Barack Obama spoke of teachable moments. Libertarians who imagine their beliefs can gain political traction have just had a teachable moment. It remains to be seen whether the lesson will be learned.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer Vetoes SB 1062
Arizona Senate Bill 1062 that Governor Brewer just vetoed purported to reverse that aspect of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which outlawed discrimination against persons a commercial business — such as for example, a lunch counter in a Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina — did not want to serve. The newer reasoning — this time not with blacks in its sights — was that if the Bible labelled homosexuality an abomination a believing Christian operating such a lunch counter could invoke religious belief as a legal excuse not to serve a same-sex couple.
This controversy comes up in weeks following the legal case of a wedding cake designer in Colorado who refused to craft a wedding cake for a same-sex couple — declining on religious grounds — who has now been court-ordered to make wedding cakes for all comers.
On the pages of The Libertarian Enterprise L. Neil Smith has written in an article titled The Auction Block Comes to Colorado that “It is precisely as if some judge tried to force me, a lifelong libertarian, to write essays in support of gun control or Marxism.”
Neil is correct. Once legal compulsion is established in principle to be used in compelling a private business to serve any customer regardless of the proprietor’s beliefs, ethics, or esthetics — any request for service where there is no right of refusal makes the proprietor a slave to the customer.
But here’s the other thing. Decent people who object to the right of refusal being invoked on the basis of various bigotries — skin color, ethnic origin, religion, or sexual preference — would rather live in a legal and political system that outlaws certain rights of refusal rather than working against such bigotry relying completely on the tortoise-slow uphill climb of argument, picketing, boycott, and writing novels, plays, and movies that combat bigotry with mind and heart.
Political involvement on behalf of an abstract principle of protecting a private right is a trap for libertarians, because when we invoke our standards on behalf of the scum of the earth we make ourselves the targets of decent outrage — and discredit our principles among those who see only short-term gain and not the long-term loss that undercutting principle enables.
The grandstanding statist always wins these arguments because principles are invisible and have no sex appeal.
If there’s a lesson here for the libertarian, it’s that principle is a black-market commodity. The State’s ripping away the right of discrimination makes discrimination piratical — but we must remember also to discriminate against scumbags — kick their miserable asses back to the State — when we practice our liberty in our clandestine agoras.
Since I got my Netflix subscription two months ago I’ve been immersing myself in documentaries. I’ve watched documentaries suggesting a partisan Republican agenda Rupert Murdoch allegedly has for Fox News (Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism), two documentaries on Sarah Palin — one pro, one con (The Undefeated, Sarah Palin: You Betcha!)– one looking at the late Andrew Breitbart (Hating Breitbart), one on Wikileaks (We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks), and — right now — one called The Billionaires’ Tea Party, suggesting that the Tea Party movement is “Astroturf” — recruiting dupes unknowingly to support the financial interests of the billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David.
Photo from his vorpal sword
My old friend and mentor, Samuel Edward Konkin III, was hostile to the Koch brothers because they promoted the Libertarian Party, which Sam — an anti-political movementist — opposed. He invented the term “Kochtopus” to attack the Kochs for what he saw as their politicization of the anti-political libertarian movement, decades before segments of the American left decided on the Koch brothers as their nemesis.
I appreciate Sam’s reasons for purist anti-politics, but I never agreed with him that participation in politics as a form of harm-minimization is always counter-productive. I often cited Lysander Spooner’s arguments in No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority that participation in politics could be a form of self-defense, and later reversed the anti-political argument that ballots were just another form of bullets to argue that if I could carry a gun in self defense I could mark a ballot in self defense.
Sam and I used to have long discussions in which he would invoke the strategy of encouraging crisis as a form of catalyzing revolution, and Taylor Caldwell’s 1952 novel, The Devil’s Advocate, often came up in these discussions, since in that novel conscious acceleration of totalitarian controls beyond the rate a public could be convinced to accept is a conscious strategy of fomenting rebellion. I guess, compared to my old friend, I’m just a wuss when it comes to revolution. I want merely to convince people using sweet reason and exposing villainy, not manipulate people by fomenting outrage and fear. I want to shock the conscience, not the adrenal glands.
The Billionaires’ Tea Party, if accurate at all, shows Koch money being invested in many foundations, think tanks, and political action groups that would not have thrived or been as effective without their money. I can’t see how this is evil. I have never received a dime of Koch money yet I agree with them that the so-called scientific “consensus” that anthropogenic global warming is a worldwide crisis-in-making is a politically-cobbled megafraud at the level of Soviet Lamarckism or Nazi racial theories. So if Koch Oil is funding political opposition to this fraud because policies based on this horseshit impacts their business negatively, I agree with the Kochs not because they’re paying me to agree but because this poor artist thinks the oil billionaires are correct.
I wrote my novel, Alongside Night, in the 1970′s and it was published in 1979. The only financing I got from anyone other than my parents was a $300 gift from family friends, Herman and Molly Geller, which paid my Long Beach, California rent for the three months I needed to complete my first-draft manuscript. To the best of my knowledge the Gellers were communists — whether or not “card carrying” I never knew. But I do know that historically communists have supported novelists, musicians, and filmmakers a lot more than conservatives and libertarians. David Koch, who provided millions of dollars to refurbish New York City’s performing-arts mecca, Lincoln Center, is a high-profile exception.
Over the past three years I wrote, produced, and directed my feature-film adaptation of my novel Alongside Night and it’s now available for play in American movie theaters. The movie was mostly financed by Patrick A. Heller, an ideological libertarian who heads up Liberty Coin Service.
Before I ran into Pat Heller I separately asked both of the Koch brothers, Charles and David, for financing to make the movie; Charles ignored my email and David turned me down.
Neither has any of the institutions shown in a chart in The Billionaires’ Tea Party supported the production or so-far the distribution of my movie. I’ve sent out emails to Matt Kibbe at FreedomWorks and Joel Cheatwood at Glenn-Beck’s TheBlaze asking for strategic marketing partnerships between their organizations and my pro-liberty movie and I’ve been ignored. I’ve gotten nowhere with the Campaign for Liberty and its youth wing, Young Americans for Liberty; nor with Students for Liberty. I thought — and still think — that Alongside Night is uniquely focused in dramatizing a pro-freedom worldview that these organizations say they also hold, so the empty echoes of my own voice asking to join forces is surprising to me.
But then why do I also have to listen to voices to my left that class me with a right-wing that evidently wants nothing to do with me either?
Is being a truly anti-political libertarian so far off out of the Talking Points War between conservatives and liberals that there’s no place for my voice?
This is not a theoretical question for me. It’s a pressing matter of whether there is any organization out there that will embrace Alongside Night as a means of coalescing a vibrant libertarian movement in the future.
But in the meantime, at least know that if you think I made Alongside Night to advance a profit agenda of some oil billionaires, the oil billionaires aren’t having any of it.
My fellow libertarian friend, the multi-talented Brad Linaweaver, called me up today more upset than usual with one of his favorite pin cushions, Bill O’Reilly, host of the Fox News Channel’s The O’Reilly Factor, which — as Fox endlessly tells us — has dominated its time slot now for 14 years. On today’s show O’Reilly, a drug warrior nonpareil — managed to shock even fellow drug warrior Charles Krauthammer with his suggestions that if he, O’Reilly, were the Drug Czar there would be drug dealers hanging in the United States and drug addicts would be doing multi-year rehabs in Singapore style concentration camps.
I’ve written about O’Reilly before, in an article first published in the July 15, 2009 issue of The New Gun Week, and reprinted here, titled “A Shadow on the Second Amendment.”
In that article I wrote:
The Second Amendment movement just can’t tolerate a Bill O’Reilly who – knowing that Dr. Tiller had previously been shot at and his clinic bombed — repeatedly and editorially called George Tiller a “baby killer.” O’Reilly boasts The O’Reilly Factor has the highest ratings in cable/satellite television news. O’Reilly knew there are always psychotics waiting for a justification to commit mad violence and it was as foreseeable endlessly repeating “Tiller the Baby Killer” was inviting murder as it was for King Henry II’s infamous remark that led to the assassination of Thomas à Becket: “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?”
Brad and I agree that a homicidal habit of fantasizing or even encouraging people’s deaths should be a deal killer for a responsible network, regardless of how high Better Dead Lists drive a show’s ratings.
Nevertheless ratings are what drives commercial television so if Fox were finally to get weary of their high-rated sociopath, maybe there’s a TV star who just lost his job that might be a high-ratings replacement, himself. I wrote about this star in my previous article here.
Jay Leno / Bill O’Reilly
Last Thursday, February 6th, NBC’s number-one-late-night star — Tonight Show host Jay Leno — did his last show. As I previously wrote, with rare exception The Tonight Show with Jay Leno held first place in the 11:35 PM ET/PT late-night time slot ratings since 1995, winning the late-night war for NBC against competition such as David Letterman on CBS, Jimmy Kimmel on ABC, and currently syndicated reruns on Fox. At the time of his last Tonight Show Jay Leno was considered one of the top-five most popular TV stars.
A lot of people have speculated that after it sinks in with Jay that he’s not going to be happy tinkering around with his cars, and that club and Vegas gigs won’t satisfy his addiction to being a comedy star, he’s going to want a new TV show. They’ve suggested that Fox might be a new home for Leno.
They’re right, but it’s the wrong Fox.
Jay Leno has all the qualifications — plus a massive existing fan base who already miss him — to take over Bill O’Reilly’s time slot on the Fox News Channel.
Jay Leno is wittier than Bill O’Reilly. He’s as used to interviewing presidents, experts, and celebrities as Bill O’Reilly. He’s been a ratings king even longer than Bill O’Reilly. He’s a conservative populist like Bill O’Reilly acceptable to the Fox News older demographic. And — best of all — Jay’s not a bullying fascist like Bill O’Reilly, whom I’ve felt for a long time is Burt Lancaster’s J.J. Hunsecker in 1957′s The Sweet Smell of Success or Andy Griffith’s ‘Lonesome’ Rhodes in that same year’s A Face in the Crowd.
Roger Ailes — I got your Bill O’Reilly problem solved right here. You might want to make the call fast, though, before CNN grabs Jay and puts O’Reilly’s ratings into the Tail Spin Zone.
Addendum, February 12th: On today’s O’Reilly Factor during the mail segment O’Reilly managed to come down on both sides of the death penalty for drug dealers. First he responded to a viewer letter asking if he favored the death penalty for drug dealers by saying he opposed the death penalty but favored harsh prison sentences. Then afterwards he read a reader letter: “Having been to Singapore where drug smuggling brings a death sentence, I can tell you that it works” — O’Reilly said nothing. This juxtaposition of letters in which O’Reilly’s final word is quoted from a viewer without objection — with the preplanned backstop that, “Well, I’d just said I was opposed to the death penalty for drug dealers” — is the sort of rhetorical loop-de-loop that is the hallmark of a master propagandist who admires the unfettered efficiency of homicidal totalitarians but hides behind ambiguity because unambiguous clarity would end him.
Next month — February 6th, to be precise — the NBC television network is forcing the retirement of their number one late night star — Tonight Show host Jay Leno — in favor of the talented but Tonight Show-ratings untested Jimmy Fallon, who currently follows Leno with Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. With rare exception, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno has held first place in the 11:35 PM ET/PT late-night time slot ratings since 1995, winning the late-night war for NBC against competition such as David Letterman on CBS, Jimmy Kimmel on ABC, and currently syndicated reruns on Fox.
In a 60 Minutes interview Sunday night Leno said he understood NBC’s decision to replace him with a younger host because Leno’s prime demographic is Baby-Boomers (including me, born in 1953) whereas Fallon’s prime demographic is Millennials — the age-demographic including my college-age daughter. According to Leno, NBC is worried that Fallon would jump ship to another network (most likely Fox) if they don’t give him The Tonight Show now. Apparently they are less worried that Jay’s loyal demographic — people closer to my age — will jump ship to watching David Letterman on CBS, a network known for programming to the Baby-Boomer demo in both prime-time and late night.
Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon
I haven’t run the late-night numbers. But NBC programmers don’t have a crystal ball that assures The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon will have a viewership anywhere near as good as The Tonight Show with Jay Leno has established. We do know that in 2009 when Leno was originally replaced with Conan O’Brien the ratings for The Tonight Show plummeted so badly NBC begged Leno to come back to The Tonight Show from the disastrous 10:00 PM ET/PT weeknights time slot they tried The Jay Leno Show in, to keep Jay from jumping to another network’s late-night time slot.
I also haven’t run commercial-revenue comparisons between Baby-Boomers and Millennials. But I can’t see how late-night ad revenues could come out with higher commercial buy rates by preferentially advertising to Millennials. Not to put too fine a point on it but even with the drop in 401(K)’s, home equity losses, and worsening fixed-income-to-inflation ratios, Baby-Boomers tend to have a lot more disposal income than Millennials who are having a hard time getting a job, paying off student loans, and — if not living in the old bedroom in their parents’ house — struggling to afford groceries. Is NBC figuring on maintaining ad-rates replacing sponsors such as BMW and Kay Jewelers with Thunderbird and Cup Noodles? Or are they counting on future advertising from pot dispensaries?
Anecdotally, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno has been regularly programmed into my DVR because I enjoy his monologue, like his bits “Headlines” and “Jaywalking,” and — even though David Letterman is frequently hilarious — Jay isn’t an-anti-right-to-keep-and-bear-arms New York intellectual like Letterman and, being a gearhead, Jay doesn’t piss me off as often.
I watch Late Night with Jimmy Fallon only when he has a guest I want to see, because Fallon’s stand-ups are often repetitive and less polished, he wastes valuable airtime playing games with his guests instead of asking them anything penetrating (this is where Letterman is even better than Leno), and — if I’m to be honest when making a marginal-utility calculation regarding who gets the second hour of my late-night attention span — the funniest person to me on late-night week nights is Craig Ferguson, who follows Letterman on CBS.
All other things being equal, NBC’s decision to lose their lock on late-night for an untested 11:35 PM show with a less-rich viewership just doesn’t make sense.
Unless — as Louie C.K. says — “But maybe…”
But maybe the most important thing about Jimmy Fallon is that his bits frequently become worldwide trending hashtag topics on Twitter.
But maybe NBC is looking a few years down the line when the late-night time-slot wars are over because a lot more people will get their programming directly from web-based services like Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon, viewed either on smart phones and tablets, or connected to their big-screen monitors through Roku boxes and gaming consoles.
I may be a Baby Boomer but my Netflix and Amazon Prime subscriptions — connected with a Roku box to my living-room plasma screen — are already cutting the time I spend on my DirecTV channel line-up by half.
In the last 24 hours my daughter, away at college, didn’t ask me for a new TV set, like I might have asked my parents for at her age.
She asked to piggyback on my Netflix subscription.
The future, right there.
An Agorist is a latter-day American Revolutionary who declares the government breaching the Bill of Rights nullifies the Constitution.
Harvey Weinstein and Greg Gutfeld are equally opposed to the Bill of Rights. It’s just that one can’t count to 2 and the other to 4.
I don’t use a monolithic talking-points approach in my defense of freedom.
My old mentor, Samuel Edward Konkin III, taught me that since all opponents of liberty pretend to be in favor of a holistic liberty — then either betray it from the right-wing or left-wing — the rhetorical technique is to come at them from their own ideological window and show them the contradictions to their own premises.
This week, in which movie mogul Harvey Weinstein attacked the Second Amendment right-to-keep-and-bear-arms from the left and Fox News star Greg Gutfeld attacked the Fourth Amendment right-to-be-secure-in-one’s-papers-and-effects from the right, had me using this technique of attacking liberty-opponents from their own flanks — back-to-back.
Here are the open letters I sent each of them.
–J. Neil Schulman
Open Letter to Harvey Weinstein
Dear Mr. Weinstein,
I’m the author and indie filmmaker, J. Neil Schulman. In the past I’ve hoped to work with you both in distribution of the two feature films I’ve already written, produced, and directed, and on future projects. I’ve enjoyed many of the films you’ve produced and I think if you took the time to get to know me you’d find that we have a lot of views in common when it comes to opposing the fascist/imperialist elements that dominate American politics.
Yet the one area where you most need to understand an alternative point of view is the issue of civilian ownership of firearms. You’ve been in the middle of a talking-points war between neo-Nixonians on the right and neo-Clintonistas on the left who agree on civilian disarmament, It’s a mistake the hard-left never made in supporting arming union workers against Pinkertons and the Black Panthers in arming blacks against Klan and other violent segregationists.
I also approach this question from the viewpoint of a Jew who has written that if the Jews of Germany had remained armed and kept a warrior spirit then Kristalnacht could have been the beginning of the end for the Nazi Party prior to World War 2.
As Sinclair Lewis warned in It Can’t Happen Here, fascism not only can happen in America, it already has. Your own movies about extreme renditions of innocent people and every kind of abuse of the Bill of Rights by multiple federal departments including Homeland Security and the NSA have proved that.
The last line of defense — the only thing that can be the bottom line in defending all the other Bill of Rights — is the ability of the American people to shoot back when fired on by stormtroopers — and I’m not making this about Barack Obama; it’s true of any imperial presidency of any party that has contempt for law, the people’s rights, and due process.
I’d love to show you my new movie, Alongside Night, that makes these points in dramatic form.
J. Neil Schulman
Open Letter to Greg Gutfeld
There is no balance between security measures that violate the rights of innocent people as enshrined in the Bill of Rights and the individual liberties those measures abridge or infringe.
A clear example of this was to be found on 9/11/2001 when the infringement of airline pilots’, flight attendants’, and passengers’ Second Amendment right to carry concealed handguns on board enabled a handful of committed terrorists armed with nothing more than boxcutters to take control of four jetliners which resulted not only in massive destruction to the financial and military headquarters of the United States and the deaths of almost 3,000 innocents but two wars in retribution with tens of thousands of more deaths and broken warriors plus trillions of dollars in war costs that could have been better spent in preserving our national economic health.
Protecting liberty and individual rights — not massive government bureaucracies in the Department of Homeland Security and the NSA — is the only practical approach to preserving a secure society as well. Any compromise to this principle is allowing the terrorists to win.
J. Neil Schulman
I just watched the entire series Breaking Bad in a few marathon sessions. This is my entire review, right here:
Breaking Bad is wonderful. Watch it if you love great, compelling drama with a lot of comic riffs. But watch only if you have a strong stomach.
Now let me move on to the point of this essay.
Breaking Bad shows us the operations of a counter-economic manufacturing and distribution industry: the production and sales of the mood-altering drug methamphetamine — meth, for short. Our primary viewpoint character is a chemist who is able to produce a higher-grade of meth than is otherwise available on the black market, eventually in clandestine laboratories able to manufacture mass-market quantities.
Now, Breaking Bad is a TV show, and it ran six seasons. So plot points needed to be dramatic, ironic, and extreme. The characters needed to be, well, characters.
So this was a series filled with characters who committed a lot of murders, thefts, and mayhem; lied their asses off with a straight face; and their promises were never straightforward but always conditional and capricious. Business disputes were as often as not resolved with violence, usually fatal.
But, even as fantasized drama, this TV series raises a lot of thoughtful challenges that need to be answered by the Agorist theoretician who is arguing for stateless Agorist markets that can eventually replace that monopoly of legitimized violence we tag the State. If we argue that a stateless solution can be both more practical and more capable of producing an ethically preferable outcome, we need to find solid ground to stand on.
Breaking Bad, if taken literally as a parable, pulls a lot of ground out from under the Agorist theoretician — and that’s as much of a problem for the Agorist as was the failure of Marxism to achieve its stated predictions.
Any theory has to be reality tested. If applying the theory does not produce results as advertised, but adverse unintended consequences, it’s back to the drawing board.
A lot of social theories are considered utopian — unrealistically optimistic — because success requires future actors within the paradigm to act better than historical actors.
The Breaking Bad challenge to the Agorist is simply this: how can you operate in an illegal marketplace with the expectation that criminal personalities will not dominate it? And by criminal personalities I mean people whose ordinary, every day choices include every form of human rights violation that we Agorists despise: murder, robbery, fraud, physical abuse and mayhem, enslavement, and threats and intimidation using all of the above in order to manipulate a desired outcome.
I am not prepared at this point to answer the Breaking Bad challenge exhaustively. But I do think I have a few opening ideas that I hope will provoke further discussion among other Agorists.
- Agorist markets need to be decriminalized. I am not using the word “decriminalize” as a euphemism for “legalize.” As one who sees the State and its functions as hopelessly dysfunctional, the whole point of Agorism is not to seek permission from the State to engage in a commercial enterprise but to operate without such permission yet achieve marketplaces which thrive on and reward honesty, decency, and honor. Immediately this provokes the challenge of not attempting to achieve a utopian result by the goal of seeking New Libertarian Man — but merely by demanding in underground marketplaces business standards equal to or superior to businesses operating in the legal, above-ground markets. So by “decriminalize” I literally mean driving criminals out of the black market.
- A marketplace in a product or service tends to reflect the standards of the consumer. For example, a slave factor would be out of business if there were no customers who wanted to buy slaves. There would be no market for “organic” food products if there were not consumers who prefer products with fewer artificial additives and kinder treatment of animals bred as food. Tuna cans would not be labelled as “dolphin safe” if its consumers had not been made aware that the tuna-fishing industry was making dolphins collateral damage to their harvesting methods. So perhaps marketing methamphetamine or cocaine to a class of consumers who are solely interested in getting high without a thought to the human rights violations used in the manufacture and distribution of their product should not be the first choice for Agorists whose intent is to free markets from Statist domination. Is it really unacceptable to suggest that fulfulling the needs of more enlightened consumers might be a better first step in building Agorist markets?
- The very statist police agencies who enforce statist laws may find common cause with Agorists who have a desire to decriminalize Agorist markets. The idea of the “snitch” or “rat” needs to mean one thing and one thing only: turning in to the State honest and decent underground businesspeople who abide by their words, stand behind the quality of their products, and reject violence as a means of dispute settlement. Turning in the violent criminal to the State is the exile from the Agora of those who do not respect the Agora.
- Using violence to enforce a monopoly on sales territory is probably the single most destructive thing to the advancement and expansion of Agorist marketplaces. Markets work by bringing buyers and sellers together so markets can clear products. The Cartel system by which sales “turfs” are monopolized by violence against competitors is nothing other than importing all the worst traits of statism into underground markets. Agorism and Cartelism are polar opposites. The Agorist has no goal more important than either destroying the Cartel or convincing the Cartelite of the superiority and greater profitability of the Agorist marketplace.
Agorism, according to its founder Samuel Edward Konkin III, is libertarianism in practice. Libertarianism is the new manual for operating human commerce that is premised on the Zero Aggression Principle: violence is only rightful when used against an aggressor, and the “collateral damage” to the innocent bystander is to be deplored, minimized a much as humanly possible, and repaired to whatever extent possible when this standard has not been met.
The wonderful TV series Breaking Bad is a set of counterfactuals that tell us how not to operate an Agorist Underground.
Agorism, if it is to succeed, needs to learn that lesson and find both practical and moral solutions to its intellectual challenges.
A recent article referring to my forthcoming in 2014 movie, Alongside Night, as a “low budget film” frustrates me, knowing that the major studio blockbuster creates in both movie-going audiences and film writers expectations regarding film quality. Labeling an indie film such as mine “low budget” before an audience has even seen it in a movie theater perpetuates prejudices against independent films, and gives the establishment movie studios a powerful weapon against an entire industry of indie filmmakers like me in competition with them for theater venues, retail display space, and — ultimately — the gray matter behind the eyes of its audiences.
It’s been an ongoing trend that the major movie studios now produce only a few ultra-high-budget movies each year. This works to reduce entertainment choices available to movie patrons — a gap we indie filmmakers try to fill in.
The studio blockbusters that dominate movie multiplexes have production costs in nine figures including “A-List” actors being paid in eight figures, plus armies of visual and special effects artists, stunt teams, art departments, and locations. With virtually unlimited resources available to one of these productions the only practical limit of what can be shown to an audience is in the imagination of the filmmakers — and unlimited resources forecloses the market on a whole lot of talent.
The running joke is today’s independent filmmaker’s total production budget is about the same as the catering budget for one of these studio films. It may not be a joke.
There’s no question that some tremendously entertaining movies can be made with these megabudgets. Just to mention two of recent memory that I enjoyed are the science-fiction movie Gravity and the latest installment of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit trilogy.
Studio produced blockbusters like these have the upside for a movie audience that when all elements come together a unique work of art and entertainment gives an audience an unforgettable experience, like drinking a 50-year-old single-malt scotch, or a night in bed with a $100,000 call girl, or a visit to the International Space Station.
The downside for an audience is that it threatens to ruin any movie experience less breathtaking and eliminates diversity of artistic vision and individual dissent. Movies are a form of theater — an incarnation of storytelling — and what the blockbuster often does is replace character-driven storytelling and performance-driven plots with minimal intellectual content that can only be brought out through the use of words.
Gravity kept me on the edge of my seat. It engaged me with the plight of its characters. But I left the movie theater with no ideas I hadn’t had when I first sat down, and had no meaningful questions left to resolve — or to talk about with anyone else — when I walked out.
Instead of appealing to our minds the infinite-budget movies feed us only every form of adrenaline-releasing action that stunt coordinators and computer artists can engineer — relentlessly. The trade-off of action moments replacing tboughtful moments deletes what the dramatic arts most needfully do: nourish our intellectual imagination and our moral sense of how to contemplate the human condition. It turns a nutritionally rich culture into the equivalent of empty calories — a high fed on snacks.
Not that independent film hasn’t tried to emulate the action blockbuster by crossing a technological threshold where a film made for a small fraction of a blockbuster’s budget can’t on occasion produce a movie with spectacular production values competitive with the studio blockbuster. The crowd-funded 2012 independent feature, Iron Sky, is as visually stunning as a studio-produced blockbuster like Steven Spielberg’s 2005 remake of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds — and with a comparable level of story-telling intensity.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding, with a 2002 opening weekend of less than $600,000 on 108 movie theater screens, was made for about $5 million. It had no A-list stars in its cast. Yet, on the basis of great writing, great directing, and great acting it earned blockbuster revenues in its theatrical distribution — well over $350 million in its worldwide box office take. The audience for this movie wasn’t looking for a rollercoaster ride. It was looking to meet characters who we wouldn’t mind spending some time with in real life, and whose struggles informed our own life challenges. It was a movie that inspired us.
Napoleon Dynamite (2004) was made for about $400,000 — the blockbuster movie’s catering budget — but with quirky writing, directing, and acting also engaged movie theater audiences with a respectable domestic box office of over $44 million. With a production cost of about ten percent of the low-budget My Big Fat Greek Wedding Napoleon Dynamite worked its magic with no known movie stars and even more severe production challenges.
And, perhaps, the all-time champion of production cost to box-office success — beating out even The Blair Witch Project — is 2007′s Paranormal Activity, produced at a cost of $15,000 and which not only earned $195 million in worldwide box-office receipts but which has spawned a series of high-earning sequels.
The legend of how this microbudget video got major theatrical distribution from Dreamworks SKG / Paramount is that it was purchased only so Steven Spielberg could remake it at a studio budget but when Spielberg screened it he decided he couldn’t remake it any better and arranged for its theatrical release.
Every time a microbudget-produced indie like The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, or Napoleon Dynamite is mentioned around an establishment movie executive or critic, they will duckspeak the same talking point: these movies are as rare as a casino jackpot. They’re the lotto exception, and can’t be figured into any rational business plan.
That may be true. But what is equally true is that there is no money to pay expensive production salaries and expenses — overheaded as thousands of individual budget line items — on a low-budget independent film. These ultralow-budget nonetheless box-office-blockbuster movies are more frightening to BMW-driving, expense-account holding, Belair-home-owning movie executives than all the Zombies, alien-invading monsters, and global-warming meltdowns put together.
If movies like my own Alongside Night can win movie audiences in meganumbers without spending megabucks, the days of studio execs’ caviar lifestyle are numbered.
We indie filmmakers can give you a richer choice and a diversity of boutique movies — not the Albertson’s selection but maybe the Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods choice.
But — people — you gotta stop using the phase “low-budget” when talking about movies that give you something different, or all that you’ll ever get to see are the movies Monsanto would feed you.
Back in the seventies two novels — The Glass Inferno and The Tower — were melded into a mega-disaster movie titled The Towering Inferno.
As a thought experiment I’m going to combine two movies into one: 2012′s Flight and 2013′s The Challenger Disaster.
Both movies are about a disaster in the air ending in a crash.
Flight is about a fictitious airliner crash.
The Challenger Disaster is about the real-life investigation of the explosion, shortly after launch, that destroyed the space shuttle Challenger and killed its crew.
One of these movies is about an investigation that ultimately finds the true cause of the disaster and places fault where it is due.
The other movie is a fundamentally dishonest propaganda piece.
And, coincidentally enough, actor Bruce Greenwood plays in both movies.
So, let’s put ourselves into the plot of a fictitious combined disaster movie in which after scientist Richard Feynman proves that the cause of the Challenger explosion was launching on a day colder than the shuttle’s O-rings could properly function, the chief investigator finds vodka bottles among the shuttle wreckage and spends the rest of the investigation trying to find out if any of the crew of the Challenger was drunk at the time of the launch.
End of thought experiment.
Spoiler alert for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie Flight. I’m going to reveal major plot points and the ending.
In Flight — a movie directed by one of my favorite filmmakers, Robert Zemeckis, and with an Oscar-nominated screenplay by John Gatins — airline pilot Whip Whitaker (the always-brilliant Denzel Washington) is a raging alcoholic and cocaine user who pilots a flight while on a bender. With a blood-alcohol level three times as high as would qualify for a DUI charge behind the wheel of a car, Whip makes ultra-competent decisions demonstrating that he’s a better pilot drunk than most pilots are cold sober, and when a critical component of the aircraft fails making the aircraft’s controls useless, he nonetheless executes the radical maneuver of regaining control of his aircraft by flying it upside down until he can land it right-side-up again in a field. The maneuver works but in the crash landing two flight attendants and four passengers die, and his co-pilot has his legs crushed so that he’s unlikely ever to walk again.
Nonetheless, the plot establishes the facts that the cause of the crash was the mechanical failure which disabled the aircraft’s controls, and that Whip’s brilliant piloting skills are the only thing which saved the lives of nearly 100 passengers and crew.
The movie’s plot shows us that after the crash Whip decides to quit drinking and his resolve is only broken when it becomes evident he’s going to be scapegoated for the crash by his airline and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator when his blood toxicology report shows he was drunk and coked up while piloting the aircraft.
At this point let me recount a story that, during the Civil War, President Lincoln received a report that the leader of the Union Army, General Ulysses S. Grant, was drunk most of the time. Lincoln is reported to have replied, “Find out what he’s drinking and send a case of it to the rest of my generals.”
We live in an age where what you put into your own body is more of a crime than what you do with it. Smoking, for many people, is more on their radar of sin than murder. Driving while intoxicated is a worse crime for many people than sending a drone into another country and killing a wedding party.
The movie Flight follows the plot formula of the old True Confessions magazines: sin and redemption.
In a critical scene near the end of the movie, Whip gets blind drunk the night before he has to testify at the NTSB hearing into the cause of the crash, and his lawyer (Don Cheadle) and union rep (Bruce Greenwood) get his drug dealer (John Goodman) to fix him up so he can testify lucidly.
At that hearing the chief NTSB crash investigator Ellen Block (Mellisa Leo) establishes that mechanical failure caused the pilots to lose control of the aircraft and using the cockpit flight recorder establishes for the record that only Whip’s brilliant piloting decision to invert the aircraft to regain control saved most of the passengers.
At this point in the movie, logic demands that she thank Whip and end the hearing.
Instead, having shown in her own presentation that the cause of the problem was mechanical and the savior of the lives was Whip, she continues her interrogation of Whip by asking him to give an opinion that two empty vodka bottles found in the airliner’s trash were consumed by the flight attendant that we in the audience knows was partying with Whip the night before the flight.
At which point, rather than lie, Whip confesses to having drunk the vodka himself.
The movie ends, true to its true-confessions formula, with a redeemed Whip in prison, having confessed to his sin of piloting an aircraft drunk and coked up — more expertly than any other cold sober pilot could have done.
In a sane society not in thrall to Puritans and Prohibitionists, Whip would have told Ellen Block, “Suppose I was intoxicated, hypothetically. In which case your own investigation demonstrates that I’m a more competent pilot drunk and coked up than any sober pilot you could have put in my place, and but for my drunken flying there would have been 100 more deaths. So go fuck yourself, you statist sow.”
Only a libertarian like me would write dialogue like this.
But it’s dumb statists who get the writing jobs in Hollywood.
More’s the pity.
Voluntary Islam and Other Essays
By Davi Barker
Free Press Publications
ISBN: 978-1938357022 (Paperback)
February 2, 2013
ASIN: B00BHLAQG4 (Kindle)
February 17, 2013
I don’t think I’ve ever started writing an article with as much cognitive dissonance as I begin this one.
I’ll be praising, and giving my highest recommendation to, a book by a man who wrote about me three months ago (and whom I don’t recall ever meeting), “I’m no fan of Schulman. I’ve never read any of his work. I just don’t like him as a person.”
The author of the book I’ll be praising went on from his statement of how much he disliked me to write a hit piece on my movie, Alongside Night, an attack so sweepingly negative that Brad Linaweaver wrote about his review, “The only thing he forgot to criticize was the food catering.”
The web domain Davi Barker’s screed was published on is now missing in action.
So what am I supposed to do now that I discover that this same writer who despises me has penned a book so profoundly in sync with my own deepest libertarian values that by all reason we should be blood brothers in defense of them – and that the movie he attacked dramatizes those same values?
Davi Barker, the writer in question, tags himself a Muslim Agorist.
I’m by no means as well versed in the theology or even the history of Islam as I am with the other two seminal Abrahamic religions – Judaism and Christianity – and I’m by no means a scholar of any religion.
But what I thought I knew about Islam is that it reminded me more of the ancient Hebrews in practice than anything else – punishments like stoning to death or beheading for what we in the west today would consider less of an offense than jaywalking, subjugation of women, and willingness to use brutal violence against infidels and anyone else who denigrated Islam or its founder, Mohammad.
I’ve often said that one shouldn’t judge authors by their fans. In noting the atrocities committed by Jews in the name of Israel, Christians in the name of Christ, and Muslims in the name of Allah, I readily admit that most dogmatics pick and choose what parts of their theology fits their actual agenda, and one could just as readily find scriptural verses or commentary that argued the opposite.
What I am a primary source on is the subject of the second half of Davi Barker’s self-description – Agorism — since I’m considered one of its founders, along with my late mentor, Samuel Edward Konkin III.
In his 1980 New Libertarian Manifesto, Konkin defines Agorism as “libertarian in theory and free-market in practice.”
I did some exegesis on that in my 2011 article, “The Agorist Revolutionary Alternative”:
Konkin, being a scientist, approached the question logically. To his way of thinking the means and ends had to be one and the same. If the end was a society whose institutions were noncoercive and respecting of voluntary contracts and trade then the means of achieving such a society, likewise, also needed to be noncoercive and respecting of voluntary contracts and trade. These were the seeds which led Samuel Edward Konkin III (SEK3, for short) to begin exploring the strategy of counter-economics, and the philosophy of Agorism, as the libertarian means to achieve libertarian ends.
In his book Voluntary Islam and Other Essays (Free Press Publications, February 2013) Davi Barker finds the same principles in a reading of The Quran:
This sentence is only four words: La ikrah fi deen. “No compulsion in religion.” Every scholar I’ve ever heard discuss the word deen says that “religion” is a poor translation, and that it means a complete and comprehensive way of life.
Barker also finds this same principle in Gandhi:
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” Muslims might express the same idea as “Your means must contain your ends.”
The principle of non-aggression is a deep and fundamental Truth in human interaction. Actions that are coerced have no moral value. A confession under torture is no real confession. Giving money to the poor at gunpoint is not real charity. The aim of Islam, and religion more broadly, is to place moral value in every action, so how can coercion be virtuous? The simplicity and profundity of the non-aggression principle is, I believe, the keystone to solving the strife in predominantly Muslim countries, and indeed the world.
Davi Barker sees the central positions of libertarian philosophy in Islam:
The primacy of achieving peace over demanding rights;
Contract law: “Do all that you agree to do.” Whether by oath or by written agreement, it is incumbent on every righteous person of any creed to live by their word;
The superiority of restorative justice over punitive justice;
And most importantly:
The Non-Aggression Principle holds that the initiation of physical force, threat, or fraud is always illegitimate, and that the use of force is only appropriate when used in defense. This is the defining lesson of this story, and the criterion for determining between the times when physical violence is legitimate and those when patient passive endurance is appropriate. Even when the terms of a treaty authorize him, and the customs of the society permit him, Muhammad does not use physical force against anyone unless they have first aggressed , or supplied an aggressor with material aid.
Davi Barker’s explanation for how Islam has strayed so far from what he sees as its core principles is
Unlike the Gospels, where a council of bishops decided which accounts of Jesus’ life they thought were authentic and destroyed those they felt were not, accounts of Muhammad’s life are all recorded in hundreds of volumes, but each narration contains a chain of custody describing in detail who gave the account. These chains are used to determine the strength of the narration. So, narrations with long chains are weaker than those with short chains. Narrations reported by many independent witnesses are stronger than those with only one witness. And sometimes the lack of credibility of a particular narrator can cast doubt on an entire chain.
Barker sees the State the way all libertarian anarchists and Agorists do: as violent in its very nature:
Senator Obama said something to the Military Times that sent me on a political odyssey the end of which I have not yet reached. “What essentially sets a nation-state apart,” he told them, “is a monopoly on violence.”
This was no political gaffe. The phrase originates from Max Weber’s definition of government: “a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.” Weber’s definition is widely accepted by most political scientists , and he is regarded as the principal thinker in Western statecraft. I know they tell us that honor belongs to Thomas Jefferson, but don’t kid yourself. Weber was one of the architects of the Constitution of the Weimar Republic,
Davi Barker advocates for a version of Islam that is a religion of consistent peace and freedom – and I find little in his historical examples or theological exegesis that I feel qualified to argue with. I just agree with the principles he’s advocating, whether or not other Muslims agree with him. To paraphase Ayn Rand, Barker emphasizes not what Islam is, but what it might be and ought to be.
I have to groove on his book for that.
It’s the idealized Islam that I agree God (and possibly Rand) would support, just as I have concluded that God created us by fissioning us off his own original omnipresent body as free spirits – individual souls who by having the power to reject God serve the function of providing God an escape from eternal solipsism and by offering love to God of their own free will ended his celestial loneliness.
As I wrote in my 2002 novel, Escape from Heaven:
God contemplated the new thought for what even he considered a long time. After contemplating a lot of different possibilities, and even creating and destroying a number of different universes as experiments to verify his thinking, God decided that the only thing that could possibly create the sort of dynamic he was looking for, the only thing that could build up a tension great enough for the sort of thrill he was seeking, would be to split off part of himself into a separate consciousness, independent of himself, a separate consciousness that could say to him, “No.”
With the possibility of the first “no” would also be created the possibility of the first “yes.”
Thus did the Lord trade his omnipotence, his omniscience, and his omnipresence for the possibility of finding love.
In this view I’m no doubt a heretic to mainstream Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Barker comes to a similar conclusion about God making us by a process of splitting off a part of himself:
The concept of fitra is that God has engraved upon the human soul an inborn tendency toward truth and virtue. It suggests that all human beings are born in a natural state of spiritual purity. This position contradicts both the Doctrine of Original Sin proposed by Christian theology , and the tabula rasa proposed by philosophers. Fleshing out the definition requires a look at the Arabic root, and its use in the Quran. In the Arabic language most nouns are derived from a three letter root verb. So a book, kitab, is literally a thing which is written kata-ba. Knowing the root verb often elucidates a deeper understanding of the noun. For fitra, the root verb fa-ta-ra commonly means to split, or cleave asunder.
In his jihad to make Islam a libertarian religion devoted to principles of peace and freedom Davi Barker is likely as much of a heretic as I am.
And even as Davi Barker affirms the Muslim dogma that Mohammad was God’s final prophet, he perhaps commits heresy of being a post-final-prophet by telling us of his own dream:
I stood between two giant floating heads, one in the black Ayatollah turban and the other in the red Al Azhar cap with white turban. I began asking them questions with the intention of seeking qualified scholarship, but every time, one would tell me the literal meaning of a word in Arabic and the way the ruling was implemented in the early community, and the other would tell me the original intention of the ruling and its application in the modern world. The heads always gave opposite answers, and I was left in the middle with no guidance. Frustrated, I moved past the heads, toward the ocean. I discovered a wooden stand holding the Quran, and resolved that if I wanted satisfactory answers I’d have to read it for myself— but inside the book I found the pages were not filled with words, just light pouring out. Doubly frustrated, I asked God to teach me how to read. Then a man appeared, walking up a stairwell that ascended from the ocean. He was all in white, with the same light pouring from his face, so bright that I could not see it. I asked him how to read the light and he answered, “Eat only the purest food. Drink only the purest water. And think only the purest thoughts.” It wasn’t exactly English, but more like a raw telepathic communication.
Having had prophetic experiences, myself – both while awake and while dreaming – I know a prophetic dream when I read about it. And dream prophecies, for both of us, result in a change in how we proceed in living. In Davi Barker’s case, he put into practice the principles of self-reliance:
I started a vegetable garden. I don’t have a yard, only a small apartment balcony. But it was very easy to begin growing. I started with only three rectangular pots where I planted rows of tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions. As they grew I transplanted the small sprouts into larger pots and reseeded the rectangular pots with herbs. Now I have thriving cilantro and chamomile, and soon sage and mint. It is a uniquely rewarding experience to taste the fruit of your own labor. To put your hands in the soil and dig out a bite of nature. As Thomas Jefferson famously said, “Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever God had a chosen people.”
This book is essential reading for the libertarian or pacifist anarchist, especially the Agorist; and it’s even more essential reading for the statist, particularly the Muslim devoted to light and reason over the dark side of force.
I give my enemy’s book five stars out of five.