Friday, March 09, 2007


Sam Smith

CHULEENAN SVETVILAS in Alternet provides an unintended insight into one of the problems of our age. Svetvilas concludes a review of the new Ralph Nader documentary with this comment: "An Unreasonable Man presents many opinions through the 40-some interviews and leaves it to us to decide whether he was a man of principle or a man who fell behind the times."

There's your choice, folks. Do you try to be relevant or try to be right? It is not that the conundrum hasn't appeared before. Consider the successful German businessman during the rise of Hitler or a member of the Alabama white elite in, say, 1850.

What is interesting, however, is how frank and blase Sevetvillas is about the choice, with her implicit assumption that being of the times means being without principles and that there is at least a reasonable conflict between the two.

This dichotomy is easily observable to any one who tries to do the right thing these days. Even trying, unless it be in the name of some distant and politically safe cause in Africa, is often considered unhip and irrelevant. Behind the times. The media, in particular, reinforces this notion, dissing anyone who tries to sneak an actual principle into the news. We have, it would seem, entered a postmodern paradise where the pursuit of the moral and the decent is not only unnecessary, it has all the status of a bad 1970s disco band.

History is not so sure about this because it's seen it all before: with the Romans, 1920s America, 1930s Germany. A culture that considers itself too clever to have principles is on the verge of a breakdown. It is, in the end, an unreasonable choice.