Liberals and conservatives may feel themselves to be opposites, but they are actually two poles on one continuum. When a nation such as ours has fallen captive to nationalism, militarism and to economic feudalism, it is no longer enough to choose between those poles. At that point, to hold onto sanity we must step outside the context of our nation, religion, or political party and remember our humanity. In other words, we must step out of the continuum of liberal and conservative and become radicals.
By “radicals” I mean to place human beings as our highest political value. Our “roots” into one common humanity become the context of every radical decision. We never place this ultimate good within any lesser utilitarian context. For example, radicals do not try to solve issues like health care within the context of capitalism, instead, we place the economic system within the context of the common good of humankind. And we do not believe the propaganda that our own nation is inherently good and our nation’s enemy is inherently evil.
Argo, Ben Affleck’s liberal interpretation of the Iranian hostage crisis is a case in point. To his credit he does give lip service to the part of the story most Americans leave out. The movie briefly mentions the Shah as the reason for Iranian frustrations. But it does not allow the audience to emotionally absorb the fact that it was the United States that undermined Iran’s democratically elected leadership and imposed the dictator.
Argo presents the Shah’s atrocities in a capsuled cartoon form denuding it of its political meaning for Iranians. The people of Iran felt invaded by the United States. It is very possible that they seized the hostages to have leverage against a future invasion. When conservatives leave out these details and liberals minimize them, Iranians come across as simply insane. After the facts of history are presented in tepid fashion, the audience of Argo is bombarded with images of Iranians as angry and violent mobs whose central grievance is the fear of western innovation.
The timing of the movie could not be worse. Our nation’s leaders are determining our response to Iran’s nuclear power program. If the recent past is any indication, conservatives will beat the war drums and liberals will reluctantly concede. Both will agree that our nation, for all it’s past flaws, has a responsibility to lead the world. Both sides will forget our own violence against the people of Iran and will see them, not as victims of our aggression, but as angry and irrational religious zealots who hate us out of jealousy.
And because they are both puppets dancing along the same continuum, liberals and conservatives will both agree on making their decisions within the context of American exceptional-ism. If enough Americans do not remember our common humanity with the Iranian people, the rest of the story may be written in blood.