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January 14, 2007

Right On, Henry Miller

I've been watching Reds, which finally came out on DVD. It's beautifully made and completely absorbing, although for complex reasons it also makes me want to punch Warren Beatty in the face.

In any case, one of the "witnesses," Henry Miller, says one of my favorite things ever right at the beginning:

A guy who's always interested in the condition of the world, and changing it, either has no problems of his own, or refuses to face them...not wanting to face things of his own nature.

In my experience of politically-obsessed people, I'd say THAT'S TRUE 100%.

Posted at January 14, 2007 10:58 PM | TrackBack

I saw Reds a month ago and that same comment jumped out! Funnily enough, I saw McCabe And Mrs Miller yesterday, and that's what made me want to punch Warren Beatty in the face...

Posted by: fluxisrad at January 15, 2007 12:17 AM

Henry Miller is probably right. I wouldn't know about 100 percent obsessed people, but I have noticed a warm self-righteous glow in myself when I condemn the crimes of others which is probably related to what he is talking about.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at January 15, 2007 09:35 AM

I'm about half-way through Antonio Banderas' "Benito" -- a mini-series docudrama made for Italian TV based on Benito Mussolini's early days as a socialist street politician. It's a bit cheesy. It almost feels like a remake of "Reds". There are the same party meetings with long-winded speeches about the proletariat, banners and singings of The International. And then there's the love-making.
At that time Benito was deadset against the priests, the oligarchs, the arms manufacturers. He had a special disdain for 'Republicans' and 'Reformers', both of whom were too milquetoast/accomodationist for his taste. When Italy declared war Vs. Turkey in 1911 and landed troops in Tripoli, Mussolini got thrown in jail for leading a violent protest at an army induction center.
I haven't gotten to the part where he sells out to the monied interests, shaves his head and calls for a revived Roman Empire. I guess that's still coming.

Posted by: Lloyd at January 15, 2007 10:23 AM

How does one explain a Gandhi or a King then? They too were interested in changing the world, can we fault them for lacking introspection when they have been models of people who changed the world for the better?

Posted by: En Ming Hee at January 15, 2007 11:54 AM

En Ming Hee: I'm not aware that either King or Ghandi tried to foist their personal problems, whatever they were, on the world at large. Being human, one assumes they had and from time to time wrestled with such problems.

Bush, on the other hand, doesn't seem to recognize that he has any problems, and therefore doesn't appreciate that they are huge. Nor does he give a damn; as a result, we stand at the brink, as the Atomic Scientists will confirm this coming Wednesday as the clock will surely be spun forward.

Posted by: Jesus B. Ochoa at January 15, 2007 12:52 PM

Yes, En Ming Hee, I'm not sure that this is always true. The difference might lay in whether or not one is devoted to doing something about the world's problems, in which case they would become one's own.

However, I would say that this is always true:

A guy who's always interested in the moral failure of the world, and changing not wanting to face his own.

Posted by: New Day at January 15, 2007 01:05 PM

1. Does such a creature exist, one without problems of his/her own?
2. With "lesders," we usually find out after they've assumed the role of leader what urges are at work within. Who could tell of Hitler's destructive and self-destructive pact with the German people and the repressive, sado-masochistic longings that drove him and his people into their "revolution of nihilism?"
3. Is the obsession with politics the same as an obsession with power? I think, much of the time, that is so, but it is hard often to relate it to the individual driving for power.
4. Miller was right, but it is dicey to translate his insight into analysis of politics or statecraft. (Too little craft, too much graft.)
5. As for American political obsessions, they are so petty. In the absence of a political philosophy, what we've got is obsession about personalities and the use of these peronalities to gain power and wealth. Our politics are thoroughly corporatist, as is much of our public life.
Where to go from there, or how to change it, I don't know. Take a look at the story on p.1 of today's NYT--ads everywhere in public spaces.
What did Earl Shorris call us--"A Nation of Salesmen?" Yup.

Posted by: donescobar at January 15, 2007 01:49 PM

typo: leaders

Posted by: donescobar at January 15, 2007 01:50 PM

On the other side of the coin: There are people of no discernable conviction -- Clinton comes to mind -- for whom human lives can be expended when political expediency suggests that it's advantageous (Waco, Iraq, Kosovo).
So here we are. Stuck between the True Believers and the sociopaths.

Posted by: Lloyd at January 15, 2007 03:34 PM

And there is, at least for me, that strange bird called LBJ. Were those funny-looking yellow and brown short people really people to him? Yet, a relatively benign "true believer" at home. A power broker with half a heart?

Posted by: donescobar at January 15, 2007 03:46 PM

Oh, so the Miller quote is meant to refer to Bush? Uh, hello, the guy has never fully recovered from his alcoholism, he seems weirdly unable or unwilling to resist sudden urges to touch people... he sure doesn't seem like someone with no problems of he own.

Maybe it would help if I watched the movie, got a sense of the context.

Posted by: atheist at January 15, 2007 04:23 PM

i don't get it: either you're interested in facing your own problems OR you're interested in facing the world's problems and ignoring your own?

sounds like a false dichotomy to me. isn't it possible to face _both_ one's inner problems and those of the world? can't both be rooted in a common cause sometimes?

it all comes across as pro-establishment propaganda to me: effectively, any concerns beyond one's own immediate self are being proclaimed unhealthy.

Posted by: David B. at January 15, 2007 06:13 PM

Nah, it's just bullshit to piss on some (*isms).

Right wing capitalist/fascist propaganda: "Everybody is selfish... It's human nature, therefor, people who aren't selfish, who face the problem of the world are just full of bullshit and mental disorders, because Capitalism and Selfishness are uber-cool and great! Have a Coke!"

Almost in every instance "problems of the world" translate into problems of the poor and oppressed. There's no shortage of bullshit fascist propaganda to demolish any attempt at social justice.

Posted by: at January 16, 2007 05:15 AM