Sunday, March 05, 2006

Freedom in Belarus... inspired by The Postman...

Sometimes we make a difference!

Okay, I admit that it can happen even to me. Every now and then, I feel drawn by the sick-sweet allure of cynicism. Look around. I mean is anybody listening to the good ideas? Ain't it tempting to think that it's all just useless? That you might as well turn inward -- take up carpentry and let the world go to hell on its own?

Isn't the whole modernist-democratic experiment getting pounded down, the same way it happened in Periclean Athens, by the combined forces of mysticism, egotism, oligarchy and war? History shows what a narrow renaissance we've been lucky to live through. The Pragmatic Enlightenment always relied upon a brash and rather unnatural sense of confidence in the future. And now that its enemies have figured out how to undermine that confidence, that belief in negotiation and problem-solving, is there really much chance of preventing a return of the old ways that dominated every other culture? Especially the pattern that is preached in popular fantasy tales -- rule by coalitions of aristocrats and clerics.

Certainly, my own efforts, yammering and tossing bricks in ALL directions (contrarianism) would seem likely to achieve just one long term effect. I am giving our future masters (whether they arise from either left or right) plenty of quotables to snatch out of internet archives and cite (out-of-context) during my show trial! Shortly before they resume the traditional methodology practiced by nearly all other human societies, dealing with gadflies by the simple expediency of immolation

Only then, just when it all seems futile, there comes a hint that I really am part of something bigger. Moreover, maybe I'm even helping in some small way.

For example, now comes word from Belarus, an ex-Soviet republic that has spiraled into pure dictatorship, that the democracy and human rights movement over there is making use of a symbol, an archetype, that may be familiar to some of you.

The-Postman-1997-movie-poster"Kobets told me that Belarus's democratic activists took their inspiration from the unlikeliest of sources: a Kevin Costner film. "The Postman," adapted from a novel by David Brin in 1997 and critically panned, depicts an apocalyptic America where the remnants of civilization live in terror of a brutal army headed by a sadistic general. Costner's character, a drifter, delivers a bag of old mail ‹ information ‹ and becomes a symbol of hope for those hoping to restore their American democracy."

(For the whole article, see The New York Times --with thanks to Kathryn Myronuk)

Well now, that's nice. Though, in fact, the message about turning away from neo-feudalism and discovering true patriotism - about an America that restores itself and the world through communications - was originally intended to be absorbed by... well... Americans. (The reason I have long been "surprisingly forgiving" toward Costner is quite simple. Somehow, amid the uneven muddle of that film this message is the one part of the story that he absolutely nailed.)

Ah well, one takes what one can get. Go Belarussians! Struggle and prevail.


Anonymous said...

Hah! That's wonderful.

Even though the movie is described as the inspiration, some of the subversive glamour and moral authority is bound to rub off on the novel.

It might be amusing to send Aleksandr G. Lukashenko a signed copy.

David Brin said...

Anyone care to help me find his address? Anyway, isn't he Ukrainian?

Anonymous said...

Being over a week old, the article just went into the NYTimes archive. You need a subscription now.

Here it is on another site:

gmknobl said...

Ah well, even though it miss the sub-plots and all the sci-fi in it, you are right in that it did completely hit arguably, the most important message of the book. And besides, I thought it was a fun movie to watch, anyway.

Rob Perkins said...

You might be able to send the book through one of those expat democracy building organizations in Ukraine or Lithuania...

Heck, maybe State would even help you to do it!

Or, maybe the reporter who did the story could be an intermediary?

Anonymous said...

Note that I was suggesting the book be sent to the *current* president.

Just to spite the guy.

Anonymous said...

Note that communication takes many forms. In the Postman story, two obvious ones are mail and movies. We also have telephone, e-mail, the Web, formerly telegrams, radio (commercial radio, CB radio, military frequencies, ham radio, pirate radio, satellite radio, etc.), television, cable, public access TV, books, newspapers, newsletters, brochures, flyers under the windshield wiper, back-fence gossip, soapboxes in the public square, advertisements, lectures, tea parties, philosophy discussion groups, chitchat at the supermarket checkout counter, polls and surveys, bumper stickers, billboards, plays, concerts, ballet, and business cards. The most powerful form of communication, however, is our own behavior. We are primates. Human see, human do. The best way to communicate our ideas is to live them.

Xactiphyn said...

Very cool.

I think one of the problems with the movie is Costner turns the character of the Postman into a bit of a stereotype, not much different than every other part he's played.

You can share what the real intent of the book was, but to me the intended audience was those of us who are very cynical of patriotism; those of us who worry too much about the slippery-slope toward nationalism to see the legitimate benefits of true, mature patriotism.

But there is a whole other crowd out there that assumes the virtues of Patriotism, the flag wavers that have already slipped down the slope towards nationalism.

In the hands of Costner movie was it felt like the movie was intended for the latter crowd, not the former.

Xactiphyn said...

Sheesh, one of these day's I'm going to learn to proofread *every sentence* before publishing. My habit of re-writing a sentence without getting rid of all the previous words is just horrible. Sorry about that.

Anonymous said...

Costner turns the character of the Postman into a bit of a stereotype, not much different than every other part he's played.

Not particularly relevant, but Costner does have this Messiah Complex, at least on-screen, that I find terribly off-putting. I tend to like movies like "The Postman" and "Waterworld" despite his contribution, rather than because of it.

Tony Fisk said...

DB: I am giving our future masters ... plenty of quotables to snatch out of internet archives and cite (out-of-context) during my show trial!

SJ: It might be amusing to send Aleksandr G. Lukashenko a signed copy.

Judge: "Glen David Brin, you are accused of exporting material of national significance to foreign interests, and of provoking acts of sedition. How do you plead?
Defendant: "Guilty, your honor!"
Judge: "(Quite right, too!). I hereby sentence you to three years hard labor, writing the sequel"
(court erupts in cheering, quickly suppressed by jack booted John Cleeses wielding very blunt bibles)

More soberly, it seems to me that the counter-democratic tactics adopted in Belarus appear to differ only in magnitude to those being applied in Ohio with bill HB3. 'Thou shalt not question the will of the people! (as expressed by Diebold ballots)'

Meanwhile, it looks like the swine are scraping the barrel:
US government near to debt limit


To go back to counter-gerrymandering tactics for a moment, here is an interesting situation that may be worth looking at.

While Australian electoral boundaries show little evidence of gerrymandering, there are often allegations of gerrymandering *within* party preselection ballots (known as 'branch stacking') We have just had an interesting local spat wherein a former ALP leader (Crean) made a stand against party factionalism by standing for preselection in a vacant seat (he won convincingly BTW). refer here, for starters.

Anonymous said...

Your co-worker at HAC, Bob Jacobs, passed away 10 Nov 2005.

He was interred at the National Cemetery in Riverside CA with full military honors.