Jean-Luc Godard is a famous French film-maker. I really like his films. His first film was a documentary about the making of a dam in Switzerland. After that, he made a few short (10 minute) fictional films, and then started making feature films.
One of Godard’s early short films was called Une femme coquette (1955), which translates as A Flirtacious Woman. It was made on a low budget – Godard appears in the film himself. It was based on a story written by the French author Guy de Maupassant, Le signe (The Signal).
The plot of the story is as follows. A woman who is not a prostitute watches female prostitutes beckoning to male clients from their windows. She decides to try this, and instantly gets a response from a male passer-by. The man is insistent. The woman gives in, afraid of being accused of being a real prostitute, which, of course, was a crime. In the film version, the action happens outdoors, and finishes with a chase scene, the woman running in the dark while the man pursues her in a car.
Richard Brody, in his biography and cinematographic review of Godard’s work, Everything Is Cinema, writes: “Une Femme coquette is the story of someone who wants to try out a gesture she has seen, who is enticed by what she observes into imitation of it, and who, from the imitation, takes on the reality. It is a film about watching, about trying to live what one has watched, and about the inherent dangers of doing so. It is about fear and embarrassment, and about living with yourself after doing something you regret; it is about money and what to do with ill-gotten gains; it is about prostitution – about doing for money what is properly done for love – and how someone unintentionally practices it by merely imitating the gestures of a professional. ”
Impressive that all of these serious issues could be addressed in a short film. I like Brody’s description: doing for money what is properly done for love.
Let me say that I don’t want anyone reading this to interpret the theme of this blog post as an attack on sex workers. Because it’s not. Prostitution is always present in Western culture as a more or less tolerated, more or less denigrated activity. Even as a metaphor, we can use it to suggest something bad. “Media whore” is a common expression nowadays.
The interesting thing, really, is that sex workers are honest where the rest of us may not be so honest. They have sex for money. The rest of us who work are also – mostly – selling ourselves for money, but somehow we like to think of ourselves as morally superior to sex workers. Are we?
Doing for money what is properly done for love. And what should we be doing for love? Taking care of our children. Our household chores. Gardening maybe. Our hobbies. And our jobs? Is it a problem that we are paid to work? Does that reduce our work experience to service-for-money transaction, a bit like a hand job from a sex worker in the cab of a truck? Are we fooling ourselves that our work is meaningful, in the same way that the sex worker’s client might fool himself if he thought he was having a love affair? In a world where everything is measured by money, where every relationship and interaction is regarded as an opportunity to be harnessed to “create wealth”, have we all become – not sex workers, who at least know what they are doing – but “prostitutes”? Is there any alternative?
The idea of controlling other people’s minds has been a recurrent theme in science fiction for years, but some scientific researchers are getting closer to the possibility.
One of the successful areas of research in this field is transcranial magnetic stimulation, a method using magnets placed near the skull of a person to alter the movements of electrical signals that normally occur in our brain nerves. Medical researchers in the US are using TMS as an experimental cure for depression, but it has been found to have other effects, such as altering people’s capacity to make moral judgments. The Neuroethics at the Core blog explains how this happens.
So far, the technique hasn’t been used for any nefarious purposes, but it is still in its infancy. How long will it be before attempts are made to “reprogram” people with offensive ways of thinking, beginning with child molesters, no doubt, but moving our way along to political dissidents. The Activist Post blog discusses the possibility that armies could install TMS devices inside soldiers’ helmets to manipulate the soldiers to become more alert and aggressive during battle. The possibility for manipulation becomes more plausible when one considers that a common experience of people subjected to TMS, according to Laura Lee News, is that they feel they are in contact with a numinous being, possibly God.
Technological development is happening all around us, and is happening very fast. Mind control machines may sound like science fiction right now, but they may already be under development.
ANZAC Day in Australia is usually a time of national self-relfection. See, for example, this article from the Sydney Morning Herald.
It is a public holiday, and the day when the nation remembers its war dead, the sacrifice of its sons and some daughters in two world wars and other wars since then: Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
There are different views about commemorating wars. One view is that it is a bad thing, a perpetuation of primitive attitudes like jingoism and machismo. A glorification of violence as the answer to human conflict. A distortion of history because it extols the bravery of men while ignoring the rape of women.
Another view is that it is entirely proper to remember those who died on our behalf. Whether they did so to defend us may depend on the type of war: where it happened and why. But it is clear that all of the young men who died in the wars had nothing to do with starting the wars, and their passing merits acknowledgement, and gratitude.
On the radio today, I listened to an interview with a New Zealander named “Westy” who was a veteran of Gallipoli. The Gallipoli veterans in Australia have all died of old age. I assume the interview was recorded some years ago. The scenes Westy described were surreal.
When he arrived at Gallipoli by sea, Westy saw uniformed soldiers lying drowned in the sea by the beach having been sunk while disembarking by the heavy ammunition they were carrying. Bullets from Turkish machine guns were falling on the beach “like rain”. He later borrowed a friend’s watch so that he could “punctually” leave his trench for an attack precisely at 10:00am, only to have his leg mangled by an explosion. When he crawled back to his own trench, his friend’s first inquiry was whether he could have his watch back, after which his friend carried him back to the beach to be loaded onto a hospital ship. In the hospital ship he was offered a gournmet meal, by comparison to his food rations, with champagne, and had his leg amputated. He considered himself lucky and was glad to have been severely wounded as he knew he would be evacuated.
I don’t know if we can “celebrate” what happened to Westy. Is that the right thing to do? It was a tragedy. All wars are tragedies. But today, on ANZAC Day, I remember Westy and all the other young men who did what they felt was their duty.
The photograph is from the Australian war archives and shows a group of Australian soldiers at Gallipoli, Turkey. H G Wells, the British author who lived in that era, wrote of World War I: “In 1914 the European Great Powers resorted to war, as they had resorted to war on many previous occasions, to decide certain open issues. This war flamed out with an unexpected rapidity unril all the world was involved; and it developed a horror, a monstrosity of destructiveness, and, above all, an inconclusiveness quite unlike any preceding war. Whatever justifications could be found for its use in the past, it became clear to many minds that under the new conditions war was no longer a possible method of international dealing.” – The Salvaging of Civilization (1921). The attempt to avoid future wars by settling up the League of Nations was not sucessful, and World War II 1939-1945 happened, and brought even greater horrors: the Nazi death camps and the atomic bombing of two Japanese cities. After that, another attempt at setting up a permanent forum for international diplomacy, the United Nations, was successful.
I recently heard that scientists studying the H5N1 flu virus have altered it so that it has become much more contagious to humans. The story is available online from the New York Times via this link: http://is.gd/UjPDzw
The virus in its naturally occurring form (avian flu) is not very contagious to humans, but about half of the people who have caught it have died. The mutated version is described as being “highly transmissible” between humans and could be “transmitted in aerosols”.
The two groups of scientists who conducted the parallel experiments, one in the US and one in the Netherlands, were planning to publish scientific papers explaining their results until the US Government intervened and asked the journals not to publish details on the basis that doing so might increase the risk of bioterrorism.
Here is a link to the public statement released by Nature (one of the journals) explaining that the scientists concerned have agreed to pause research for 60 days: http://is.gd/qsKUwN
I must say that I find it very disturbing that scientists can take it upon themselves to conduct these experiments, assume some risk of the deadly virus escaping, and propose to publish an explanation – which would be publicly available – that would allow other people to replicate the experiment. Why do they think they have to do this, that they should do this?
I wish I could trust the scientists, but I have no idea who they are. I don’t know what their ethical positions or values are. Even if they have no intention of harming others, that doesn’t mean that harm can’t eventuate. Jim Garrison in his book Civilization and the Transformation of Power writes: “The next phase of human development will continue to reap the whirlwind of our God complex. Our Faustian Pact has not yet played out. We will continue to make incredible advances in science and technology and use our new-found powers for primitive, mostly selfish ends. The cruciform pattern of history desines us to re-enact new manifestations of our fallenness even as we continue laboriously to become more civilized.” (p342)
The word “fallenness” used by Garrison refers to the Christian theological concept of the Fall, but it is not necessary to believe in the Bible literally to apply the concept as a metaphor. Human beings have a dark side, which includes our egotism, selfishness, greed, fear, hatred and other ugly things, which warps our noblest intentions and affects our uses of our technical creations.
The “cruciform pattern” is a reference to the ideas of Carl Jung, who suggested, in the words of Garrison, that “everything in our experience is comprised of opposites, and all things evolve through time within a pattern of life, death and renewal.” (p.xxvii) That is why we find it difficult to be ethical. There are always competing reasons to do, or not do, any particular action, including a piece of scientific research.
Maybe I’m paranoid, but I think it’s just a matter of time before one of these virus mutation experiments goes wrong and most of us end up dead and whoever is left behind will be living in a dystopian hell that will make the Dark Ages look attractive.
I was struck by the images coming from North Korea of last week’s funeral of their leader, Kim Jong Il. The huge scale of the plaza in which the public service was held, with thousands of soldiers standing bareheaded in formation in freezing conditions, was an unforgettable image.
And yet, by all accounts, North Korea is a sad and poverty stricken country, ruled oppressively by an unprogressive Stalinist regime, an economic disaster where many babies die of hunger and most street lights are turned off at night to save power. So, what motivates such vast crowds of men and women to obey and support such dismal leadership? Is it fear? Is it years of demoralisation and brainwashing, of living in a society where dissent invites persecution and death?
That would be my first guess, watching from afar. But I suspect that there is an additional dynamic at work under the surface. People have a desire to survive, to live, to get by as best they can, and the leaders of North Korea have harnessed that force. The thousands of soldiers assembled in the cold in Pyongyang, even bare handed, and despite any security measures put in place, could likely have mutinied and overwhelmed their dictators in a few minutes. But instead, they bowed meekly and returned to their barracks and homes in the poorest country in their region.
To see this open display of the capture of the energy and force of the people of North Korea was stunning. It drives home the truth of the basic principle of constitutional law: that human force is powerful enough to set up a new government or group of rulers, but cannot maintain freedom over time. Only the establishment of a system where the force is channelled into balancing and inter-correcting parts can do that. It has been said that it is more difficult for a people to keep than to gain their freedom.
I am not referring only to John Locke’s concept of checks and balances among the legislative, executive and judicial parts of a formal government structure. There are other embodiments of human energy and force in our societies: the military, the banking sector, business and industry of different levels and sizes, organised workers, rural communities, womens groups, ethnic and indgenous groups, and religious groups.
If these groups can all make their contribution, then we might see a different result to when a society is dominated by one group only. But what does it take, really, to make the difference? A voice, a right to be heard? Respect? Compromise by others? Protections from exploitation? A fair share of our nation’s wealth?
Therefore, we must not forget to ask ourselves, as we view the images from Pyongyang: in our country, who controls the lives of others? Are we all truly free people, or do too many of us live our lives bowing to the dictates of the powerful? And if we think, on reflection, that our lives are being overly dominated by the interests and power of a few, then we can ask a further question: are we giving to those powerful ones the weapon they use to subdue us, our own force and energy?
The title to this blog suggests a startling revelation, or a shocking and perhaps outrageous insult. It is also a theme of a new book called Apollyon Rising 2012 by Thomas Horn, an American evangelical Christian.
Before we go on, a little Christian theology is in order. An “antichrist” means a person who “denies that Jesus is the Christ”: (1 John 2:22). To call the Founding Fathers “antichrists” therefore is to say that they did not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ.
The preface to Apollyon Rising 2012, by Christian J Pinto, begins as follows:
“Many Christians are repeatedly told by their pastors, teachers, and church leaders that America was founded as a Christian nation. This assertion would not be so bad if it were confined to the arrival of the Puritans at Plymouth and the early development of the new world. … The problem arises when one marks the foundation of our country at the American Revolution and the establishment of the United States.”
Mr Pinto then reviews the known statements of beliefs by a number of prominent leaders of the Revolutionary Era, and demonstrates by quoting their own words that they were skeptics or agnostics on certain key religious issues, or held unorthodox views as Deists(1), but were not Bible-believing Christians that modern-day evangelicals would recognise as being like themselves. He demonstrates that Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and even George Washington ranged from being overtly hostile, to skeptical, to unsupportive of many the key claims of Bible-based Christian orthodoxy, including such elements as the divinity of Christ or the uniqueness of the Christian faith as a path to salvation.
Now, the 1700s was the era of the Enlightenment, and the impact of the Age of Reason on Western Christianity was to make it fashionable, among the cultured class at least, to seek to rationalise the precepts of the Christian religion and demythologise it. Thomas Jefferson, for example, published his own edition of the New Testament, which removed the narratives of Christ’s miracles, which Jefferson thought were bogus additions. Jefferson and Washington, in being Deists, were following the intellectual fashion of their day, and probably thought that theirs was a modernised version of Christianity that would eventually replace the older version.
Thomas Horn, however, sees something very sinister and even conspiratorial behind the widespread ignorance of the non-biblical views of the Founding Fathers. He writes: “Naivete and blind acceptance – especially of specific, controlled versions of American history – had kept me in the dark, blinded from the actual course that a frightening network of hidden powers had set our nation upon years before.” Mr Horn claims that the Founding Fathers had a deceptive, hidden, antichristian agenda that they embedded in the foundations of the American governmental system and which continues in operation to this day, unbeknownst to most godfearing Christian patriots.
The myth of America’s Christian founding that Mr Pinto refers to in his introduction to Mr Horn’s book is believed and promoted by many prominent American Christians. For example, the Republican presidential aspirant, Michele Bachmann, is quoted (in another book) as saying this:
“I also believe that … the Christian God and the Bible were central to the founding of the United States and its cultural and historical mission. I am certain that Christian nation builders founded the United States and intended this country to have an essentially Christian character. I believe that the Founding Fathers of this country acknowledged the primacy of Christian faith and values in America and intended that Christianity be recognised as the fundamental basis of the nation and society they established. If these Founding Fathers were alive today, they would agree with me about the role that biblical Christianity should play in law, government, and public policy.”(2)
Perhaps Ms Bachmann is referring to Thomas Jefferson, who according to Mr Pinto believed the book of Revelation was “the ravings of a maniac”, who said about the books of the Old Testament that “we have a right to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine” and who referred to St Paul as “the first corruptor of the doctrines of Jesus”? Or perhaps she was referring to that virtuous Christian, Benjamin Franklin, who according to Mr Pinto joined a group of libertines in London called the Hellfire Club, the all-male members of which engaged in mock religious rituals and orgies with prostitutes? Or perhaps she was referring to John Adams, who Mr Pinto says described the Cross, the central theological element of evangelical Christianity, as “an engine of grief” which had produced “calamities” for mankind? Or perhaps to George Washington, whose friend the Rev Ashbel Green, who dined with him weekly – says Mr Pinto – regarded President Washington as having no belief at all in the divine origin of the Bible, even though he respectfully attended church services every Sunday and refrained from explicit criticism of the Christian faith.
I do not repeat these descriptions to condemn the Founding Fathers as hypocrites. They were men of their age, and the discrepancies between their private beliefs and public behaviour may have reflected a tension between a modern – in their view – personal philosophy and an antiquated prevailing public culture. I repeat these descriptions to demonstrate the confused view of the history of their country apparently held by many American Christians today.(3)
Does it matter? In one way, yes, because the American “religious Right” claims a mantle of authority for its moral agenda by linking it to people who in fact did not share their religious views. But, in another way, it doesn’t matter. Presumably, Christian American voters will support that moral agenda on principle, and other voters will have their own views. And President Washington will continue to give us his Mona Lisa smile from the front of the US one dollar bill. And if he were alive today, he certainly would agree with me that it is wise to remain silent regarding all manner of things.
(2) This quote appears in Michelle Bachmann’s America (2011) by William Prendergast and Christopher Truscott.
(3) It is worth noting that there is a debate on the question of whether the Founding Fathers were Christians, with ‘evidence’ cited on either side. See, for example, the article presented on this webpage and the comments by the reader “onegoodwoman”: http://pay2cem.hubpages.com/hub/Americas-Christian-Founding-Fathers
The discrepancy may simply be the result of taking the set of beliefs of modern people as definitive and applying it to people of earlier eras.