Saturday, November 15, 2008

I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it

Thanks to the Bad Science blog sidebar (in which much good stuff can be found, much of it splendidly frivolous, some of it not) for this link to the first part of Adam Curtis' BBC2 series The Living Dead from 1995.

Apologies for getting all serious on your ass, particularly after the botty-related theme of my recent postings, but there are a couple of points that seem to be relevant here:
  • However alien the footage of wide-eyed Hitler Youth acolytes barking out Nazi slogans mights be, however much the marching crowds and the swastikas on sticks might seem to be an artefact of the past, the more general lesson is that the sort of hyper-nationalism embodied in all that, with the associated subsuming of individual reason and morality to the needs of the state is (wait for it) A Bad Thing. That might seem an obvious point to make, but somewhere down the other end of the scale is the sort of unthinking US exceptionalism exhibited by the Bush regime - the notion that, for instance, clearly it's OK for the USA to have nuclear weapons (or "nucular weapons", just to take a cheap shot at Bush for a moment) but, equally clearly, it's not OK for, say, Iran to develop the same technology. And furthermore for any questions which might require a more nuanced view of things, like "why is that?" to be met with either blank incomprehension or the equivalent of the child sticking its fingers in its ears and making the "lalalalalalala" noise. Obviously the hope is that the new regime might take a more balanced view of the world. We'll see.
  • The Second World War is the texbook example of a "just war"; the battle to free Europe from the yoke of Nazi totalitarianism, to stop the systematic extermination of the Jews (and whoever else the regime took exception to) and, into the bargain, to foil Japan's Pacific expansion plans. Should it become clear (as it certainly does if you scratch the surface of pretty much any of the accepted version of history), that the simple Manichaean view of things won't really do, what then? What of the supposedly just conflicts of the nebulous War On Terror, which even on the surface are considerably less clear-cut morally and politically? Just in case you were expecting an answer, the answer is: I don't know. Acknowledging that it's a bit more complex than a bunch of square-jawed GI Joes liberating the huddled masses from the evil snickering hook-nosed bearded towel-headed camel-jockeys is a good start, though.
Parts two and three of the series are also available and are well worth a watch, being in the excellent tradition of thought-provoking BBC documentaries that I've previously bigged up here. I'm sure I've also linked to this famous clip from Jacob Bronowski's The Ascent Of Man somewhere before as well, but I can't find it, so I make no apology for doing it again. The associated YouTube links includes this one to a TV religion versus atheism debate hosted by Melvyn Bragg a few years back. Notable bits include the remarkable gravity-defying bouffantness of Bragg's hair, and some intelligent panellists, including Gore Vidal, in somewhat more eloquent and sober form than, more recently, on election night.

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