Werner Herzog and Discipline

One wishes the world could call upon certain leaders when a crisis arose. Joe Rogan and Eric Weinstein talk about how the response to the coronavirus has been so appalling as to make for a tense podcast about revolution against a government.

Meanwhile I am over here just trying to read my books for my monthly book club.

I was reading an article on Werner Herzog yesterday which caused me to watch Meeting Gorbachev on Hulu. I have been a fan of Herzog’s documentaries for years now, and I was suddenly curious what Herzog had to say, if anything, as a cultural leader in this time. As much as an old German man with an incredible accent can be a cultural leader of anything, his penchant for the poignant and absurd was something that I craved right at that moment. In the same way that people wish Christopher Hitchens was still covering politics, or Robin Williams was still in comedy, we develop friends with people who are not aware of our existence.

This is what Herzog said:

While the interview opens up into the possibility for historic revelation, Werner turns the energy into a wet fart. Or at least, that is what I thought of at first.

When watching Gorbachev, I encountered the same professionalism in his political charisma that Herzog expects of the world now with coronavirus. To Gorbachev it seemed absolutely ridiculous for anyone to speak of a nuclear arsenal. “Any politician who believes in nuclear weapons should not be in politics,” Gorbachev said. This is an easy statement to agree with for its obvious destructibility of the human race. Yet in 2020 we still are plagued with the legacy of it.

Each politician who met Gorbachev, and each adviser to that politician, praised the man for his intelligence, his acuity, and his professionalism. In him they saw a new Russia, and therefore an open Europe. The downside is that, like the coronavirus outbreak now, the end of the Cold War unfortunately did not usher in the beginning of a Europe that Gorbachev envisioned. We did not learn our lessons. Gorbachev was summarily cast out to watch his wife die of leukemia.

By 8:45 last night I was in tears as he told Herzog in the interview, “When she left my life ended.”

On the one hand we see Gorbachev and Herzog, one politician catapulted from the sphere in which he thrived for the briefest of moments, the other a cultural icon of the film world. Both had the opportunities several times over in the course of their life to flake out and not make the demands upon themselves they needed.

But they didn’t, and it is because of the second half of the response that Herzog gives in this interview on coronavirus. “No. It’s a question of discipline.” And that’s it.

I have heard the phrase DISCIPLINE = FREEDOM from Jocko Willink several times over, despite the fact that I did not even know what he looked like for the longest time. But more and more I see the strength in the statement. It seems counter intuitive, but discipline gives you the space to create a life wholly separate from the public one you operate in. Whether there is a cold front coming through, or a global pandemic, Werner Herzog’s passion for cinema comes out of his prolific library of documentaries, films, and shorts. Gorbachev’s presence came not from his background in the rural land of Privolnoye, but in his study and dedication to a democratic Russia.

It’s a calming lesson that we must start with ourselves and work out from there, and that discipline allows us to weather such shocks as the same, no matter how great or small.

That is the way of things.

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