By Albert Samaha
By Darwin BondGraham
By Keegan Hamilton
By Anna Merlan
By Anna Merlan
By Tessa Stuart
By Tessa Stuart
By Albert Samaha
John Maynard Keynes was twitted with changing his mind. He replied, "When the facts change, I change my opinion. What do you do, sir?"
Twentieth century's greatest play. Without bothering to go, Mailer called it a piece of garbage.
When he did get around to seeing it, he realized his mistake. He was no longer a Voice columnist, however, so he bought a page in the paper and wrote a retraction, praising the play as the masterpiece it is.
Every playwright's dream.
I once won one of Mary Ann Madden's "Competitions" in New York magazine. The task was to name or create a "10" of anything, and mine was the World's Perfect Theatrical Review. It went like this: "I never understood the theater until last night. Please forgive everything I've ever written. When you read this I'll be dead." That, of course, is the only review anybody in the theater ever wants to get.
My prize, in a stunning example of irony, was a year's subscription to New York, which rag (apart from Mary Ann's "Competition") I considered an open running sore on the body of world literacy—this due to the presence in its pages of John Simon, whose stunning amalgam of superciliousness and savagery, over the years, was appreciated by that readership searching for an endorsement of proactive mediocrity.
But I digress.
I wrote a play about politics (November, Barrymore Theater, Broadway, some seats still available). And as part of the "writing process," as I believe it's called, I started thinking about politics. This comment is not actually as jejune as it might seem. Porgy and Bess is a buncha good songs but has nothing to do with race relations, which is the flag of convenience under which it sailed.
But my play, it turned out, was actually about politics, which is to say, about the polemic between persons of two opposing views. The argument in my play is between a president who is self-interested, corrupt, suborned, and realistic, and his leftish, lesbian, utopian-socialist speechwriter.
The play, while being a laugh a minute, is, when it's at home, a disputation between reason and faith, or perhaps between the conservative (or tragic) view and the liberal (or perfectionist) view. The conservative president in the piece holds that people are each out to make a living, and the best way for government to facilitate that is to stay out of the way, as the inevitable abuses and failures of this system (free-market economics) are less than those of government intervention.
I took the liberal view for many decades, but I believe I have changed my mind.
As a child of the '60s, I accepted as an article of faith that government is corrupt, that business is exploitative, and that people are generally good at heart.
These cherished precepts had, over the years, become ingrained as increasingly impracticable prejudices. Why do I say impracticable? Because although I still held these beliefs, I no longer applied them in my life. How do I know? My wife informed me. We were riding along and listening to NPR. I felt my facial muscles tightening, and the words beginning to form in my mind: Shut the fuck up. "?" she prompted. And her terse, elegant summation, as always, awakened me to a deeper truth: I had been listening to NPR and reading various organs of national opinion for years, wonder and rage contending for pride of place. Further: I found I had been—rather charmingly, I thought—referring to myself for years as "a brain-dead liberal," and to NPR as "National Palestinian Radio."
This is, to me, the synthesis of this worldview with which I now found myself disenchanted: that everything is always wrong.
But in my life, a brief review revealed, everything was not always wrong, and neither was nor is always wrong in the community in which I live, or in my country. Further, it was not always wrong in previous communities in which I lived, and among the various and mobile classes of which I was at various times a part.
And, I wondered, how could I have spent decades thinking that I thought everything was always wrong at the same time that I thought I thought that people were basically good at heart? Which was it? I began to question what I actually thought and found that I do not think that people are basically good at heart; indeed, that view of human nature has both prompted and informed my writing for the last 40 years. I think that people, in circumstances of stress, can behave like swine, and that this, indeed, is not only a fit subject, but the only subject, of drama.
I'd observed that lust, greed, envy, sloth, and their pals are giving the world a good run for its money, but that nonetheless, people in general seem to get from day to day; and that we in the United States get from day to day under rather wonderful and privileged circumstances—that we are not and never have been the villains that some of the world and some of our citizens make us out to be, but that we are a confection of normal (greedy, lustful, duplicitous, corrupt, inspired—in short, human) individuals living under a spectacularly effective compact called the Constitution, and lucky to get it.
This is perhaps the most self-serving articles I've read in quite a while. The arrogance is dripping from Mamet's words. It's cool that his worldview has changed over ye years. But all he does is resort to the same kind of cheap name-calling, misrepresentation and opinion-as-fact nonsense. No logic and no objective evidence to support his newfound perspective. Just mindless drivel.
Mamet's Chicago School "wake-up" call certainly hasn't helped his creative work any, which is perhaps instructive. Presumably he produced, what many regard as, his most insightful and enduring work when he was a "brain-dead" liberal, while his recent work is widely regarded as turgid drivel. The latter we now know was written under the influence of all that Friedman and Sowell ("greatest contemporary philosopher? are you kidding me?"), which is useful to know, and may explain a good deal about an otherwise mystifying decline. Here we have yet more turgid drivel in essay form, in the trademark terse (or is that--now finally revealed to be--banal?) bursts, filled with the sort of whining and humorless "irritable bowel" self-righteousness that so often seems to typify this species of conservatism (Chaney's a classic example, Rumsfeld, definitely Romney and Ryan, the talk jocks Flush Limpdick and Sean Insanity). You need to have a colonoscopy, David, you may have ulcers. Hard to stomach (!) this sort of thing really, post-2008. Where exactly does Mamet live these days? On which particular planet? Can't be close to downtown Manhattan surely? Aside from the monstrous ethical failings of the "Lords of the Free Market" with whom Mamet now aligns himself, those same crooks and buffoons also proved themselves to be just about as "brain dead" as it is possible to imagine (a little like the salesmen in Glengarry Glen Ross--ooooh, who stole the leads, boys? That's a really hard one!). Still obscenely rich of course (and saved by a "free-market-interfering" government, no less--funny how they suddenly go all "non laissez-faire" at such times, eh?), but breathtakingly stupid for all that. Driving the whole world economy into the wall like men who got into Ivy League Business Schools because of family connections but really weren't all that bright (no prizes for getting that allusion)--how's that for certifiable "brain death"? And as if to confirm just HOW brain dead these "realists" are, they cling on to the ridiculous notion that the disease is the only cure for, well, the disease. Is it okay to conclude in the proper Mamet-esque style? I will anyway, and risk running foul of the moderator: David, you're starting to sound like a cock-sucking mothe-fucking idiot!
So Mr Mamet is now an economist, and can judge who is 'the greatest contemporary philosopher' to boot, although said philosopher is more of an economist than a philosopher, which I guess makes it easier. Maybe he should devote more of his energies to his plays, seeing as they haven't exactly been wildly successful of late.
He might also tell us where he has found those liberals who endorse the slogan 'Business Bad, Government Good', and who believe human beings are all basically good at heart. Except for President Assad and his henchmen, plus Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, obviously. And the Nazis. And the Fascists. And Lenin, Stalin and Beria, and a whole bunch of Communists. And King Leopold's administrators in Africa. Oh, and then there were those guys in the Inquisition, whom no-one expects, admittedly. Some of the Roman Emperors too. In fact, there's quite a long list of Really Not Very Nice People, and we've only just got started.
But of course liberals don't read Thomas Sowell, so they have these crazy ideas that, just as one branch of government should not be given all the political power, so government needs to let businesses do their thing, but, given that the sole purpose of businesses is to make money, they need to be regulated, to some extent, by all three branches of government, because otherwise—and this may come as a shock to Mr Mamet—they will, like Grünenthal, Enron, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Bros., the BCCI, or Koch Enterprises, not come to a nice negotiated arrangement with us, though they might do so with each other, producing, not a compromise, but a cabal. No: they will capture government regulatory bodies and (as Mr Mamet might put it) exploit the f•ck out of the rest of us.
Seems like Mr Mamet has lived long enough to start seeing some truth. Good to hear and good to read about this conversion from fantasy to reality. I wish more on the left would stop for a moment and examine their belief systems as he has. Moreover, I would like to see some on the left pick up a book by Sowell, Friedman, or Steele and see how the other half lives and breathes. For them it may prove to be a breath of fresh air.
This editorial was incredibly ponderous. I wonder what a free market playwright reads into the fact that his latest play, The Anarchist, closed only one day after the official opening. Your time is past, David. Accept it.
His name escapes me, but I recall hearing a liberal publicly say that on one thing he had to admit, and that is from his observations, "Conservatives have a better understanding of human behavior". Coming to that conclusion makes me think that he too, may be at the beginning of his journey to becoming more of a conservative. The deeper you think about it and the more you observe mankind the more you understand how much of liberal philosophy undermines the very hard wired subconscious essence of who and what we are. Humans don't only need to be fed and kept warm. We have a certain pecking order that we establish subconsciously with each other just like other animals do. We need purpose in our lives and we have through tens of thousands of years developed transactional skills between us. We instinctively have give and take attitude and each of us has something we can take away or offer to the other that usually keeps things in balance. We al have egos, and we all have roles to play.
Related to all of this, while watching Book TV this morning, a very liberal author was plugging her new book titled "The End of Men: And the Rise of Women". I thought about how different I interpret the same information. Much of what she discusses is true, but she can't see how big a role our government now has in our lives and the impact this has. The government has not only become the elephant in the room in every household in America, but in truth it's now the Alpha Male in every home. It has separated us all into groups and it, not the husband and father is the one who has to be negotiated with. I first saw this happening when the state got more and more involved in separation and divorces. There was no longer the balance of power that keeps both parties reasonable and sane with each other. This argument goes on and on, and and the consequences manifest themselves in many ways to each and every group we are divided into. None of them service our needs as free individuals with hopes and dreams and aspirations nor our need to work and love and be loved and simply do our job as a free human being.
If you're not a liberal at twenty you don't have a heart . If you're not a conservative by 40 you don't have a brain..........Churchil.
If Mr. Mamet at one time truly believed that “everything is always wrong” then indeed he truly deserved the self-imposed title of “brain dead liberal”. He goes on to illustrate that Washington politicians who are perfect beings willing to work tirelessly and perfectly for the common good are an abstraction (which of course, such beings are) without admitting that the Constitutional provisions for checks and balances to promote stasis don’t amount to much more than a historical abstraction when taken from the modern perspective. His viewpoint is a gross over-simplification, and as abstract to the modern reality of politics as an airplane made out of donut holes; so simplistic in fact that I find it difficult to locate a single opportunity to acknowledge any of his claims. He even throws in the term “Marxist” as if that term has any sort of functional value to anyone except for some babble-mouthed, McCarthyist pundit looking to use emotionally laden catchphrases to scare up some ratings. “Marxist” is as anachronistic a term as “Whig”; it has absolutely zero bearing on modern policy, and as soon as someone utters the word, I have to wonder what they are up to. Static vs. mobile class systems? In stating that most Americans “probably will change status more than once within [their] lifetime” Mamet is dead wrong. The reality is that Americans think of themselves as far more mobile than they factually are. Research shows that most people start life in a specific income bracket and then stay there, the single biggest determinant of one’s class identity as an adult being his father’s occupation and income, not their education level or job. This isn’t to connotatively suggest that “everything is always wrong”—the connotation here is simply that relevant and complex social factors are at play and it is worthwhile to examine them in order to find solutions that fit the complexity of the problem. The solutions do not always call upon ever more zealous government interventions any more than they always call upon ever freer markets, and a real solution likely lies somewhere cooperatively in between the two. Mamet is “hard-pressed to see an instance where the intervention of the government led to much beyond sorrow”? Do the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution mean anything to him? The Social Security Act? The intervention of US military in fascist Italy and Germany (and the subsequent massive government trade deficits that bore us out of the Great Depression)? To hear Mr. Mamet make such base generalizations is truly disappointing to me since I have such a great deal of respect for him as an intellectual and consider his social commentary to be typically peerless. Unfortunately, in this instance, Mamet gives himself exactly enough rope to hang himself with—marking himself as out of touch in the process—but what is even more egregious and counter-intuitive given his history is that he isn’t even slightly sophisticated, original, or deeply critical in his approach to being out of touch, which is why I label him a “brain dead conservative”. All this Paul on the road to Damascus, scales falling away from the eyes, sudden conversion story leaves me with is the impression that Mamet is politically naïve and should stick to what he knows best; crafting socially relevant stage productions with snappy dialogue—which apparently would sell more tickets if it weren’t for that pesky director fouling everything up…
I am also late to the conversation which I found mentioned in one of the online conservative magazines. I was looking for an enlightened reaction to Obama's victory and not the "God sucks" response that babbled out of Glenn Beck's blazing mouth or other similar belches. However, after reading Mamet's epiphany, I realized I just stumbled upon another simplistic, historical moron. Over-simplification and blatant generalizations make me wonder, about the depth of his transformation. Milton Friedman!!??? Paul Johnson? Mamet must be hanging with too many American buffaloes and growing fat with lucre. You don't have to be a liberal to realize Mamet is looking through the large end of the telescope.
1. This is what happens to many young liberals as they grow older and become wealthy.
2. I don't know many liberals who believe everything is wrong.
3. Most people do not have the opportunity to experience more then one class in a life time.
4. This article is a severe case of projection as generalization for a whole society.
Great article, David. I made a similar journey, but it focused more on liberty vs. tyranny as I studied Constitutional Law in law school. I originally felt the government could help those who needed help and I believed capitalism was inherently immoral. I still hold those opinions (ideologically) but you can't truly analyze the situation without thinking about freedom or liberty. If we support the government getting more involved in our lives then we accept that the government is going to take more of our money and, more importantly, our freedom. If the government weren't corruptible then I would be okay with that, but it is not. Risking our freedom is not worth any government program. Capitalism, on the other hand, leaves people behind - regardless of the reason - some people just can't or won't compete at a basic level. That is sad and to support a system that "allows" that seems wrong. But, after life, liberty is our greatest right and Capitalism - with its problems - allows the most liberty of any system of government or economics. So, while I am still not a huge fan of Capitalism, I support it as the most appropriate and beneficial system available by fallible men and women.
I know I'm late to the party, but someone just tweeted a link to this article. I read it, and I wanted to (massively belatedly) welcome you to the dark side :):.
One way I've thought about the overall issues you are raising here is that if most people mostly behave decently, there is no need for mass control. If most people are mostly bad, there is need for mass control, but how can you trust them to elect good "controllers"?
There is a guy doing some videos introducing the idea of trusting humanity to work it out rather than trying to delegate moral decisions to an external entity. I think his work is some of the most important political commentary being done today, because it's so accessible and makes the points so profoundly.
If you search google or youtube for "George Ought To Help" and "Edgar The Exploiter" you will see them.
Anyway--just wanted to say hi, express my support, and mention those videos. (Another great primer is "Philosophy of Liberty", also on youtube.)
I hope you'll be writing more on this topic, and that I get a chance to see your play.
@occupyconsciousnessn Amazing how open and logical the knee jerk liberal is? No? George Orwell warned us of creatures like you.
@morrissey11 I think the entire array of juvenile, scatological huffing and puffing in your own unhinged rant pretty much establishes you as being unworthy of bringing any reasonable criticism to Mamet's essay. The fact that you've barely created a single cogent point in all of those words confirms it.
@leslieann Antisthenes, you seem to be making it up as you go along.
His popularity waned after the late-90s. His Pulitzer was awarded for his works in the 80s, which he rode to get work until the late 20th century. His only 21st century work of note, Anarchist almost closed out of town, but absolutely came down for good in its first week.
No doubt his early work was pimp, and his associations with his first wife, Lindsay Crouse, William Macy and Joe Mantegna led to some amazing synergies. His unique approach to dialogue inspired many modern screenwriters and playwrights. That was then. No doubt he wrote a bit in this century, but nothing approaching the level of critical appraisal of his earlier works. Indeed, his most popular writing of recent note was the 2011 screed announcing the history of his early 21st century discovery of conservatism.
Unless you mean that his earlier classic works, like Glen, remain popular, there is no support for your proposition that HE is popular as ever.
Can you provide any evidence to the contrary?
@leslieann I guess Mamet will get the last laugh, he's as popular as ever. You best get your hand out for your government cheque!
@MysticMan If you are really looking for enlightenment, then you would do well to re-read or at least review and understand all of the "great" or notable economists from Adam Smith to Marx, Keynes, Hayak, and yes, Friedman. There are others as well, and they have engaged in an ongoing dialogue, each building on the works that their predecessors left behind. Dismissing Friedman without logic or explanation makes you look as foolish as Phil Donohue did when he thought he had trapped Friedman in a logic corner, and then Friedman deftly sidestepped the trap and turned the trap on Donohue -- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=76frHHpoNFs
In fact, find a youtube clip of Friedman that you can logically or factually disprove, if you can; I've watched over 20 clips and have yet to find one that I have a serious problem with.
@miltonb1 I am 65 years old, and while I don't know of and studies to confirm this or prove otherwise, from what I've seen I'd have to say it has always been common in America to experience more than one class in one's lifetime. I will agree with you this may be far less common now and in America's future. It's very difficult to leave the plantation.
@miltonb1 RE: 3:) and under socialism no people will have any oportunity to experience more than one class.
@miltonb1 you know your number 3 item there? That kind of emo/tragic sounding lament about something high-falutin'ly called "lack of class mobility" or whatever? I would bet that THAT is precisely what Mamet was referring to in your item 2, how there's always some systemic problem that's forcing people into the status quo.
Actually your 1 is probably also an example. This tragic thing where people start out young and liberal and then they get old and wealthy. This is Something Wrong. and then you follow it up with your number three how it's bad that that doesn't happen.
Everything is wrong. See?
@miltonb1 This is what happens when young liberals try to join a conversation beyond their years and experience.
Incidentally, I'm not wealthy and yet feel exactly the same way Mr. Mamet does. As for having the opportunity to experience more than one class in a lifetime: in this country you have the option of making your own opportunities -- or at least, you did up until now.
When you're as good a writer and thinker as Mr. Mamet, try again.
@g_love Capitalism isn't immoral, it;'s amoral. That's why John Adams said, "we have no government, armed with power, capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge and licentiousness would break the strongest cords of our Constitution, as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. " The founders understood that we must have a moral guide separate from the Constitution and the laws created under it, if our citizens were to be truly free. And that is why they prevented the government from being able to establish an official religion, so that the choice of moral guide would also be free and not compulsory.
@g_love That's a very thoughtful analysis. In my opinion, capitalism--real, free-market capitalism, not the crony capitalism that the robber barons were participating in with their sweetheart government deals, etc--is the best system we are going to be abel to come up with given that we have fallible human beings. The *best* system, in my opinion, might be described as voluntary communism, where people of their own free will have agreed to truly give to the best of their ability and only receive according to their needs. You need virtuous people for this to work.
The benefit that capitalism provides is that if a person is not virtuous, they still have a motivation to make the best product they can--perform to the best of their ability, and be productive--simply to enjoy the benefits of the profits that can be made from that.
Similarly, customers can be entirely selfish--refuse to pay any more than they absolutely have to for something, mercilessly switch to a competitor if they offer something better at a lower price--and it encourages virtuous behavior on the other side, offering customers more for less, etc.
There is, of course, the question of what happens to people who don't have a marketable skill, etc. The only answer for that (besides the fact that the market is going to be the most efficient way of providing _something_ for people to do, so there might be, under a complete free market, a lot more opportunity than we see now where we take these people out of the equations by giving them alternate streams of support), in the end, is compassion. No system is going to work well if people are, generally, bad.
You have to have at least partly good people, or at least part of your people have to be good, or you won't have a good system. There is no way around it. The beauty of capitalism is that it _can_ work without completely virtuous people. That makes it an incredible system, one to be celebrated.
But as human beings we should realize that we have the capability of being more than animals, and not just taking the shortest path to pleasure every time it is presented. We should choose this, because, in the end:
There is no virtuous way to force people to be virtuous.
Again, thanks, g_love, for your thoughtful exploration of this idea.
@clive.younger You're not making much of an argument about what is brain-dead about his position as he has stated it. Is this a clever trolling thing where you say "gotcha! I was _obviously_ playing brain-dead liberal! And you fell for it!"?
@alabastard I agree that his remarks were not written with balanced advocacy, but to say he didn't make a cogent point (without a single specific argument on your side, I will observe) isn't true. Still you shouldn't dismiss them:
1) Mamet's most widely acclaimed works were written at the outset of his career, and were indictments of the cynicism and consequences of naked capitalism. For those, he earned his Pulitzer. His more recent works, inspired in part by his new conservative faith, have not been well-received.
2) Considering Sowell 'the greatest contemporary philosopher' is a clear ideology smell -- there is no serious way this point can be sustained. Sowell is not a serious philosopher, and while he writes about philosophers' ideologies (the book on Marx being a keen example), his writings are not even serious philosophical criticism, let alone independent works of philosophy. Sowell is a brilliant, well-educated and articulate man, a widely acclaimed columnist and economist. But he is at best a wannabe as a philoospher.
3) The use of the phrase "brain dead" is unfortunate, and not an adequate substitute for non-argument whether by Mamet or the OP. I believe the OP was trying to make that point.
@bflake You're right. So let's make sure that the middle class starts to grow again and people in poverty are given a better opportunity to rise out of poverty.
@michaeljsouth @miltonb1 another confused southoner won't surprise many. Class, as in bucks and politics be two different things, Bubba.
If I understand your reply to my comment you are under the impression that I am a young liberal. Your reply is exactly the projection I'm talking about. Hoping to not reveal too much of my identity I will give you some idea as to how off base your assumptions are. I am 64 years old and the son of immigrants who came here in 1947 penniless. I have spent my entire adult life in the corporate world, most of it as a highly paid senior executive. As far as being a good writer is concerned, I am a published writer who has won a few awards but gave up writing many, many years ago. I certainly did not get close to the success of Mamet. I never tried. But I'm sure we can agree that today's successful artist could very well be forgotten tomorrow. So if you are going to comment at least cut out the assumptions and insults.
@w96ladypilot A lot of the economic data indicates that the best way to help people out of poverty is to raise taxes on the rich... not for the sake of adding that money to government coffers, but because if a rich person has a choice between paying a sum of taxes to the government or using it to grow his business in a manner that functions as a tax write-off, he will generally grow his business, and that will create jobs that can put people in poverty to work.
@w96ladypilot People who rise out of poverty become taxpayers. It's called investing in the nation.
people in poverty will never rise out of poverty on the backs of the taxpayers, no matter how much they are taxed.
@miltonb1 @bflake Really, it would be just as good a title to say "cold hearted liberal" as it is to have "brain-dead liberal" [I realize, though, that the context in the article is a phrase Mamet jokingly applied to himself in the first place, and I don't know at all whether he came to the same conclusion I'm pointing out here]. My main objection to what liberals advocate politically is the profound and long lasting damage it does to the people they think they are trying to help.
@clive.younger @g_love Ok clive if you're trolling, you got me, but you do know that JP Morgan is in a complete tentacle intertwine fest with the Federal Reserve don't you? Government most definitely *is* the problem. Where do you think they get that kind of money to play around with?