poll, consider the following:

A: Public opinion polls are not always accurate. The polling methodology would need to be determined, particularly if it's an online poll as those can be easily manipulated, just as a large blocks of calls to the FCC often come from the same place.

B: Consider the words of the Miranda warning: "should you choose to give up this right..." Giving up one's rights can be an individual's choice as well.

C: Perhaps the issue isn't one of extremes. Freedom and order are a matter of constant compromise to find the happy medium. Freedom of speech itself isn't absolute or there would be no such crime as slander. There are always degrees. I think it's a rather narrow and extremist view to consider that anyone who disagrees with your view of absolute freedom as cowards.

One could argue that the establishment of a government itself is in many ways a surrendering of some rights and decision-making for this dreaded 'greater good' of which you speak. If we lived according to completely individual conceptions of freedom, we'd have chaos, but we knowingly accept some definitions in the form of laws to keep society in one piece. Wouldn't this indict the entire political system of elected representation and therefore imply their entire American population are cowards by your definition?

Bob said...

anonymous:
"If that's so and you support that concept, isn't it slightly hypocritical to condemn, even if it's only in a printed opinion, the viewing choices of others because they don't follow your own?"

Not at all. "Others" are free as individuals to their viewing choices, and I'M free to "condemn" them for it. The only "hypocrisy" would be if I started demanding that their right to choose their entertainmnets be taken away by force of law because they don't agree with mine - which I have not nor will I ever do.

"If a group of individual people decide they don't want to see a horror movie like the Mist and would rather see Transformers or a Tyler Perry movie or This Christmas or so forth, aren't they exercising the very virtue that you hold dear: to make their own choice about what they consider entertainment?"

They most certainly are. And I'm exercising that virtue right back by offering the opinion that they're dumbasses. AND they're free to call ME anything they want in retort, or not, or whatever. God Bless America ;)

"I think it's a rather narrow and extremist view to consider that anyone who disagrees with your view of absolute freedom as cowards."

It's not the DISAGREEMENT that makes them cowards, (the disagreement merely makes them wrong ;) ), it's the ACTION of handing over control of one's life to The State in exchange for what amounts to a blankie.

Frankly, I think I'm doing them an extraordinary generosity by presuming cowardice. Wanting Big Brother to take over all the hard decisions because you're afraid of doing it yourself is at least an understandable (if not especially attractive) psychological reaction. But if it ISN'T fear or weakness? Well, then it would mean that they want The State to run everything and individuality to be held in check because they simply think it's a good way to do things. That'd make them FASCISTS. "Coward" is giving them the benefit of the doubt.

"One could argue that the establishment of a government itself is in many ways a surrendering of some rights and decision-making for this dreaded 'greater good' of which you speak."

Ours is a representative Government, which means that even the leaders are themselves individuals, elected by individuals. What's more, if the voters do not LIKE their chosen representation, they are free to vote in a subsequent election (or even sooner, as recently seen in California) or even run themselves in order to affect change. Is it a perfect system? Of course not, and even today it could certainly stand to become LESS intrusive into individual liberty - but it's the best anyone's managed to do so far and still the best way to preserve freedom... at least for the 49% of us who still WANT it to be preserved.

Nancy said...

"Well, then it would mean that they want The State to run everything and individuality to be held in check because they simply think it's a good way to do things. That'd make them FASCISTS. "Coward" is giving them the benefit of the doubt."

You've got a bit of a problem with your presentation. As philosopher Daniel Dennett said "There's nothing I like less than bad arguments for a view that I hold dear." While I think the previous poster drew some dumb parallels and I do think censorship is a slippery slope, when you get on a high horse and start labelling people as fascist, stupid, and hating freedom, I think you not only dangerously simplify things like Bush ("They hate our freedom") but you sound like a bit of a arrogant, self-important, judgmental prick.

Almost as much as at the start of your review of the mist (which I didn't think was a great movie... does that mean I will be abandoned by the league of movie geeks when they travel to their island?)

Bob said...

"While I think the previous poster drew some dumb parallels and I do think censorship is a slippery slope, when you get on a high horse and start labelling people as fascist, stupid, and hating freedom, I think you not only dangerously simplify things like Bush ("They hate our freedom") but you sound like a bit of a arrogant, self-important, judgmental prick."

Firstly, there's no "sound like a bit of" about it: When it comes to this, I am - in full self awareness - arrogant, self-important, judgmental and a HUGE prick. ALL of which would be unforgivable... if I didn't also happen to be RIGHT ;)

Secondly, I don't throw terms like "fascist" around frivolously. Words are my weapons, and I use them with GREAT care. So, then, from the Free Online Dictionary's thesaurus:

Noun 1. fascism - a political theory advocating an authoritarian hierarchical government (as opposed to democracy or liberalism)

So, then. The curtailing of Individual Rights and Freedoms are, I don't think anyone would argue, a defining characteristic of an Authoritarian, Heirarchical Government. If such a Government is accurately defined as "Fascist," then those who would advocate for it's implementation can indeed be described, as a matter of language, as Fascists.

Which is FINE, really. You can BE a Fascist, or a Socialist, or a Statist or any of a hundred other failed, fundamentally-flawed anti-individual political philosophies. Just don't think you can try to take MY rights and freedoms away and not have me call you on it.

Nancy said...

So how come you're not as strenously arguing for the legalization of marijuana as I do?
That's a individual freedom that's denied due to the decisions of others.

Or for that matter, why aren't you arguing for the civil rights of prisoners in Cuba? Or about the provisions of the Patriot Act? Don't the implications of those affect the rights of people as much if not more than restrictions on video games?

Also, you pointed out a majority of people supported government regulation of games, enough to win a vote. If it were put on a referendum and a majority supported it, wouldn't that be a democratic measure, just as much as any refendum question is? And if it's democratic, by what you just quoted from:

fascism - a political theory advocating an authoritarian hierarchical government (as opposed to democracy or liberalism)

...it wouldn't be fascism. Mussolini himself stated that Fascism is opposed to any form of democracy that equates a nation to the majority because it reduces fascism to control by the larger number rather than the central will of man. And he coined the term itself.

Bob said...

Nancy:
"So how come you're not as strenously arguing for the legalization of marijuana as I do?
That's a individual freedom that's denied due to the decisions of others.


Or for that matter, why aren't you arguing for the civil rights of prisoners in Cuba? Or about the provisions of the Patriot Act? Don't the implications of those affect the rights of people as much if not more than restrictions on video games?"

Well, for starters this is a movies/geek-culture blog, so those two topics don't really enter the spectrum around here as often as movie protests and video-game censorship do. It's a bit presumptuous of you to assume that, because you don't see me posting about them here I have no opinion on these matters... or that I'm not in favor of them... or whatever your point is because, I'll be honest, I'm a little lost on where you're going with this.

For the record, to the first item: I'm not only in favor legalizing marijuana (as a basic, logical extension of the primacy of Individual Rights) I'd opt to legalize ALL narcotic substances. People have the right to do whatever they want to with their own bodies - with the understanding that A.) Not I nor anyone else is obliged to pay to "clean you up" and B.) If you ABUSE that freedom, screw up and hurt someone who's NOT you you're responsible... as in life-in-jail responsible (remember, there'll be PLENTY of room, since no one getting locked up for using/dealing anymore.)

As to the second item: Really, now. Read back over this thread. How much love do you think I have for The Patriot Act? Or freaking Castro?

"Also, you pointed out a majority of people supported government regulation of games, enough to win a vote. If it were put on a referendum and a majority supported it, wouldn't that be a democratic measure, just as much as any refendum question is?"

Just having been voted on democratically doesn't automatically make something democratic. I'll bend my own rule about not going to this example in a debate and point out that Hitler was the democratically elected leader of Nazi Germany. You yourself brought up the Patriot Act, backed by the democratically-elected President and passed by a democratic-vote by a democratically-elected Senate. Do YOU find The Act to be especially democratic?

One of the chief "bugs" in the system of Democracy is that it can be easily used to vote itself out of existance; which is why it's always dangerous when a Democratic society begins to grow stupid and/or lazy - which has most-definately happened to us.

Nancy said...

Well, for starters this is a movies/geek-culture blog, so those two topics don't really enter the spectrum around here as often as movie protests and video-game censorship do.

If that's so, why all the posts about Coulter and Ahmadinejad? Those don't seem to have shit to do with movies or games.

I'm not presuming your views. I'd certainly hope you don't support the Patriot Act. My point is that for someone who seems so concerned about encroaching tyranny, there are other more important factors going on that I'd think would be worth mentioning... certainly worthy enough if Ahmadinejad's visit is worth a blog.

And who brought up Castro? I'm talking about the Guantanamo Bay prisoners. I'm sure they're all verrrry concerned about our video games over there.

Bob said...

nancy:
"If that's so, why all the posts about Coulter and Ahmadinejad? Those don't seem to have shit to do with movies or games."

Because while I TRY to stay on-topic as much as possible, at the end of the day it's finally MY blog, and I'm going to post whatever I feel like posting; i.e. if I decide that the trailer for "Machine Girl" is more deserving of my blog's space than a written essay on the destroyed CIA tapes of the Zubaydah interrogation - then it is. If you feel so strongly that there are issues not getting adequate coverage, perhaps you ought to post about them on yours instead of demanding to know why I'm not?

"My point is that for someone who seems so concerned about encroaching tyranny, there are other more important factors going on that I'd think would be worth mentioning..."

Short answer: See above. Longer answer: "Tyranny" doesn't happen overnight. You don't go to bed in a free society and wake up to the sudden arrival of brownshirts and goose-steps. It starts small, then grows by incriments. If you tell The State that it's now okay for it to regulate entertainment and art to protect us from "dangerous" imagery, how long before it becomes okay to start protecting us from "dangerous" political ideas, and how long after that before it's the artists THEMSELVES who start dissapearing? An inch given is a mile to be taken.

If everyone in this country took the proper degree of OUTRAGE with the very idea of ANY art-censorship, no administration or party would even think about pulling stuff like the Patriot Act. But the weaklings and the cowards give and give on the "little things," and then have the nerve to act SURPRISED when the fences and walls start going up.

"And who brought up Castro? I'm talking about the Guantanamo Bay prisoners. I'm sure they're all verrrry concerned about our video games over there."

Well, then you should've specified. In a discussion about the oppression of individual civil rights by a government, someone mentions Cuba I kinda naturally assume we're talking about the rather large part of Cuba with the Socialist Dictator who crushes all dissent, murders his political opponents and brutalizes his people all in the name of a political ideology specifically devoted to the idea of restricting individuality.

But that's me. YOU, apparently, were talking about the rather small part of Cuba currently being used as a prison for terrorism suspects and foriegn enemy combatants by the U.S. You had me confused, because you brought up their "Civil Rights." And the thing about that is... "civil rights" doesn't really enter into that discussion. "Civil Rights" are, by all legal definitions, rights you get by virtue of CITIZENSHIP in a given nation or other soveriegn territory. The Gitmo prisoners, by and large, are foriegn nationals captured in the field as enemy combatants and being held as such. As they are not also citizens of the nation holding them, they do not HAVE any "civil rights" in their present situation. What they have are HUMAN rights, an entirely different set of standards from the "civil" kind.