The Eclectic Quill

Website of Joshua McGee


On Values and Buddy-Cop Movies

I watched a TED Talk last night in which the presenter wanted to lecture about healing the political divisions in the United States.  Because he was a "film buff", he said, he was trying to think of what film genre the current political climate would be.  A lot of people see it as a "zombie apocalypse" movie, he said.  But to each person imagining this, the other side was the horde of zombies, and he was Brad Pitt.  Who's to say, he asked, that their perception is any less valid than yours?

He wanted to tell the audience about experiments he and his colleagues had performed with "Moral Reframing": liberal values include things like fairness, equality, and compassion, while conservative values include things like patriotism, respect for authority, and moral purity.  He and his colleagues wanted to expose each side of the argument to the other side's values, and through his moral reframing, it would no longer be a zombie apocalypse movie.  It would instead be a "buddy-cop" movie.  "You know the kind," he said.  There might be a white cop and a black cop, or a messy cop and a fastidious cop, and they always drift furthest apart at the end of the second act.  Maybe we are about to enter the third act, when they work together.

All good, solid points, sir.

Wait, sorry.  I meant "you are peddling absolute fucking bullshit".

First, you need to step back and take a good, hard look at what you mean by "moral value".  I'm not going to let you dust off your freshman year moral relativism essay and treat it as inspiration because they gave you a hands-free mic.  Look at what you have just contrasted.  The "liberal values" of fairness, equality, and compassion mean "I don't think I deserve benefits that you don't receive", "I don't think I'm more special than you",  and "I don't want to see you suffer".  The "conservative values" of moral purity, respect for authority, and patriotism mean "I'm more special than you", "you are more special than me", and "we are more special than all the rest of you".

You cannot just apply a label to two opposing concepts and say that they exemplify the same thing.  Just because someone values something does not make that thing worthy of the appellation "value".  A heroin addict puts a great deal of value in the heroin he injects into his arm.  That does not mean that heroin use is "a value": not to the individual, not to society, and not as something that should be doctrine for children.  The country on the planet that has perfected the veneration of moral purity, respect for authority, and patriotism is North Korea.  What you list as "conservative values" are indistinguishable from Kim Jong-un's values.

Second, let's buy into your "we're at the end of the second act of a buddy-cop movie" analogy for a moment.  Do you recognize how the hack screenwriters carry the viewer into the third act?  How they get the divergent pair to reconcile?  The writers introduce an external threat that poses such a risk to our oil-and-vinegar pairing that they have to join forces in order to defeat that which is other.  If you are comparing our current political climate to the end of the second act of a buddy-cop movie, and hoping that we are about to move into the third, you are asking that someone or something comes onscreen that is so vile and dangerous that it would disgust both liberals and conservatives sufficiently that we would be compelled to join forces to defeat it.  You are specifically requesting an enemy more powerful than your current enemy so that you can be a frenemy to your present enemy.  This is what you hope will save us?

Third — and most importantly for your own safety — do not tell a conservative that he is Brad Pitt in the movie version of his life.  He will take those for fighting words.

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