Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Meaning of Life

I was reading Larry Elder's comments about dinner with a Bush-hater, and marvelled at his disappointment that "someone could go through the world so incredibly ill-informed."

He was referring to the fact that a woman who claimed that President Bush had said that rich people shouldn't pay taxes. When he questioned her further, it turned out that she believed the top 1% of rich people pay only 1-2% of total taxes in the U.S.

For the record, since my table companion doesn't know or doesn't care, the top 1 percent -- the taxpayers with an adjusted gross income (AGI) over $295,495 -- paid, for 2003, 34.27 percent of federal income tax revenues. The top 10 percent (with an AGI over $94,891) paid 65.84 percent, the top half (AGI over $29,019) paid 96.54 percent. The bottom half? They paid 3.46 percent.

People should know this. Even if you live in Seattle.

Yes. People should know a lot of things. But they don't.

For instance, I just recently bought a new Special Edition DVD for my family of "Monty Python's Meaning of Life" - a comedy that I enjoyed wholeheartedly back in the 80's when it came out. In particular, I really liked the first segment in which a tired old insurance company in an old building with old people slaving away is suddenly taken over by the old people who then become pirates and sail away with the building to capture brand, spanking new companies. Then and now, I thought it was a clever idea, brilliantly executed.

My mistake was in buying the "Special Edition", where we have hours of commentary about all aspects of the film. Because I liked that initial segment a lot, I decided to listen to Terry Gilliam discuss how it was made and offer his insights.

Well--just like the intrusive man and woman at Larry Elder's dinner party--he certainly offered his "insight". In the middle of talking about some of the technical aspects and problems that occurred when he directed that portion of the film, quite gratuitously he started talking about how it all tied into "making up stories about WMD" and "sending young people off to fight in wars" etc. etc. etc.

There I was, right in the middle of my own living room, watching a film from the 80's and suddenly listening to a diatribe against current American foreign policy. Like Elder, initially I simply let it pass. Living in Ann Arbor, I am quite used to such Bush hatred suddenly popping up in the most benign conversations. (Example: "Oh, Pat! Have you tried this new flavor of ice cream yet?" "No, not yet." "Well, that simpering bushchimphitler would probably prevent you from enjoying it if he could.")

But Gilliam persisted in tying the theme of people rising against an autocratic system that abused them to the Iraq war. So I stopped the video.

But I wondered. What in heaven's name had he thought he'd been saying all those years ago when he actually wrote and directed the scene? I had seen it as a triumph of human freedom and dignity. The feeble old men taking on the young men was a clever way of generalizing the quest for freedom to all of humanity. Or so I thought.

Obviously, Gilliam had been going not for the broader implications, but only for the superficial; the anticapitalistic, Marxist-style oppression/oppressed class struggle theme. That was his narrowed view of the world, and meaning of life--nothing more.

And beyond that, I realized, that he believed that the Islamofascists we are fighting in Iraq today--who celebrate death and wish to destroy individual freedom-- were like the oppressed old people in the faded insurance company. Why shouldn't they take arms against us and use whatever means they had at hand to try to destroy us?

Sad to say, After hearing the reflexive Leftist talking points spouted so naturally and effortlessly by Gilliam, I will never be able to appreciate the abstract meaning of Python's antics (anti-authoritarian, subversive, piratical nonsense that celebrates freedom and life) in quite the the same way again.

Like Elder, I too am disappointed that people can be so incredibly ill-informed...and so foolishly concrete in the way they view the world and the meaning of life.

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