The dystopia movies, novels and texts have different outcomes for the projected future, but they share one common element – the proletarian is the under girth of all the mad schemes. Mere thought experiments allowing the imagination to run amok, these mad schemes acknowledge the proletarian as the mule to pull the cart. Marx is correct calling the proletarians the “universal class” and making them “the center and point of his critique of modern society”. “The criticism of religion,” for Marx, “ends in the teaching that man is the highest being for man, it ends, that is, with the categorical imperative to overthrow all conditions in which man is debased, forsaken, [and] contemptibl[y] being forced into servitude” (Kamenka, 1983). The proletarians are not scheming to overthrow the government; they cannot seriously entertain such thoughts. The workers are busy etching out a niche so they can earn a living and survive until their next paycheck. They are utterly pragmatic and simple. Marx elegantly celebrates and acknowledges the worker; recognizing that without them, no progress would be possible – an important point often overlooked. “Marx stands for a rational society, in which man would be self-determined, cooperating rationally and spontaneously with his fellows, mastering nature and social life instead of being mastered by them” (Ibid). Marx fires the imagination as to what is possible.
The public place is where decisions about government, family, and work are decided. That would be coffee houses, taverns, and bars where the proletarian congregate. For intellectuals, they meet in the written word, e.g. in the current era that would be the internet. The Cultural Ideological State Apparatus and Communication ISA must ameliorate, if not dictate, public opinion while advertisers thrive on that state-gathered information in formulating their ad campaigns. Ideology may be defined as the system of the ideas and representations, which dominate the mind of a person or a social group, according to Marxist thought (Althusser, 1970). Image may not contain much substance, but it cannot be ignored. Image has made, and broken many good men whom had dismissed it. Politicians in high, rarified positions must address the issues raised in criticisms raised by opponents, especially in a capitalistic/mixed economy democratic republic, like the United States, where the image is often more important than the reality. Would-be Presidents and congresspersons as well as other elected officials must be wary of enemies and usurpers. An honest politician (if there is such a person) needs to consider his or her constituents, and check in from time to time to make sure their programs are effective, i.e. that the program meets with the constituents’ approval. An unearned bad reputation can shoot someone in the foot, as John Kerry found out in his campaign for president. He was “labeled” with a reputation as a weak and ineffectual “flip-flopper,” fed by the communication ISA – television, radio, film, and “culture” ISA – literature, the arts, etc. by the pro-Bush propaganda machinery.
“The alienation and ‘contradiction’ expressed in the class struggles of history is oppressive and dehumanizing, but it is nevertheless necessary for the development of economic and human potentialities for progress, Thus, in The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels recognized fully the historic role of the bourgeoisie in developing human productivity and capacities, in tearing down privileges, superstition, and national barriers:
The bourgeoisie, by rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by
immense facilitated means of communication, draw all [into the fold] or face
the pains of extinction. The bourgeoisie, during its rule, has created more mas-
sive and more colossal production forces, then have all the proceeding generations
put together” (Kamenka, 1983).
As forward thinking as Marx was, he underestimated the tenacity and inventiveness of the ruling class. They simply spent the surplus value or profit on government, i.e. taxes, to balance out the disparity between the richest and the poorest. Education and inspiration can bring the poorest émigré (or at least his children) to wondrous riches and wealth in the United States, usually inconceivable elsewhere, or, in a different time and a different soil.
What exactly is “alienation”? The process of objectifying man’s own product and allowing it to dominate man himself; Marx calls it a fetishism of commodities…Man’s loss of identification, with and subjective control over, the labor-power Marx calls dehumanization...Man’s loss of objective control over the products of his work, and over his labor-time, Marx calls exploitation. Exploitation does not mean, for Marx, that the capitalist are getting too much – more than what is “reasonable.” In a class society generally, one man appropriates that which is produced by another man, or is part of that man (his labor or labor-power). Fetishism, dehumanization, and exploitation – in short, alienation – continue to play a key role in Marxism. The capitalist is affected by alienation, directly, through the Communication ISA and the Cultural ISA. When the proletarian suffers alienation, the capitalist may also suffers a certain emptiness from the consequent lessening of general societal vigor as after has been noted by learned commentators reflecting on the modern mood in many postmodern societies and the societal ennui (or existential angst) may even in fact be a societal expression of itself in art and film.
What is the contradiction previously mentioned? The contradiction is that in postmodern Capitalism there is produced such a disparity between the obscenely rich and the disfranchised poor, e.g. the abject homeless, in the same system given that, at the start, purportedly all have potentially nearly the same or nearly the same equal resources at their deposal, which is the ruling ideological assumption (erroneous or not) in this democratic republic.
If the émigré is of a different ethnic or racial type, history suggests sparks may fly. Societies often do not want to see a “foreigner” or, God forbid, an infidel succeed where they have failed. One only needs to investigate what a “rice rocket” is and the origin of the term, based on jealousy and contempt for a different ethnic group achieving.. When the economic environment is hostile, division and strife between ethnic and racial groups often arise. It is a fact ethnic and hate crimes may then rise pronouncedly.
Everyone is hard hit by this recession created by Bush policies and this unpopular Iraq war. The current president, Obama, is in the unenviable predicament of trying to smooth out this rough patch, if not solve the hard economic issues, that we are all experiencing. Obama is under a microscope by the media for any misstep. However, according to the polls, the public by in large see Obama solid and dependable, so the general public still feels like they have made a good choice.. President Obama appears to attempt to appeal to reason whereas some commentators argued the Bush/Cheney regime appealed to such emotions as fear and greed.
Pierre Boulle’s Planet of the Apes suggests an apocalyptic premodern moral order sans humans. There is a hierarchy in the primates’ government – Orangutans are the class from which leaders are culled; Chimpanzees are the thinkers in this society; and Gorillas are enforcers of order through force. This hierarchy is based on the first type of premodern moral order mentioned in the book Modern Social Imaginaries by Charles Taylor. It is founded on the law “which has governed this people since time out of mind and which, in a sense, defines it as a people” (Taylor, 2007). In this society, disorder to the status quo is an affrontery to nature. Human beings in the scheme of things are slaves to the primates. This “Law of Nature,” despite their capacity for thought, governs the primates. The primates defined themselves by this Law. Human beings did not fit within this Law and were regarded as oddities, suited only for slaves and experimentation. Human beings lose their survival edge – reason and compassion (survival-based attributes) – to become bestial, intolerant, and are thereby eclipsed by the lower primates, whom are cooperating to assure mutual survival and prosperity among the lower primates. As we, humans, grow further apart and separate ourselves from our true nature and ourselves, the primates grow stronger as they become closer to Nature.
Why do we become more detached from ourselves and other people daily? Technology is a driving force, real and concrete; urbanization is cramped and less natural space – people are more detached among each other. What drives technology? The Industrial Military Complex pumps huge amounts of money into research and development for efficient subjugating and killing technologies. Marketing dollars are the ammunition for technology by dictating what to think, how to feel, and where a person should be in his or her life; so, an individual’s self-worth is determined in this fashion. These controlling forces do not have the individual’s best interest necessarily at heart, but are only interested in the bottom line – profits. The internet seems to “connect” people from different stations of life: chatting, blogging and other forms of communication. However, people tend to be less transparent; one does not know whom he or she is communicating with, one is only identified based on the other person’s “description” of who he or she is; one does not really “connect” with the other because he or she does not see the other in person; non-verbal cues are absent, for example. Ultimately, the person is always sitting in front of his or her computer for hours and real human connection or interaction is sacrificed with the substituted “projected” identity. This is indicative of where technology, e.g. the computer, is leading to as in Planet of the Apes: detachment and divorcement from “real” human contact.
In The Iron Heel by Jack London, we are informed by the writings of Avis Everhart – an eyewitness to the “fall” of the United States – the west – and which are “corrected” by the point-of-view of a scholar Anthony Meredith, whom is a future historian (inserting and adding his myopic view of the future to the completed text). I would argue that The Iron Heel is an example of using platonic models-in-hierarchy or (a premodern moral order of the second example in Taylor’s book) to form its society, and that the forms are functional and normative. Creativity and spontaneity by the populace and authorities are regarded with suspicion and implication of crime (and perhaps envy). These unfortunate individuals – the unsanctioned artists – also play a role: the insane. Everyone has a place and function in that society from the misfits to the proletarians to the leaders – all are crucial to that society, even the myopic scholar and the long dead Avis Everhart. People ought to behave and to discharge their societal duty and obligations. That is their purpose and function, without which they have no identity separate from should’s and ought’s and individual-driven desires. They are their societal purpose; to think otherwise is contrary to the natural order, and considered as out-and-out heresy. To think outside the box can get you economically ruined, if not literally killed.
It is difficult, if not possible, to know what the typical citizen from an oppressive country like North Korea thinks and feels about himself or herself, the world, and freedom. All media inputs are tightly controlled. It is said the dominant ruler, Kim Il Sung is the only person in the country that is allowed access to the internet! The country is hermetically separate from the real world, contained in their small bubble. The power yielded by the leaders is absolute, a certainty, and final. In their fiefdom, they have the power of prosperity or ruin, life or death. All arguments break down to the essential elements for a tyrant. Logic is reduced to concrete and real power: who has the power to deal out death, i.e. who has the gun, and who will use it. People who live in this type of society are subject to the whims and voracious control of their leader(s). Tyranny and Totalitarianism control every aspect of their human existence. No one is truly free. There are no checks and balances of power. There is no freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to protest, freedom to “life, liberties and pursuit of happiness.” Constitutional Rights do not exist. One only has the right to follow the dictates of the tyrant or simply die. There is no public sphere – a place for dialogue and exchange of ideas. One is not allowed to express his or her ideas. Ideas are contained, constrained and suppressed by fear and force.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and 1984 by George Orwell are a modern moral order. Although not free in these novels, the public is expected “to be rational and sociable.” The people will turn into “subversives” in their society whom are outside the norm. O’ Brian catches Winston and Julia and informs the authorities about them in 1984. In Fahrenheit 451, his wife, Mildred, betrays Montag. Charles Taylor states: “The organization of society is not judged on its inherent form, but instrumentally.” How effective this society administers security, and fosters prosperity, determines how true the system is to the people. Who benefits and who prospers, as well as who is secure, is the key question. Is it from the top to the bottom that punishments and rewards are meted out even-handedly? According to Taylor, security and prosperity are the principal goals of organized society. In these previously mentioned novels, however, order is an end-in-itself, and civil liberties of the public, curtailed for their own “good,” are visibly absent. Prosperity is lacking in these systems. There is only the owner of production and the worker. Innovation is sacrificed for conformity. Innovation, in this type of society, is considered a product of the people serving their supposed roles, and their adherence to these forced roles. Yet, any dissension thereby created is addressed through forceful retaliation as a response to defiance.
In Bradbury’s novel, the book burning, oppressive society, quite irredeemable, is decimated by nuclear weapons by their enemies as a cleansing act, and the literate people who survived are set free among the devastation and ash of the former society. They are the new wardens of knowledge. This shows how durable and lasting book knowledge is, imperious to book burning and fanaticism. Books will always be with us, regardless what technology is in vogue or the latest theories debunking the literary classics! They are classics for a reason; the books challenge the current way of looking at the world; they are lasting examples of exemplary critiques of ideas and philosophies of modern thought, e.g., a seminal essay such as The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer with its discussion of the culture industry. Fascist societies, left and right, do not want the public reading such material, which makes the public think for themselves. Such minds are less susceptible to out-and-out influences, and are less easy to be manipulated and controlled. Such a mind is the “ghost-in-the-machine.” It follows its own agenda, according to its own thought. Statistics and probability break down when the human mind is involved. Many in authority underestimate it in making decisions.
In the film, 12 Monkeys, a new state, run by the “new priests” – scientists and doctors – with the requisite elements of fascism, e.g. oppression and cruelty, controlled the remnant of humanity. Science is the new god and technology its right hand. These function by ideology – the system of ideas and representations, which dominate the mind of a man or a social group. The dominant State Apparatus, the trade-union, Ideological State Apparatuses and the religious ISA, which performs not only familial and educational functions, also controls the ISA function of “communication,” having replaced the Church (these ideas are discussed in the essay Ideology and State Ideological Apparatuses, by Louis Althusser). A manufactured virus kills 99% of humankind in 1996, and the survivors were forced to go underground. By 2035, time-travel was discovered. A different future was desired and attempted. The power structure or the state, fluid and malleable, easily adapted to the new circumstances – the altar of the state taken beneath the earth, but still hyperactive. James Cole (Bruce Willis) reluctantly agrees, in exchange for a pardon for his prison sentence, earned in that present (our future). He now dangerously, goes to the literal past (our present) to intervene and preempt the virus attack from ever occurring. Since Cole was a proletarian and relied on the powers-that-be to deliver him from his fate, he was in fact expendable and subject to dangerous experimentation.
In the films seen – A Clockwork Orange, 12 Monkeys, 1984, GATTACA, Sleeper, Conquest of Planet of the Apes, and Blade Runner, they all had an oppressive society and a strong, militarist government where the plot unfolded. The protagonist could see, feel, and hear other human beings while the supporting cast was generally deaf to cries of suffering and pain. It makes sense. To survive in these hostile environments, a human part of you must be relinquished. Hence, the fact that the protagonist can feel at all is courageous and remarkable. Perhaps that is why the plot revolves around them. This is also the case in the novels: George Orwell’s 1984, Pierre Boulle’s Planet of the Apes, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and Jack London’s The Iron Heel. The main character is a thinking and feeling person within an unusually hostile environment and put in extraordinary circumstances and must respond to a call-to-action. The books show how enduring and oppressive the State is – State Power and Ideological State Apparatuses – and the underestimated power of self-determination and will, which this world abhors and seeks to decimate, yet society immensely envies those whom possess them.
Yet, overall, one must conclude that the above cited works of art remain naively overoptimistic and overly romantically starry-eyed about the real long-term prospects of relatively isolated individuals, without substantial group support (however autonomously, free-thinking against modern state coercive power. It seems a much more reliable protector of individual freedoms is to be found by power arrangements, wherein power is divided within and contested over in a society (understood well by our Founding Fathers) rather than an excessive romantic reliance upon saintly individual “martyr-types.” Here the logic of Eric Hoffer comes in handy.
It is an awesome thing that the most breathtaking example of daring we have
Witnessed in the second quarter of the twentieth century was the daring to think
Low enough of human beings. Both Hitler and Stalin displayed this daring in an
Unprecedented degree, and they caught the world unawares and almost overwhelmed
It. The full savor of power comes from not the mastery of nature, but the mastery over men…Thus, despite its spectacular achievements in science and technology, the twentieth
Century will be seen in retrospect as a century mainly preoccupied with the
Mastery and manipulation of men. Nationalism, Socialism, Communism, Fascism,
militarism, cartelization and unionization, propaganda and advertising are all aspects
of a general relentless drive to manipulate men and neutralize the unpredictability
of human nature. Here, too, the atmosphere is heavy-laden with coercion” (Hoffer, 1976).
The Republican Party emphasizes absolute order, rugged individualism, and laissez-faire capitalism. The Democrats offer normative, inclusive, and people-oriented policies. We are a republic, constantly reinventing ourselves and theoretically learning from our mistakes and positively evolving, but we always –ideally – strive for truly diverse attitudes and views. We separate Church and State; power divorced from the religious impulses. Democracy is equated with society-wide, liberal freethinking, e.g. Democrat. (Note: we are a representational and indirect democracy or a republic, e.g. Republican). Fanaticism, in any form, usually deserves suspicion in a democracy, and is always the enemy of critical thinking. It delimits and befuddles clear thinking. It involves should’s and ought’s in a restrictive and rigid style. Fluidity and spontaneity, as well as innovation and creativity, are needed in life and needed to stay in power in a real democracy. Moderation and balance are the keywords in the context of power (and life, in general). Such somewhat diametrically opposing and arbitrary ideas, such as Republicans and Democrats, or Church and State, could not safely manifest (even inchoate), unless there is true freedom, a safe context to contain the opposing ideas. Thus, people of vastly different and opposite ideologies can assemble and peaceably exchange ideas – the public space.
What does this have to do with earning a paycheck and contently buying goods and services for the home, e.g. beer, food, and power tools? The intellectuals of the class speak of the concerns and cares of the working class. Yet, as Ernest in The Iron Heel, crusaders have a detachment and aloofness about the very people for which they are crusading. Ernest, case and point, has no time to develop real and lasting relationships outside of his “work.” Hence, he seems cartoonish and fanatical – one-dimensional. Avis goes from two-dimensional (no close ties except to her father) when she gets involved and marries Ernest, to one-dimensional. She shows no compassion for the man who clings to her after he receives a death sentence and begs for his life. She also lacks human compassion for a hunted slave (quite possibly fighting for her cause) and emotionally distances herself from the slave. The slave was an alien in Avis’ eyes and flies in the face, contrary, to what her husband sought, of freedom for all. Marx believed in the Enlightenment belief in personal liberty as human self-determination, regardless if someone is dark (like Karl Marx was – his nickname was the Moor), or had knarly hands from excessive labor, or was being hunted as she was. She could have greeted the hunted slave as an ally, a brother, but instead beheld an “oddity.”
Althusser, Louis. "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses." 1970. www.marxists.org. 30 September 2009
Barthes, Roland. Mythologies. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972.
Boulle, Pierre. Planet of the Apes. New York: The Ballantine Publishing Group, 1991.
Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. New York: Ballantine Books, 1982.
Hoffer, Eric. The Ordeal of Change. Cutchogue: Buccaneer Books Inc., 1976.
Jermyn, Will Booker and Deborah. The Audience Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, 2008.
Kamenka, Eugene. The Portable Karl Marx. New York: Viking Penguin Inc, 1983.
Orwell, George. 1984. New York: Penguin Group Inc., 1977.
Taylor, Charles. Modern Social Imaginaries. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004.