Monday, June 01, 2009

E Pluribus Unum

The recent discussion of a bad movie based on Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1931) got me thinking. Fueled by speculation of the possibilities arising from the advance of technology, science, and the industrial revolution, the notion of utopia emerged, a world of peace, prosperity, and happiness for all. Examples include Morris News From Nowhere (1890) or HG Wells Men Like Gods (1923).

Utopian visions drew criticism, and Huxley wrote his novel both in reaction to Wells (1923) and expressing his own outrage at the USA’s culture of advertising, excessive consumerism, and promiscuity. During this time many in Europe feared that mass production, materialism, and commercialism might lead to the "Americanization of Europe" and some in America, noting communism, grew concerned about the loss of individual identity against the increasingly powerful state. Huxley’s novel hit mass production (no pregnancy), communism (no god), promiscuity (no monogamy), relatedness (no families), and individual identity (conform and consume, be happy!).

Other key dystopian works emerged from different angles. Orwell’s equally famous 1984 (1949) went darker and aimed more directly at communism than consumerism, a malicious state crushing all in its path, and instead of Huxley’s use of genetic engineering, Orwell recognized the power of thought control through the manipulation of language. Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953) created a world denying citizens the ability to read books. Burgess A Clockwork Orange (1962) addressed the legal system’s use of drugs and psychological conditioning to remove crime as a choice, and Ayn Rand’s masterpiece, Atlas Shrugged (1959), presented a new distinction, the efforts of the inept and unethical to systemically steal the wealth produced by the competent and productive.

The relationship of the individual to the collective society is critical to the whole conversation. While communism is mostly dead or dying, an arrogant and incompetent government can be just as destructive. Under W both traits infected both government and commercial enterprises. We now know what corporations do if allowed (Enron, Worldcom, AIG, Halliburton) and that they cannot be trusted to operate effectively (Detroit, AIG again, etc.). Instead of John Galt we have Ken Lay and Bernie Madoff. Instead of Hank Rearden we have RickWagoner. Where is the competence? General Motors could not be a better example of the boiled frog. Its fat overpaid suits sat in the pot for 40 years, and we think government is the problem? Making money has been replaced by taking money, any way and any how, and leap with your booty before the train wrecks.

Adam Smith’s view that individuals pursuing their own self-interests optimize the interests of the collective was refuted academically decades ago. Now we have seen self-serving individuals inflict incalculable financial carnage on the entire country. The lens of individual = good and government = bad (or vice versa) is obsolete. We need good individuals and good governance. Under the Bush administration, the worst of both raped not only the country, but the entire planet.



Anonymous Art Jacobson said...

Readers might be interested in reading another work of art describing the future: Karl Capek's play R.U.R,
"Rossum's Universal Robots." The play was originally produced in 1921, introduced the word "robot" and describes the coming to full consciousness, and capacity for love of androids originally designed to wish only to serve Man.

id,'t work out that way.

6/01/2009 8:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Art is spot on about the robot angle. Don't forget the whole "Terminator" dystopia, i.e. Philip Dick's "Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep?" which became Ridley Scott's masterpiece "Bladerunner."

This notion is cut from another angle in what would have been a Stanley Kubrick film, "AI." I will always wonder what that film would have been had Kubrick survived to complete it himself.

6/01/2009 8:54 PM  
Blogger Sirocco said...

The thought occurs that, if some manage "to systematically steal the wealth produced by the competent and productive", they may be unethical but hardly inept.

6/02/2009 7:12 AM  
Blogger The Navigator said...

Sirocco and x4mr, I’m surprised you didn’t mention the dystopias of William Gibson’s Neuromancer or Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash that take the world into cyberspace. All discussions of the 21st century have to include the internet and information technology.

Also, remember THX-1138? What I find really remarkable is that x4mr didn’t mention Rollerball, which presents a dystopia right up his alley, one where the world is run by corporations.

6/02/2009 5:33 PM  
Anonymous Observer said...

The notion of the individual losing identity and being consumed by the "collective" or the "system" has ironically bothered right wingers for years, ironically because right wingers are among the most homogenous, indoctrinating, conformist groups around. Besides, take a few sociology courses and you know that the individual is already heavily socialized (programmed) by the environment. Why do the conservatives believe what they believe? They read it on a cereal box?

Nav brings up some great movies. THX depicts about as ugly a future as ever presented in any media. I think x4mr was limiting his scope to famous literature and skipping the cinematic work on the subject.

I can’t get riled up by the issues pointed to in Brave New World. The notion of society rejecting the family is frankly so stupid it’s funny. While parents choosing to genetically engineer superior children is a deeply serious issue I think we may have to face in the years to come, government run mass production of parentless children is beyond absurd. Who cares for these kids and why? Find a proponent for that enterprise.

Government promotion of promiscuity? Please.

6/02/2009 6:52 PM  
Blogger sushil yadav said...

X$MR, In response to your post on consumerism and industrialization :

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment.

Industrial Society is destroying necessary things [Animals, Trees, Air, Water and Land] for making unnecessary things [consumer goods].

"Growth Rate" - "Economy Rate" - "GDP"

These are figures of "Ecocide".
These are figures of "crimes against Nature".
These are figures of "destruction of Ecosystems".
These are figures of "Insanity, Abnormality and Criminality".

The link between Mind and Social / Environmental-Issues.

The fast-paced, consumerist lifestyle of Industrial Society is causing exponential rise in psychological problems besides destroying the environment. All issues are interlinked. Our Minds cannot be peaceful when attention-spans are down to nanoseconds, microseconds and milliseconds. Our Minds cannot be peaceful if we destroy Nature [Animals, Trees, Air, Water and Land].

Chief Seattle of the Indian Tribe had warned the destroyers of ecosystems way back in 1854 :

Only after the last tree has been cut down,
Only after the last river has been poisoned,
Only after the last fish has been caught,
Only then will you realize that you cannot eat money.

To read the complete article please follow any of these links.

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment

Delhi, India

6/02/2009 7:14 PM  
Anonymous Robish said...

Wow, x4mr, a comment from Delhi! I guess it doesn't matter where you are, does it--whether you are in Tucson or not, when you are attracting readers in Asia?! There's probably some Cloth in India too, but my guess is there is less Cloth per capita there.

Sushil's reference to Chief Seattle reminded me of a 10,000 Maniacs song, so here are the lyrics to this song that is now running through my head:

Artist: 10000 Maniacs
Album: In My Tribe
Title: A Campfire Song

A lie to say, "O my mountain has coal veins and beds to dig. 500 men with axes and they all dig for me."
A lie to say, "O my river where many fish do swim, half of the catch is mine when you haul your nets in." Never, will he believe that his greed is a blinding ray. No devil or redeemer will cheat him. He'll take his gold to where he's lying cold.
A lie to say, "O my mine gave a diamond as big as a fist."
But with every gem in his pocket, the jewels he has missed.
A lie to say, "O my garden is growing taller by the day." He only eats the best and tosses the rest away. Never will he be believe that his greed is a blinding ray. No devil or redeemer can cheat him. He'll take his gold to where he's lying cold. Six deep in the grave.

(Michael Stipe solo insertion): Something is out of reach
something he wanted
something is out of reach
he's being taunted
something is out of reach
that he can't beg or steal; nor can he buy!
his oldest pain
and fear in life
there'll not be time
his oldest pain
and fear in life
there'll not be time

(Back to Natalie Merchant):
A lie to say "O my forest has trees that block the sun; and
when I cut them down I don't answer to anyone." No, no, never, will he believe that his greed is a blinding ray no devil or redeemer can cheat him. He'll take his gold where he's lying cold.

6/02/2009 7:29 PM  
Anonymous Mariana said...


6/02/2009 8:38 PM  
Blogger Sirocco said...


I enjoy Stephenson and Snow Crash more than Gibson's Neuromancer ... but for some reason the connection didn't occur to me when I was making by somewhat glib comment.


Regarding the homogeneity of the Right, I am reminded of one of my favorite scene's from Monty Python's The Life of Brian, which goes something like this:

Orator: "We are all different!"

Crowd, in unison, yelling: "Yes, we are all different!"

Orator: "We are all individuals!"

Crowd, in unison, yelling: "Yes, we are all individuals!"

Single voice in back: "I'm not!"

At which point the nearby members of the crowd start beatingup the dissenter while he wails "Well, I'm nooooooot!".

6/03/2009 7:58 AM  
Blogger x4mr said...

Great song by 10,000 Maniacs. I love the "In My Tribe" album. When I posted about stoning in Iran, I got a comment from Iran. Someone in Afghanistan submitted a very interesting comment to my post about Pakistan. I'm pleased that the comments are supportive.

It's very rewarding to think hard about an issue, write something, and then receive positive feedback from the other side of the planet from a real person living the real deal.

For those that haven't seen the film/scene Sirocco refers to, it is truly exquisite. To fully appreciate, one has to hear the crowd speak so unified as to be one entity, "We are all individuals."

Oh, god. I laughed so hard I almost broke blood vessels.

I just spaced the whole cyberspace aspect, but of course it applies, and Observer is right that I was restricting to literature and leaving film out of it. Good catch about Stephenson and Snow Crash as it is the cyber extension of the language control concept forwarded by Orwell.

6/03/2009 9:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

President Obama cited "E Pluribus Unum" in his speech to Islam (and the whole planet) this morning.

I didn't realize Obama read x4mr's blog.

6/04/2009 5:54 AM  

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