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Posts tagged ‘Halberstam’

The Best and the Brightest and Accidental History

This week we learned that the Trump team didn’t realize they had to replace all the staff in the White House, that the Trump transition team has been re-organized several times, perhaps in part because his son-in-law, Jared Kushner wants to settle a personal score against Chris Christie, and that Ivanka Trump is using her dad’s election to hawk some bracelets in her line.  If you’re like me, you are little freaked out not only by the political commitments of this coming Administration, but how ill-prepared they seem.  I want to assure you–being well prepared might not be much better.

This week, as I’ve been hearing these things, I’ve been reading David Halberstam’s ironically titled historical account of the minds that together brought us the policies of the Cold War, and thus the Vietnam War and its failures–The Best and the Brightest.  What is clear in this book is that failures of personality, of individual insecurity, of a country wanting to prove itself led to decisions that were later defended as inevitable and necessary. Read more

“Divergent” Subjects: The Individual Against the Collective

Last weekend, I finally watched Divergent.  Last semester, I kept telling students in my Plato’s Republic seminar that someone needed to get on the film version of the dialogue.  It just seems so cinematically rich.  I mean, I know people have made films that are treatments of the cave analogy, but I want the thriller that is the dialogue as a whole.

Halfway through the semester a student told me I needed to see Divergent because it depicted Plato’s Republic.  Let’s just bracket that this film fails as a depiction because any successful film of the dialogue would have to find a way to perform the narrative encapsulation of the dialogue–Socrates narrating the story of the conversation that follows, the argumentative set up to the city in light of the question of whether justice is advantageous.  If Divergent depicts the Republic, it does so because it depicts a community in which people are divided into classes on the basis of their natures and these classes do the different tasks needed for the city to flourish.  Erudite seeks knowledge, Dauntless defends the city, Amity farm peacefully at the outskirts of the city, Candor speaks the truth, and Abnegation feed the poor and rule the city.  The film, which is based on the novel of the same name by Veronica Roth, gets traction from the problem that not everyone easily fits into one category, because you know, they’re divergent!  Like Hunger Games, a story that sets itself up as a revolutionary tale of resistance against oppression, Divergent ends up serving the same neoliberal practically Ayn-Randian celebration of individualism against collective action.  In this film, the collective becomes a problem because it attempts to limit and narrowly define individuals, while individuals succeed only when they work independently of the collective in order to resist it. Read more