As regular readers of my political/social site JohnHenry.US are well aware, I became a member of the citizen’s political movement Coffee Party USA a couple of months ago, and began volunteering for their media work group, which locates and identifies various content to be shared via the organization’s Facebook Page.
We have a little private discussion group – called, in one of those cute little synchronicities that life throws at you, the “Newsroom” – and the heavily circulated clip of the opening scene of Aaron Sorkin’s now-classic HBO dramatic series “The Newsroom” was shared there, and some discussion began about it.
You can watch the clip here; it looks like HBO has asked YouTube to disable embedding of any of the several score versions of this clip. The one I’ve linked is the longest; I think it’s important to have the context of the scene – which is really a great characterization of how most internet discussions of politics work, although given Sorkin’s disdain for the ‘net it’s unlikely that’s intentional – so that you get the full effect of how the response given by Daniels’ Will MacAvoy character throws an emergency break on what has become the “normal” (and entirely pointless) way we discuss politics and social issues in this country.
Instead of partaking in or mimicking the banal, cliche, “my team your team” facade of debate, McAvoy drops a nuke on everything with a clear, concise, heartfelt, factually accurate, unflinching, and unflattering response to the question, “What makes America the greatest country on Earth?”
It’s highly unlikely that anyone reading this blog hasn’t already seen this clip at some point, but if you haven’t, go watch. You won’t regret it. Heck, go watch it if you have, it’s well worth a repeat.
Anyway, that’s the setup. So in the course of this discussion, one of my colleagues asked:
“Why are we so afraid of reality and truth ?”
And this was my response:
Because we’re afraid to face the consequences of our mistakes and lies. Human nature.
Which is a meaningful and accurate response, as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough, either in terms of exploring Sorkin’s writing and the experiences that inform it, or in terms of answering the above question in a complete and honest way that induces serious thought about how we human beings do our thing and why the way we do it has created such a confused muddle in our social and political processes, dialogues, and policies.
First, I think it’s important to point out that Sorkin’s a recovering addict. I think it’s important to point that out because I, too, am a recovering addict, and have been compared to Sorkin more than once both in terms of ideology and writing style (high praise, that). Although those prone to being starstruck might think it requires some arrogance – or setting aside of false modesty – to accept that comparison, I think it’s objectively apt for more reasons than simply we both write a lot, lean to the left, and have a knack for a turn of phrase relating to politics.
One of those reasons is the experience of addiction and recovery. While it might be news to some newer readers because I don’t beat it into the ground, I’ve never shied away from admitting that I spent the years between 1988 and 1999 stuffing the Colombian national economy up my nose. Like any drug, it was fun at first, then it became a habit, then it changed my personality and turned me into a paranoid, angry, coke-fueled dick, until the day came when events conspired to turn a light bulb on over my head, I looked around and realized that everyone I was hanging out with was an asshole and a felon, and that I was already one and would quickly be both if I didn’t make some immediate changes, and I went home and never touched hard drugs again.
Never will, either. Not because I’m so great and strong, but because I like being alive and if I ever do cocaine (or any other hard drug) again it will kill me. Maybe not the first time or the second, but I’d bet against lasting six months.
It’s strange to call it good fortune, but fortunately my dad is a recovering alcoholic who went through an inpatient treatment program in 1986 and has now been sober for nearly thirty years. We’re not going to debate the relative merits of AA here, it worked for him and that’s all that matters in this context. During that process, of course, the family was subject to psychological therapy and co-dependent twelve-step groups and so forth, and so even though it didn’t quite keep me from making the obvious and predictable mistake of following in his footsteps (albeit with a different substance), it did give me the tools early on to both leave some vestige of sanity available to step on the brakes when my racecar was about to slide off the track, and to find and maintain recovery and sanity when I finally decided to admit to myself that my life wasn’t working anymore, I was sick, and I needed to make changes to get healthy.
So what does this have to do with anything? Let’s find out on page two…