Sunday, July 3, 2011

Summer movie watching: Bustin' Down the Door

Bustin' Down the Door ranks among the best surf movies ever made. It chronicles the journey of the surfers who changed the sport in the 1970s and created professional surfing.

The movie also details the backlash that took place from the local Hawaiians at the regrettable suggestion, published in an article in Surfer magazine, from one of the new generation, that "we seem to be able to push ourselves harder than the Hawaiians do. Our surfing, as a group, has improved outrageously; whereas theirs, as a group, has stagnated." This, and other episodes, led to an explosive situation which included escalating violence, which was finally defused by a traditional Hawaiian tribunal or ho'oponopono led by Hawaii's Aikau family.

The situation brings out some very important aspects of the "zero sum" fallacy, a mentality which extends far beyond surfing. Zero-sum thinking is often explained using the metaphor of a "fixed pie" view of the world: there is only so much wealth out there, and the more people there are competing for any given portion of it, the less there is for everyone else to squabble over.

Those who have a fixed-pie or zero-sum view of the world naturally see others as potential competitors for resources, and even support measures to reduce the addition of other people whom they view as making everyone's pie even smaller. There are plenty of examples of this erroneous view even at the highest levels of human government, including at the United Nations, which has a branch called the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) which promotes the idea of a "link between population and poverty" and supports goals of "lower fertility, smaller families, and slower population growth, thus reducing the burden on the environment."

This view is erroneous, because every single individual actually represents not only a potential consumer but also a potential producer -- every single human being can actually add to the size of the pie, and make the world better for others.

It is easy to see how a zero-sum mentality leads to resentment or active enmity between different peoples, tribes, nations, or groups, because the zero-sum view encourages people to see any wealth or achievement gained by someone else as taking away from the "fixed pie" available to everyone else. On the other hand, the opposite view that every individual and every culture is a contributor who can actually make the world a "bigger" place can lead to cooperation and progress.

In the surfing microcosm explored in the movie Bustin' Down the Door, it is clear that the achievements of the Hawaiians were essential to the achievements reached by newer surfers from other parts of the world, and that the contributions of surfers from other parts of the world in turn advanced the sport in new directions that could then benefit everyone else as well. This idea was actually present in Rabbit Bartholomew's notorious article of the same title, also published in Surfer magazine in 1977, in which he was generally respectful of the great Hawaiian surfers of his and the previous generation, but which was interpreted as being belligerent and disrespectful due to the photographs accompanying the article and those in other surf magazines, one of which featured him wearing an Everlast boxing robe. The text of the original article is reproduced here.

The reconciliation of the situation by the members of the Aikau family, who had the stature to bring about a peaceable solution to the conflict, can be seen as a triumph of the right of human beings to demand that their human dignity, worth and contribution to the human family receive their due respect, and a reversal of the escalating negative effects of zero-sum conflict between peoples or groups or tribes.

The movie even brings out some of the history of the annexation of Hawaii by the United States. In short, it touches on many levels of very deep issues, and thus intersects with the mysteries of mankind's ancient past, in that the Hawaiians may well be the proud descendents of the first Polynesians to venture into the mighty Pacific, and the residents of the traditional Polynesian homeland referred to as Hawaiki by legends found throughout the rest of Oceania.

It is also connected to the questions of mankind's ancient past because there is some evidence that the incredible achievements of ancient civilizations actually featured cooperation between very different families of man, and that those ancient civilizations collapsed into barbarism by the devolution of that cooperation into resentment and violence, as we have discussed here.

Bustin' Down the Door should definitely be featured on your list of movies to watch this summer (even if you've seen it a hundred times already)!