Aguirre, The Wrath of God and us!


A deep meta-story, twice told:
When did the incomparable, award-winning Daily Howler go meta?

You're asking a very good question! To answer your question, we'll refer to a classic film we watched again last night.

The film to which we refer is Werner Herzog's Aguirre, The Wrath of God, the 1972 West German epic which is widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made.

It popped up for free in our On Demand listings this week. Decades later, we decided to give it a watch.

The film in question is a study of human lunacy and delusion. As recently as 2012, Roger Ebert had it on his list of the ten greatest films of all time.

We'd mark it down a tiny tad because its first half is more striking than what happens down-river. But as we read this morning's papers, we kept seeing Aguirre's themes leaping up off the page.

What happens in Herzog's film? According to the leading authority, its story "follows the travels of Spanish soldier Lope de Aguirre, who leads a group of conquistadores down the Orinoco and Amazon River in South America in search of the legendary city of gold, El Dorado.

"Using a minimalist story and dialogue, the film creates a vision of madness and folly, counterpointed by the lush but unforgiving Amazonian jungle."

The film is set in 1560, shortly after the Spanish conquest of the Inca. A hardy band sets off in search of El Dorado, but falls under control of a lunatic leader. Things go downhill fast.

Regarding historical accuracy, the film seems to be in the ballpark, though nowhere near the box seats. In the broader sense, the lunatic thinking explored in the film seems to have been an actual part of those not-so-distant times—and, alas, of our own self-assured era.

Are we humans still like that? When we suggest that we actually are, we mean to include the disordered thinking which now runs rampant within our own liberal tribe.

Let's give us liberals some credit! We're able to spot the disordered thinking which is widespread Over There. We're much less able to spot the disorder which clutters our own tribal "thinking." But that intellectual disorder is vast and wide, not unlike the Amazon as seen in Herzog's film.

As we've disclosed in the past week, some lesser Olympian gods have recently agreed to share the history of our "human race." Here's the broad outline of what we've been told in several late night visits:

Long ago, Zeus of the aegis allowed sacred Homer to warn us about our comical human nature. He let Homer tell us many stories about how easily we were deceived by various tricks the other gods played on us, for their amusement.

Sacred Homer issued these warnings. But over time, our sources claim, Zeus of the aegis changed.

Indeed, our sources suggest that Zeus may be battling dementia. "He hasn't been himself for millennia," one of our sources claims.

As Zeus became a bit more cruel, he sent Aristotle to earth with instructions to deceive us in a more primal way. "Man [sic] is the rational animal," the great alleged philosopher is widely said to have said.

Zeus decreed it; Aristotle said it. From that day right through to this, we liberals have believed it, at least about ourselves.

We liberals find it very hard to spot our own manifest folly. Did Aguirre's ridiculous band regard local South American peoples as less than human? That's the way we liberals react with regard to the folk Over There!

Again, let's give credit where due! Most of the people on Aguirre's raft came to see that he was crazy. We modern liberals don't yet rise to that level with regard to our own "intellectual leaders" and our own tribal follies.

We can see that The Others are nuts. But we can't spot the nuts Over Here!

This morning, we thought of Aguirre, The Wrath of God as we read this news report about the "plan" of D.C.'s new public schools chancellor. We thought of Aguirre, The Wrath of God, when we read this pitiful New Yorker "Shouts and Murmurs" piece.

It was written by Megan Amram, a 30-year-old comedian who prepped at Catlin Gabel School then graduated from Harvard. How childish do you have to be to think that piece is humorous or insightful? And yet there it is, in The New Yorker, our most brainiac liberal mag!

We thought of Aguirre, The Wrath of God when we read Bret Stephens' column in the New York Times (and when we read some of the early comments). Mika Brzezinski doesn't seem to be a liberal, but we thought of Aguirre as we perused the first few pages of her second memoir, Knowing Your Worth, a memoir written by one of our highest-ranking TV pundits.

Then too, there remains the conversation which occurred on NPR last week. One of our foremost philosophers chatted with one of our brightest journalists.

Are we modern pseudo-liberals on our way to El Dorado? On Monday, we'll finish our discussion of that NPR chat. Our discussion will be thoroughly meta, but also highly relevant.

The people stuck on Aguirre's raft were stuck with horrible leadership. That was true of Aguirre himself, but also of Spanish intellectual leaders in general.

As our 16th-century cousins helped show, we humans rather plainly are not the rational animal. It wasn't dimly true in 1560. As we pseudo-liberals make clear, it isn't even dimly the case today.

This doesn't mean that we're bad people, though we do a great impression. It may mean that we simply aren't up to the task of conducting a public discourse. Thanks to the invention of talk radio, cable news and the Net, our comical lack of mental ability has become a dangerous problem today.

You wouldn't have wanted to be with Aguirre. Should you want to watch cable news as it's currently practiced?


  1. I was surprised that Ebert's Top Ten list did not include any of the Studio Ghibli films, given his love for them. Bob has given us a lot of good film recommendations over the years, so we'll give him some: watch them, especially "Only Yesterday," "My Neighor Totoro," and "Spirited Away!" Check them out on the Big Screen for #Ghiblifest as well!

    1. Don't forget "In America." I think he also turned me on to "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill."

      Humanist at their core.


    2. Made a point of watching Aguirre again on TMC the other night. definitely in my top-3 all-time.

  2. He hasn't been himself for millennia? The Homeric era was only three millennia ago.

    Meanwhile, how's our discourse on North Korea?

  3. Interesting intro, never have seen that movie, seems like an interesting film and worth viewing.

    I read an interview of Ken Burns about his new Viet Nam War project, in which he said “All history echoes into the present because human nature never changes. Ever. And so we’re not recognizing history repeating itself.” He’s right, we’re not evolving. Our species is static in its present form of evolution, and mired in too much information, often bogus.

    I think, since Bob brings it up, that we have to contend with the fact that though we’re capable of rational thought, most people don’t engage in it. That’s why I like Bob’s particular project. He may seem pedantic at times, but that’s the way teachers are. His recent screeds against Hillary are a point in case. I thought he dwelled on this topic for far too long, until I finally realized that he was showing us, in real time, how it is that scripts about current events are created by the msm, from which most people form their opinions. Bob-whisperer? If you like.

    There are two things that I think are most important to human survival: Population control i.e. family planning, and education. Bob does focus on the latter, to an extent that I don’t even feel qualified to comment. And the former is a necessary component of the latter.

    (The dismantling of capitalism is of course another given, which would follow from critical-thinking education).

    I have an actual video store nearby. Gonna see if they have it.


    1. The opening scene of the expedition descending down an Andean mountain, through the clouds and into the Amazon jungle is visually one of the great opening sequences in film history. Symbolic it would seem of their descent into madness.

  4. Blogger Glenn Reynolds (Instpundit) seems to agree with Bob, but with a less exalted literary allusion. Early science fiction writer Robert Heinlein alludes to the "crazy years' in several of his books of future history. He illustrates the craziness with fictional headlines.

    Reynolds asserts that we are living in Heinlein's "crazy years". His evidence is current, real headlines that are just as crazy as Heinlein's fictional ones. E.g., see

  5. And Heinlein's contemporary, Isaac Asimov, in his monumental "Foundation" series, has his protagonist trying to solve the inevitable tendency for human societies to collapse into chaos.

    In reference to conquistadors, I found this comforting quote from a Victorian colonialist.
    "…The weaker races who disappear before the stronger" not so much "through the effects of … our vices upon them" as "what may be called the virtues of our civilization."
    What the hell, we didn't need them anyway.

  6. Somerby is confused about human nature and doesn't seem able to appreciate beauty. He dwells in a dark place and apparently is upset because we won't join him there.

    1. When it comes to living in the dark place you mention, I think you may be projecting your own state, whatever that is, upon Bob. What Bob has set out to do in this blog, among other things, appears to be to demonstrate the amazing role that the liberal media has played in bringing us to the dark place our culture now finds itself in, as well as highlighting the liberal media's seeming dedication to the goal of taking us all to yet darker places. None of that means that Bob himself lives in a dark place--far from it. He strikes me, instead, as doing everything in his power to encourage us all to help move our country to a much "brighter" place than it's in right now.

    2. "...amazing role that the liberal media has played..."

      What "liberal media"? The corporate-owned and controlled NY Times, NBC, MSNBC, CNN, FOX, Washington Post, etc? Only a fool would think those media outlets were anywhere near 'liberal', and what Bob is doing is playing fools.

  7. So the statement "man is the rational animal" is a deception, i.e. it is false. If it is indeed false, then "pseudo-liberals" or even "real" liberals could not have proven it true at any point in human history. So it seems that the whole idea of "improving the human condition", presumably a liberal precept, is therefore irrational, or at least futile. Jesus asked us to "love our enemies", "turn the other cheek", things that required us to rise above our irrational, emotional selves. So his teachings would appear to be futile as well.
    (It's interesting to note that Herzog would view modern-day liberalism, at least as a political project, as a folly. )
    Another thing I take issue with is Somerby's attachment to viewing humanity as split into tribes: us vs them, liberal vs conservative, etc. I doubt that Jesus or MLK fell into this trap. Somerby sees tribes, but ironically despises the one he's a member of.

    1. "Despises" strikes me as too strong a word. He has, however, powerfully elucidated his reasons for being both angered and disillusioned by liberals' seeming willingness to accept the most outrageous and self-serving of behavior from their ostensible media defenders. That the likes of Fox arguably does our culture yet more harm is beside the point Bob is making here (and if Bob's larger argument is correct, it's really not clear that Fox has done significantly more harm to liberal interests than what the supposed liberal media champions have themselves done, when you factor in the huge part they played in making the 2000 election close enough to steal, which has led directly to much of the worst that has followed).

    2. Since you are not calling my response "banal" or "unserious" today or telling me to leave Bob's blog for some "liberal safe space", I will respond thus:
      Your response veers into tribalism: Fox news vs liberal media, liberal vs non-liberal, etc. If our society is truly diseased, you can't cure it by alleviating only one of its symptoms.
      So, re Gore's defeat: I don't think it's true that the liberal media is mostly/solely responsible. They contributed to it, no doubt. But one has to think holistically. Why do tribes arise? Were they always there? Did one tribe cause the other(s) to form? Perhaps today's media landscape exacerbates the problem. But what if behind it all, some larger entity, say a corporate elite, is manufacturing and maintaining the divisions in our society? So when Somerby focuses on a Kathy Griffin or a Mika Brzezinski, is he seeing the real problem? Are those two really big players in the grand scheme of things?
      At any rate, in today's post, Somerby says "man is the rational animal" is false. The logical conclusion is that irrational tribalism is inevitable, and therefore liberalism is doomed. That's pretty bleak.

    3. True, the logical end of much of what Bob argues is bleak. I think you're quite right about that. But I also think Bob calls them as he sees them and let's the chips fall, to combine two cliches.

      Bob is smart not to reply to comments, since it promotes a back and forth that may well never end. But to touch on just one of your claims above, Anonymous, I never consigned you do any liberal safe space. When I originally replied to your comment, you yourself had made it clear that the way things were going with Bob's writing lately, you were about to stop reading his blog. My point was simply that if that was really your intent, it needed no announcement. All you had to do was just go ahead and stop. Whether you decided to repair to some liberal safe space at that point was entirely up to you; but I never suggested you do anything of the kind--instead, I simply stated that I would be happy to see you follow through with your own thinly veiled threat to go away, which I now see was never really your intent at all.

  8. Who owns the New York Times, the New Yorker, Fox News? Who sits on the NPR board of directors and decides to take Exxon funding? Who owns all those talk radio. Why do they go unnamed? Start naming them. They are the captains of the doomed ship.

  9. Basically liberals have spent the last 5 years honing their ability to froth at the mouth like fanatics, and ignoring grassroots opposition. It gives the impression a lot of really important things are being decided, without having to engage beyond a retweet and a donation. Oh well, what's the harm in losing a few more elections to Republican hucksters.

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