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The Con’s on David Mamet
Posted on Aug 18, 2011
Mamet occasionally poses thought experiments too, like his musing about potential moral implications of the interplay between the id, ego and superego, which starts off OK, but becomes almost surreal as he connects and equates becoming a Nazi with swallowing whole the political messages of MoveOn.org. Some people are followers and don’t think for themselves. What’s more, identification politics is easier than carving out your own opinions based on the facts. That’s laziness, not Nazism. Speaking of laziness, resorting to Nazis in moral argument is just that, and pretty much lacking in punch at this point since it’s been connected to every group in America.
Mamet bombs his book with so many gross generalizations about the left that it’s laughable, but not in a good way. It’s hard to take a guy seriously who is dead serious that cumbersome politically correct behavior, like giving equal space in books to pronouns for both genders, is ruining our culture. Silly yes, but ruinous? (There are very few recognizable Mamet laughs here. The footnote in which he defended himself against woman-hating accusations after describing a reviewer who went after him was amusing: “I do not hate women. I do not like that woman.”) And his recent us/them view of life, while loving the free market insistently and often, is so relentless it’s as if he believes all readers have short-term memory loss, and that the market is actually free. As Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is fond of saying, “Show me a polluter, and I’ll show you a subsidy.”
Mamet has come to the conclusion that liberals are the true believers who behave with the fervor of fanatics, but his accusation of lock step thought and behavior is nowhere more destructively played out than in the House and Senate, where a moderate Republican is tough to find at voting time and ultraconservative pledges are used as blackmail. Despite his contention that taxes change nothing for the better, the American economy has historically been more productive under higher tax rates and Democratic administrations since the Depression. Further, a strong infrastructure is essential to the smooth running of business and the creation of wealth. Without sufficient tax revenue, infrastructure deteriorates, hurting everyone. (The tax rate is also meaningless when there are so many ways for corporate lawyers to help their bosses avoid paying taxes.) And yes, FDR did bring the country back from economic implosion. Maybe Mamet has been smoking the pages of some Texas textbooks.
Or perhaps he has determined that a clumped view of the world is easier to write about. If this or that person is a liberal and Mamet disagrees with him, he gets clumped with all the rest. Yes, some liberals are guilty of doing just that regarding conservatives, but it is not useful. The fact that most of the liberals I know are skeptical of politicians and pure socialism, would like to see a just and prosperous America and are very hardworking is inconsequential because no one can know all liberals or conservatives. Political positions, however, are knowable, and there aren’t many liberal positions even holding ground in the freak carnival known as Congress today. And to label Barack Obama as a socialist is not just a stretch, it’s unsupportable. On most critical issues since he was elected, President Obama has followed in George W. Bush’s footsteps, and no one would call W a liberal.
So, even with all the dunderheaded moves by conservatives that chained us to war and eroded our wealth, liberalism is stupid to Mamet, just not how the real world works. If the penchant for making stuff up and exaggerating to the point of absurdity is the way it does work, how does that fit with Mamet’s moral codes? His fallback position on corruption and disruptions of market capitalism is that such problems are inevitable because people are flawed. Even though many at the top of financial institutions produce nothing concrete, rarely invest to grow new business any longer and caused the Ponzi economy to tank, let’s go with the freewheeling market? (He notes in passing isolation that the economic meltdown was predictable.) To see where unbridled markets inevitably head, one has to look at only the lawless and violent worlds of illegal drugs and prostitution. There may be fewer bloodied bodies in the realms of unregulated corporate capitalism, but actions taken to maximize profits at any cost are consistently inhumane and harmful to the general public.
Still, we are left with the glib catchall that there will always be abuses, though those abuses have exceeded almost everyone’s wildest dreams of how much can be gotten away with in a country supposedly defined by the rule of law. Mamet is scornful of the opportunists who took advantage of low interest rates during the housing bubble, but unrattled by the mostly conservative white-collar criminals, who, under the cloaks of financial innovation and impenetrable contracts, skated away scot-free after creating a fraud that detonated trillions of dollars of wealth into permanent oblivion. These are not a few flawed fellas; they worked hard to keep this con going.
Of all people, Mamet should recognize a con when he sees one, having dramatized them so effectively in works such as “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “House of Games.” But he claims that the most intelligent people are the most susceptible to cons. Maybe so. When someone as perceptive and gifted as Mamet flips so thoroughly to embrace hypocritical politics and easily refutable propaganda, one is left to figure that the con is on him.
Louise Rubacky is an editor, filmmaker and writer. She has edited for directors Jean-Jacques Annaud, Francis Coppola, George Lucas and Nicolas Roeg, among others, and made short documentaries. She is also a fellow of the Climate Prosperity Project, which focuses on building public interest in a green economic paradigm, and is part of the international nonprofit organization Global Urban Development.
Editor’s note: Below is a sample of “The Secret Knowledge,” David Mamet’s newly published diatribe against liberalism. To see longer excerpts at Google Books, click here.
There is a curious disconnection between the Left’s worship of the tribal and its religious belief in the power of Government. It may be that its mythology runs like this: The Noble Savage acts in a manner more in tune with Nature. He is uncorrupted, save by the advent of the Whites, who took his land (Israel, the American West, the British Empire). Prior to their coming, he dwelt in peace, tilling the soil according to immemorial principles, and ruled chiefly by his love of the plants and seasons and their influence upon all things. If he had a religion it was that of God as Nature. And we, Westerners, killed and kill him, through greed for his possessions (natural resources). But the so-believing, the adorers of Third World music, native crafts, and the disheveled dress of their notional American Native Tribe (the poor, the homeless), these, nonetheless, continue to enshrine Big Government as the only tool capable of returning Man from Hell to Eden. The same Democracy, then, which, in its nonelected quality (civilization) inexorably populated the world, ever widening the polity, and obliterating the Tribe and its supposed blessings, is held by the Left to be that tool capable of reversing the process and restoring us to the Tribe, its campfire, its wise elders, its superabundance of untouched wilderness and game. We’re going to vote on it, and when we have enough votes, we’re going to return to the campfire. There will be no more pollution, for we will vote to stop our polluting ways; there will be no more war, as all sovereign States will be subsumed into a large tribe of the mutually understanding (cf. the United Nations), there will be no more Poverty, because the Earth Holds Enough for All, and lacks only that Wise Leadership which will see to its Just Distribution (a dictator). And all that stands between this utopia and our present state of stupid error are the Conservatives, who believe only in Greed. … [T]o the Left, Government is the water in which they swim, the underlying belief of their lives: Government is not merely one of the ways in which humanity may be convened to order its various affairs (the others being Religion and the Free Market), but the only way. …
This is the vision of FDR, who elaborated a bad economic downturn into the worst depression in history. In an attempt to Do Good for All, he dismantled the free market, and, so, the economy and saddled our country not only with “social programs,” but with the deeper, unconscious legacy of belief in Social Programs, irrespective of their effectiveness. Roosevelt’s great domestic bequest was this syllogism: If anything called a Social Program fails, expand it. This is the meaning of Social Justice. It means actions by the State in the name of Justice, which is to say under complete protection and immunity from review. Its end is dictatorship. …
Excerpted from “The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture” by David Mamet by arrangement with Sentinel, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., Copyright (c) David Mamet, 2011.
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