Monday, May 16, 2016
Sam Sees: Captain America Civil War
A spoiler-free review of the ideas presented in a film as well as my feelings and reactions to it
Every morning I start my work day by standing and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. This may not be a common practice for most jobs, but when you work at a school you go through this patriotic ritual nearly every non-summer week day. Now nobody has to say it. Students can stand silently or stay in their chairs during the pledge if they wish. I probably could too, and I'm sure there are many teachers that do not speak the words or feel compelled to participate. Which is fine because this is America and people should be able to choose whether they participate in something or not. But I stand everyday, place my hand over my heart, and belt out the words.
So why do I do it? It's not because I love the current government. It's not because I am proud of everything in my country's bloody history. It's not because of all the ways America is or has been exceptional in the world. It really has nothing to do with the realities of my home country past, present, or future.
I stand and speak out the words because I still believe in the ideas of America even if they have never been fully realized in actuality. I believe that every citizen should be his or her own sovereign and have power over one's own destiny. I believe the rights of the individual should trump laws imposed for the safety and/or stability of the government. I believe in a country that trusts its citizens to arm themselves for the defense of their own person and property. I believe that all men (and women) are created equal (but not born the same) and that the same human dignity resides in the most humble and noble among us. Even if this had been unfairly applied in practice, still I believe that all should have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of their own happiness, and that freedom's only limit begins when an act makes another person less free in his or her choices.
Thus, I love this Captain America, portrayed by Chris Evans, of the movie Marvelverse and the Astounding Directing Russo Brothers. This Steve Rogers defends the ideals of America rather than being a mere poster boy, puppet, and/or instrument of the government. In this film, he is very wary of outside entities asserting control over the Avengers. While Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark makes the argument that the heroes need to be put in check, Cap argues that "the safest hands are still our own." But this unfettered freedom, and the responsibility that goes with it, is scary to some people. As the writer Aldous Huxley once wrote: "Morality is always the product of terror; its chains and strait-waistcoats are fashioned by those who dare not trust others, because they do not dare to trust themselves, to walk in liberty." It seems logical to entrust our power to those that are greater: those trained to lead, the most qualified, the experts with specialized technical knowledge, individuals elected from among their peers to represent the masses. Don Cheadle's War Machine character expresses this toward the end of the movie when he says something to the effect of "I still think we did the right thing," even after the trust of the superheroes was betrayed by the authorities. Cap never trusted them from the jump because he knows something that the Founding Fathers of this country knew before: those that seek to gain power over others are the very ones most likely to misuse it. This is the reason why our government was set up with different branches and checks and balances: because power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. To safeguard against power hungry men and women that have agendas of their own apart from the country's interest, the power and influence one individual can have over the government must be minimized as much as possible.
Rather than trusting our leaders to do the right thing, it is much smarter to put our trust in the people. As Cap says (or writes) near the close of the movie: "My faith's in people, I guess. Individuals. And I'm happy to say that, for the most part, they haven't let me down. Which is why I can't let them down either. Locks can be replaced, but maybe they shouldn't." We will never attain utopia by adding more rules and regulations on people. We will never become totally safe by trading freedoms for protections. Life will never be completely perfect or safe, so the best system is to let people be free to make their own choices and trust that they will, for the most part, make the right ones. If we put our trust in an authority to drive us toward a better future, not only will they fail to control people to any appreciable extent for any appreciable amount of time, but these leaders will most usually act out of their own interest and not the common good.