Glad you asked:

Mamet’s essential problem is definition: In his late-life conversion to conservatism, he has somehow come to consider everything bad to be left or liberal, and everything good to be right or conservative. Mamet personifies modern liberalism through Barack Obama, whom he treats as a Socialist demon who has come to destroy all that is good and right in America. Yet many of Mamet’s complaints could just as easily be applied to any recent Republican president, all of whom go unmentioned. This reaches a ludicrous extreme when Mamet complains about the Department Of Homeland Security as an overreach of governmental power, eliding over the fact that it was created and supported by a right-wing administration. This is neither an aberration nor the most bizarre claim in the book—“The Left insisted that we abandon, in 1973, a war we had just won in Vietnam…” may take that prize. […]

The chief issue with this fairy-tale presentation of politics is that politics has a certain reality, a paper trail, a collection of evidence, that makes such a simplistic division nothing more than a straw-man argument on an epic scale. Mamet falls into that trap almost immediately, when he claims that in the 2008 elections, the left favored “detente” with terrorists—a statement that was demonstrably false at the time, with Obama promising to increase troop levels in Afghanistan, and has now been rendered utterly ridiculous, due to the assassination of bin Laden.

The Secret Knowledge is a strange, depressing journey into a political conversion that somehow gets everything wrong. Mamet is certain that he’s thinking clearly, but his resort to pathetic old canards (Nazism has socialism right in its name!) indicates the opposite. An intelligent man has somehow decided that switching sides in a false dichotomy is wisdom.

What’s weird about this isn’t that Mamet became right-wing. Lots of people change their politics over time, and there’s nothing wrong with that per se. What’s weird about it is that a very sharp man seems to have abandoned nearly all his intelligence in the process of moving rightward. Just on the basis of what he’s been saying recently, it’s as though he’s not only tossed aside basic facts, but also any sort of judgment or critical thinking. This is the allure of the didactic to intellectuals, the same sort of thing that led 1920s German intellectuals to embrace National Socialism, or really any of the four examples of intellectuals championing Communism from The Captive Mind. It crops up again and again.

But I don’t think this is as big a deal as all that. I’ve long believed that most stupid beliefs are held by very smart people. With intelligent people, there’s often a very strong ability to talk oneself into patently ridiculous notions, this is just a fact. Your typical person might be more ignorant than your typical genius, but they often don’t have the rationalizing abilities that smarter people do. I mean, how can you abandon a war you already won? It makes no sense, and most non-Mamet people would laugh at the very notion. It’s just one of those blind spots that smart people are extremely resistant to accepting about themselves. After all, knowledge is power, right? But along with power comes greater blah blah blah. Sorry, even though the cliche is true here, it sort of makes me gag.

Also, and I say this despite having a lot of respect for some of Mamet’s work, the guy is so full of shit. Sure, he knows about con games and facades people put up, and he is good at dialog and telling certain kinds of stories, but when it comes to the meaning of life or human nature? Not so much. His best work is House Of Games, and the psychological acuity there is about on the level of a generic Hollywood suspense film. The scenes where Lindsay Crouse is interviewing her patient in the asylum are some of the least convincing of the type you’ll ever see. It’s entertaining in spite of all that, but the fact remains. You want a WTF moment, go ahead and rent House of Games and listen to the director’s commentary, in which Mamet insists that George W. Bush has strong character because he’s so bad at lying. I’m not kidding, it’s right near the beginning.

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  1. L. Ellison says:

    David Mamet never dated a girl that worked for the Chicago Mob see the Chapter called Chicago, he did work for the playboy club as a janitor. David got his ass kicked a lot growing up in Chicago. David was dissed by German Jews from Hyde Park Illinois {Obama’s neighborhood} he’s a Polish Jew from the South Shore area. He has learned Japanese wrestling and likes to shoot his hand guns. He can’t keep a wife because he is both arrogant and chivalrous but he can write and has a great imagination. We are waiting for him to migrate to Arizona near Sarah Palin who he has the hots’s for….

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