I went to a movie with Justice Stephen Breyer last night. It was a classic: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, directed by John Ford, starring John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart and Lee Marvin. To my surprise, it wasn’t made in the heyday of the Western, but rather 1962, and so revealed a genre on the decline, stumbling between haphazard morality speeches, comic drunken bits and a camera that lingered too long over everything. Justice Breyer loved it though, praising its themes of justice which espoused the eternal need for “Achilles shield” behind lawyers and judges. He went on to reflect upon the process in the Supreme Court, how there were never raised voices, no matter the issue, and that the 5-4 decisions were always different combinations. He added that the experiment of the United States of America, although temporal, would carry on for many more years. (Everyone at the 92nd Street Y applauded that.)
Charlie Rose interviewed Al Gore last night at the 92nd Street Y in New York. Both men are highly intelligent and empathetic, as evidenced by their reflections on democracy, the environment and what the future holds for humankind. Mr. Gore also demonstrated a more human, lighter side, laughing at the more biting questions – “When did you get over losing the 2000 election?” – and offered down-home Tennessee wisdom: “If you spot a turtle on a fencepost, you know it didn’t get there by itself.” And while the witty repartee was highly engaging, something was askew. Perhaps it was their matching conservative suits and ties. Perhaps it was the self-satisfied, almost smug, nature of their discourse, knowing things they wish everyone else would understand. Or perhaps it was the fact that, as much they both seemed to know, they were still just pitching products, Gore’s book and Rose’s show. Gore says that his book The Future was the result of a nagging question that wouldn’t let him alone: “What drives global change?” I too have a nagging question: “Why are humans so good at nothing but talk?”As much as we might love our discourse – how noble in reason and all that – we don’t actually seem to care about anything but ourselves. In short, we just aren’t a great species; we aren’t even a fair one.
We explain and justify, argue and judge, talk and blog, but do nothing in the end but make life miserable for one another. Kids are shot, women gang raped, thousands slaughtered… and what do we do? Sign on-line petitions. Hurrah for us.