The Long View 2005-10-04: Marvin the Paranoid Android

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

In a major break from John, I really liked the movie version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and hated the book. My wife suggested the problem was that I tried to read it as an adult, and since the book is literally sophomoric, you really need to first approach it as a teenager or college student. If only I had known!


Marvin the Paranoid Android

 

I knew it was going to be bad, but I did not think it was going to be this bad. Well, maybe I did. I got around last weekend to seeing the film version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I stutter in my eagerness to spew invective.

Appalling. Dreadful. Any idiot could make Marvin into a metallic Care Bear, as the makers of this film did, but it took a special attention to detail to botch the orchestration of Journey of the Sorcerer. The signature misstep in this maladaptation is the large prominence given the Vogons. Vogons are not interesting. Two Vogons are less interesting than one Vogon. This film spent a large slice of a generous special-effects budget to realize armies of them.

What is the moral here? When the BBC did their pitch-perfect version of this story many years ago, their single largest budget item seems to have been the cost of Arthur Dent's towel. Nothing ruins the cinematization of fantasy more than the financing of the producer and director beyond their intelligence.

* * *

And that goes double for the nomination of Harriet Miers to the United States Supreme Court.

Shall we be clear on a few issues? Roe v. Wade is a done deal. I don't think that any informed person doubts that it will be overturned. The political class is just positioning itself to accommodate the change. The smarter Democrats know that the prospects for their party will increase markedly when this incubus is taken off them; the Republicans know that a large fraction of their profession-class women voters are libertarians in this matter and so are going to need placating, which will take the form of acquiescence in a liberal abortion regime created by legislation. Both parties, for now, have to continue to embrace the opposite of these realities, but in a few years we will forget which party was on which side.

The cause for outrage here is that the president appointed his personal attorney to the Supreme Court. It is not important that she has never been a judge. What is important is that she's a political hack of no academic distinction and with a narrow range of professional experience. Her chief qualification is dog-loyalty to the person of George Bush.

Frankly, I have been surprised by the caution of the Democrats in reacting to this nomination. The opposition of the Republican base is surprising, too, but chiefly for its cluelessness. Of course this sockpuppet will vote for Movement Conservative issues. The problem is that, when the constitutional changes come, they will come from a court without dignity or credibility, like the Florida Supreme Court in the election of 2000.

* * *

Do you call that an empire? So asks Spengler at Asia Times in his review of Robert Kaplan's Imperial Grunts : The American Military on the Ground. We read:

Robert Kaplan of the Atlantic Monthly longs to be the American Rudyard Kipling, the chronicler of the intrepid subalterns and leathery sergeants who save the empire through pluck and grit.

Alas for Mr. Kaplan, the US military really shows no sign of turning into an imperial military, if by that you mean the militaries of the 19th-century colonial powers. And why is this?

To begin with, the 10,000 or so Special Forces in the US Army are the wrong sort of people: tattooed, tobacco-chewing, iron-pumping Southerners, clever at improvised repairs or minor surgery in the field, and deadly in firefights (although Kaplan never sees one), but without the cultural skills essential to their mission.

He has a point. The American military simply cannot get its act together in the matter of learning foreign languages, for instance. It can build public infrastructure but has little interest in governance. Actually, the officer corps is remarkably intelligent, even well-read, but it works well only with local people who have the same technocratic mindset.

For anyone interested in developing the contrast between the militaries of the 19th and 21st centuries, you might take a look at this piece in Prospect (brought to my attention by Danny Yee), which deplores the passing of the sort of liberal-arts mandarin who used to manage the British empire: From the American founders, Macaulay, Acton, and Mill to de Tocqueville, Guizot, Weber and Ortega y Gasset, the conservative liberals of western Europe and North America feared that universal suffrage would produce "mobocracy." But the nightmare of mass democracy never fully materialised, in large part because of the political and cultural role of the mandarinate, the "new class" of Marxist and neoconservative social theory, the Bildungsbürgertum (cultured middle class) as opposed to the Besitzbürgertum (propertied middle class)....All of this now lies in ruins. Four sources of authority are invoked to fill the vacuum left by the decline of the modern humanism that legitimated the mandarinate: professionalism, positivism, populism and religion.

As for lamentations that America is failing to play the Great Game, I can only repeat that these criticisms are misplaced. The United States is not trying to run a 19th-century empire. It is trying to function as a utility in an incipient Universal State. And look at the flack we get.

* * *

On the topic of Universal States, these remarks by Mark Steyn on the deep reasons for the latest Bali bombings state an important misconception:

Bassam Tibi, a Muslim professor at Gottingen University in Germany, said in an interesting speech a few months after September 11, "Both sides should acknowledge candidly that although they might use identical terms, these mean different things to each of them. The word peace, for example, implies to a Muslim the extension of the Dar al-Islam -- or House of Islam -- to the entire world. This is completely different from the Enlightenment concept of eternal peace that dominates Western thought. Only when the entire world is a Dar al-Islam will it be a Dar a-Salam, or House of Peace."

That's why they blew up Bali in 2002, and last weekend, and why they'll keep blowing it up. It's not about Bush or Blair or Iraq or Palestine. It's about a world where everything other than Islamism lies in ruins.

In reality, Kant's Perpetual Peace and the peace of a universal caliphate Islam are both expressions of the archetype of the Necessary Empire.

* * *

On the matter of misconceptions about evolution, see the essay Stephen M. Barr in the October issue of First Things, "The design of evolution," which answers with some recent attempts to cloud the perfectly satisfactory Catholic position on the matter:

So why did Christoph Schönborn, the cardinal archbishop of Vienna, lash out this summer at neo-Darwinism? In an opinion piece for the New York Times on July 7, he reacted indignantly to the suggestion that “the Catholic Church has no problem with the notion of” evolution “as used by mainstream biologists – that is, synonymous with neo-Darwinism. Brushing off the 1996 statement of John Paul II as “vague and unimportant,” he cited other evidence (including statements by the late pope, sentences from Communion and Stewardship and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and a line from the Pope Benedict XVI's installation homily) to make the case that neo-Darwinism is in fact incompatible with catholic teaching...Elsewhere in his article, however, the cardinal is another definition: “evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense [is] an unguided, unplanned process of random variation in natural selection.”...[In reality, the] word “random” as used in science does not mean unplanned, or inexplicable; it means uncorrelated.

Elsewhere in this piece, Barr mentions Simon Conway Morris's argument in Life's Solution as a model in which randomness is compatible with meaning.

* * *

And speaking of First Things, the website now has a blog-like entity on the top page. It is not supposed to be a proper blog, I gather. It may be intended to serve as a place to which the journal's fanatical readers can refer if something really bad happens in the world and they cannot wait until the next issue of the print journal to get the party line.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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