Tuesday, April 15, 2008

No Country for Old Men

Some friends have been talking about this movie and it did get four Academy Awards. I'm glad I didn't go to the theater to see it. I would have walked out. I cannot take the kind of terror that this movie recreates. I rented the film, played it the first time with the sound off while I was working on something else. I kept the suspense at bay. I got the visual mood of the film and learned who got shot and killed. Two days later I was ready to sit down and watch it.

Here are three men, all using their brains - well, except for the sheriff. He was, I think observing his belly button. In fact, he was so into being overwhelmed and, I think, scared, that he distracted himself with conversations about the nature of crime and the past. It never ocurred to him, with a terrifying psychopath loose in his district, to get major help. I don't know why he didn't think of it. He finally quit and retired.

The guy who found the money at the "drug deal gone bad" was dumb. He thought the money was worth taking and he hoped to create a life with his wife with the money. But, he could not keep a single focus in order to accomplish his goal. He would get distracted. One of his problems was that he stole the money, an anti-life action, and his pro-life actions screwed him up. If he were to succeed, he would have had to cut off his pro-life concerns and not let himself get distracted in any way until his purpose was accomplished. And, even then, he would have had trouble integrating his ill-gotten riches into a pro-life situation.

The guy who intended to get the money throughout the movie was totally committed to his purpose. Nothing drew him away from it. Pro-life concerns meant nothing to him. At the end, when he was hurt, a boy offered him his shirt. He couldn't take it until he paid for it.

The most consistent wins. In this movie the most consistent person was completely anti-life character. There was no completely pro-life character. Had their been and had that person been 100% on purpose until he accomplished it, then I think he would have won. He would have had life on his side. Further, his actions would have been sourced by his being pro-life.

The sheriff had this potential, but he was ineffective and was not consistently pro-life. Had he been, he would have been motivated to catch the killer.

By existentialist standards, the psychopath was in integrity. He said what he was going to do and then he did that. He was true to himself, at least in a narrow context. Ultimately, he had to run away in order to remain alive whereupon he had to leave everything in a wrecked car. Thus when he chose life, he had to give up what he had consistently worked for. Integrity in favor of that which is anti-life fails to produce the result when the anti-life purpose is given up in favor of life.

For me this brings up what the meaning of integrity really is. I think of it being grounded in pro-life values and there are several reasons for that. Rarely do we find a thief who claims he is a thief and then theives. Similarly, rarely do we find a killer who claims he is a killer and then kills. The only place I've found this is in the movies.

Integrity is the moral of internal consistency, of living according to one's convictions and values, and it is just that - a moral. The purpose of a moral is to guide one's actions to live a successful life. A moral is not for the purpose of living a failed life. I think it makes no sense to choose a value to which to be true that is anti-life. A different formulation for integrity could be "loyalty to rational principles." Thus whatever one's conviction or value is, it must be rational in order to ultimately payoff in the result that one worked for.

I find this in Tara Smith's book, Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist. "Although integrity is sometimes thought of as fideltity to moral principles, its scope is actually broader, on Rand's account. Integrity consists in a person's practiced devotion to his convictions and values; these include his moral principles but are not restricted to them. A person typically has convictions and values in many areas beyond morality (e.g., in regard to politics, business, sports, science, literature, movies, the media). A person's actions in regard to any of these could reflect his possession or lack of integrity. A journalist who panders to the taste of his readers against his own judgment of responsible reporting is compromising his integrity. A scholar who endorses a conclusion about global warming or cloning, for instance, not by his customary standards of evidence but because it is politically correct (or anti-politcally correct) is doing the same. So is the person who fails to defend a friend from slanderous charges. In all three cases, the subject of the person's action is not morality but standards in cases, the subject of the person's action is not morality but standards in specific fields (journalism, epistemology, friendship). Yet the breach of integrity is clear. Morals may be indirectly at stake in these cases. Failing to defend a friend betrays the moral bonds of friendship; compromising one's professional standards may violate a tacit agreement with those who depend on a person to perform a service. The point, however, is that although a person's violation of his moral standards constitutes a breach of integrity, violations of a person's other convictions and values can be a breach of integrity, as well."

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