August 18, 2010

That's just the kind of contract you've got to keep

I wouldn't agree that The Magnificent Seven is a perfect allegory for Afghanistan, but there's no doubt my own beliefs on just this kind of issue were shaped by watching it and other movies like it. (In the scene highlighted in the first half of the YouTube clip at the link, I think I have at one time or other been in the frame of mind of each of the Seven debating the right course around the table, in the Afghan context.)

It's also fair to say if the West had viewed the actual Taliban we're fighting in the South with a mental model something like Calveras' bandidos in mind, as opposed to seeing them as foot soldiers in SPECTRE/KAOS/whatever-International-Terror-Conspiracy-you-care-to-name (a model that is arguably less close to the truth, but makes them seem much more threatening to us personally) we might have approached this whole situation differently much earlier.

UPDATE: Just to complicate things, I was in Tombstone, AZ, recently, and it reminded me of another old favourite movie, of the same name. If I had to pick the closest Western analogue, I'd say my own mental model for the Taliban was probably closer to the villainous "Cowboys" in that movie, rather than either option above. To be clear, I'm not saying the Taliban are really very comparable to any of these things, just trying to give a recognizable shape to my own (and maybe others') preconceptions about them. Some really great teachers banged it into my head once that the only hope we have of cancelling out our biases is to accept that we're all of us biased in the first place. And mass media does bias us, in all the ways we view the real world. (Nothing really wrong with that, either: just as we wouldn't be human if we didn't draw inspiration from hero-stories, we're naturally going to equate bad real-life people with the villains our fictional heroes defeated, too. The trick is always how to get beyond that kind of first-approximation thinking.)

Posted by BruceR at 03:22 PM