Literary Saturday: Beautiful Losers
Published on: March 13, 2010
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  • fw

    Speaking of Wagner and the Trojans, Berlioz was arguably a loser with respect to his beautiful opera, Les Troyens, some chords of which Wagner definitely ripped off in his Ring Cycle.

    Haven’t recent researches into Native-American history introduced some shading into our understanding of their relationships with other tribes, and the environment? It doesn’t quite comport with the idealization of pre-modern humanity that has been a trope in Western art and thought for centuries.

    Not that that would in any way diminish the campaign of eradication that was waged against them. I frankly don’t see a huge difference between reservations and concentration camps.

  • Joe

    Don’t forget Tacitus’ Germania, Xenophon’s Anabasis or Caesar’s Gallic Wars for more examples of ‘loveable losers’ in the early Western canon. Strange though you left out the New Testament which is really a bunch of local good kids being kept down by the “man” who could not jibe with the vibe of the new message and their turning peoples’ heads on; channeling Maynard G. Krebs seemed appropriate for some reason.

  • Pingback: “Avatar”: Blue Ewoks Save the Amazon from Blackwater Inc. « Asian Security & US Politics Blog()

  • LuizdoPorto

    Let’s hope one of those posts in the backburner is “The Mead Sci-Fi Reading List”.

  • Jack

    Mead says:

    “Avatar has taken the losers of modern history and put them on another planet, where it replays the encounter of advanced technological cultures with complex but not very technological societies.” And we all know how that works out.

    Of course our own modern history is filled with examples of ‘complex but not very technological cultures’ defeating ‘advanced technological cultures’. (Hmmmm, do I see a missing, though implicit “simple” in juxtaposition? This is I think a habit of Mead)

    So lets talk about that “replay”
    The complex Australian Aborigines kicked British and convict ass. The complex Mayans slaughtered the Spanish Conquistadors, the complex Native Americans successfully threw out the French, Dutch and British. And the complex Zulus had a good day at Roark’s Drift. To be fair, the really, and actually complex Chinese Dynasties of several thousand years kicked British and American traders back to the West. And lets never forget those ‘complex’ Muslim Sheiks of Tripoli who destroyed the US navy after the United States had had enough of them taking our ships and enslaving the passengers and crew. That may have happened on Pandora as well, but it didn’t happen here.

    Why does Mead describe these ‘winning’ cultures as “complex, but not technological”? Political correctness and an American tendency to hark back to an older, simpler time. Not even Mead is immune to this tendency of cultural longing and historical revisionism, even though describing these cultures as primitive, patriarchal, superstitious, and barbaric would be closer to the mark. As for being the winners? I’m laughing so hard I can’t type.

    In Avatar, the Na’vi have telepathic communication with animals, magical healing powers, strength and endurance far beyond any evolutionary demands, and a biological interface with a living, and sentient biosphere. (If that isn’t a thesis for intelligent design, I don’t know what is.) How can Mead dispose of the arguments regarding “The Elders of Zion” so easily, yet buy into this fantasy of communal, natural utopianism?

    As opposed to what the Native American’s actually had: a life that most people would consider nasty, brutish and short. Which was only made possible by their beliefs about medicine, religion, sanitation, personal hygiene, housing, rights of passage for men, the roll of women in society and dealing with the elderly. And, semi-permanent, low level skirmishing with neighboring tribes. Boy, what fun!

    The idea of living in harmony with nature gains in credence the further one is removed from it. Yet, paradoxically, that simpler time in Mead’s mind is also now “complex”. As opposed to the simple sailing ships built by the British, the simple sewage systems in Paris and London not to mention Rome, the simplicity of Pasteur’s discovery of how to make milk safe, not to mention the germ theory of disease (Robert Koch 1890), and the gobsmackingly obviousness of the smallpox vaccination discovered by Edward Jenner in 1796. And lets not forget The Magna Carta, and British common law. There are no complexities in these cultures, which are simplicity itself. History’s losers, alright.

    What is even more stunning is that in other contexts, these ‘complex’, yet non-technologically advanced cultures, are heralded as the inventors of mathematics (the Arabs, concept of zero), had tolerant societies (the Caliphate), the pyramids (built by Africans, not Egyptians), the Chinese (invented paper, gun powder and toilette paper), the Mayans (their calendar, astronomy, optics).

    The Na’vi should thank God that the invaders weren’t the Japanese (Rape of Nanking, Bataan Death March) or the Germans of WWII (Systematic Slaughter of the nearly entire Jewish population of Europe). Or the Turks of WWI fame (for historical idiots:Armenian Genocide). Or the Muslims of the 12th to 17th centuries and present day (anyone they could get their hands on). Or, goodness me, the Hutu’s of Rwanda. Or the USSR (Slaughter of the Kulaks, anyone? The Gulag Achipelago? Buelller? Bueller? ). Or the Red Chinese Army (Gee, Tibet, anyone?) And lets not forget what happens when the Khmer Rouge get their hands on you. On the other hand, just about any one can defeat the US army.

    I think the problem that Mead’s foreign audiences have is that the State Department keeps sending out people like Mead to explain “how this crazy American system works and why we do the things we do”.

    As to Mead’s assertion that the State Department imposes no restrictions on what he says, I don’t doubt it. On the other hand, I have no doubt at all that the State Department knows exactly what Mead will say. Funny that, and some thing for Mr. Mead to consider. My guess is that the State Department considers Mead to be ‘on message.’

    Does Mr. Mead seriously expect us to believe that every single word he has in print, every speech broadcast, hasn’t been reviewed and vetted by the State Department? Well, it is consistent with his views about technologically advanced cultures in general, and the US in particular.

    We’re simple.

    PS: You might mention to your foreign audience that most Americans, like most people, just want to have a nice life and get on with it. We are in fact quite lazy when it comes to foreign policy. Tell your audience that if they want to kill each other, we honestly don’t care, though we may tut tut a bit. We aren’t going to invade Iran because they want to slaughter gays, or women who fight-off their rapists. We aren’t going to invade a country because apostasy is punishable, let alone by death. Or that Christianity(not to mention Judaism) is effectively illegal in Muslim countries. Of course, when you talk about nuking some one, we do take notice.

    If they don’t want to trade with us, they don’t have to. Though, if they do want to trade with us, we do have some rules, which both of us must follow and adhere to. Don’t agree? Don’t trade.

    We don’t care that these complex non-technologically advanced countries are more interested in weapons than sanitation and clean water, more interested in religious oppression than religious freedom, more interested in pursuing the failed ideologies of communism, Marxism or Sharia law. We don’t care if they are more interested in raking in graft in order to privilege their family, clan, or tribe, no matter how much it costs their country and their fellow citizens. If they don’t want to be vaccinated against smallpox, rubella, measles, well so be it, but we won’t let you come to our country to spread preventable disease. If they want to treat their women like domestic animals, remove labia and clitoris, well, it’s their daughter, mother, sister, wife. Knock your self out, is our view.

    WE DONT CARE. Let them. Our political class will write a non-judgmental letter, asking for, well, nothing much, or else, they’ll do, another letter or nothing much.

    But if they come here and do that, please tell them that we will fuck them up and put them away wet. Because while we don’t really care what they do to each other, we do care about what they do to us, and those like us. We won’t respond immediately. They may have to hit us several times. Perhaps even more. (Tolerant and lazy, us.) But once a country, or an ideological movement, comes to the negative attention of the American people, well, then it will be time to not be nice. (There, see? Nuance.)

    It has been said, in military circles, that quantity(number of troops) has a quality (no matter how untrained those troops are) all its own.

    I would like to think that in diplomatic circles simplicity has a nuance all its own as well. But I seriously doubt it. Nevertheless, you might express to your foreign audience why at least some people in America hold them in (justifiably)complete and utter contempt.

    Why? A Palestinian has more rights in Israel than in Egypt or Jordan or Saudi Arabia. There are fifty-four countries in Africa, yet not one, nor any group of African countries tried to stop the slaughter in Darfur. Or lets talk about China’s male/female ratio problem. Tell them that we don’t like the govt telling us what to do, and that we really do believe that we, not our politicians are really in charge.

    Actually, we insist on it. And we have enough guns in private possession to back it up.

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