truth reflects reality
but what is reality
& what is then true?
knowledge implies truth
& who can claim to possess knowledge that
is purely true to reflect the real?
– Alex B. Hill (date written unknown)
Whether we all know it or not we are enslaved by a great system, a system that propagates discrimination based on race, division rooted in the ideas of economic class, military control bent on power, and a political will lacking the necessary passion to stand up for what can easily be perceived as right (as opposed to wrong). Right: equal rights for all people of the world, equal opportunity, fair wage and living standards, a smile from a stranger, an atypical helping hand when it may seem uncouth, truth spoken from the mouth of a fellow on the misdeeds of a few who would wield a vast power in the name of many, not denying people their basic needs. Wrong is spewed from the system in many ways, most are unrecognized and more unknown to the general populace than one might think.
I just went to the movies tonight and what was most striking was not the movie itself, but the previews. I nearly forgot that a movie was to follow. There was a new film on beating the US Treasury’s money shredder, one on the fictional assassination of a US presidential double and the preceding systematic cover-up, a film decrying US torture in wartime, the government extending a soldiers’ contracts: Stop Loss. The current climate of things is more than ready for a movement away from destruction and into progress. When I say progress I am not talking about reform, there is no place for reform in the current system. There needs to be change, as in complete, no holds barred flip of the system. People need to be the pinnacle of the equation – people in the sense that every man, woman, and child needs to be ensured that the reality they live with is not also the systematic structure that keeps them in poverty, at war, without proper clothing, or without the ability to pursue a higher dream. Here in the USA, we have the right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – why must it only be a pursuit and not a right?
Before this day at the movies, I had another similar excursion. An exciting day to go see the new political thriller just in theaters. Lions for Lambs was one of the best political thriller for our time, now. During World War I, the Prussian troops used to call the English grunt workers, on the frontlines, Lions because of the ferocity with which they worked and fought, these men were Lions for Lambs. The Lambs were the politicians who sat in their plush offices and said to reporters, “we will do whatever it takes to win,” as their men die by the thousands, day by day pouring the fiery passions of their hearts into their work. These men were only to be forgotten by the Man, the politician on the pedestal, the system for which they had risked their very lives to preserve – a construct that had no place for them and never will.
This is the overtone of the most recent political thriller to come out of movie making land. Sadly much of the message was lost to the American public before they had even seen the movie. It has become very common that political thrillers are not appealing to the American public. They don’t like the harsh realities coming to life on the big screen, they don’t like the messages, they don’t like being called out in the theater where they came to enjoy a little bang-bang shoot’em up action. And so in the end Americans do not see these movies and political thrillers, which very well may be later called the greatest films of their times, fall in the box offices to popular whim. I recently read a very poor review of Lions for Lambs in which the student author claimed the film relied too much on political generalities and made the message too confusing. I would say that this was the prime example of the audience being lost to the message. As this student was the target and missed the mark completely.
Warning: Possible spoiler of Lions for Lambs
The film opens, in a hypothetical situation mirroring the present circumstances, with a ‘liberal’ journalist meeting with the new, young, up-and-coming republican political star. They are to spend an hours time getting the ‘truth’ to the American people. The Republican, played by Tom Cruise, tells of a new strategy in Afghanistan to win because “America needs a win.” The typical Republican rhetoric of today played out very well as a representation of the current political situation. As the Republican explains this plan in detail the story cuts to a team of Army Rangers beginning to initiate this new strategy to win in Afghanistan. They tear across the sky in their Chinook helicopter to land and take the high ground in the mountains. Suddenly they are hit by anti-aircraft fire, the gunner is hit and one of the soldiers falls out the back of the helicopter. Another soldier hesitates and then jumps after him. We then cut to a student visiting his political science professor, played by Robert Redford, to talk about how his class involvement and grades have fallen as well as his attendance.
The Republican dishes his empty rhetoric, soldiers fall in a new push in the war on terror, and a student discusses his grades. The professor asks the young man why he has stopped attending his class yet has continued to do so well on his exams. The student hesitates and replies that there are girls, and his frat house obligations, and college social stuff. The professor cries bullshit and asks ominously, “Why have you stopped caring?” when before the student used to spark debates and challenge ideas. The student responds that he is fed up. He is fed up with the shit that is the political system and he can no longer see the point. The professor begins to tell the story of two of his former students who used to give him as much hope as he had now in this fed up young man. They came from a tough area of LA where they grew up fighting just to live another day in the ghettos. Guns, drugs, gangs – when they made it to college on baseball scholarships they did not waste their time and jumped right into the political science course. As a class project they presented on how to solve America’s problems.
Their solution made a lot of sense. They noted how good we are with deployment abroad with US troops stationed across the world, but in America there is very little ‘deployment.’ They proposed that the Junior year of High School not involve the formal classroom setting at all. Juniors would be placed in either a Peace Corps type program, AmeriCorps program, or an ROTC program. They followed up this plan by noting the great and terrible disparities in America in literacy, access to opportunity, and potential in life. Drawing from their tough experiences as young people from the ghettos they saw this as an incredible way to get people involved. I have to admit that when they talked about this program in the film I could not help but think how amazing it would be if this were an actual program. Another student asks them, “You both talk a big game, but how serious are you?” They then place their military enrollment dispatches on the overhead. They are headed for the Army. They figured what good is it to talk and not be involved in something if you want to make change.
Cut back to Afghanistan. The soldier who fell out of the helicopter is unconscious and the other has a broken leg trapped in the snow. These soldiers are the two students that the professor talked so highly. Alone, trapped on the top of an enemy infested mountain the two former students, now soldiers, await their fate as the enemy closes in on their position. At the same time the Army is sending in rescue missions to help them, the Republican is getting the bad news that this new plan is failing, and the student meeting with his professor is wondering what he is supposed to do. Airstrikes to drive back the Taliban fighters fails and the two soldiers are shot dead just as help is on the way, the reporter refuses to write the politically charged article on the Afghanistan plan to boost the Republican party presidential hopeful, and the professor says to his student, “What if I give you a straight B, no plus no minus for the rest of the semester. If you don’t show up, don’t do your reading, and don’t turn anything in. A straight B.” The student doesn’t know what to say, but time is up and it is another person’s turn to have a meeting.
Back at his frat house the student is asked by another frat brother what the meeting was for. He responds that it was a meeting about class and grades. He is then asked, “do you already know what you are getting?” End of movie. The high schoolers behind me couldn’t believe it as many who have reviewed this film couldn’t. “A terrible end to a terrible movie,” said one. “I don’t even get it,” said another. That is the point! The film is much deeper than the usual hollywood hit. There is more to it than typical partisan political arguments and explosions with soldiers. This is a call for involvement, political action, doing something! We can no longer just sit by and watch things happen and complain about them later. Do we already know what we are getting? More importantly are you fine with that, are you satisfied? The end of the film noted how politicians bank on the apathy of the general public. They count on our ignorance of the situation. Great minds die in unnecessary combat, others get fed-up studying politics, and still others refuse to be manipulated by politics to give them good press – but for some reason that has become their job. All I can ask is “where are we going?”
All this has made me think and this post has been sitting in my draft box for a long while. “Why have I stopped caring?” Why should I care when everything is so arbitrary and falsely constructed in a terribly flawed system! Why should I waste my time and effort “playing the game” when all it does is mislead and fulfill my thirst with the nothingness. A higher education, while it is a great privilege, is wrought with discrepencies and lies. I needed the opportunities and intellectual challenges (outside of class), but in the end it will mean nothing if I do nothing. I hate the system and the system hates me. I will be judged as a failure by the system and doors will be closed. I am already judged as a failure – my grade point, my dislike of the institution, and my perhaps ‘radical’ and challenging ideas. I know that a degree can be seen as a way to be judged as less of a failure, but what is the point anymore? (Don’t worry, I am not a nihilist) I know that in many regards I have been very successful, but those are all discounted (no matter how great) by my performance in school, by my calls against the current system, by my lack of respect for those ensnared by the system. I am called a “naive” white boy ‘saving’ the African continent. I am called a “naive” radical – speaking that my professors are full of unthought (in the sense that they regurgitate ideas rooted in the terrible foundations of the system). I am called a failure lacking purpose and knowledge of how things work in reality, but it is a false, constructed reality actualized by the few. I have learned so much from my friends, personal quests for understanding, and engagements with student organizations in thoughtful discussions. I am here, at college, because of societal structure and expectations. I am here because this is what I am supposed to be doing.
Back again to Lions for Lambs. Do you already know what you are getting? Do you understand what you are already getting and are you satisfied? Is it enough to be able to say that I at least tried? For me that is not good enough. To be able to say I changed it, I destroyed it, I made it right is good enough. I am told that, “sometimes you have to play the game.” In no way, shape, or form will I play this game. I do not care to be recognized in this game. I will not don the jersey of this system to sit on the bench to watch the game from the sidelines. The system counts on our collective apathy, but that can easily be changed. Apathy is what fuels this game. An apathy that leads to a game of destruction, discrimination, and death. I already know what I will get if I continue to follow this system without thinking and acting for myself. I know the planned structural violence that plays out day to day – and I am not satisfied. Are you? What will you do?