Furthest Right

Civil disobedience

civil_disobedienceA recurring comic theme in the film Dr. Strangelove is the juxtaposition of obedient social etiquette contrasted to nuclear apocalypse looming in the background.

President Muffley calls Dmitri the Soviet Premier on the phone: “Fine, I can hear you now, Dmitri. Clear and plain and coming through fine. I’m coming through fine, too? Good, then! As you say, we’re both coming through fine! Good. Well, it’s good that you’re fine and I’m fine. I agree with you, it’s good to be fine!”

Later in the call: “I’m sorry, too, Dmitri. I’m very sorry. Alright, you’re sorrier than I am, but I am sorry as well. I am as sorry as you are, Dmitri! Don’t say that you’re more sorry than I am, because I’m capable of being just as sorry as you are. So we’re both sorry, alright? Alright.”

As the film progresses, Captain Lionel Mandrake absolutely must get the President on the phone. Nuclear apocalypse is imminent. It is literally zero hour. It is life or death. Alas, Lionel Mandrake has no change to use the pay phone!

Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Colonel…that Coca-Cola machine. I want you to shoot the lock off it. There may be some change in there.

Colonel “Bat” Guano: That’s private property.

Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Colonel! Can you possibly imagine what is going to happen to you, your frame, outlook, way of life, and everything, when they learn that you have obstructed a telephone call to the President of the United States? Can you imagine? Shoot it off! Shoot! With a gun! That’s what the bullets are for, you twit!

Colonel “Bat” Guano: Okay. I’m gonna get your money for ya. But if you don’t get the President of the United States on that phone, you know what’s gonna happen to you?

Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: What?

Colonel “Bat” Guano: You’re gonna have to answer to the Coca-Cola company.

Valeria Solanas and I agree on one thing, the modern world is an unmitigated bore. As President Muffley makes clear, “Gentlemen! There’s no fighting in the War Room!” Let your hair down, will ya?

The secret lesson to be learned by way of nonsense and absurd humor is that it relegates things to their proper perspective. The Jabberwocky, for example, relegates language to the proper perspective in relation to reality and life by way of its own nonsense. The end effect is that the mysterious conjuring of language puts reality back into perspective.

Quasi-nonsense, metaphor, and myth, by being so “preposterous” are actually more truthful than scientific-esque vocabulary, bureaucratic language, and Newspeak. They are truthful because they do not purport to be “accurate” and this confession is already worked into their own fantastical form.

Bureaucratic language and analytic exegesis have no such sense of humor. They take themselves to be perfectly accurate and do not acknowledge the very conjuring of language. Myth, metaphor, the absurd, and quasi-nonsense are not just a daydream diversion to distract us for a few moments from the grind.

When dealt with and executed properly, nonsense and the absurd are not nihilistic expressions of the futility of life. They actually represent the resistance to gravity and literalness. Life and reality is not a one-way street. There is acknowledgment, but there is also resistance. There is reversibility.

This is where “meaning” has run amok. Some things are meaningful. We should lead meaningful lives. But every last thing need not be meaningful and dwelled upon. Otherwise, everywhere you look is a “dog whistle” or “sign in the sky.” Paradoxically, when we have no long-term, big-picture meaningful quest, we are also racked by countless “little meanings” that should really mean nothing. It’s just like the juxtaposition of nuclear apocalypse and social etiquette.

Paraphrasing Jean Baudrillard: “People want to transform themselves and they want to transform the world. Yet they cannot even transform their own language.” Humorless, control-freak leftists and politically correct zombies cannot even transform their own language.

So, how can we help these poor souls transform themselves? Let us propose a most devious and mischievous strategy. You must take this metaphorically, and apply the lesson as you see fit.

Imagine you are a young rapscallion growing up in this boring, bureaucratic thought prison. You want to fight back and blow off steam, but you don’t want to ruin your life with serious crime or “hate speech,” either. You want to be civil in your disobedience. What shall we do? How can we be creative?

Perhaps we can create Frankenstein’s Monsters out of this new PC vocabulary. The monsters will do the work for us. The key is to pick something out of the new age lexicon that is unnerving, but not necessarily forbidden. It must also not make sense. It must be pure, absurd play.

Suppose I’m a humorless control-freak and I happen upon the word “AIDS” spray-painted on the YMCA. No message, just “AIDS” all by itself. What does it mean? “AIDS” what? There is no what, there is just AIDS. You start reading into it a million things. It is a hint but not an outright message. The lack of any clear message forces the mind and imagination to wander.

Turn the vocabulary on its ear. The playful and juvenile aspect only amplifies the effect.

Suppose at a social gathering I were to describe something as “retarded.” The piano stops playing. “How dare you, Ted! That’s racist!” Relax, it’s not racist, I’m a quarter retard, myself. I come from a long line of retards. My great uncle was a full blooded retard. Dick Swanson the retard. He knew he was retarded and the one privilege of being a retard is that you’re allowed to call other retards, retards. It takes one to know one, and I know a lot of retards.

Imagine a young Ted Swanson, stealing through the night, merely to write the word “gay” on the newest public “art” sculpture. Is this hate speech you may ask? Not at all, “gay” means happy, remember!? It’s not hate speech, it’s happy speech! Gee whiz, you sure do have a perverse and accusatory mind! I’m gay, myself. Aren’t you gay? Well of course you are! Of course you’re happy! It’s great to be happy! It’s great to be gay! My dream is that one day, every man woman and child on this entire planet will be gay!

I know you’re gay Dmitri, but I am gay as well. I am just as gay as you are Dmitri! Don’t say that you’re gayer than me! Alright then, we’re both gay!

Death in Samarkand: Consider the story of the soldier who meets Death at a crossing in the marketplace, and believes he saw him make a menacing gesture in his direction. He rushes to the king’s palace and asks the king for his best horse in order that he might flee during the night far from Death, as far as Samarkand. Upon which the king summons Death to the palace and reproaches him for having frightened one of his best servants. But Death, astonished, replies: ‘I didn’t mean to frighten him. It was just that I was surprised to see this soldier here, when we had a rendezvous tomorrow, in Samarkand.’

It is precisely the naïve gesture that induces vertigo in the mind of the control-freak because there is no clear meaning. When people see signs in the sky everywhere, this could prove to be a more imaginative way to play the game. Metaphorically speaking, this fatal strategy could be extrapolated and serve as a way to unnerve humorless zombies. They run from what they fear only to meet their own fate.

It is like a message in a bottle. The very fact that there is such a slim chance of any possible sense to be made is what lends it its power. The irony is that the thought police will be the ones to reveal their own assumptions about various minority statuses.

You have to remember what it was like when you were a wanderer. The pivotal points were usually not systematically induced. The most powerful and seductive moments of life are when the stars seemed to align and you were spirited away by a billion chance factors all coming together at one fateful point.

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