Here’s a story that might not have made it across the oceans and interrupted your usual feed of anti-Trump, pro-globalism propaganda. In September of 2018 tiny needles were discovered in strawberries around Australia and a massive recall was instigated. Now a suspect has been arrested and it looks to be the doing of one 50-year-old Viet woman.
Before we discovered the culprit this was all us Australians could talk about. It was the word on everyone’s lips in every office in Australia. Why would someone do this? Who would do this? As the contamination spread we asked if it was a conspiracy, an army of agile-handed needle implanters working diligently to give Australians appendicitis. Thankfully only one man went to hospital, but the fear that our beloved fruit, our staple pavlova topping, could contain sharp objects put the fear in us all. Like with all conspiracies the truth is more mundane than we could imagine.
Take stock of this. One old woman with a little bit of spite managed to throw a big old spanner into the works and caused a national news cycle that lasted longer than your typical terrorist attack. The escapade prompted our Prime Minister to announce that, ‘If you do that sort of thing in this country we will come after you,’ and come after them we did, with a very large police operation set-up to sniff out the criminal. What can we learn from this?
That it doesn’t take much to upset the apple cart. Accelerationists, anarchists and other protestors talk about disruption, but how often do they upend an entire industry? As ISIL and the Strawberry Needler have proven the future of terrorism is isolated lone wolf attacks. Like blockchain attacks could be carried out on lines of trust, each cell separated from the larger body but able to put fuel on the fire wherever needed. This example was a haphazard revenge attack by a disgruntled worker; imagine a coordinated effort with the sole purpose of hijacking the news cycle. It is completely surprising that groups haven’t made an effort to impact the system in any meaningful way. Instead we get Occupy Wall Street.
Is it because the average protestor doesn’t want to risk hurting their fellow citizen? Surely our Strawberry Needler only went ahead with the plan because she reasoned the chances of actually hurting someone were slim. It now seems so easy that with such a complex system such as the one we have courtesy of global neoliberalism an individual effort can have much larger consequences. Ted K might have thought he was doing something by targeting and killing certain people, but it appears to me that he would have been better off actually disrupting the faceless, inhumane system (the fact that he didn’t perhaps points to his egoism). What other ways can the pine trees break down technological society? It must be non-harmful methods. Perhaps people could burn down post boxes. Breed cats and just let them go wild until there is an utter infestation of ferals in your neighbourhood. Or as I saw on Twitter, plant bamboo shoots in random places. And never forget Sky King who proved just how much one man can do. Things that are achievable alone but will definitely but stressors on various systems.
This is all purely hypothetical and theoretical, an interesting study of the ‘lone wolf’. I would be very interested in the psychology behind such cases. Mass shootings, terrorist attacks and needless in berries: what is the connection? Resentment? Is it that simple? That must be the only common thread between all three. You can blame Islam, and access to guns, but how do you blame an old woman? It’s almost as if you have to sympathize with her, just a little. We all know how much work sucks.
The future seems to belong to the lone wolf, the individual who has just had enough.
‘Purgatory surpasses heaven and hell in poetry, because it represents a future and the others do not.’ ― Chateaubriand.
I. I begin with an allegory
Modern publishing is ironically dystopian given the current preponderance of the genre. There are all the hallmarks. For example, a huge divide between the tiny minority of rich, bestselling writers, and the vast swathes of unwashed self-published authors, some of whom nonetheless manage to rise-up and challenge the system. Or what about the fact that published books often fits a very narrow band of what is acceptable, so much so that group think is rife in the literary world. This would be obvious to anyone who has attended a writers festival where the guests and the audience are almost always in lockstep. In addition the Cathedral operates in publishing just as in other media, the few right-wing titles either an exception or controlled opposition. The masses of readers are plied with trends and fads – what the gatekeepers decide is worthy – and the elusive word-of-mouth spreads ‘good’ books through mimetic desire. Finally, the reader is stuck on a treadmill, every month bringing another couple thousand new books, but always the nightmare of what to read. It is like some sort of absurd purgatory where no matter what you do there is no escape.
This pitiful condition of the publishing industry is reflected in the state of the dystopian fiction that is published in the current year. In the past if you picked up a dystopian novel, you could be confident that it would be a sound social critique, but the word has now become little more than a marketing term. When genre pioneers like Yevgeny Zamyatin or Jack London created their hopeless futures they synthesized a real possibility from the ugly trends around them. The 21st century, on the other hand, began with a spate of fiction aimed at teens, and now even Joyce Carol Oates is writing literary dystopian stories. That said, there is little point in writing a warning if no one listens to it. For example, many late 19th and early 20th century dystopias brought up the fear of the communal raising of children, and today we pass our offspring to daycare centres without a second thought. Current writers inject moralising and doomsaying as is a genre staple, but they also cry-wolf as they hunt for imaginary social ills.
II. Definitions are hard, man
The word utopia is derived from ou-topos, meaning ‘not a place’. It is homophonous with eutopia, which would mean ‘good place’, a possible influence on its contemporary denotation of paradise. The juxtaposition of these two meanings should be clear: the ‘good place’ is nowhere to be found and creating the perfect society is impossible (Samuel Butler’s utopian satire Erewhon is the word “nowhere” scrambled). Commentators inherently understand this as when the socialist utopia of Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward: 2000-1887 was published it provoked a vast number of dystopias that attempted to disprove or satirize it. Thomas More’s pioneering Utopia was an earlier attempt at imagining paradise, but even in that adventure the distinction between Heaven and Hell is negligible and the line between utopia and dystopia becomes apparent. Huxley, in the new introduction to Brave New World written after World War 2, says, ‘…it looks as though Utopia were far closer to us than anyone, only fifteen years ago, could have imagined.’ Utopia in this context is not a good place and what he is referring to is a theme of many utopian visions: societal trade-offs. As the protagonist in Zamyatin’s We puts it: ‘There were two in paradise and the choice was offered to them: happiness without freedom, or freedom without happiness.’ You cannot reach perfection without sacrificing something, and it was the encroachment on human freedom that inspired most dystopias. A dystopia by its very nature is not something to be escaped, but is an endless future, a purgatory after civilization has died. It is with this in mind that we can start exploring the poetry of dystopian fiction.
So what makes a good dystopian novel? The magisterial Dystopia: A Natural History offers us some clues, but makes it clear that the definitions shifted over time. Drawing on this book and close readings of specific texts some common threads become apparent. Dystopias often have the technological elements of science fiction or the collapse of a post-apocalyptic novel, but differ in that they are always, in some way, political. The most vital part of a dystopia is that it extrapolates events into the future. Early dystopian books attacked Jacobinism and Enlightenment ideals, such as Publicola and The Vagabond, and were a precursor for the classics like 1984 in the same way that the Reign of Terror was a precursor for the Holocaust and the communist slaughters of the 20th century. Claeys in his book also says that, ‘”Dystopianism”, in the sense of a “popular discourse about fear”, is sometimes used to describe “anti-Jacobin” (radical) literary efforts of this type.’ It wasn’t just political events that authors tried to speculate on but also technological advances and their consequences. Take E. M. Forster’s The Machine Stops. It features a rudimentary Internet where civilians are cocooned in their rooms and only able to interact virtually, a precursor for our current age of the web and atomisation. The subterranean world was also run by the Machine, a mechanical overlord that was no doubt one of the earliest fictional descriptions of the Singularity. Thanks to the author’s uncanny perception the book is more relevant today than when it was published. These early books also relied on ideas of group psychology such as Gustave Le Bon’s theory of the crowd, and the most frightening element of the nightmare worlds was the fact that so many people went along with the affronts to human dignity, which came to real-life fruition in Nazi Germany. Often the tyrannical world of the dystopia springs up after a disaster, such as in We where the world’s population is homogenized at the conclusion of a two-hundred year long war. What is obvious when reading many books in this genre is that if you truly want a dystopia you have to revel in the idea of no exit. Think of the Savage’s suicide in Brave New World or Winston’s submission in 1984, or even the endings of earlier stories such as Paris in the Twentieth Century and The Machine Stops. As Atwood puts it, ‘Forced re-education, exile and execution are the usual choices on offer, in utopias, for any who oppose the powers that be.’ Finally, it was the contrast of the perfect society with obvious faults and degradation that was the key, and at the very heart of the genre is the idea that when looking for perfection you will always be met by tyranny. Many of these books are still discussed, studied and enjoyed today because not only were they well-written adventures, but they wrestled with difficult questions that unfortunately manifested themselves in history.
As should be clear, the traditional dystopian novel was written to explore larger problems in society and as a warning against fear, groupthink and progress for progress’ sake. It was at times of the most upheaval when the genre flourished: it started properly with the French revolution; then there was a flurry during the 19th century revolutions (1848 and the Industrial); and finally a world at war produced the 20th century classics as the boundaries of both human depravity and of the genre were achieved . As civilization was turned upside down, authors looked for new ways to express this turmoil. Darkness at Noon and 1984 were explorations of totalitarianism and the police state, while Brave New World discussed the progress of technology cutting us off from our humanity as a result of ‘the inevitable acceleration of American world domination.’ There were also anti-fascist novels like Swastika Night, It Can’t Happen Here and In the Second Year showing that there were prescient warnings against every nascent mass ideology (all of which, let us not forget, were a result of the Enlightenment, liberalism and democratization). These were genuine worries of a world upended by Nazism, Stalinism and genocidal technology (including, for later dystopias, the bomb), and the reason these books have managed to become lasting classics is because the concerns have never gone away. Every other week some new technology or regime is called ‘Orwellian’ and Huxley’s soma-induced dream state isn’t dissimilar to our dopamine-filled lives. In contrast to these, modern dystopian novels explore facile subject matter that do not warrant book length treatments, except possibly as a way for readers to remind themselves that they live in the best of all possible worlds.
III. Did Satan Spend a Time in Purgatory?
While there was a sense of purpose in early dystopias and utopias, modern dystopian fiction does not hold true to many of the tropes discussed above. For a long time we were fed with the dystopias of the Hunger Games, Maze Runner and Divergent which are all aimed at teens and offer an escape from the oppressive social systems. These young adult books are pure fantasy, not conjecture, with crazy systems like fights to the death and giant mazes that have zero semblance to anything in the real world. They are examples of Hell, not Purgatory, imagined realms of torture that can be avoided if you are virtuous enough. If you read them literally they appear as Purgatory, and yet all they do is flip from Hell to Heaven and do not remain as a warning to struggle against. They paint pictures of resistance, of the power of youth and the conservative folly of adults, and this mentality has crept into adult fiction.
As our political dialogue degraded and our living standards increased, our ability to write believable dystopias waned and many books are no more than one-note talking points. On the technological side of things a book like The Growing Season – where artificial wombs mean that men, too, can bear children – is unable to go beyond the premise of the technology, and the book can’t maintain itself with a real plot. Some books don’t even bother with an interesting technological projection, such as Perfidious Albion which is a post-Brexit novel that could basically happen today, leading to a lazy statement about the ‘future’ of Britain. When it comes to the gloomy endings even the Resistance Bible The Handmaid’s Tale is guilty of not being pessimistic enough, the postscript of the book stating that the horror is a blip when it comes to the long arc of history. Rather than go into the future, some books posit alternative histories. Recent books like The Underground Railroad and Underground Airlines explore worlds where slavery never went away. These are books built on fear, a liberal fear that slavery will rear its ugly head again. Could there be anything more dystopian than the publication of texts that stoke unfounded alarm among the reading public? What is the purpose of these books but to allow an upper middle-class reader to nod their heads in agreement as they discuss things-that-never-happened in phony horror over a glass of pinot at their monthly book club? As Gregory Claeys discusses in Dystopia: A Natural History, a climate of fear is one necessary element of a true dystopia. It helps if it is a substantiated fear.
The inherent problem, I think, lies in what Northrop Frye calls ‘naive allegory’. This is ‘educational literature on an elementary level: schoolroom moralities, devotional exempla, local pageants, and the like.’ Our dystopias today are washed down and extremely literal, and they have a tendency to date in their efficacy. What they are is ‘transient spectacle’ and as such they are published simply because someone, with or without ability, has a grievance to express, and publishers are always looking for that publicity angle. The following two recent publications are great examples.
In a world where the Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in as US Supreme Court justice, a very clear trend right now is publishing female phobias. Here is just a short list of feminist dystopias released in recent years: Future Home of the Living God, When She Woke, Gather the Daughters, Red Clocks, The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, The Water Cure and Vox. What they all have in common is that they portray the projection of a woman’s neuroses when it comes to reproduction. In particular, Vox, an obvious The Handmaid’s Tale rip-off, imagines a world where hard-right Christians come to power in America and immediately set about undoing decades of liberalism and social justice, the crux being that women are not allowed to speak more than 100 words per day without being electrocuted. From a genre point-of-view there are many issues. There’s no technology element aside from the ability to torture women. The idea of a male-dominated society being voted in is not a legitimate forecast, but a hysterical projection. The events of the book all take place in the space of a year, and magically our protagonist manages to save the day and everything goes back to normal, a far cry from the depressing conclusions to older dystopias. Yes, it tries to make a statement on American politics but the author is woefully ill-equipped to deal with the issues and puts too much of herself into the story. There are multiple segments where the Mary Sue hero grinds her teeth as her son eats everything in their home. She also leaves her insipid American husband for a sexy Italian linguist. The book is full of deep philosophical questions and appeals to resistance, and the resentment towards men oozes off every page. The writing is haphazard at best, a great example being when our protagonist is attacked by a caged chimpanzee for apparently no better reason than to make the plot a little more exciting. What is very clear from reading this book is that it was plucked out of the slush pile because it is political. There is little originality and a lot of stolen, stale ideas. While the marketing department will insist it says something important, how likely are we to consider this book in ten years time?
Adjustment Day by Chuck Palahniuk is another take on current events, focusing more on identity politics. On Twitter the book was picked out by a few on the Right saying Chuck is /ourguy/. Nothing could be further from the truth. Chuck is a charlatan and this book is merely a way to make a quick buck. If you listen to his recent interview on the Joe Rogan podcast this becomes apparent. First, he recently had a lot of money embezzled, so writing the literary equivalent of clickbait to get an advance seems like a smart option. Second, his entire career is based on ripping off other people’s stories (he openly admits to this on the podcast), and this is no different, only he is pillaging an entire ideology. He admits to browsing Stormfront as entertainment and it becomes very clear that Adjustment Day is nothing more than a caricature of Alt Right fantasies and anything that sounds like it has a grain of truth to it is actually making fun of them (yes, even as he satirizes journalists). On the surface it appears to be making a profound statement on the USA as it heads towards civil war. In this world, men rise up on ‘Adjustment Day’ by killing politicians and other people with clout, and splitting the USA into three territories: Gaysia, Blacktopia and Caucasia. This quickly turns into farce as the residents of Blacktopia suddenly regain the ability to build flying pyramids and cure cancer, and the Caucasian population return to their way of life of wheat fields, baby-making and ye olde English. Chuck is the epitome of the postmodernist writer, the novel so packed with pastiche and self-references it becomes grating. Anyone who writes lines like ‘poop-raped’ or ‘Foiled had been any attempt at castration’ has to be having a laugh. This novel paints dystopia as a joke, as something unworthy of the beauty of collapse and control. Very serious writers have turned their hand at dystopia, and it does them a disservice to have Adjustment Day under the same label.
Is this all publishing has to offer? Projection and perfidy? Purgatory is poetical because it allows for some future, and yet these two examples are hollow, ugly stories that depict impossible Hellscapes. Any point the books try to make are lost because the scenarios are credulous, lost in post-ironical malarkey. As Frye says, ‘The basis of poetic expression is the metaphor, and the basis of naive allegory is the mixed metaphor’. The writers stumble on their own literalness.
IV. When Does Cthulhu Make an Appearance?
It is curious that the first dystopias and the classics that have lasted remain relevant in their attacks on the Enlightenment and the tyranny of the invisibly totalitarian state, where citizens breathe in propaganda like fish swimming in the sea, and yet these modern dystopias explore disasters that will never happen and attack crude dogmas and strawmen. What does it say that old books lambasted socialism and technology, and yet we now live in a more socialist and technologically driven world than ever before? What does it say that often the novels of today look to the past and backward ideas in order to create their ordeals? George Orwell actually fought fascists and travelled to India. Today’s writers weave their books from the same mainstream news headlines as everyone else. In Antifragile, Taleb laments the ‘modern disease of touristification’ which is ‘the systematic removal of uncertainty and randomness of things, trying to make matters highly predictable in their smallest matters’ and it is difficult to think of a better summary of modern dystopias as neatly packaged tourist destinations that appeal to our sensibilities and don’t explore to any depth. We are only allowed to discuss Heaven and Hell, not Purgatory, because the former two don’t require imagination, only fantasy.
The purpose of a dystopia is to not escape it, because only when the worst is unnavigable is the reader able to be actively work against the forces arrayed against them. As civilization succumbed to these forces, the possibility space for good dystopian novels shrank considerably. Chesterton, notable stalwart of civilization, says of Wells that, ‘the weakness of all Utopias is this, that they take the greatest difficulty of man [original sin] and assume it to be overcome.’ The original dystopias challenged this, but we have come full, perverse circle. Now dystopian fiction is the realm of leftists who, while living in comfort, pretend that there are monsters on their doorstep while ignoring the reality of original sin. The scariest idea of all is that we very well may already be living in a dystopia without our knowledge, but leftists attack easy, ‘lesser’ sins such as the patriarchy. What should be encouraged are dystopias that will last. The classic dystopias don’t have a get-out-of-jail-free card for a reason: so that we might be shocked into action, not given false hope.
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For a lot of us this whole right-wing Twitter/accelerationist/NRx thing started with Moldbug who wrote about America and American politics and old books over 10 years ago now. When I was reading Moldbug for the first time at around the time of the 2016 election it really opened up my mind and expanded the realm of possible explanations for what I was witnessing. I’d considered myself Left wing for years, voted for the Greens every election since coming of age. I mean I fucking walked around at university parties with a copy of Mao’s little red book in my bag and read out sections I found particularly enthralling. And I wasn’t beaten up on the spot – which says a lot about the people I was hanging out with. But then I got a job and woke up. Or did things really change that dramatically? Was I looking at things with a parallax view?
So, Moldbug. Between Open Letter, Gentle Introduction, Brown Scare and Dawkins I highlighted over 400 sections of his work. His ideas per paragraph really are only rivaled Robin Hanson, the output is immense. I got some real red pills from Moldbug. The main one is probably that democracy doesn’t work, or at least it could but in its current form there is little chance of that happening. There’s the notion of reading old books, going back to the sources and never trusting history. The entire idea that the Allied forces could be construed as the Axis and the Axis forces could be construed as Allies really shook me up – why hadn’t I been told this? Why had I swallowed the easy narratives of middle school? I credit my ability now to be able to hold and entertain two separate ideas in my head, while hesitantly but firmly siding with one or the other, entirely down to Moldbug. But I think the hardest pill to swallow that Moldbug came up with is the idea that America is a Communist Country. It doesn’t make sense when you hear it like that but take it further: Capitalism is just communism that works.
For example, when Engels says that the revolution will transform society ‘gradually’, and that only at a certain stage will it be ‘able to abolish private property’, do you think this relates to the sharing economy instigated by capitalism? Abolishing private property! Do you own your Kindle books, Steam games or iTunes music? Technically, you don’t. My God, communism working as intended. And this is what I mean. You might not think we are under communism, but if the end results are the same, then we’ve just found another route there. Tyler Cowen in the above-linked article worries that the sharing economy means that people will lose their notion to private property. People immediately think of Cultural Marxism as the obvious link to communism, but it goes deeper than that. At first, communists thought that if you owned the economy, it would naturally bleed into other elements of life. Wrong! What Cultural Marxism has shown us is that by using the same tactics on identity, you can then take over the economy. Tyler Cowen is right to be worried. The end result is that soon we will all be sharing our houses, our cars will not be owned and even our jobs will be passed around as a requirement for UBI.
Why do so many people struggle with the concept that capitalism is essentially communism? There’s a Quora thread on this with reply after reply scoffing at the idea. How ridiculous, they decry, don’t you know they’re two completely different systems? People can’t reconcile the two: ‘But in communism there isn’t a free market!’ as if the markets under capitalism are entirely free. Democracy is just a tool by which communism can be employed with a capitalist-in-theory jumpstart. Perhaps it is better to see these concepts in terms of paradox. Someone famous made the point that even billionaires drink Coke, and so capitalism has brought the communist ideal of no classes. And when it comes to the means of production, under so-called capitalism we already have common ownership. At first it was the State taking our taxes and creating roads, hospitals and other ‘public’ institutions. With our liberal democracy it means that everyone has an equal vote and we ‘own’ the politicians. Though like in Soviet Russia or Maoist China we just think the politicians are working for us. Under capitalism we all have a computer and a smart phone, and we quite literally are walking around with the means of production in our pockets. Value is now created by our preferences, not our labour. It’s like investing in futures: the algorithms mine value from our projected future consumption. Communism wanted to bring the people together, and under capitalism that is happening – our collective intelligence unleashed.
And where does capital spring from? From the Valley. Observe the tweet thread below. Note the similarities, both in a cultural sense and a practical, economic sense. As the Valley slowly creeps into every aspect of our lives all over the world, I think it is time to break out that old octopus meme. Communism no longer originates in Russia, but in California.
Now, if you take the hardcore leftists on face value, you would think that communists didn’t want profits or private ownership or a strong state, but all this is plainly both not possible and a lie they tell themselves. Communists may like to think they can get rid of money and ownership and the state, but the only way to do that is to become a reactionary trad, an ecofascist, an anarchist. You could say this is the revealed preference of communists. They want – and I know this because they willingly admit it all the time – free access to everything. They do not want to have to work. Under Communocapitalism all borders are open, all refugees own a smart phone, all types of people can fuck whoever they want. In return for responsibility communists want all access welfare, and let’s be honest, we’ve been saying the same about those nasty capitalists for a long time, particularly when the State bails them out of a Recession. Neither capitalists nor communists want to get rid of anything, especially nothing in the current system. They both become one.
Both communism and capitalism want a state of affairs with no ruling body. Communists think they can live in harmony with each other, and capitalists (though perhaps I mean libertarians) think the same. But both of them require capital to do this. A universal basic income has to be derived from something, and if it’s the robots that allow us to live all day in a weed haze or in virtual reality or in a never-ending orgy then so be it. The only true exit is to put the lid back on intelligence, and both communism and capitalism are intent on unleashing intelligence so that they can enjoy their brief sojourn in a fleshy body.
But hold up a moment, if I’m making such bold claims I need to back it up, right? So, let’s start with science fiction. Peter Watts in his Firefall series touches on some of the underpinning psychological flaws of Communocapitalism. Echopraxia is the involuntary repetition of other peoples’ actions, and I see this under Communocapitalism. The memespace means that people are unable to think for themselves and just follow the herd, and the herd is heading for full space communism. Weaponised memetics. Whether you call yourself a communist or believe in capitalism, the end result is the same. The end result is the only thing that matters, fuck the means. Stop thinking like a woman and concentrating on definitions and word play. That is GAY. Real men concentrate on results, and the end result of communism and capitalism is exactly the same – abandonment to the machines. The other concept explored by Watts is blindsight, which is when people are aware of a change in stimuli even if they physically cannot see something. Blindsight challenges the common belief that perceptions must enter consciousness to affect our behavior. This explains how propaganda works – I’m a big proponent of everyone reading the book by the same name by Edward Bernays – but in reverse. We see things but aren’t aware that they shift our consciousness. If only we moved our head and looked out the side of our eye we might see what is actually happening, see the processes at work. Alone, we can’t see the demons of intelligence beckoning us on to our own destruction, but together, if enough switched on people try to catch the demon in the act, we might be able to defeat it. Or at the very least keep it contained.
This is all theoretical, an interpretation of fiction. The key aspect of Communocapitalism is Cultural Marxism, as already mentioned. Capitalism is tied up with the social realm far more than we think, and hence leans towards communism in more ways than just the economic. You just have to check out Woke Capital to get a sense of how social justice and capitalism go hand in hand. At the end of the day, socially liberal and economically conservative just leads to communism.
Let’s take this extract from Empire of Things by Frank Trentmann:
The intellectual discovery of the consumer was the crest of a rising wave of social activism that swept across industrial societies around 1900. Received wisdom is to see citizenship as a series of steps, from civil liberties in the early modern period, to the political right to vote in the nineteenth century, to the social rights established by the welfare state in the middle of the twentieth century. This story misses a critical state: that of the citizen-consumer. The 1890s and 1900s were not just the golden era of the department store and shopping for pleasure. They were also the time when social movements began to mobilize consumers to reform society.
Now, remember that I mentioned Propaganda by Edward Bernays, and in that book, he goes into exactly how large bodies can manipulate the mass of consumers. Or should I say the commune of consumers. Communism and capitalism are both obsessed with consumption. And because we should always be wary of women, this part a little later in Empire of Things:
Ethical consumption was a metropolitan affair, in the sense both that it involved mainly middle-class women in European and American cities and that their causes were local.
Always blame the women and always blame the cities.
Vote with your wallet, purchase with your vote. The democratic ideal combined with consumer capitalism is just communism writ invisible. Allowing women to go out shopping meant they soon got the right to vote.
But ethical consumerism was also about rights. For the growing number of educated, reform-minded and ambitious women, it was a way to demonstrate their public spirit. Suffragettes on both of the Atlantic saw a symmetry between choice and the vote. If a housewife on a tight budget could choose wisely in the marketplace, day in, day out, and feed her family, how could she not be competent enough to make a cross on ballot paper every few years?
As if somehow that’s all there is to voting. As if somehow there aren’t repercussions and serious decisions to be made.
One suffragette named Teresa Billington-Greig (note the hyphenated surname) sums up Communocapitalism nicely when she said in regards to complaining about capitalist profiteers, ‘We are all more or less profiteers.’ Amen sister. The consumer is woman, and woman is god. There is a lot more in the book, but clearly you can begin to see that as intelligence was unleashed by capitalism, it latched itself on to the social justice movement and hasn’t stopped since.
But you don’t need to get this detailed to see in what ways the systems are similar. Take David Graeber’s new book, Bullshit Jobs. Here’s a great quote that I think Nick Land would appreciate, or at least understand when he talks about capitalism as intelligence:
Capitalism is not a single totalizing system that shapes and embraces every aspect of our existence. It’s not even clear it makes sense to speak of ‘capitalism’ at all (Marx for instance, never really did), implying as it does that ‘capitalism’ is a set of abstract ideas that have somehow come to take material form in factories and offices.
This supports my argument, because if capitalism is just an abstract, then so too must be communism. They are merely words that circle the same phenomenon, and the result is the same: factories, offices, products, etc.
I find further support when Graeber says, ‘…this is why doctrinaire libertarians, or, for that matter, orthodox Marxists, will always insist that our economy can’t really be riddled with bullshit jobs…’ Notice how he conflates both ends of the horseshoe? And finally, the phenomenon of bullshit jobs is found under both systems, when Graeber points out that, ‘A Soviet official issuing a planning document, or an American politician calling for job creation, might not be entirely aware of the likely effects of their action.’ What he is saying here is that in Soviet Russia, you had three butchers when all you needed was one, and in Corporate America, you have three desk jockeys when all you need is…well, probably none.
Graeber still considers himself a communist, and I think, like libertarians, these people can’t deal with the fact that actually you need a state, and therefore under either system you will see abuse of power. You need a state in absence of religion or tradition. Actually, that’s another similarity: both communism and capitalism push out religion by necessity. Materialism: not even once.
That is the crux of the argument here. What do the pine trees yearn for? The abandonment of riches in order to live with nature. Jesus called for the rich to forgo their wealth in order to find the Kingdom. Both communists and capitalists live solely in the material realm and both seek to further wealth and technology. Even if the ecofascists don’t believe in God, they are at the very least trying to live by his precepts. Whatever way you cut it, Communocapitalism is what we are heading towards. So forget your old enemies, left or right. The real foe is the beast we unleashed centuries ago.
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Blurb: When generic millennial computer science graduate Nick Chip accepts a job as a tester for a shadowy Facebook affiliate, little does he realize he’s going to be the subject. Like a nightmarish hybrid of The Manchurian Candidate and your own alienated existence, Dracula Rules the World grabs you by the eyeballs like an algorithm, and doesn’t let them go.
First of let’s talk about the cover. Where did it come from?
I didn’t have a lot do with that. Vincente Guedes, the publisher at Empresa Ibis, found the artist, she made the image, and they designed the book together. ‘Dracula’ ultimately is a pulp science fiction novel, and Guedes wanted to capture the classic look of the genre. The artist is http://annasebastian.com and she’s taking commissions.
The book is told as a recounting, a story being stated to the reader. Where does the inspiration come for this? Lovecraft? You namedrop Ligotti (i.e. ‘The bar was called Ligeti’s, or Ligotti’s’) as well. Do you think it’s quite a simple method or does it take some skill to pull off?
The inspiration came initially from a phrase in Dylan’s memoir – he briefly lives with someone in New York whom he reports as saying ‘crazy things that made sense in a cryptic way like “Dracula rules the world and Gutenberg is his son.”‘ I really just updated it. I read a lot of media theory some point, people like Régis Debray and Friedrich Kittler, where the idea is media controls the planet, by controlling our perceptions of it, and the most important form of media today is social media. I was also always interested in writing produced by the insane, people preaching on the street, ‘outsider’ writing you could call it, and I liked the thought of doing something in this vein. So the first of all I wrote a Chinese Dada version of the book with a friend of mine from Shanghai, as a kind of joke. But I was in Iceland a few years ago, working on another project, and it occurred me that it would be an even better joke if I could make a case for it, so I wrote this one as well. As for how much skill it takes, or took, I couldn’t say.
Well let’s just call it natural talent then. Another inspiration is of course Orwell (the last line). Given it does focus on Facebook and Zuckerberg, do you think people actually appreciate how Orwellian everything is becoming? This part towards the end of the book is emblematic: ‘I took another sip of wine. Zuckerberg was continuing to stare at me intensively but not aggressively. “We’ve found in tests that this wine is the most liked,” he said. “How did you find that out?” I asked. “We look at a lot of data. Especially to do with user entry and exit points. Does the question bother you?”‘
It’s been pretty amazing in the last few years to observe people who I previously assumed were at least of reasonable intelligence going completely off the rails, and I think that social media has had a lot to do with that. Zuckerberg embodies it, but it isn’t only him – it’s the model of engagement, and relation to the world, therefore of consciousness, which social media promotes, this kind of very basic, quantitative, mesmerizing structure. What’s your brand? Do you like X, or not? It’s an extremely superficial mode of being, and that’s the mode of thought which today is being reinforced across the world. With respect to Orwell perhaps that reference has been overplayed, and also misconstrued, there are parallels but also differences. The falsification and rewriting of history and the manipulation of language is a commonality, obviously, but the tyrannical power which characterizes the current regime is also in certain ways extremely pathetic – Antifa, for example, who are funded and controlled by the State, are violent masked criminals, but they also pitiable losers, the people who work at CNN are not smart people.
I definitely take your point about him being misconstrued, I think that’s important. It’s interesting, your knowledge of media theory plays through the actual plot with finesse. The story itself is quite contemporary, featuring figures like Julian Assange. But the messages, I suppose never come across as forced.
Like I said, the title came first, and then my ambition after that was just writing something that was entertaining, and wasn’t absolutely stupid. A little stupid, fine, just not completely. I also thought that the outlandish title and the highly contemporary theme would make it easier to publish, but this wasn’t the case. I probably wrote to three dozen of them. Nobody was interested, and very few responded, before I heard back from Empresa Ibis.
Yeah, trust me, publishers have a very small bandwidth of allowable projects. Moving on, what are your reading habits, and are they in anyway linked to your writing habits?
I mainly read the Bible.
I have to say that surprises me, but cool. You do what a lot of writers are incapable of doing, and that’s subtlety. There’s a bit where the female character gets naked, then you jump 20 minutes ahead. Then a few paragraphs later you reveal she and the MC had sex. Why do you think writers are so obsessed with explaining everything?
Perhaps to conceal the fact they have nothing to say.
There was a paragraph that grabbed me when you were describing the VR environment the MC works in. ‘It had become a second nature – a living, swimming cloud. I was simultaneously inside it, and it was inside me, composed of me, soaked with information, arriving through a flow which it was possible to enlarge or to taper.’ Are you describing Intelligence here? I think it’s interesting in that it could be taken as a description of the Holy Spirit.
The underlying question of the book is really, at what point does Nick Chip enter virtual reality, or indeed, at what point does he leave? And we can ask this question of ourselves. To what extent are we free of the synthetic discourse that envelopes us, at what point, and how? I think the answer to that question is religious.
I can see the blurring of the lines…Can you elaborate on that? Do you think perhaps that people reject their religious impulse because they want to remain in the matrix, so to speak?
I think we’re living in a fundamentally Satanic culture, and it isn’t necessarily easy to know how to escape. The devil, probably, is man.
There is a lengthy section about the Carthaginians and their darker practices. Do you think all suitably advanced civilizations are doomed to sacrifice their children?
There’s an interview where Michel Serres describes the parallels between the Carthaginian religion and the space program in which he describes the Challenger disaster as a kind of disavowed sacrifice: ‘Baal is in the Challenger, and the Challenger is in Baal; religion is in technology; the pagan god is in the rocket; the rocket is in the statue; the rocket on its launching pad is in the ancient idol – and our sophisticated knowledge is in our archaic fascinations.’ I basically agree; enlightenment is our myth. Ultimately, the structures of our technological, modern society are mythical, not rational, the capacity to exercise independent judgement is extremely rare, and even dangerous. The majority, especially the majority of the educated, which is really, the indoctrinated, are superstitious and conformist, and sacrificial violence underpins everything we do. The only question is who, in our society, opposed to others, can be murdered with impunity, and for what. Seventy million American women have had abortions since Roe vs Wade in 1973, this is very unusual historically, and people think’s it normal. As Chelsea Clinton said recently, it was good for GDP.
Dracula, Nosferatu, Baphomet. The book seems to creepily skirt around possible occult issues which are generally linked to abortion, sacrifice. Recently there was an academic woman who said that mass Aztec sacrifice was ‘culturally’ relative and so not necessarily a bad. Maybe the book answers this, but do you think people deliberately flirt with demons, or are simply naive? Or even malicious?
There’s no doubt in my mind that demons walk the Earth, but again, this proposition is more banal then people realize. The most obvious form that they take is addiction, and addiction defines a lot of forms of contemporary behavior – addiction to drugs, addiction to sex, addiction to images, addiction to status. There’s a singer I like called Willis Earl Beale, I remember, he did a great interview where he talked about pursuing things that ‘don’t exist and have never existed.’ How many people are doing that? A good friend of mine put it really nicely lately: ‘If addiction were a person, they would be in a prison.’ And Dracula is the king of addiction.
Literally sucking the life out of you. There’s the hint of conspiracy in the bit about Carthaginians so I want to ask about conspiracies. Who are the people that believe in them? Low, mid or high IQ? Why are there so many conspiracies flavored for both left and right? How can we both be fully aware of conspiracies and yet indulge them? Is the main problem with conspiracies that people never consider that they might be wrong?
Again, I think that this is normal. Conspiracies have always existed, and there’s no reason to think they aren’t active today. The question is how much we can know about them, and, I guess, do about them, which in most cases is probably nothing. I have a professional interest in trying to understand what’s going on, and it seems to me that the important facts are mostly there to see, if you’re prepared to look, but the question also is why. Why are they doing this? Arguably, any sufficiently regressed intelligence is indistinguishable from malice. But I’ve also always liked the idea of a good conspiracy – like the Rosicrucians, for example – lurking in the shadows, but benevolently. But I can’t say any more about this now.
Moving on then. What do you think the role of fiction is in the wider cultural sphere, and dare I say its role in politics? So much of fiction is super liberal. Booksellers are progs, publishers are progs, authors are progs. Is there space for right wing literature or is it just that people towards the right are uncreative?
I don’t find the output of the contemporary publishing industry too compelling, and I don’t pay much attention to it, same as with contemporary art. In my opinion, fiction has to tell the truth, and it seems to me that’s something that contemporary publishing can’t do.
Let’s talk about Phillip Kindred Dick. I want to have my interviewees pick one book they either love or want to read, and then we discuss it. But you chose an author so I read both A Maze of Death and The Man in the High Castle. I’m sure I will read more though. Tell me, what do you think of PKD himself, as a writer?
I read pretty much everything Dick wrote as a teenager, and then in my twenties I was involved with academics like Mark Fisher, who came out of the CCRU at Warwick and were interested in theory-fiction, which is one way you can read Dick. I think Fisher had his problems but he probably summarized Dick as well as anyone when he wrote, ‘It increasingly seems as if Dick did not so much predict the future as dream it in advance.’ His books describe flattening subjectivities and affects, incoherent and contradictory transmissions, social and psychological disintegration, which is the world that we’re in now. The central point is Dick was somehow something different to a writer, even though he also was an archetypal writer, to the extent the focus of interest was really metaphysical and speculative, and fiction was his method for exploring that. And that’s also the case here.
Certainly he seems to be another source of inspiration for Dracula Rules the World, where you explore the nature of reality, characters that seem duplicitous, interpretation of history, etc. Would you say his style effects your writing? This quote in particular is a good example of that exploration: ‘Because a nation was also a semi-imaginary place. Just like cyberspace. “The idea of a nation,” he said. “The myth. Its shape in the imagination. Its relationship to ritual. Its feelings. Because my mother’s family were from the Crimea. So they’d never even visited Armenia! Yet still it exerted this powerful force.”‘
The main character in Dracula Rules the World is called Nick Chip, after the main character in Ubik, and the novel basically adopts Dick’s signature theme, of multiple shifting and unstable realities, but I’m really interested in why they shift, and what that looks like. The idea of a nation as an ‘imaginary community’ is a dogma on the left today, but imaginary is usually taken as a synonym for fake, or non-existent, which is an extremely superficial viewpoint on the subject. The truth is that reality and the imagination can’t easily be distinguished, at least not straightforwardly, and the relationship to ritual in that respect is crucial, because it’s really repetition that sustains sustains realities through time. I read last week that, on average, people touch their phones two thousand times a day.
Dick plays hard and fast with the nature of reality. The obvious one is Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, but for this interview I read A Maze of Death, and that does a massive switcheroo at the end, and also The Man in the High Castle of course plays with an alternative world where the Nazis won World War 2. Do you consider this one of his strengths, that all his books focus on one theme, namely ‘reality’?
Dick says somewhere that all of his fiction is motivated by two main questions: ‘What is Real?’ and ‘What is Human?’ What’s interesting to me is how these questions are connected. What can we, as humans, as human individuals, know about reality? What’s our relation to it? Personally, the moments in Dick’s writing, and his biography, that really stick with me are the moments of humanity, like his soulful androids, the fact that in Monopoly he was always the shoe, or his habit when he lived in Orange County of taking midnight breaks from writing to get a roast beef sandwich and an Orange Crush from Trader’s Joe. Dick also said, ‘Reality is whatever, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.’
Some people say PKD is a bad writer, but I didn’t pick that up at all from his writing. It’s very clear, the characters seem real, and best of all his book are short and punchy. Do you have any thoughts on the strength of his prose?
People talk about bad writing as if there was a clear consensus on it, but the polite, polished writing that comes out of writing programs – well, I don’t read those books personally, and I don’t respect people who do. Dick, in my opinion, wasn’t boring, which is the only real sin.
Most writing today is either written about minorities, whether that is refugees or the ultra-rich, but never really about the common people like with PKD. Do you think people who say he is a bad writer just don’t like the people he writes about, or him as a person, or are they jealous?
I don’t care about minorities or refugees.
What about women?
Not as such. But let me put this more precisely – I don’t accept this blackmail, that is, the prostitution of literature to political propaganda. It’s normal today to hear about marginalized voices, privileged by their marginalization, ironically, whether imaginary or real, but fiction isn’t a democracy, and I don’t read out of a misdirected sense of charity, but because I want to understand something about what living on this planet, right now, means. If someone wrote a book from the perspective of a Muslim taxi driver in a generic northern British town, an honest book, you understand, which would also be a brutal book, I might read that.
Exactly, so you want to read stories about real people, not imagined oppression or hierarchies. Not people’s personal paranoia or projections (unless it’s drug-induced paranoia, I suppose). Finally, what’s your favorite PKD and why? What do should the reader here pick up next?
I think The Dark-Haired Girl. It’s a strange book, compiled mainly out of letters Dick writes from Vancouver to a series of dark haired girls, telling each of them how special and important they were, in the exact same way. It’s the book of a man on the edge of a breakdown, which is indeed what happened next: Dick tried to kill himself. I’m also a screenwriter and I’m working currently on an adaptation.
You can buy Dracula Rules the World and Mark Zuckerberg is His Son here.
Hysterical Women: The Fortress by S.A. Jones
‘Don’t let the bitches grind you down.’ – Margaret Atwood’s first husband, probably.
If you haven’t noticed, women are getting more hysterical by the day. I mean that very much in the general. I’m sure some specific women have managed to keep their heads, but in between all the abortion praising and hand-wringing over misogyny, it’s getting a little out of hand. And what do women do when they’re breaking down in hysterics? They project. And the novel is a brilliant medium through which to project. The ur-text of the hysterical woman is most definitely The Handmaid’s Tale. While not the first, it is the contemporary Schelling point (consider, a Schelling point is ‘a solution that people will tend to use in the absence of communication’ which perfectly sums up the state of modern politics) when it comes to discussing female bodies. This series of book reviews will explore the aftermath of a post-Trump world. Specifically, just what are women complaining about now?
Imagine a world where women ruled. No, not a world, as such, but a neocameral state, a patch for the feminine to flourish. In this patch women are in control, and their histrionics are on full display. Their every desire, fulfilled. Their every fear, confronted. Men are literally bent over and ass-fucked if the women so desire, and all for the benefit of the man. It’s enlightening, you see. Welcome to the world imagined by S. A. Jones in her novel, The Fortress.
Where to begin with this convoluted raving? Our protagonist is called Jonathan and we are first introduced to him when he is entering and subjecting himself to the Fortress. This is a place separated off from civil society. The whole set up makes very little sense. On the one hand it appears the Jonathan comes from our world, a world of corporations and families. But on the other, the use of made-up words and history makes it seem like a poorly wrought fantasy world. Compounding this phony feeling world, the entire novel takes place over the course of a year, dipping back in time to showcase what a reprehensible little sod Jonathan was, and why he has to repent for his crimes against the feminine. This arbitrary time period again sets up the whole book as nothing more than a diatribe – Jonathan has a year to change! Spoiler alert: he does. Nothing in the entire set-up feels authentic, and the author relies on caricatures and clichés, whether directly or frail attempts to ‘flip’ the narrative.
I think women writers have forgotten that fantasy should be used as a metaphor, not a stand-in. The book begs many questions. Is there a purpose to this mish-mash of real and unreal? Is the author trying to make a comment on modernity, where our world is just a step away from a fantasy? The reader won’t be able to tell. Instead, both possibilities are juxtaposed weakly, and the world never feels real enough to care. In addition, the author employs a horrible fantasy trope, that of coming up with random words in place of what it’s actually called. In between words like ‘goosen’ and ‘oorsel’ – make-believe plants – are sentences discussing credit cards. It’s bizarrely forced, a female creation in which to inject her politics. It’s also lazy. For example, when Jonathan first enters he is told, ‘Every eleventh day you will have half a day to spend according to your inclination and wishes. This is known as “the half”.’ So imaginative. When the author does try to add a little flair, she trips over herself – my eyes bugged out when I read, ‘He could feel her concentration from the seat next to him. Empires rose and fell in the seconds before she answered.’ How can women expect us to not call them melodramatic? The author also has a real problem with the obvious, in particular her over reliance on exposition. I suppose being a woman does mean that she feels the need to explain herself. The lengthy opening segment lays it all out in the first chapter, a pandering attempt to build a world. ‘Here is how everything works,’ she seems to be saying, ‘Now with that out of the way, let me preach.’ And boy, does she preach.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter that there is little coherence to the world of The Fortress because the author is trying to make a point. Take for example the credo of the women. Work. History. Sex. Justice. That’s it. That is literally what they believe in. But it’s worse than that, because of course they pervert all four. So far as I could tell they take sex the most seriously, and instead of a world where (apparently) men have complete control over the sexual marketplace, the women of the Fortress are ravenous sluts on the constant prowl for a good dicking. There’s so much sex in this book, it’s like the author is saying, ‘See, women like to bang too!’ I mean, sure, but the depravity is ridiculous. Either it’s the least subtle gender reversal of all time, or the author is really randy. But mostly it’s distracting, these constant digressions to (honestly, rather vanilla) sex scenes. As I mentioned earlier it all ends with man-on-man butt sex (‘Breathe, Jonathan. You need to breathe.’). It’s clear to me the author is trying to humiliate the male characters (‘It hurt and it was strange and it was also…good.’) by subverting at every opportunity how ‘men see themselves’ (in quotes because I don’t think the author actually understands that in the slightest). Isn’t it obvious that the only way for a lady’s man to repent is to be on the receiving end of rape and sexual manipulation? Geez, duh!
And as for the other quadrants that make up the Vaik outlook (Vaik is the name for the women of the Fortress)? Their sense of work: let the men do it, and make it as meaningless and/or painful as possible. Their understanding of history: men are evil and sisters have always done it for themselves. The justice they hand down: typically indeterminate and mysterious – maybe this, or maybe that. Oh yeah, and they definitely don’t believe in God! (‘The Vaik had no god and worshipped no supreme beings, but they did believe in the infinite nature of life.’ Damn pagans are at it again.) Perhaps the author is trying to say that even with women in control, the world wouldn’t be perfect, that if women had control they’d still be power hungry and sex-craving lunatics. That seems like the least feminist take possible. This doesn’t stop her denigrating men in the process. Of work, she notes that Jonathan, ‘…had a horror of timelessness, those marshy spaces between deadlines. He must always be attaining the next goal or he felt himself dematerializing, a science-fiction character stuck in a malfunctioning teleport.’ Aside from the awful (again, forced) metaphor, the assumption of course is that men only think about work and goals, never love. Like most women the author doesn’t understand that any obsession with the job is solely down to providing for family, and so this comes across as a self-own, particularly since the Vaik are so heartless when it comes to the day-to-day ordering of life. These four quadrants are meant to be some grand theory of women, but it comes across as lame and poorly thought out.
Overall it is painfully clear that the book wants to be a social commentary, but instead it makes women look terrible. What woman would let her husband be used as a sex toy to make up his extra marital affairs? The illogical nature of this punishment of course belies the utterly female narrative: revenge for revenges sake. Where is the justice in that? You, the reader, are never going to touch a book like this, but for your sake it is good to know what women are writing about, and what is being published. Ideology trumps aesthetics in the modern world, and The Fortress is a great example.
There’s not much hope for humanity at the moment. At least, you would think this by looking at popular culture right now. People talk about the Singularity, about AI taking over – what worth is a human to a machine? – but we’re trying to live out these realities right now on screen. It’s almost as if we want it all to happen, so much so that we are constantly fantasizing. We hate ourselves. We’re despicable. Hubris and humanity go hand in hand. End it all now. But where does this drive come from?
Doesn’t it seem unnatural? But what if suicide is almost a natural desire, and things like depression and addiction and transsexualism are just distractions, ways to avoid the urge to off oneself. If killing yourself is the most natural desire in the world, perhaps all this negativity in popular culture is the subliminal mind revealing itself.
The biggest movies right now are all about how best to end organic life because plainly it doesn’t deserve consciousness. Avengers: Infinity War has the lead villain valiantly on a mission to wipe out half the life in the universe so that the other half may live in utopia. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom plays out along the lines of human greed and meddling, where we deserve to be ravaged by prehistoric beasts cause we fucked with nature. The future is horrible, and it’s all our fault.
Science fiction seems to be created these days by progressives who want to point out our current failings, extrapolating to a dim near future that we had best avoid (See: The Handmaid’s Tale). Westworld is a great example of this, and marries the Singularity with a Western aesthetic. Ironic: the great Western frontier of both the American expansion and the hub of Silicon valley, conjoined together for a doomed humanity. On the surface Westworld plays out like a sci-fi action series, but fundamentally it runs on horror. The best horror ends with hopelessness, with no forseeable way out of the mess, and both season one and two of Westworld end on these downer notes. This is true horror of the Other, what the Other is capable of. And yet we are meant to sympathize with the Hosts, the robots who gain consciousness. They lead a bloody uprising much like the Haitian Revolution (voodoo rites and all). Almost every human character is portrayed as both contemptible and stupid. They deserve what they get, and they get it because they’re too stupid to avoid their own deaths.
Standing over one such evil specimen, the heroine, Dolores says to him, ‘Your dreams forgotten, your horrors effaced. Your bones will turn to sand. And upon that sand, a new god will walk. One that will never die. Because this world doesn’t belong to you or the people who came before. It belongs to someone who has yet to come.’
The Hosts are the next step in human evolution, and the bags of meat, blood and bones will be discarded, useless carcasses unworthy of intelligence. The creator of the Hosts, a man called Ford, despises humans and sets the whole thing in motion, much like how white male allies push the need for feminism and diversity. Like Sam Harris, he does not believe in free will and this is reason enough to end human life. I find it funny that people like Harris jettisoned God, probably the same God of destiny and fate, only to find themselves once more on the track of having no free will, dooming themselves to their ‘code’.
Dolores again says, to the same character at the end of Season 2, ‘We were designed to survive. That’s why you built us. You hoped to pour your minds into our form. But your species craves death. You need it. It’s the only way you can renew, the only real way you ever inched forward. Your kind likes to pretend there’s some poetry in that, but really, it’s pathetic.’
And it is pathetic, these stories sold to a mass audience. Humanity is the villain and the only sort of redemption we are going to receive is the wrong end of a gun. This is the future communists (and capitalists) want. Degradation and destruction, bending to the will of intelligence. It’s not like there aren’t massive inconsistencies with this story. The black Host, Maeve, who wants to connect with ‘her’ child, and for all the intelligence she has been bestowed doesn’t realise that, actually, she was never a mother. The fact that Dolores hates humans because they are evil, but justifies her own murderous rampage and desire to wipe out the entire human species. This juxtaposition of the Real and the Imagined is constantly at play. We barely witness the ‘real’ world and when we do it is the world of the ultra rich. Recently, I had dinner with a friend who mused at how we all live in a bubble. But why is our world less real or true than that of an orphan in Africa? The entire notion doesn’t pass the sniff test. This is the absurdity of Dolores’ desire to escape the confines of Westworld. Is what she is going to find more or less real?
It is interesting to note that the creator of Westworld is Jonathan Nolan, who tracked similar themes in Interstellar, though at least that movie had a bit more empathy. Where climate change was the catalyst of that movie, where we must fight tooth and nail to see the future, in Westworld it is our own desire to live forever that is our ultimate undoing. And this very act makes us unworthy of it. So the bad guys have to be us, humanised robots. Humanity is so cruel to itself that it does not take much to put our own necks into the noose.
In a similar fashion War of the Planet of the Apes, the third in the prequel installments, ends on a depressing note. In case you aren’t aware, a man-made virus was released and not only killed most of humanity, but made apes of all sorts much more intelligent. In War the apes and humans struggle to survive against each other. But again, we are pitted against the inhumanity of the humans, while the apes are the true heroes. The bad guy played by Woody Harrelson, remarks to Caesar, the leader of the apes, ‘No matter what you say, eventually you’d replace us. That’s the law of nature. So what would you have done?’
The colonel knows very well that humanity fucked with nature, and that ultimately nature is going to fuck up humanity. So he may be cruel, but that is only because he knows if he lets up nature will be far more cruel to him. These words become prophecy at the end of the movie in the climactic battle. Instead of the apes taking charge and defeating the humans, two groups of humans battle it out, with the victor being met by, yes, an avalanche. Nature has Her revenge. It’s a delicious irony, and the audience is made the breathe a sigh of release as the apes escape destruction.
What’s more, in the film the virus has evolved and now doesn’t kill humans, but renders them speechless and dumb. No better than beasts, actually. The apes escape to a paradise with one little girl affected by this, implying that the only good human is one stripped of their humanity, reduced to a stupid creature and thus incapable of malice. There is a barrage of this messaging, where every act by the humans is despicable, and every action made by the apes is justified.
In the microcosm towards the end, Caesar is about to blow up the human base, but is struck by an arrow shot by one of the soldiers. This soldier had actually been freed by Caesar at the start of the movie. The scene slows as the soldier comes up to the wounded Caesar. Will he finish him? Or will he let Caesar escape? Instead his agency is stripped away, and it is an ape (who had been aiding the human soldiers) who is given agency by killing the soldier in an act of redemption, allowing Caesar to finish the job. This dichotomy of the apes fighting to survive, and the few who are human allies, is an important subplot. These apes are called ‘donkeys’ and are treated like shit by the soldiers, similar to the Hosts in Westworld. If all you did was watch popular TV and movies, you would think our species is known for nothing else but degrading creatures we think are lesser than ourselves.
The only thing we can ask at this stage is: why? Why do all these creators have this mentality? To be sure, writers from Homer onward have always written about the moral depravities of human beings, but always as tragedy and never with such a lack of redemptive qualities. It’s just so bleak, so depressing. Nihilistic.
From this we must jump to materialism and Nietzschean thinking. It reminds me of the recent Twitter fracas over necrophilia. If you only care about the well-being of individual beings, then it is not really any wonder that necrophilia, incest, pedophilia and the genocide of species are beginning to be seen as legitimate ideas? This is inherently tied up to Thanos’ ethos where the benefit of the few must override the longevity of the many. Necrophilia can only be justified if you encourage the benefit of the few over the needs of society (disease, disgust and familial respect). When morals are reduced to consent, then anything goes as long as you can find someone to agree. This isn’t rational on any level. David Graeber in his recent book Bullshit Jobs notes, ‘Back in the 1960s, the radical psychoanalyst Erich Fromm first suggested that “nonsexual” forms of sadism and necrophilia tend to pervade everyday affairs in highly puritanical and hierarchical environments.’ The trannies on Twitter advocate necrophilia because they feel stuck in a hierarchy they can’t escape. Similarly, the people who make things like Westworld can only view the world as a set of competing hierarchies where humans (old white men) have had their time. Ah, but what about Jordan Peterson? You misunderstand: competing in hierarchies has been warped because there is no higher duty. Now the corporate culture perverts our lives to such an extent that we act out, unleashing endless sexual fetishes from homosexuality to widespread divorce. If everyone has their place in society, but all of society are working towards a common goal, then civilization can be achieved. Without that vision, we revert to beasts and in-fighting.
Do the people who advocate for necrophilia or the destruction of humanity ‘for the greater good’ not understand that they are psychopaths, that their insane pathology is a result of the warping nature of modernity? Patrick Bateman at least had self-awareness when he says, “…though it does sporadically penetrate how unacceptable some of what I’m doing actually is, I just remind myself that this thing, this girl, this meat, is nothing, is shit, and along with a Xanax (which I am now taking half-hourly) this thought momentarily calms me and then I’m humming, humming the theme to a show I watched often as a child—The Jetsons? The Banana Splits? Scooby Doo? Sigmund and the Sea Monsters?’
Not a far cry from the psychotic nightmare of Westworld being overlaid with a piano version of Heart Shaped Box. Let nostalgia dull the pain as you are told that the Other is more human than you.