Saturday, January 2, 2010

"Go, Set a Watchman."

An interesting review of the Watchmen movie was just posted at a site called Sipsey Street Irregulars, in the manner of a "cautionary omen." I'm glad to see it. My philosophical disagreements with Alan Moore keeps me at arm's length from him regarding the topic of anarchy (see my review); I'm an Objectivist, and he's...Alan Moore. The problem is, I've seen some compelling arguments regarding anarchy and minarchy that I've been working through, so it's interesting to get a different perspective of this movie's take on government corruption from someone who is closer to my own views than someone like Moore.

The blog post is called "2010: Go, Set a Watchman." Some of the salient points: the review traces the connection of the "Watcher" theme with the use of the Bob Dylan song "All Along the Watchtower", and the origins of the lyrics:

"Bob Dylan wrote this song after a motorcycle accident darned near killed him. He spent some of his recuperation reading the Bible and some reviewers have pointed out this passage from Isaiah:"

Isaiah 21:5-9 (King James Version)

5 Prepare the table, watch in the watchtower, eat, drink: arise, ye princes, and anoint the shield.

6 For thus hath the LORD said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.

7 And he saw a chariot with a couple of horsemen, a chariot of asses, and a chariot of camels; and he hearkened diligently with much heed:

8 And he cried, A lion: My lord, I stand continually upon the watchtower in the daytime, and I am set in my ward whole nights:

9 And, behold, here cometh a chariot of men, with a couple of horsemen. And he answered and said, Babylon is fallen, is fallen; and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground.

(I had NO idea about this passage when I named this site Superhero Babylon...I did know about the biblical phrase "Babylon is fallen" when I used it on the web page for my Spaceplayer album, Earth in the Balance, which was written in reaction to the election of Obama. I did not know about its influence on Dylan, though, and find it fascinating to see these things interlock.)

This bit gets at my own distrust of "big brother":
"Watchtowers, like tracers, work both ways. They can be set up as a means of giving early warning to a community of danger to it from without. Or, they can be used to oppress that same community by allowing the authorities to monitor and, with the advent of machineguns, use deadly force against, any people who object or try to escape from the oppressors' tyrannical system."
This is the double-edged sword that is a sticking point for me with Objectivism. Since Atlas Shrugged has become, against the author's wishes, "prophetic," one might be content to get rid of the State once and for all. The problem is that Rand rejected such an idea, leading some critics to observe that there are two Objectivisms, the anarchy of "Galt's Gulch" and the formal minarchist position of Rand's non-fiction. As Jeff Riggenbach explains it:

"In effect, the millions of young people who read Atlas Shrugged during the 1960's learned from Ayn Rand that government was evil and unnecessary, while the tens of thousands of young people who joined the Objectivist movement during those same years learned from the very same teacher and theoretician that a carefully limited government is a necessary precondition of civilization."

Rand denied any attempts to link her philosophy to anarchism, but she never answered how to solve the problems addressed by her anarchist sympathizers. (I've already discussed Watchmen in relation to the infamous "Open Letter to Ayn Rand" by Roy Childs.) Rand believed that citizens of a free society should delegate the use of retaliatory force to the government, except in the need of immediate self-defense. But I find her answers to questions of gun control revealing in their uncertainty.
"I do not know enough about it to have an opinion, except to say that it's not of primary importance. Forbidding guns or registering them is not going to stop criminals from having them; nor is it a great threat to the private, noncriminal citizen if he has to register the fact that he has a gun. It's not an important issue, unless you're ready to begin a private uprising right now, which isn't very practical."
"It's a complex, technical issue in the philosophy of law. Handguns are instruments for killing people -- they are not carried for hunting animals -- and you have no right to kill people. You do have the right to self-defense, however. I don't know how the issue is to be resolved to protect you without giving you the privilege to kill people at whim."
It's statements like these that make me think that the Rand of Atlas Shrugged had it right the first time around... so I think that that Rand would agree with the conclusion of the review. I certainly do:
"I urge you to watch the movie, if for no other reason than to see the logical results of the people abdicating their responsibility to be their own watchmen, as the Founders intended. Whether it is the government, or Dr. Manhattan, who you count to watch over you, the result is the same: subjugation, tyranny and death as pawns in someone else's well-intentioned Armageddon.

Whatever happens in 2010, this much is clear: we must be our own watchmen."