Saturday, February 17, 2007

Absolutely Negative

Couple of random thoughts, which may or may not form part of a coherent whole:

-I'm a moral absolutist. This means that I believe that there is an objective good and evil that operates within human society. I don't believe that morality is something solely defined by the society or the family that you were raised in; I believe that there are certain beliefs and actions which are fundamentally damaging for human beings to practice, and damaging to those around them.

-Saturdays are pretty heady for me. I have Tai Chi classes in the afternoon, church in the evening, and cabarets at night. It's a good day for thinking about stuff.

-There are those who characterize absolutism as simplistic point of view. To my way of thinking, the relativistic view -- that words and deeds carry no objective moral weight -- is the simplistic one. My belief is not that mankind is divided into good and bad people, but that each man's soul is a daily battlefield between the two -- that every word and action we deliver carries significance.

-I've started going to church again. People tend to roll their eyes a lot when I talk about light and darkness at work in the world, and the conflict between the two , but sitting through the homilies is reminding me where I got it from. It's place where people talk about that conflict -- and take it very seriously indeed. The church views itself, rightly or wrongly, as a bastion of light in a world of darkness. This is, perhaps, why I've always attempted to characterize theatre the same way -- that I want my profession to serve a similar function in the world.

-I think that the greatest work of twentieth-century literature -- and the one that will be regarded as such by future generations -- is Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings." People scoff at this, because the books are very popular, and people believe that things that are popular can't be great art. They're wrong, and it is.

-One of the things I find so effective about the books is their complex portrayal of evil -- that evil is characterized both as an external force to be resisted physically, and an internal force to be resisted morally.

-The external force -- as embodied by Sauron -- I find effective, because it's so faceless, so chillingly bureaucratic. It's a single animating consciousness with no individual personality behind it. The face of Sauron is in his works.

-The internal force -- as embodied by the Ring -- I find effective, because it corrupts, not by appealing to the worst impulses in mankind, but to the best. Boromir is corrupted by his nobility, his patriotism, his desire to defend his nation. Gandalf was tempted by its potential to heal.

-Is such exercise of power inevitably corrupting? If you told me I could be absolute dictator of America for one week, I'd be tempted. Think of all the good I could do in that time! But would I really be able to step down after a week? After all, I would have to make sure that my changes could be maintained for an adequate period of time. And I'd stay for another week, and another -- until I ended up trying to reshape the country into my own image.

-This is part of why Superman's such a great metaphor for American power. I've joked that he's a man with the powers of a god, who uses them to defend the property of middle-class white people. But would he be wiser to use them more broadly? He could win any war single-handedly, but the source of his authority would be nothing more than brute strength. But to *not* intervene in a war, and to end it quickly, makes him responsible for the lives that are lost. It's America's dilemma, isn't it? We simply have too much power to wield responsibly.

-Tai Chi is interesting because -- like many Chinese arts -- it's defined largely by its duality: that it functions both as a kind of moving meditation and a form of self-defense. It has a "Yin" aspect, a soft, internal one, an embracing of the void, a desire to cleanse oneself; and a "Yang" aspect, a hard, external one, a bright, powerful form of physical resistance. It, too, recognizes the need to confront evil both internally and externally, through that poetic contradiction of resistance and submission.

-This, ultimately, is why I believe that the invasion of Iraq is doomed to failure: because we've been fighting it as an *external* war, and not an *internal* one. We have enough physical power crush any opponent; but our own moral position is too hollow to inspire, to lead. We've built a throne of blood with nobody to place upon it.

No comments: