Recently, in one of my more down days, my friend Cathi wrote this to me:
“You and I suffer from the same delusional state: growing up after the initial successes of the Civil Rights Movement, and as sexism and heterosexism were finally being challenged, we actually thought we were on the verge of fixing stuff… We’re idealists, horrified at what we see around us that has no investment in kindness or integrity at all”…
But what if we got back on the right track — back to good ideas that we believed in, our own good ideas? What if the world hadn’t taken a very hard right turn and then another until we were going backwards — dumber, poorer, more angry, less equal, more irrational? What if the country thought we had it right the first time? That is the premise and promise of Michael Moore’s new documentary, “Where To Invade Next?”.
Like all Moore movies, it has an “aw shucks” quality to it, which borders on the dumb as Moore starts into his persona as goofy mid-west guy who doesn’t get it. Like all Moore movies, though, it also shows how much he does “get it”. DO NOT let the title scare you… The movie it too good to miss. I went in complaining that $11.25 is too much money for a movie and that poor folks can’t afford it. I left thinking it was worth every nickel. I had heard it was depressing, but it isn’t, or at least I wasn’t depressed by it. It said things I used to believe and some challenging things I have never believed, but am starting to.
The film starts with a fantasy sequence (I presume) where the Joint Chiefs of Staff ask Mr. Moore to figure out why they haven’t been successful, really, — or popular — since WWII. Moore says, “what if we tried a different tack? What if didn’t go to war all the time? Instead, what if we only plunder ideas? For countries that seem to be working, what if invaded them and took their ideas back to our country?
Having already answered the Brownies/Bake Sale debate, I was already buoyed by the movie, and it just got better from there. Besides that, it jibes with my experience. A few years ago now — maybe ten years ago — I went to a Virginia Satir conference in Prague, in the Czech Republic. Having never really been out of the country for any period of time, I loved the Conference, I loved the people who attended, but I noticed something odd. If you watched the news at night, they didn’t talk much about America. One story here or there per night, but only in passing. Perhaps we weren’t the center of the universe. It wasn’t that everybody hated us — they didn’t. They just didn’t think much about how we were #1, which we here all knew.
As the conference went on, and they were talking about mental health, education, racism, and poverty, the trend continued. We were always listed in the research, but it’s like were the Cubs — perennially in second place or third. In one study, China had the best something. In another, Brazil. In another, the Czech Republic or Israel. They didn’t make a big fuss. They were focusing on results, not who should get most credit. We weren’t number one and most oddly, they didn’t care.
This is the vantage point through out the world. Other countries want to be the best, not say they were the best. Countries weren’t competing with anyone else but themselves. Power wasn’t the issue. (Nearly everyone in the movie agreed with that assessment, by the way, we ARE the most powerful in the world). Having a happy citizenry was the issue, and that led to all kinds of side effects — better schools, better health care, less racism, sexism, classism and so on, oh.. and… a better economy. Moore acknowledge right in the beginning that each of the places he will “invade” has real problems , but he’s
picking the flowers, not the weeds”, so he doesn’t present an even case, but he shows us what’s out there.
For instance, one country has the best schools in the world — and their children go to school five hours per day, and have little or no homework. They have no standardized tests for their kids to prove the teachers are worth it. What they do have is play time, music, the arts, and opportunities to learn from daily life. They are in sync with the rhythms of nature and they are taught critical think skills. They are taught to be curious and figure things out for themselves.
In Italy, they have 8 paid vacation by law. If you get married you get two weeks off a woman gets pregnant, she gets to stay home with the baby for six months, because the state rightly figures its better for the child’s mental health. With less mental health bills, their economy isn’t spending its money on health care costs. The government offers free health care for its citizens. This is true of most countries in the Europe, it turns out.
Moore delves into another of our large costs — our prison system. It turns out that other countries don’t try to punish their criminals or exact revenge. They just take them away from society. Furthermore, they don’t keep them in jail for life — even murderers or mass murderers. They treat them like human beings during their time in jail. They don’t have to share rooms or showers (i.e. no rape in prison). And in other countries, they don’t have laws regarding possession of “illicit substances” — I’m not sure how they call them “illicit” if they’re not against the law, but there you have it. I find this section the most difficult of the movie, because there is a heart-wrenching interview with the father of a mass-murdered child. This father, whether he wants revenge or not internally, overrides his baser feelings with his thoughts that he doesn’t want to lower himself to that killer’s level. There are other scenes with convicted murderers who get 8 year sentences. Having never seen this attitude in our criminal justice system, I was taken aback. The idea of not having a death penalty and not having people in prison for life takes some getting used to. Still, I think this is closer to the original meaning of “penitentiary” — a place where people go to become penitent — where they go to think about the wrong they have done. It is certainly closer to a Jesus- based model than what we have here.
Racism, which Moore connects to our jail system and slavery, is dealt with… in Germany, where the children are reminded frequently about their negative history — where they talk about it, “keep it real”, as my recovering addicted friends would say, and do everything they can to make sure it never happens again. They learn about it in public schools. One country which Moore visits doesn’t allow for special private schools, and this forces the wealthiest to experience the “average Joe”. Parents sit on the board here as well as administrators. This is how we used to be in our churches, but not so much anymore.
Moore connects this with the factory system in other countries where union members are on the board with CEOs and the like — in a sizable percentage. Management doesn’t see a problem with workers making more money — what are they (management) going to do with it? Happy workers, they reason, do good work.
The last part of the movie is directed at another -ism that plagues America and Moore connects to war — sexism. This part absolutely thrilled me as I have two daughters and a wife who deserve the same rights that I have. The attitude in my daughters’ lifetimes toward women has consistently gotten worse after the ERA stalled. Though I believe the ERA is a no-brainer, I know that there are people who don’t like the law being used for such things. Moore points out what happens what happens when a representative government actually looks like its people. He shows countries where women are allowed to vote and have become leaders. He shows what happens when women run corporations. He shows what it looks like when women are brave and revolt and stand up for their rights and try to take care of their families. Whatever you think of the ERA, whatever you think of feminism, Moore indicates that these things feed from respect for women. When we respect women, we elect them. When we elect them, they pass laws that say we must respect women. Laws which protect women’s rights build up their sense of worth, so they begin to be leaders under the rule of law. Bob Marley says, “free yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds”. This is how it happens.
When the rule of law is applied by leaders, White collar crime — which causes more damage to more people — is taken more seriously by people who respect the law because it includes them. All the “-isms” are covered in this movie and connected. This final one gives me hope for change the most, and I would want every woman in the country to see it and every man in the country to remember that a “privileged” man made it abut success. The movie is “propaganda” of a sort. But it’s not about this system vs. that system. It’s not about power and corruption. It’s about what happens when people treat each other well and see each other as valuable. In short, it’s about (for me) living a life as a Christian, sharing the bounty that we have with each other.
A final note: The movie may work too well. When I left the movie, I wanted to emigrate to any of the countries shown (as if they were all one), but I didn’t know how or which one plus I thought should talk to my wife and kids about any such decisions. I have to tell you that after thirty years of watching this country mutilate itself, I’m getting too old to fight with people who want to self-destruct. I want to live in a country that I don’t have to be stressed about basics in. I want my children to go to school and be able to accept a lower paying job because they don’t have so much debt. I want to be able to go to the doctors and not worry if I can afford it. I want to live in a country where workers are treated fairly, where everyone’s not so angry all the time, where I don’t have to argue that my daughters should be safe, or that my Black friends shouldn’t be harassed. I don’t want to push a rock up hill anymore while the rest of society wants to push it down.
I’m sick of working that hard to get what others consider “normal” rights for a whole society. America, love it or leave it? I can do either at this point. It’s not only that Trump is running and he’s a megalomaniac. It’s that we don’t even want to try to be nice. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that way. We’ve got a lot of work to do here. I’d like to do it as a human in a humane country. We know how. As Moore points out they were our ideas.
But, as Jay Leno once said about building a government in Iraq, under the Patriot Act here: “We could give them our Constitution. We’re not using it” If we’re not going to start using our own ideas soon, I might gladly visit them where they’re already in use.