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The Secret Knowledge: On The Dismantling of American Culture by David Mamet

Book:
David Mamet

Reviewed by:
Rating:
5
On November 1, 2015
Last modified:January 21, 2017

Summary:

Mamet’s book is painful and beautiful in its clarity. It does not lay out quick fixes, optimism, or a cheerful outlook. What it does do, is to explain why the Left is what it is, how we got to where we are, and the way human beings function. In his explanations, Mamet does not exempt himself from criticism. His observations resonate more powerfully for having gone through the mental anguish required to arrive at his conclusions.

The Secret Knowledge of the wisdom passed on by generations of trial and error provides the answer and gives successive generations the practice of discernment, unconsciously through inculcated habit. Mamet’s book outlines this from numerous perspectives, countless examples, and the examined works cited and included in a comprehensive bibliography. Mamet doesn’t presume to propose remedies. He is no longer a Liberal who believes in fantasy.


mametThe Secret Knowledge: On The Dismantling of American Culture
by David Mamet

While sitting with his wife in the recovery room of a diagnostic medical center (she’s fine), this reviewer was reading David Mamet’s The Secret Knowledge.  The doctor came by, after his patient was sufficiently free of anesthetic to comprehend what he had to say about his observations during the procedure.  The doctor, a man in his early sixties, spotted Mamet’s book. (In the eyes of this reviewer, the doctor’s stock went up immediately for several reasons.1) The doctor’s face expressed some surprise and pleasure at this discovery. He said something like, “Ah, your husband is an intellectual – reading Mamet.”  There was, of course, the requisite pleasure at this compliment. But, this reviewer realized that, the doctor had accurately assessed the writer, (not the reviewer) as a true intellectual.

These days, there are hundreds, if not thousands of shallow treatises, right and left, proclaiming the state of things, and sometimes prescribing remedies.  The prudent reader quickly becomes skeptical, if only in an effort not to waste time on books of dubious value.2 Alas, Mamet has produced an incredibly thoughtful exposition of the Left and his own philosophical journey away from it. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author has written a book that transcends the simplistic, but manages to do so in a common-sense manner that “he that has eyes to see” and an honest desire to understand will do so.

Mamet’s book is painful and beautiful in its clarity. It does not lay out quick fixes, optimism, or a cheerful outlook. What it does do, is to explain why the Left is what it is, how we got to where we are, and the way human beings function. In his explanations, Mamet does not exempt himself from criticism.  His observations resonate more powerfully for having gone through the mental anguish required to arrive at his conclusions. He explains why it is so much more difficult to move from Left to Conservative than the obverse.

The embrace of Conservatism, my own, and that of anyone coming to it in maturity, necessitates a deep and rigorous survey and evaluation of thoughts and actions, and their honest assessment.

The ability to honestly assess actions and consequences (morality) is not limited to Conservatives, nor are we as individuals more likely than Liberals to make such decisions—save in the political realm.

Given a perception that the great possibility of happiness of the greatest number lies in the Conservative rather than Liberal principles, why is the transition to the first from the second difficult?

One may reason (as I, and many readers have) with honest, intelligent, moral Liberal friends, who may, in one instance after another, grant the validity of one’s Conservative theses, and acknowledge the discrepancy between their own actions, and their voting habits, but yet not only vote Democratic, but proclaim that nothing on earth could induce them to do otherwise.  Why?

It means leaving the group.

It is not difficult to endure, but it is painful to recognize the incredulity and scorn which one encounters from one’s native Group (the Liberals) on announcing a change of philosophy. It is shocking. And it is sobering for it reveals the truth: the the Left functions primarily through its power as a primitive society or religion, dedicated above all to solidarity, and not only acceptance but to constant promulgation of its principles, hover inchoate, as “self-evident” and therefore beyond question.  But, as Hayek points out, that something is beyond question most often means that its investigation has been forbidden. Why?  Because it was untrue.

This depiction of “group think,” herd mentality, resonates with anyone who has shook their head in puzzlement at a Liberal friend, who either lives his life in accordance with Conservative principles, and yet advocates the opposite in his political views. Even more disconcerting, is when the same Liberal will agree intellectually with Conservative arguments, and still still persist in trying to destroy the same.

Mamet offers other key observations as well. All of these lead back to culture. Although probably not the source of this quote, this reviewer once heard that Bill Montgomery – the Maricopa County Attorney in Arizona – said that he was not trying to raise children, but to raise adults.  Mamet has concluded that his generation (and those that have followed) have raised legions of people that have never matured – gray-haired children.

The young and spoiled, having not been taught to differentiate between impulses. Frightened of choice, they band together, dress, speak, and act alike, take refuge in the herd, and call it “individualism.” But the first principle of a responsible human being—a man or woman who must support him or herself, or their dependents—a principle so obvious that its actual statement seems fatuous, is not to alter that which prospers.  For the self-employed, for the business-person, to consider doing so is an absurd act of self-destruction—it is “New Coke.”

Why is the call attractive?  It appeals to the Jacobin, the radical, the young, and those who have never matured—the perpetually jejune of my generation. We were self-taught in the sixties to award ourselves merit for membership in a superior group—irrespective of our or the group’s accomplishments. We continue to do so, irrespective of accomplishments, individual or communal, having told each other that we were special. … For we are the culmination of history, superior to all those misguided who had come before, which is to say all humanity. Though we had never met a payroll, fought for an education, obsessed about the rent, raised a child, carried a weapon for our country, or searched for work. Though we had never been in sufficient distress to call upon God, we indicted those who had. And continue to do so.

These “frightened” children, masquerading in adult bodies, have perpetuated the destruction of the very culture that could have given them the habits and practice of maturity.  Mamet echoes Aristotle in his understanding of habit and virtue.

Culture exists and evolves to relegate to habit categories of interactions the constant conscious reference to which would make human interaction impossible.

Aristotle seems to point out in his Ethics, that it is not necessary for the populace to understand the why of things.  Or put another way, it isn’t necessary for everyone to be a philosopher. It’s more important that the practice of good be instilled by habit. Two people who practice a regime of healthy diet and regular exercise while derive similar positive benefits, even if one does so because of careful biological study and the other merely because that is what he has been taught by his parents.

Instead of time-tested wisdom, the Left supplants this with what Hayek called The Fatal Conceit.

… prime among which is the misconception that the human mind can (a) conceive, and (b) implement a better way of accomplishing a process worked out over millennia by a mechanism infinitely more suited to the task  that the human mind (that process being the interaction of human beings, each of who want something from the other, and all of whom must live together, which is to say, adapt, which is to say, arrive a a solution.

Edmund Burke referred to these people as innovators.  It was not a positive appellation when he compared the two processes.

This policy appears to me to be the result of profound reflection, or rather the happy effect of following nature, which is wisdom without reflection, and above it. A spirit of innovation is generally the result of a selfish temper and confined views. People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors.  …  (Reflections On The Revolution in France)  Emphasis WWTFT

The “innovations” Burke referred to, Mamet labels “Good Ideas.”  These “Good Ideas”

… may be sad to include feminism, birth control, “diversity,” free love, and the profusion of “counter-cultural” innovations spawned in the 1960s.

The costs have been considerable.

… One cost is confusion: angry feminists, lonely aging males, full divorce courts, broken families, grieving children, and a growing disbelief not only in the possibility of domestic accord, but of the efficacy of the free market.

The “Good Idea” (the unimplementable concept), fails, for it is the product of a consciousness incapable f recognizing let alone assessing the possible variables.  When it fails, the conscious mind balks at the necessity of spending further energy on that which was once free; which is to say, unconscious: the culture. (Footnoted: Consider the congruent phenomenon of the response to the inevitable failure of Government Programs.  These Good Ideas—The Great Society, the War on Poverty, etc. —as above, upon inevitable failure, saw increased governmental programs to “complete” their “work”—their failure being, inevitable again ascribed to underfunding.) The enlightened, socially aware individual, however, a believer in the primacy of the Individual Mind, now affronted by defeat, regresses to that realm which once supported but has now failed him—his unconscious—and takes revenge. He becomes angry.

Mamet offers this anger as a major cause of mass shootings in schools.  Schools should be the incubators for young people to develop a “respect for law, tradition, and property without which the child can have no success in the wider, less predictable wold beyond the school.

If the school and its subjects, rules and regulations, and expectations are unpredictable, eventual autonomy becomes, to the young, unimaginable, and the wider world which the adolescent knows himself incapable of dealing with becomes not a phenomenon to be faced after the acquisition of skills, but an immediate and frightening exigency. …

The Secret Knowledge of the wisdom passed on by generations or trial and error provides the answer and gives successive generations the practice of discernment, unconsciously through inculcated habit. Mamet’s book outlines this from numerous perspectives, countless examples, and the examined works cited and included in a comprehensive bibliography. Mamet doesn’t presume to propose remedies. He is no longer a Liberal who believes in fantasy.

 

 

1. 1.) Anyone who expresses more than a passing interest in a book, is generally someone with a brain. 2.) Ability to speak intelligently about what is being read, indicates intellectual curiosity, and subtle acknowledgment of a kindred spirit.  3.) Indicating familiarity with this particular book is evidence of some willingness to at least consider its philosophical underpinnings.

2. Perhaps this is an unfair evaluation of some conservative books that fall into this category.  A primmer on the ABC’s is no less accurate to someone who has already mastered the alphabet. One does have to start somewhere.

1 comment

1 Robert Ginn { 11.01.15 at 6:23 pm }

Seems to be very astute observations and probably , as indicated, difficult to truly self-examine ones own beliefs objectively. Easy to understand the “group think” as it is prevalent in any collection of like minded individuals. The effect of massaging each others egos in vocal agreement is warm acceptance but it is a dangerous pastime.

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