"We believe deeply that the denial of 'life's dark side in ourselves' is the key to what's wrong with the utopianist left world view," we wrote the first time we featured Max Ernst's 'L'Ange du Foyeur ou le Triomphe du Surréalisme' (1937. Oil on canvas. Private collection) back in April of 2004. The second time, last year, it accompanied our skeptical appreciation of NYT token conservative David Brooks's assertion in a column of that title, that "The darker view of human evolution is gaining clout." Now the unthinkable. Self-described "brain-dead liberal" playwright David Mamet has seen the light.
"I found these ideas something I agree with for the most part. A good picture of what humans are and how they act," imails Goomp re playwright David Mamet's clear-eyed Village Voice confession, "Why I am No Longer a 'Brain-Dead Liberal'":
I took the liberal view for many decades, but I believe I have changed my mind.
While writing his new play, November, Mamet explains, "I started thinking about politics . . . which is to say, about the polemic between persons of two opposing views":
The play, while being a laugh a minute, is, when it's at home, a disputation between reason and faith, or perhaps between the conservative (or tragic) view and the liberal (or perfectionist) view. The conservative president in the piece holds that people are each out to make a living, and the best way for government to facilitate that is to stay out of the way, as the inevitable abuses and failures of this system (free-market economics) are less than those of government intervention.
We couldn't have said it better ourselves. In fact, it echoes our own ur-theme, the tragic view of human nature vs. the utopian [what Mamet terms perfectionist]:
And we do think we know the answer to Fallaci's "some human truth here that is beyond religion." It's the tragic view of human nature -- vs. the left's utopian, blank-slate, noble-savage one that denies any such thing as human nature -- that acknowledges the dark side in all of us and tries to design political institutions -- the U.S. Constitution comes to mind -- that channel our potentially destructive human nature into productive self-fulfillment (can you say invisible hand?) that redounds to the good of the larger community.
"I began to question what I actually thought and found that I do not think that people are basically good at heart," continues Mamet. "Indeed, that view of human nature has both prompted and informed my writing for the last 40 years":
I think that people, in circumstances of stress, can behave like swine, and that this, indeed, is not only a fit subject, but the only subject, of drama.
I'd observed that lust, greed, envy, sloth, and their pals are giving the world a good run for its money, but that nonetheless, people in general seem to get from day to day; and that we in the United States get from day to day under rather wonderful and privileged circumstances -- that we are not and never have been the villains that some of the world and some of our citizens make us out to be, but that we are a confection of normal (greedy, lustful, duplicitous, corrupt, inspired -- in short, human) individuals living under a spectacularly effective compact called the Constitution, and lucky to get it.
"Rather brilliant," Mamet says of that "spectacularly effective compact":
For, in the abstract, we may envision an Olympian perfection of perfect beings in Washington doing the business of their employers, the people, but any of us who has ever been at a zoning meeting with our property at stake is aware of the urge to cut through all the pernicious bullshit and go straight to firearms.
"It’s a miracle recovery. The patient is still not out of the woods, though," quips Jules Crittenden, who detects a lingering BDS "cough" when Mamet gets down to real-world "facts":
I found not only that I didn't trust the current government (that, to me, was no surprise), but that an impartial review revealed that the faults of this president -- whom I, a good liberal, considered a monster -- were little different from those of a president whom I revered.
Bush got us into Iraq, JFK into Vietnam. Bush stole the election in Florida; Kennedy stole his in Chicago. Bush outed a CIA agent; Kennedy left hundreds of them to die in the surf at the Bay of Pigs. Bush lied about his military service; Kennedy accepted a Pulitzer Prize for a book written by Ted Sorenson. Bush was in bed with the Saudis, Kennedy with the Mafia. Oh.
Old lies never die; they just fade away. Meanwhile, Gaius at Blue Crab Boulevard predicts the playwright's confession "will, undoubtedly, get Mamet dropped from a number of party invitation lists," but The Barrister at Maggie's Farm has higher hopes:
I value his essay for two reasons: first, because he put into words something close to what I experienced many years ago and, second, because Mamet's cultural status might offer some folks "permission" to take a fresh look at their views.
Mamet calls Thomas Sowell "our greatest contemporary philosopher." Maybe the Sowell-inspired philosophical underpinnings of Mamet's new play will subliminally transform the thinking of "some folks."