Sean LaFreniere

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Sean's Political Dictionary
So that YOU know what SEAN is talking about when he opens his big mouth:

 

Conservative:

Date: 1831. From Latin conservare, for "to keep", "guard", or "observe". A Conservative relies upon family traditions and figures of authority to establish and maintain values. 

A Conservative puts group security above personal freedoms. 

A Conservative believes that successful use and maintenance of power proves God's favor for the government. 

A Conservative believes that social values, religious rules, and forms of governments may only be altered gradually. 

Stability and continuity are the goals of government.

 

Liberal:

Date: 1820. From Latin liberalis for "free". A Liberal uses reason and logic to set personal, social, and religious values. 

A Liberal places personal freedom above group security. 

A Liberal believes that governments rule by the consent of the governed. 

A liberal believes that governments may be changed or removed at the will of the people.  

A Liberal supports rapid change in the pursuit of progress and reform.

Freedom and Justice are the goals of government.

 

Note: a nation, and an individual, may move back and forth between these positions often. They rarely sum up a personality completely. And they should never be permanent blinders for anyone to view the world.

When a people succeed in a Liberal revolution, for instance, they often find themselves in the Conservative position protecting these gains. Similarly a person might have a Liberal view on public financial assistance and then move into a conservative position once these demands are met.

One might say that Affirmative Action is a prime example. At one point instituting Affirmative Action was a Liberal position, it was needed to reverse decades of discrimination following the end of Slavery. However, today the Liberal position might well be the ending of Affirmative Action, as it has largely completed its task and now stands as a stumbling block to truly moving the nation beyond race as a discriminatory trait. Meanwhile, the position of defending AA is now actually a Conservative stance (whether its so-called "liberal" defenders realize it or not).

Another way to think about this is that these terms describe a way of thinking about issues, not the positions on those issues. That is a Conservative might support a war because politicians they respect urge it, because the enemy scares them, and ultimately because it just "feels right". A Liberal might also come to support the war in spite of the position of authority figures and celebrities, not because it feels right, but because hours of research and consideration support the cause.

Neither is a "better way" of coming to a position, necessarily. Sometimes too much thinking interferes with a solid moral judgment, such as on the Abortion issue. And then other times only rational examination can skip over the emotional baggage and come to the most reasonable decision, as we see in the Abortion issue.

I realize this might be difficult for some people to accept after a long time of hearing party dogma on the issue. Personally I find value in BOTH positions. On some issues I am myself rather Conservative and on others I am quite Liberal. The same with the terms Radical and Reactionary, noted below. I found that stepping beyond these labels opened up my thoughts and cleared my head of a lot of bs.

 

Reactionary:

Date: 1840. From Latin reagere for "to act". A Reactionary uses government pressure as a means of containing and responding to changes in society.

 

Radical:

Date: 14th century. From Latin radicalis from radix for "root". A Radical supports social movements and political pressure groups as a means of affecting change in government.

 

The Right:

Date: early modern. The term comes from  English Parliamentary Rules; which place the party in power on the right of the Speaker. As the Conservatives held sway for a long time, the term Right came to be associated with the "Establishment" and thus with Conservative politics.

 

The Left:

Date: early modern. The party in Opposition sits on the Speaker's left. The Left came to be associated with labor movements, the lower classes, and socialist politics. It has also come to be associated with Liberalism. This was useful for Conservative politicians, and Socialists as well, during the 60's. But I find this to be a big intellectual and political mistake.

 

Capitol Goods:

Date: circa 1639. From the French from Latin capitalis for "top", used in French for "principal" or "chief". (1) : a stock of accumulated goods; especially at a specified time and in contrast to income received during a specified period (2) : accumulated goods devoted to the production of other goods (3) : accumulated possessions calculated to bring in income

 

Capitalism:

Date: 1877. An economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market

 

Socialism:

Date: 1837. From Latin socialis for "friend" or "companion" or "associate". Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods; usually there is no private property; in Marxist theory this is also considered just a transitional stage between capitalism and communism and it is distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done.

 

Communism:

Date: 1840. From French communisme, from Latin communis for "common". A doctrine based on revolutionary Marxian socialism and Marxism-Leninism in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed. It is the final stage of society in Marxist theory in which the state has withered away and economic goods are distributed equitably. In its only examples of practical application, in the USSR, China, and Cuba it became a totalitarian system where a single authoritarian party controls state-owned means of production and the people are enslaved in production geared to support the power of this party.

 

Note: in Marxist theory these three systems represent a sliding scale, with Capitalism on the Right, Socialism in the middle, and Communism on the Left. A nation was supposed to move from one to the other over time. However, in practice few systems in the world have ever been purely one or the other. Most national economic models employ some of all three.

While the US and Europe are considered the paragons of Capitalism, they both retain many Socialist elements. Both the US and Europe offer state sanctioned monopolies of public utilities. The American Postal Service is a state owned enterprise, as are the European aerospace entities. Europe offers state run healthcare, as do many American states, and both regulate the health industry heavily.

Through out history Europe and the US have also held some Communist elements. The common grazing lands of town centers and the great unfenced Western plains were both representative of these traditions. One might say that Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, and the Dole are also holdovers from our more communal days.

On the other hand, while China has long been a paragon of Socialism / Communism, it still has many elements of free enterprise. They allow small farmers and craftsmen to sell excess production on the open market, they have private telecoms and industrial companies, and now they have a stock market, the ultimate symbol and apparatus of Capitalism.

When one system or the other fails to serve a nation, many proponents argue that actually the system simply was not implemented purely enough. However, attempts to purify these systems require a heavy hand in government, education, and economic practice. And this has led to oppressive regimes and brutalized citizens.

 

Democracy:

Date: 1576. From Greek dEmokrati, from demos "people" + kracy "rule". A government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections; usually accompanied by the absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges.

 

Republic:

Date: 1604. From Latin respublica; from res "thing" + publica "of the people". A government having a chief of state who is not a monarch and who is elected by popular vote.

 

Note: that the root of the word Democracy is Greek, while the root of the word Republic is Latin. These terms are NOT antithetical, they do not even derive from the same language.

In common use they both have come to describe types of Liberal governments, specifically the one is a type of the other. It is possible for a nation to be a Democracy, but NOT also a Republic. However, a nation that is a Republic is ALWAYS also a Democracy. A Republic is a TYPE of Democracy.

The UK is a Democracy, but not a Republic, because of the Queen. Ireland became a Republic only after it dropped from the Commonwealth and replaced the Queen with an elected President

 

Fascism:

Date: 1921 From Latin fascis for "bundle" or group. Last, but not least, is this term, which actually combines the economic system and the political system entirely. In this system the state and large corporations merge, the rights of the individual are subordinated to the glory of the State, and all dissent is suppressed. It often utilizes a racial or religious cause to motivate the people into giving up their rights in the first place. These states usually rise out of an economic collapse or hardship with high inflation and unemployment.

 
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Wednesday, February 25, 2004

The Gospel According To Mel

I watched Mel's passion play this morning, the first showing on Ash Wednesday. I should probably say that I was raised Catholic, but am now a confirmed agnostic. And although I am seriously ambivalent about the role of religion in society, and in history, I have great respect for the positive role that faith can play in people's lives.

***

How was the film as a work of theatre?

The cinematography by Caleb Deschanel was actually pretty good, although a bit derivative. We had the obligatory moving clouds and full moon in a dark night sky. The lighting was evocative and well used to denote a changed world after the death of Jesus. Nothing earth shattering in novelty, but proficiently done.

The soundtrack by John Debney was moody and exotic sounding, which was perfect for this film. Similarly, no one spoke English, which was nice for that feeling of cinema veritas, but reading subtitles will probably bother many "groundling" viewers. And, as some have pointed out, reading subtitles takes something of the punch out of the words of Jesus and friends.

I did enjoy the period sets by Franesco Frigeri and Carlo Gervasi. I especially approved of the Lithostrotos and the Praetorium. These were both properly Roman and yet seemed to fit the stone color, size, and rough hewn cut of many other buildings in Jerusalem (as seen on TV). Similarly the costumes by Maurizio Millenotti worked well. The armor of the Temple Guards and the Roman soldiers was suitably believable. And there were no garish errors, like a passing car, to report.

And I was actually quite impressed with Italian/Hollywood actress Monica Belluci. She is so pretty that it is rather jarring to see her allowing a director to film her at anything less than her best. And it was also a bit surprising not to see her cleavage. I was also impressed with Hristo Shopov, a Bulgarian actor, who played Pontius Pilate, and Claudia Gerini, an Italian actress, who played his wife Claudia Procles. Some of the other Roman soldiers were also effective actors.

So what were the movie's faults?

First, it felt like a play. By which I mean that lines and actions seemed exaggerated and unrealistic. And the sets were claustrophobic and few in number. This really would be an easy film to put on as a play. And I guess this is natural, since this movie is really one in a long line of traditional Catholic "Passion Plays" put on in Europe and America for centuries.

A second fault was the use of cinematic devices which seemed childishly simple and a bit blunt. As an example there is the apparition of Satan; complete with insects, snakes, an aborted fetus, and even transvestitism or anti-female imagery. We also had a lot of overdone gore and make up on the face of Judas, on some children, and on the body of Jesus.

And aside from the main characters the film is filled with two dimensional, grotesque caricatures of human beings, both Roman and Jew. And the imagery, lighting, and music are about as subtle as a train wreck. But mostly, The Passion was the most bloody and sadistic film that I have ever seen. Again, The Passion is the most violent film - ever.

***

And now for the politics.

I do think that the film took some liberties with the Scriptural sources and mostly ignores those from secular histories (a shame). But the movie is still a fairly good representation of the Gospels of Matthew and John. It should probably be noted that these Gospels were written by Roman subjects under Roman rule, and later codified by Roman councils both imperial and Catholic. So this is probably why the Romans get a bit whitewashed.

Mel has created both Roman and Jewish characters that are rather sympathetic. Abenader, Pontius, and his wife Claudia were all portrayed as thinking humans, with personal motivations, and even some conscience. The Jewish characters of Simon and Peter, and even Malchus, the servant of the High Priest who loses an ear capturing Jesus, were also given some redeeming qualities or moments.

However, some Roman and Jewish characters are downright disgusting. Members of the Jewish rabble were given horrible dental features and made out to be intellectually brutal. And many of the Roman guards were portrayed as bloodthirsty, stupid, and drunk. I had alternating images of Nazis and the Three Stooges whenever I saw a Roman soldier.

But I must say that the real dividing line here appears to be class, not race. High ranking members of both the Jewish and the Roman sides (it should always be kept in mind, as Mel said himself "all the characters in the film are [either] Jews [or Romans, but not Christians"]) received developed and recognizably human characterization. Whereas the freaks, horrors, and zealots were equally found in the lower classes of both ethnic groups.

And an intelligent viewer should be cognizant of the fact that many of the Jewish Priests and common people refused to condemn Jesus. And those that did were a small and vocal crowd (both in the movie and in Scripture), members of the status quo power groups, who were specifically involved in a plot to get rid of him and his reformist/heretical movement.

Similarly a smart viewer should put the Roman soldiers into the context of their roles... those involved in torture and execution, in any army or government, are usually vulgar, brutal, and animalistic by nature. This is what makes them suited to these duties, or that is what performing these duties does to a man. One shouldn't judge an entire army, government, or people by those in these roles.

And finally, one shouldn't forget that Jesus and his followers dressed in traditional robes, wore beards, and kept both the Sabbath (usually) and the Passover rites. The Apostles often called Jesus "Rabbi" and Jesus even taught openly in the synagogues - as noted in the Gospels and in the film. So, the heroes of this film, such as they are, were not yet "Christians," rather they were obviously Jews.

But those dumb bigots who go and see this film and come away emotionally aroused against the Jews (or perhaps even against Italians) are going to be a real group. These are the folks who put "Confirmed: Jews killed Jesus" on their church reader boards. They were probably anti-Semitic and racist before the film, if not actually incensed to violence, and this film will probably give them motive and ammunition to make at least philosophical attacks upon Jews, if not real physical violence.

No, I don't think that Mel shouldn't have made his film because of the few nut jobs out there who will over react because of it. But I do think that it is very reasonable that Jews in America and Europe might be unsettled by this film and fear of these nut jobs. And society should talk about this and be ready to act in defense of the minorities put at risk.

***

Historical/Scriptural Accuracy.

My main complaint about the film is the violence. It is NOT "scriptural". I challenge anyone to find passages that detail the "scourging". In fact, Luke never mentions it at all, and the other Apostles only barely: "and when he had scourged Jesus he delivered him to be crucified". Similarly the gospels barely mention the march to Golgatha/Calvary with the cross except to mention that Simon of Cyrene carried it behind Jesus. So, it must be said that all the blood and flesh ripping in the film was all Mel's idea. He wanted it there for whatever reason, and I found it to be gratuitous.

Now that I touch on Scriptural/historical accuracy I should also probably point out a few more flaws. First, Barabbas was not simply a murderer, with one bad eye and bad teeth, who acted crazy and debased for the crowd. In fact, the longest description of him comes from Mark: "and there was one named Barabbas, which lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in the insurrection." We should keep in mind that the Roman province of Judea was previously a free Jewish kingdom with a long history of revolting against foreign rule, from the Assyrians to the Romans. Therefore it should be understood that Barabbas was a political prisoner and perhaps even a "war hero" to the people who called for him to be released.

And lastly, in the film Mel has Mary Magdalene and Mary, mother of Jesus, witness to his trial, torture, and execution. However, in all but the Gospel of John the second Mary is NOT mother to Jesus, but a related Mary, the mother of James and Joses. Mark and others refer to her simply as "the other Mary" and one would expect them to speak of the Savior's mother with a bit more reverence and specificity. But with out this device it might have been a wee harder for Mel to get the audience crying.

***

A controversial reading of the Scripture and of Mel's film.

Another historical/political point might as well be said out loud... Jesus was guilty of the charges and the punishment was considered fitting. Jesus did indeed "work" on the Sabbath, preaching and healing, even in the synagogues. Mark quotes Jesus: "The Sabbath was made for the man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath." And Jesus did claim to be the Messiah and the Son of God. Mark quotes Caiaphus, the High Priest, asking: "Art though the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" To which Jesus answers: "I am. And ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power; and coming in the clouds of heaven". And crucifixion was a punishment often meted to religious dissidents and political rebels, of which Jesus was admittedly both.

The authority figures of Judea, the Hebrew king, the Jewish High Priest, and the Roman governor, all had legitimate reason to fear Jesus and wish his doctrines stamped out. Jesus had been out among the rural villages and outlying towns working miracles, teaching in the Synagogues, and gathering a very large crowd, a "multitude", that followed him from town to town, growing larger and more aggressive as they approached the capitol. At one point the crowd harasses two passersby and orders two blind men (or one, depending which Gospel you read) to keep silent. Eventually Jesus enters into Jerusalem on a bed of palms and other people's cloaks.

The first thing Jesus does when he is in the city is go to the High Temple and overturn the tables of the money changers (who were necessary to convert the different coins of visiting pilgrims into temple script to be used for offerings), scold the priests and the scribes, and even throw them out of their own temple. Furthermore Jesus calls himself, or allows himself to be called, "King of the Jews" and the "messiah", who is prophesied to lead the people in revolt (against either or both Herod, King of the Jews, or Pilot, head of the Roman occupation).

And yet, although the Gospels are actually rather spare with the details, one could read Mathew's and Mark's gospel, and Mel's movie, as showing that Caiaphas was looking for Jesus to repent and avoid punishment: "Answerest thou nothing? What is it which these witness against thee?". The same can be said for Pontius Pilot, who repeatedly asks Jesus to defend himself from the charges. In fact, in spite of Jesus's silence Pilot tells the crowd that he can find no fault in him and offers to release him as the traditional Passover pardon. By Luke's account, and Mel's, even the Jewish "king", the collaboratist figurehead, Herod, refuses to condemn Jesus: "No, nor yet Herod: for I sent you to him; and lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto him."

In Mathew's account Jesus tells his disciples on the night of his capture "Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled? Thus it must be." And John quote's Jesus telling Pilot "Thou couldest have no power at all against me except it were given them from above..." So, Jesus actually condemns himself... we should all leave the Jews and the Romans both blameless.

In fact, the Gospels tell us that Jesus lived his life with the intent of offending the authorities and the even the general population, to suffer at their hands, and by his suffering to buy humanity redemption. He saw this coming early, John: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of man be lifted up". And not even the pain and humiliation of the most violent of Hollywood endings would discourage him. Ultimately, this is the message that Mel wanted to send to the viewing audience. And to the extent that Mel Gibson also offends thee, he similarly hopes to redeem thee. This is a film about the Passion of Jesus of Nazareth, by the passionate Mel of Malibu.

"It is accomplished".

UPDATE: a commentator on NPR today noted... when two people, to armies, are fighting and violence occurs you can at least say that the viewer is engaged in the contect... but when the victim of violence is chained to a post with no hope of rescue... then 119 minutes of torture watching is pure sadism. Agreed. Roger Simon has a similar take.

Sean: Wednesday, February 25, 2004 [+] |
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