November 15, 2010

Orson Welles Narrates "Freedom River"

A parable for our times if there ever was one, Freedom River is a 1971 animated short directed by Sam Weiss. It posits indifference as the chief cause of the erosion of liberty.

Watch and discuss.


Daniel [] said...

When the river of freedom is corrupted, it is not simply corrupted by plutocrats, nor simply by those who confuse tradition (real or imagined) with liberty. It is also corrupted by those who confuse majority rule with liberty; it is also corrupted by those who confuse an equality of material possessions with an equality of rights.

It is corrupted by those who will say that it is all well for consenting adults to do one thing, even if many of us do not like the outcome, but that it is wrong for consenting adults to do other things, exactly because many of us do not like the outcomes. For liberty is not about outcomes; it is about staying out of the way of those who would go down different paths, even if you want their hearts; even if you think that they should labor for you.

In other words, it is corrupted by people like the fellow who wrote the script of this animated short.

John Glenn Taylor said...

Daniel, first of all, thank you for your serious and thought-provoking comments.

It appears to me that you believe the writer of this piece to be either an elitist, a reactionary, a materialist, or a member of some moral majority. Am I correct in assuming that this film to you is only so much propaganda, foisted on the masses to keep them in line?

This seems to me to be a cynical attitude and one which you are free to have. When I viewed the film, trying to remain objective, I saw obvious parallels to the current state of our society.

At 1:40, there are happy people, some farming, some fishing, some painting, each following their own calling, at once independent of the others, but also coexisting and interacting as part of a larger community.

Soon however, the people's pride becomes arrogance, and they refuse to share their river of freedom with others. Does that sound like the recent push to close our borders?

Or how how about the line of narration that starts at
3:01? "When some among them arose and selfishly took more than their share, the people did not stop them, but instead resolved to do the same." Is that line not ripped from today's headlines?

The wise men being ignored, the glib leaders pushing their own version of reality, dumping the now-polluted freedom sewage on other countries (Iraq anyone?). In a word, prescient!

Daniel, I believe Americans are at 4:35 in this fable. We are looking around, hope and energy waning, realizing just how murky our Freedom River has become. We might even be closer to 5:15, when megaphoned voices ,your plutocrats I believe, tell the citizens that the river must be dismantled in the name of efficiency. "Too much freedom causes disorder!"

The writer of this piece, the fellow you think is corrupting liberty, ends this fable before the real ending, suggesting that the citizens will either give up their dirty freedom river or fight to restore it's once pristine beauty. Surely, the latter course will mean swallowing some pride, working together, and helping those who are are most vulnerable.

If that message is corrupt, I don't want to be pure.

As to your assertion that liberty is about "staying out of the way of those who would go down different paths," I agree if you are talking about, for example, legalizing marijuana or the right for gay people to marry, and disagree if you are talking about, for example, leaving sick people to die because they can't afford insurance or yelling fire in a crowded movie theater.

Thanks again for writing!

By the way, the writer of this fable was Warren H. Schmidt. :)

Daniel [] said...

The term “liberty” doesn't somehow change meanings when one wants to get in the way of other people. Instead, one is simply not in favor of liberty in those cases. One should be honest with others and with oneself about this rejection of liberty.

Whatever may be right or wrong — liberty or something else — one shouldn't engage in verbal legerdemain to recruit others, nor to stomach what one is doing. The problem with this film is that its author or auteur is engaged in willful confusion. (Whether it is fully conscious confusion may be another matter.)

People not wanting to be pure is actually a rather deep problem for this country. When it comes to liberty and when it comes to the rules for reasoned discourse, almost everybody wants to be mostly pure, in word and in deed, but almost everybody wants to cheat “a little”. We are awash in alleged exceptions, to the point that the “exceptions” are perhaps really the rule. And, because people don't face the pervasiveness of those exceptions, they blame failures on whatever remains of liberty or of reason.

There is little question that a large share of the American public is indeed deeply disturbed or despairing, and that most of the caricatures of villains in this film correspond reasonably well to some of the sort of people who have actually brought us to what seems to many of us to be a rather dire state. But the Arab proverb that “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” has its limits, and Americans have come up sharply against those limits in choosing between left and right or in choosing between Republican and Democrat. These people may hate each other, but we have no friends amongst them.

I wouldn't have reached for the word “reactionary” to describe those behind this film, but the word refers to one who wants to restore some previous real or imagined social order, and a large share of the political left does believe in an ancient Golden Age. which they'd like to see restored (perhaps qua synthesis in a dialectical process). I would neither leap to a conclusion that these authors must be nor could not be reactionaries of that sort.