Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Freedom is not free. Nor should it be gratuitous.

I saw the movie 300 last night. I will not review the movie here except to discuss its politics. Sparta was a closed, totalitarian state with a very small ruling class of landowners and a monarchy. Nearly all Spartans were forbidden to engage in trade and free enterprise. Spartan men were impressed into military service for most of their lives. State-sponsored ritual infanticide was practiced. (All this was depicted reasonably well in the film: I am not complaining about historical innaccuracies!) So I was disgusted (though not really surprised) to hear the King and Queen give speeches about how "freedom is not free" and how they were all free men fighting for freedom. Apparently, this is some other meaning of "freedom" of which I was unaware.

I was similarly puzzled when I watched the new Star Wars trilogy. In those films, Queen Amidala gave stirring speeches about how she was fighting for democracy--although the only democracy her people enjoyed was the right to elect an absolute monarch from time to time. (And even so, the position was apparently also hereditary since her daughter was automatically made Princess.) Likewise the powerful Jedi Council--an institution that admitted only a few persons with special blood--also managed to style themselves as protectors of democracy, with straight faces. In fact, the only democratic institution in the Star Wars galaxy is the Imperial Senate: a Senate mind you, with highly disproportional representation and appointed membership.

I am tired of watching movies where people surrender their liberties for freedom, where people torture to protect human rights, and where Kings and Queens are the spokespeople for democracy. We were warned about this kind of doublethink sixty years ago.

"Freedom means the freedom to say two plus two equals four. If that is granted all else follows."
--George Orwell, 1984


cherrypicker said...

I've been meaning to do some research on Sparta. You've got me started. Thanks for the information and your thoughts.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Excellent, Dr. S. This is why I refuse to watch "24." All the Spartans were fighting for was that the Persians should not rape and pillage them, which is fighting in self-defense, not fighting for freedom.

Whenever I hear some wingnut say "Freedom isn't free," I always want to respond, "that's why you have to pay taxes." Of course, they're interested in glomming onto others' sacrifices, not making any of their own.

TD-0013 said...

Well, it's nice to hear someone on this planet understands that the Empire was the best thing going!

But then... I'm biased.

USWest said...

I think we are headed for something more like what is depicticed in HBO's Rome. There is an assembly chosen by the people, but there is an emperor who rules from the top. They give Romans the appearence of democracy, they use grand words about the "republic", but in the end, they do not practice anything near democracy.

They wage wars in far flung places, make decisions that are beneficial to only a certain class of people, and ignore the rest.

The only way I see for this fate to be avoided is for the Democratic party to re-establish the balance of power by reining in the president, and then in 2008, we have to have a Democrat in office. We need a strong willed, skilled person who outs the citizen first. As I have said before, we need a Jed Bartlette (West Wing) type character. We need a white knight, or a group of them.

Raised By Republicans said...

I think the real point of the 300 is to get us riled up for a war with the "Persian Empire." This is the ham handed Christian remake of Sergei Eisenstein's classic propoganda film, "Alexder Nevsky."

And what was Spartan freedom? From what I've always heard and read about Sparta and Ancient Greece it was pretty much the opposite of what the American right says they advocate. Hmmm. Maybe they really just fetishize military conflict.

Boys and girls were raised seperately. Boys were raised by the state (not their families) in militarized dormatories based on age group. They were taken from their families at age 7 and forced to live with the military until age 30. They could marry at age 20 but could not live with their families until age 30 - so no on base housing for dependents! So much for family values.

Male babies that did not appear strong enough or capable of growing into soldiers were killed shortly after birth by abandoning them on the mountain side. So much for the "culture of life."

Even ancient "democracies" were more like classist plutocracies than anything we would recognize as a democracy today. In Athens citizenship very wide spread for its time but was restricted. In the Roman Republic, elections were sporadic, incosistent and often overruled in the end. Rome is interesting in that they had a multicameral legislative process complete with checks and balances but those legislative chambers were elected under what we would consider very undemocratic means. Election was not the only way into the Senate and unelected officials (especially dictators) could remove Senators. George Lucas' world in Star Wars is a lot like Ancient Rome.

Bob said...

Some thoughts:

300 was a rather successful comic book. Comic books are currently Hollywood's darling (Fantastic Four, Ghost Rider, X-Men, even a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). The notion that the movie has anything to do with the current belligerent stance with Iran is tinfoil hat thinking.

That said, Frank Miller (artist and writer of the comic book 300) has a dark and authoritarian streak, and his work centers aroudn the theme of iron-willed men willing to do what they know needs to be done, regardless of the violence, morality, or public abhorrence involved. Miller has made that resonate again and again, and I'd contend Bush & Co. have successfully rode that bandwagon too.

However, Miller makes no false democratic claims -- in the comic book, one of Leonidas's men expresses his support, and Leonidas replies something along the lines of "Of course you're coming with me. I didn't offer you the choice! This is not some ridiculous democracy, like those Athenians."

I suppose I might be betraying my Star Wars geekiness here, but I thought Princess Leia was a Princess because she was the adopted daughter of Bail Organa (Princess of Alderaan). In between Hayden Christiansen's glowering, do they say she's a princess of Naboo, too? (And of course, "Princess" can just mean related to the sovereign, not necessarily "in line to the throne".)

I thought Aragorn's speech in Return of the King was excellent -- perhaps because the Kiwis felt no compulsion to make it sound like Martin Luther King.

I appreciate the principle of liberty as much as the next guy, but surely a good halftime speech can offer some _other_ demagogic reasons to fight?

USWest said...

Welcome back, Bob.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Greetings, Bob. According to the Wookiepedia (love the name!) you are correct that Leia is indeed Princess by right of adoption into the House of Organa.

Let me say that, other than the atrocious dialogue, I enjoyed 300.