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March 13, 2014

David Mamet on Politics, Life, Sex, and the Angry Emptiness of Modern Culture

Interesting interview at the Federalist.

Some observations he makes:

“The left indicts anything that it cannot immediately identify as leftist as political,” Mamet said and insisted that his early plays for the stage and screen, including the aforementioned trio critics called “anti-capitalist”, were “apolitical.”


“The combative nature of human beings in relationships with each other and in the understanding of themselves is the essence of the tragic view,” Mamet said before continuing, “The marvelous thing about my discovery of conservative philosophy and economics is that it made sense with my previous experience in the world. It is saying that there are things beyond our understanding, but by observing them we might be able to deal with them. We can never completely do away with the final remainder of discomfort, mutual loathing, and self-doubt, because that is part of the human condition. Whatever we do, the price of failure will be chaos, but the price of success will also be chaos.”

Mamet sees a lot of problems in modern society's determination to take the competitive aspect -- animal spirits -- of life out of life, to denature it, to neuter it. (On this point he would probably have a great deal of agreement with dissident feminist Camille Paglia.)

It is the well-intentioned, but destructive attempt to assuage the fear of matriculation ["matriculation" is Mamet's term for the passage from adolescence to true adulthood -- ed.], and the lack of incentive to prove one’s worth, competence, and skill, that have created a culture of conformity, weakness, and banality. “If one tries to save the young from the rigors and traumas of life, you’re saving them from life,” Mamet said.

He asks, regarding sex, and what (my words, not his) could be characterized by a Brave New World sort of "Orgy-Porgy" trivialization/juvenlization of sex...

“What’s happened when a 19-year-old American male is jaded about sex?”

And answers his own question:

“Part of the matriculation process for a young man has always been”, Mamet continued, “I don’t know how to make a living, but I better figure it out or I’m never going to get laid. When you take that away, you take away the strongest goad he will ever experience in his life.”

He discusses one of my personal obsessions, shibboleths, a bit, though he calls them "recognition symbols" (which is of course all "shibboleths" mean).

“What is college? Nothing. Students learn five recognition symbols that make them comfortable in conversation with other people who know nothing. And they don’t realize that they’ve learned to rely too much on others.”

He also talks about another pet obsession, which is the idea that modern society really can only be understood by accepting that it is still very much a primitive society on its fundamental level:

His study of the Native Americans, which began with an article for the Smithsonian National Museum on Buffalos and the “national shame” of American atrocities toward Natives, led him to the discovery that “One sees how a primitive society has all the elements of ours, which is just another primitive society with a lot more technology.”

He talks more explicitly about politics (and race, and LBJ's Great Society, and so on) but I'll direct you to the article for that.

I think his unifying philosophy is this:

Society has become too allergic to conflict and competition, and has created too many rules and penalties for such. This began (as most projects do) with a decent enough goal -- let's reduce conflict; let's make life not so terribly competitive -- but it has gone too far, and society now punishes these things too much, and therefore punishes basic human nature too much, and too strongly represses the vital animal spirits that propel humans and drive human betterment (on both a human and societal level).

And this tends to make people bored (he talks about the boredom of modern society a lot), cowardly, passive, unproductive and ultimately empty.

A "we had to destroy the village in order to save the village" sort of take on the project to denature the human spirit.

That's my guess.

Awesome: D-Lamp links this:

"MEN WANTED for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success.

Ernest Shackleton 4 Burlington st.

Now not everyone, of course, can be Shackleton. But we seem to admire men like him less and less.

Shackleton's achievement, in case you don't know, was born of failure: His expedition to the Antarctic failed catastrophically. I think his ship got iced in and was immobilized and then lost.

But what he did then was amazing: he led his crew back to safety, despite impossible odds. I think they ultimately used rowboats, paddling through the open polar ocean, to make their way to the southernmost tip of South America. And even when they got that far, they had a long slog back to actual civilization.

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posted by Ace at 03:42 PM

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