Still Bourne

bourne posterIn turning point scenes from The Bourne Legacy, released earlier this year and now on video and pay-per-view, we are invited to imagine the successful drone operator emotionlessly eliminating people who are merely targets. This framing qualifies as by now automatic for cinematic renderings of interactively cinematic or televisual warfare: The operator at his console and screen, war gamer as warrior, but de-humanized along with the enemy, mere instrument of acquisition and destruction, handling impediments to his work with less emotional investment than the typical sports fan confronting broadcast interruptions on football Sunday. In another sense, however, the delivery of munition on target does count as merely a temporary technical difficulty, if not an afterthought or formality: Under a division of labor, a separate team has already de-constructed the humanity of the target through the assembly of his dossier and its distillation into a “signature,” like an obituary that precipitates itself.

The movie’s drone scenes support this central theme, its narrative mainspring and also its main difficulty, of the disappearance of the human-empathetic. At whatever level in the assassination hierarchy, as once upon a time for the character “Jason Bourne” played by Matt Damon in three previous films, the killers have all either given into, or been made the instruments of, a morbidly excessive love of country that destroys or pre-empts all other forms of human feeling or connection. In addition to the drone pilots and super-assassins, the empathy-deficient include the controllers of the secret bio-modified assassin program, the researchers, business people, and diverse field operatives. In the world of The Bourne Legacy, your psychologist confessor turns out to be a merciless killer, and your goofy co-worker a programmed mass murdering machine.

The narrative arc of all of the Matt Damon Bourne movies concerns the hero’s efforts to recollect the circumstances under which he, as a self-sacrificing volunteer, was re-born as pure, remorseless killer. Once recollected fully, the originators and origins can be traced, and the termination program terminated. The Bourne Legacy, starring The Hurt Locker‘s Jeremy Renner, takes a more circuitous approach to this reversal or counter-negation of the hero’s original, crucially incomplete self-negation, but the larger format remains intact: The super-killer’s residue of humanity takes over, and, with the help of normal or near-normal allies, he turns on the monstrous makers of monsters like himself.

The movie leaves us with a paradisal image of re-discovered human connection – soldier and scientist as mere man and mere woman, passengers on a nameless junk ship in a beautiful sea of sunlit indeterminacy, emphatically off all maps, sublating their way back to Eden. Moving from one vantage point to another as soon as any becomes too taxing, we can take this result as a wish or as a warning, as a facile cliché, an empty diversionary lie, or a message of hope. We cannot help but be reluctant, however, to follow the Bourne narrative all the way to its implications, as they involve the recognition that there is no such thing as escapist culture, but only the same culture on both sides of the screen, from which we might wish to escape. The implicit indictment of audience members as merely imagining that they are voyeurs rather than yet another set of co-operators in a real world regime of live remote murder, refracted as fiction, has by now become routine, a second nature second voyeurism, an auto-voyeurism: We vicariously experience our own experience as live remote spectators viewing our own annihilation.

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Writing since ancient times, blogging, e-commercing, and site installing-designing-maintaining since 2001; WordPress theme and plugin configuring and developing since 2004 or so; a lifelong freelancer, not associated nor to be associated with any company, publication, party, university, church, or other institution.

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  1. That is the problem with using operators, rather than drones, the notion in the Bourne series, was how Treadstone was subverted to targeting Nigerian oligarchs like Wambosi, anti corruption politicians in Russia, and ultimately a Guardian

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TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

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Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

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[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

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