Sunday, November 30, 2008

Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley, who lived from 1894 - 1963, was an important British intellectual and author well known for his novels and essays, and particularly for his works in philosophy and the dystopic science fiction genre, including Brave New World. Brave New World was written in 1931 and published the following year. The title refers to Shakespeare's play The Tempest. Huxley wrote the novel as a satirical reaction to a utopian novel entitled Men Like Gods by H. G. Wells, and wrote it unaware of Yevgeny Zamyatin's dystopic We which had been written in 1921. At the time of its publication, the novel was almost universally negatively criticized. The novel is set in London, England, which is part of The World State, in the year 2540 AD, or 632 AF. The society of The World State is centered around the technological advancements afforded by Henry Ford's assembly line. Henry Ford is deified the measurement of time has been changed from AD to AF, or "After Ford," with 1908 being the first Year of Our Ford, as it was the year the first Model T was produced using the assembly line method. Members of society are indoctrinated in their sleep through recordings, are controlled by hallucinogenic drugs called soma, natural reproduction has been elimated and casual sex is rampant.

Huxley was also well known for his early intellectual, metaphysical, and philosophical treatment of the subject of hallucinogenic drugs. His influential works The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell reference William Blake in their titles and explore the usage of psychoactive drugs, such as mescaline, as a means of arousing profound or mystical experience. Huxley writes that psychoactives are an immediate and effective method in which to activate areas of the brain, called antipodes, which sustain hallucinations and which otherwise remain dormant in everyday life. Huxley explains that these states can also be reached through more traditionally religious means such as fasting, meditation, other rituals or through deficiencies of certain vitamins.

A few interesting quotes from Huxley:

"Great is truth, but still greater, from a practical point of view, is silence about truth. By simply not mentioning certain subjects... totalitarian propagandists have influenced opinion much more effectively than they could have by the most eloquent denunciations."

"And it seems to me perfectly in the cards that there will be within the next generation or so a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, and producing ... a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda, brainwashing, or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods."

"God deliver us from such criminal imbecility."

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Zizek's comments on They Live

In a crossover between research in my two genres, Slavoj Zizek comments upon John Carpenter's "wonderfully naive" film They Live. Zizek describes the sunglasses which alter one's perception in the film show one the "true ideological message of commodities." Zizek extends this idea to the emotional blackmailing that occurs in certain types of charity and advertising, through which one is encouraged to pay a small price through commodities in the capitalist system in order to avoid actually thinking about the underlying problem caused by the system itself and also to be made to feel better about one's place in the process. These statements are from the Against the Grain radio program.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Jack London's The Iron Heel

Jack London's novel The Iron Heel was published in 1908, which is much earlier than the other literary examples of dystopic fiction which I posted earlier. This novel deals more with societal changes through politics rather than through changing technologies. Specifically, The Iron Heel imagines an alternate history of America in which an oligarchical government takes control. An oligarchy is a government in which power is held by a small elite group. This group is distinguished by priviledged familial ties, such as royalty, but can also include families with established political or military power and wealth. Today, founding families of powerful corporations could constitute an oligarchy. Oligarchies tend to become tyrannical, as they do in London's novel. A recent example of an oligarchy would be the government of South Africa in the twentieth century, in which a small group of nonnative whites held governmental power over a much larger native African population, and instituted apartheid as a means to maintain control and limit opportunities to the population. In The Iron Heel, the oligarchy consists of monopolistic corporations who control a labor caste and a military caste, both of which are employed by the oligarchy. The oligarchy constructs a city called Asgard, in which a large population of the labor caste lives in poverty. Asgard is a reference to the Norse enclave of the Aesir, or gods, in which Valhalla is located. The oligarchy rules for three centuries until it is overturned by revolutions which lead to a new socialist society. In this novel, London demonstrates his Marxist belief that socialism will ineveitably triumph over capitalism.

Excerpt from Chapter 4, Slaves of the Machine:

"It seemed monstrous, impossible, that our whole society was based upon blood."

"`Really, this is fine. You are beginning to dig truth for yourself. It is your own empirical generalization, and it is correct. No man in the industrial machine is a free-will agent, except the large capitalist, and he isn't, if you'll pardon the Irishism. You see, the masters are quite sure that they are right in what they are doing. That is the crowning absurdity of the whole situation. They are so tied by their human nature that they can't do a thing unless they think it is right. They must have a sanction for their acts.

`When they want to do a thing, in business of course, they must wait till there arises in their brains, somehow, a religious, or ethical, or scientific, or philosophic, concept that the thing is right. And then they go ahead and do it, unwitting that one of the weaknesses of the human mind is that the wish is parent to the thought. No matter what they want to do, the sanction always comes. They are superficial casuists. They are Jesuitical. They even see their way to doing wrong that right may come of it. One of the pleasant and axiomatic fictions they have created is that they are superior to the rest of mankind in wisdom and efficiency. Therefrom comes their sanction to manage the bread and butter of the rest of mankind. They have even resurrected the theory of the divine right of kings--commercial kings in their case.

`The weakness in their position lies in that they are merely business men. They are not philosophers. They are not biologists nor sociologists. If they were, of course all would be well. A business man who was also a biologist and a sociologist would know, approximately, the right thing to do for humanity. But, outside the realm of business, these men are stupid. They know only business. They do not know mankind nor society, and yet they set themselves up as arbiters of the fates of the hungry millions and all the other millions thrown in. History, some day, will have an excruciating laugh at their expense.'"

Excerpt from Chapter 21, The Roaring Abysmal Beast:

"The condition of the people of the abyss was pitiable. Common school education, so far as they were concerned, had ceased. They lived like beasts in great squalid labor-ghettos, festering in misery and degradation. All their old liberties were gone. They were labor-slaves. Choice of work was denied them. Likewise was denied them the right to move from place to place, or the right to bear or possess arms. They were not land serfs like the farmers. They were machine-serfs and labor-serfs. When unusual needs arose for them, such as the building of the great highways and air-lines, of canals, tunnels, subways, and fortifications, levies were made on the labor-ghettos, and tens of thousands of serfs, willy-nilly, were transported to the scene of operations. Great armies of them are toiling now at the building of Ardis, housed in wretched barracks where family life cannot exist, and where decency is displaced by dull bestiality. In all truth, there in the labor-ghettos is the roaring abysmal beast the oligarchs fear so dreadfully--but it is the beast of their own making. In it they will not let the ape and tiger die."

The whole text of the novel can be found here.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

THX 1138

THX 1138 is a 1971 George Lucas film. It depicts a dystopic society in which the population is controlled through desensitizing medications dispersed by the government and a strong dehumanized police force. The characters in the film are all named using combinations of letters and numbers. When two main characters stop taking their medication, they begin to feel emotion and develop love, which makes them targets of the state.

The schism between the population and the police force is visually indicated through use of color in costume. The populace wears all white and have shaven heads, while the police force wear silver face masks and black outfits.

An interesting feature of this film is the state-sanctioned confessional-style rooms in which the characters may enter to speak with an illuminated image of Christ, which responds with pre-recorded answers at regular intervals to simulate the presence of an actual person. The image of Christ used for this purpose is from Hans Memling's 1478 painting Christ Giving His Blessing. This image is referred to as OMM 0910.

Just imagine this calming image, softly backlit, with a soothing voice reassuring you: "My time is yours...Yes, I understand...You are a true believer. Blessings of the state, blessings of the masses. Thou art a subject of the divine. Created in the image of man, by the masses, for the masses.
Let us be thankful we have an occupation to fill. Work hard; increase production, prevent accidents, and be happy. Let us be thankful we have commerce. Buy more. Buy more now. Buy more and be happy."

1971 trailer.

Official website for the film, which creates an interactive environment indicative of the film.

At top: original 1971 poster. Below: Recent poster for a re-release of the film.