Tuesday, January 24, 2012
The last man is a term used by the philosopher Nietzsche in Thus Spoke Zarathustra to describe the antithesis of the imagined superior being, the Übermensch, whose imminent appearance is heralded by Zarathustra.
The last man is tired of life, takes no risks, and seeks only comfort and security.
The last man's primary appearance is in "Zarathustra's Prologue." After having unsuccessfully attempted to get the populace to accept the Übermensch as the goal of society, Zarathustra confronts them with a goal so disgusting that he assumes that it will revolt them.
The last man is the goal that European civilization has apparently set for itself. The lives of the last men are comfortable. There is no longer a distinction between ruler and ruled, let alone political exploitation.
Social conflict is minimized.
Nietzsche said that the society of the last man would be too barren to support the growth of great individuals. The last man is possible only by mankind's having bred an apathetic creature who has no great passion or commitment, who is unable to dream, who merely earns his living and keeps warm. The last men claim to have discovered happiness, but blink every time they say so.
The last man, Nietzsche predicted, would be one response to nihilism. But the full implications of the death of God had yet to unfold. As he said, "the event itself is far too great, too distant, too remote from the multitude's capacity for comprehension even for the tidings of it to be thought of as having arrived as yet.
But I think it's marred.
Brandon is a sex addict, with, therefore, an uncontrollable need for sexual release in whatever form. But, at the end, his sister's attempted suicide seems emotionally to unlock him. He is tender and loving with her at her hospital bed side. He, then, a lone figure, self brought to his knees, has an emotional outburst at some New York river side, a kind of expiation, as though with that expiation he allows love and emotion and tenderness in to crack the cocoon of his insular coldness.
The last scene is ambiguous.
The same married blonde from the first subway ride at the movie’s beginning now on the last ride beckons to him again with her eyes and face and then gets out of her seat to stand up invitingly, expecting him to join her, to rub up against her. But we have no evidence of his responsiveness to her. He seems to sit blankly as though resisting his previous impulse toward her. Then the screen grows blank; and then the movie ends and we don't know whether his new unlocked self is sufficient to surmount his addiction.
We don’t know whether, that is to say, Brandon has achieved, through his experience with his sister, some measure of self transcendence by way of gaining some measure of emotional wholeness, which will allow him to resist the demands of his addiction--the addiction which has so imprisoned him.
This final ambiguous ending seems pat and contrived in my view and cuts against and diminishes what throughout the movie had been a rather unrelenting, remorseless, unflinching and unsentimental presentation of his addiction.
In a word, the ending, however left irresolute, is, given the thrust what has gone before, a flinch.
There is a further point to be made given Shame’s ending.
It is in the nature of addiction, as I understand it, that emotional wholeness or unblocking is no "cure" for it: there is no cure, as I understand it, for addiction, only the imposition of one's will on impelling need through the hard establishing of conditions allowing the will to prevail one day at a time. I'm not aware that the proposition that there is no cure for addiction varies depending on the addiction. If this is correct, then the implication in Shame that Brandon's recovery of some measure of emotional wholeness of itself may get him past his addiction seems muddled to me and informs what I see as the movie's ending being too pat even in its irresolution
Sunday, January 22, 2012
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Sunday, January 15, 2012
Friday, January 13, 2012
Monday, January 9, 2012
WASHINGTON -- It is commonly argued that Mitt Romney has benefited from a weak Republican field, which is true. And that the attacks of his opponents have been late and diffuse. True, and true.
But the political accomplishment of Willard Mitt Romney should not be underestimated. The moderate, technocratic former governor of a liberal state is poised to secure the nomination of the most monolithically conservative Republican Party of modern history.
Some of this improbable achievement can be attributed to Romney's skills as a candidate. In 14 debates, he delivered one gaffe (the $10,000 bet) and once lost his temper (with Rick Perry) -- neither lapse particularly damaging. Under a barrage of awkward formats and dopey questions, Romney has been calm, knowledgeable and reassuring. The slickest network anchor could not have done better.
Romney is the varsity -- a far better candidate than, say, Bob Dole or John McCain. A Republican nominating process that swerved again and again toward silliness -- alternately elevating for consideration Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain -- seems ready to settle on a serious, accomplished, credible candidate. Republicans, it turns out, are choleric and fractious -- but not suicidal.
The nominating process has also revealed Romney's limitations. It would be awkward for anyone this stiff to pose as a working-class stiff, and Romney should not try. But if he gains the nomination, Romney's rival in connecting with average voters will not be Bill Clinton. It will be professor Barack Obama. Again, Romney benefits from the luck of the draw.
Romney has paired his skills with a sophisticated political strategy. His campaign team learned something from the failures of four years ago. Last time, Romney flooded the early states with money and personal attention. In Iowa, his limited return on investment made him a political punch line. This time, Romney rationed both his money and his presence -- lowering expectations and generating genuine enthusiasm when he finally arrived to campaign. When a late political opportunity presented itself -- in the form of a persistently divided Republican field -- the Romney campaign skillfully ramped up for a narrow win. Adding a victory in New Hampshire is an achievement that Ronald Reagan never managed as a challenger.
Ideology has always been Romney's main vulnerability. Running and winning in Massachusetts before running twice for the Republican presidential nomination is a process best described by biologists -- a story of adaptation and evolution.
Other candidates have naturally carried more vivid ideological messages. In the end, the intra-Republican argument has come down to Ron Paul versus Rick Santorum -- both effective spokesmen for their views. Paul, by his own description, is preaching the pure "gospel of liberty." He carries the hopes of libertarians and those who seek a return to the federal government of an 18th-century agrarian republic. Santorum stands more in the empowerment tradition of Jack Kemp or George W. Bush. On the whole, he is reconciled to the goals of modern government -- encouraging equal opportunity and care for the elderly, sick and vulnerable -- but not to the bureaucratic methods of modern government. Santorum's lot would encourage the provision of services through credits, vouchers and defined contributions.
I come down on the empowerment side of this divide. But maybe, at this moment, the Republican Party doesn't need a clear decision on its identity (which might not be possible anyway). Romney has this advantage: In supporting him, no Republican is called upon to surrender his or her deepest ideological convictions. Romney is temperamentally conservative but not particularly ideological. He reserves his enthusiasm for quantitative analysis and organizational discipline. He seems to view the cultural and philosophic debates that drive others as distractions from the real task of governing -- making systems work.
His competitors have attempted to portray Romney's ideological inconsistency over time as a character failure. It hasn't worked, mainly because Romney is a man of exemplary character -- deeply loyal to his faith, his family and his country. But he clearly places political ideology in a different category of fidelity. Like Dwight Eisenhower, Romney is a man of vague ideology and deep values. In political matters, he is empirical and pragmatic. He studies problems, assesses risks, calculates likely outcomes. Those expecting Romney to be a philosophic leader will be disappointed. He is a management consultant, and a good one.
Has the moment of the management consultant arrived in American politics? In our desperate drought of public competence, Romney has a strong case to make.
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Is there anyone not annoyed by Mitt Romney’s narrow win in the Iowa caucus? Conservatives are disappointed because they recognize that the former Massachusetts governor, who used to be pro-choice and was for Obamacare before it was called that, is only pretending to be one of them.
Seventy-five percent of Iowa’s Republican voters wanted someone further to the right. But because their votes were divided among too many weak and weird candidates, the only moderate running in their state came out on top.
Liberals are bummed because Romney is the strongest potential challenger to President Obama.
This shows up clearly in head-to-head polls, which put Romney tied with or slightly ahead of Obama, while other Republican contenders trail by 10 points or more. It was hard for Obama campaign officials to suppress their glee last month when Newt Gingrich, the only even remotely plausible alternative to Romney, briefly ran at the head of the pack. But even they knew this was a momentary aberration.
Short of Republicans committing collective suicide by picking someone else, Democrats would like to see Romney win the nomination after a protracted, costly struggle that would deplete his financial resources, sully his image, and drag him further to the right. Today, that scenario looks less likely.
We journalists are sorriest of all, because Romney coasting to victory is a weak story. Were the press any other industry, cynicism about its self-interest in promoting marginal challengers would prevail. Local television stations (many of them owned by media conglomerates such as Slate’s owner, the Washington Post Company) count on election-year revenue bumps from political advertising in important primary states.
If the nomination contest is effectively over by, say, the time of the Michigan primary on Feb. 28, valuable money will be left on the table. But for reporters, rooting for the underdog, any underdog, is really a matter of wanting a more dramatic story. The straight-laced front-runner winning Iowa and New Hampshire before securing the nomination early on does not count as a compelling narrative. Hence the media’s pretense of taking seriously a succession of nonviable candidates with outlandish views.
Rick Santorum is not, under any circumstances, going to be the GOP nominee.
This confluence of motives amounts to an insider conspiracy to resist the obvious.
So expect to hear more and more about less and less likely alternatives to a Romney victory in the coming weeks. Jon Huntsman, the only candidate yet to enjoy a moment of popular enthusiasm, could do better than expected in New Hampshire.
Once Rick Perry joins Michele Bachmann in dropping out, conservative sentiment could coalesce around the unlikely survivor Rick Santorum.* Chris Christie could still change his mind! Anything could happen, of course, but it won’t. In the end, the GOP is overwhelmingly likely to nominate Romney because he is the most electable candidate available and at this point, no one else can beat him.
The Republican party Romney is likely to lead into battle has, however, revealed itself in a diminished state—dominated by its activist extreme, focused on irrelevancy, and deaf to reason about the country’s fiscal choices. To survive a Republican debate you are required to hold the incoherent view that the budget should be balanced immediately, taxes cut dramatically, and the major categories of spending (the military, Social Security, Medicare) left largely intact. There is no way to make these numbers add up, and the candidates do not try, relying instead on focus-group tested denunciations of Obama and abstract hostility to the ways of Washington.
Above every other issue, the candidates in Iowa pandered about how thoroughly and completely they would ban abortion. Paul, an obstetrician by training, blanketed the state with ads making the dubious claim that he once saw doctors dispose of a live baby in a trash bin. (If so, why did he not intervene?) Gingrich proposed throwing out the Constitution to defy judges who invalidate anti-abortion legislation.
In the closing days of the campaign, Perry augmented his opposition to abortion to include cases of rape or incest. Santorum toured with members of the Duggar family, who are featured in TLC reality show 19 Kids and Counting. Like the Duggars, Santorum believes contraception is “not okay.”
The notion that the Tea Party stood for something new on the American right has now dissolved in favor of a familiar range of radical, not really conservative tendencies. Iowa clarifies this factionalism by presenting it in exaggerated form.
There is juvenile libertarianism, represented by Ron Paul. There is theocratic moralism, offered in evangelical Protestant flavors by Bachmann and Perry, and in a Catholic version by Santorum. There is the idea of ideas-based politics, represented by Gingrich.
When all of these alternatives finish falling by the wayside, what will remain is the attempt to actually win a national election, represented by one Willard Mitt Romney.