American Democracy in Vanilla Sky and Confucianism (Ecclesiastical Essays in Absurdity)

You handsome devil!

I just watched this movie only because of a certain song on the soundtrack, which is obviously a certain hit single by Peter Gabriel, which was likewise utilized to perfection in the trailer of a romantic comedy I have yet to see called Shining. I won’t really talk about the movie itself because the movie itself isn’t really worth talking about, but there is an integral point of the plot that inspired this post, and it goes a little something like this:

The protagonist of the film is the CEO of a publishing company (or something), and he inherited this position from his father, who for some reason (or something) decided that he would give his son a 51% share of the company’s stocks (or the company’s power, or something), dividing the other 49% among seven “dwarves”, or old people who don’t like the antagonist. Coincidentally this setup has much in common with the setup of the winner-take-all ethic within American democracy: the electorate is split almost evenly between Republicans and Democrats so that, depending on the whims of the fates, the wriggling of the fulcrum of history, etc., one party will win a national election even if it has gained a majority of just one single vote—or, even in the case of George W. Bush, bla bla bla bla bla!

So in Vanilla Sky the Seven Dwarves have no actual power and are totally harmless and of no consequence to anyone; the same can’t quite be said of the minority party between elections, thanks to hallowed institutions like the filibuster and the practice of general demagoguery among a populace that constantly begs on its hands and knees to get demagogued, but it’s worth thinking about. Still, usually, if a politician wins a vote with only a slight majority, rather than a landslide victory, it’s probably only right to govern moderately, and to make concessions to the other side, although most politicians appear to govern as absolute tyrants the moment they assume office no matter how close they came to defeat. While 51% of the population can totally dominate the other 49% if it wishes to, history has shown that it takes far less than a tenth as many people to enslave basically everyone else. But perhaps despite the filibuster and despite demagoguery there is really no point to showing up for work if you happen to be affiliated with the minority party.

Still, I think most people, myself included (while batting the eyelashes of irony), would say that majority-rule is probably the best form of government. But naturally most people are not always right, and, in fact, most people are worse than locusts and I don’t give a damn what they think: this brings me to my next topic, something I want to write a lot about in the coming weeks, and that is Confucianism.

Master Kong is not quite so handsome as Tom Cruise.

At this moment I live in South Korea, I can hear the roar of Busan’s flawless public transportation system outside my window, and it’s been said in places I don’t care to quote that the philosophy of Confucianism—which in its popular form essentially entails respecting one’s elders—is stronger here than anywhere else on Earth, stronger even than in China, where it first originated thousands of years ago. Confucianism permeates the culture here in the same way that the stench of the overwhelmed sewage system permeates the air: in short, an older person is always right, even if they’re older than you by a single second, at least while the two of you are in the same room. Once you separate you’re free to talk about how idiotic the other person is with the friends you have who are of the same age, but while you’re together you must obey every ridiculous whim the elderly person subjects you to, and you must pretend that because you were randomly born later than the elderly person, you are entirely inferior to that elderly person.

There is government, when the prince is prince, and the minister is minister; when the father is father, and the son is son.

(Analects XII, 11, trans. Legge (from wikipedia))

Now westerners, with all their silly ideas of equality, are inclined to look upon this notion as an absurdity; I think it’s absurd because I think all people are insects, or actually less than insects, since insects don’t ever get uppity and pretend to be human. The idea is that in a relationship between two people, loosely termed human beings, the superior elder will act benevolently toward the inferior youth, and the inferior youth will obey the superior elder; both will act as they are supposed to act, and harmony will result; in practice the superior is a blind, brutal tyrant glutted with power, while the inferior is a lowly slave.

Things work when they work and don’t work when they don’t work, a statement which entirely invalidates every political philosophy. “Confucius say”, subjectively, that no philosophy is better than any other: only what works works. No one needs to watch the watchers when the watchers are good to begin with. Therefore, and in theory, a despotic form of government could be better than a democratic one: I would prefer an enlightened ruler, a philosopher-king, to a horde of babbling yokels any day of the week, but unfortunately the former is just a myth and the latter is actually a cloud of locusts which will blindly devour the entire planet until not even a single mote of dust is left.

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One thought on “American Democracy in Vanilla Sky and Confucianism (Ecclesiastical Essays in Absurdity)

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