Friday, December 30, 2005

What If I am Wrong?

I have now seen both Good Night, Good Luck and Syriana. And, I have a complete and total respect for George Clooney now. Sure, I thought he was a hunky, good actor before, but now I think he is just brilliant.

I saw Syriana first in a huge stadium theatre. I fear it won't last long in the mainstream movie houses because it is rather complex and complicated film. It is the only film I have ever seen that actually quotes Milton Friedman and cinematically criticizes the "Chicago School" Economists as powerfully as it exposes the threat of fundamentalism in the Middle east. This is a film for thinking people, who know something about the Middle East, energy policy and are concerned about how Big Oil and its pursuit of profit is ultimately dangerous to and works at cross purposes with Middle Eastern foreign policy. This is a smart, smart film.

Tonight I saw Good Night, Good Luck and was breathless at points. Seeing the actual footage of Senator McCarthy was simply not as upsetting as it should be. His tactics, bullying, and offensive assualts on the character of anyone who dared to disagree with him is all too common place these days. This is the strategy of die-hard supporters of the current administration. You get the sense that the likes of Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter and David Horowitz simply study the old footage of McCarthy's speeches.

To me, the most poignant scene in the whole film was a short dialogue between Joe Wershba (Robert Downey Jr.) and Shirley Wershba (Patricia Clarkson). Late in bed, reflecting on the various stories they have produced exposing the distrubing tactics of Sen. McCarthy, Joe asks his wife: "What if we are wrong?"

That sincere moment of questioning, doubt and reflection resonated with me. I asked my mother on the drive home if she thinks that the bullys like O'Reilly or Coulter ever ask themselves that same question. I cannot tell you how many times I have worried that I am taking the wrong stance, that I am backing the wrong positions, or the wrong people. Clooney's film actually helped me appreciate that I have these moments of doubt; they are an authentic reaction to anyone who is willing to engage in the sort of intellectual honesty needed for seeking the truth. To engage in self-doubt means that you are more committed to finding the truth than winning.

The sad fact is that those who are willing to question their own positions or worry that they are perhaps mistaken are also more cautious and balanced in their positions. They do not win over the people looking for clear narratives of good vs. evil, nor does their scrupulous evidence gathering and nuance entertain those looking for escape from the messiness of life.