Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Corporate Dystopia for Today

In The Iron Heel, Jack London warned about an all-powerful oligarchy or plutocracy. As we have seen in the century since, the real threat issues not from capitalists or corporations but from governments, who have murdered, starved, tortured, and imprisoned countless millions for ideological reasons. But even at this late date, and with evidence in abundance, there are those among us who believe that governments are essentially good and corporations essentially evil. Many of those people fantasize about corporate dystopia in the same way that, for instance, preppers and Baptists fantasize about apocalypse. I suppose that's an expression of the perverse human desire to fantasize about the thing you hate or fear the most, or the equally perverse wish for the world to be destroyed. Maybe the Occupy movement and people like them, existing as they do in a state of extreme boredom, comfort, and inaction, would like to test themselves against a world of corporate threats. Maybe only then might they feel alive and human.

Anyway, I read awhile back about the Syfy network's plans to develop a television series called Incorporated. "Set in a future where companies have unlimited power," Incorporated will be a co-production of, well, three corporations: Pearl Street Productions (which is run by Matt Damon, a sidekick to a Marxist marionette, and Ben Affleck, an apologist for Islamist terrorists but not for Gigli or Pearl Harbor), CBS Television Studios, and Universal Cable Productions. Now, as we all know, people of a certain political stripe lack all sense of irony. But has it occurred to Syfy, Pearl Street Productions, CBS Television Studios, and Universal Cable Productions that they, being corporations, are making a television show about their own supposed evils? Was Lenin right when he said that capitalists will sell you the rope used to hang them? Maybe it's better not to ask. A simpler way of looking at it is that the corporate dystopia is a kind of story. Corporate entertainment is in the business of telling stories. So why not? Incorporated might turn out to be thrilling and entertaining. But we probably shouldn't put any stock in the idea that corporations are going to take over the world. And if they do, they have a ready excuse, supplied by our current president: "We didn't build that."

Further Reading

  • "Syfy Greenlights Incorporated to Pilot" by Katherine Nelson, April 6, 2015, on the website of NBC Universal MediaVillage, here.
  • "Hey, Where's My Corporate Dystopia?" by Kevin D. Williamson, March 11, 2013, on the website of the National Review, here.
  • "Future Dystopias Where Conservatives Have Won" by Charlie Jane Anders, September 24, 2008, on a website without a header, here.

Copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Iron Heel and 1984-Part Seven

So here we are on the other end of a century that began with The Iron Heel. We don't have an Oligarchy or a Plutocracy in charge of things. On the contrary, we have a government headed by a leftist--a non-denominational leftist maybe, but a leftist nonetheless, aided and abetted by like-minded people. Some of those people came of age during the 1960s. I assume that, at the time, they stood in opposition to authority, especially governmental and academic authority. They presumably believed in human freedom. Now they find themselves on the horns of a dilemma: How can you be against power in government and academia when you're out of power, but be in favor of it when you're in power? How can you wish to assert your own freedom when you're on the outs, but once on the inside wish to compel other people to give up their freedom? The Who knew what they were talking about when they sang, "Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss."

Jack London was wrong about Oligarchy, yet many of his extrapolations have proved accurate. Why? Because, as Mr. Wickson in The Iron Heel points out:
"There is the word. It is the king of words--Power. Not God, not Mammon, but Power. Pour it over your tongue till it tingles with it. Power." (Signet, 1971, p. 65)
Despite labels, despite millions of words of ideology, it all comes down to the pursuit of power by men and women who are unhappy for as long as other people are free. They have a vision for the world--a utopian vision--and they will not rest for as long as the world and all of its people fall short of that vision. To them we are cattle and we must be driven, even if that means we are driven to the slaughterhouse of dystopia.

A hundred years ago, Jack London feared an Oligarchy, what some people might call a Fascist, right-wing, or reactionary totalitarian state. At mid-century, George Orwell feared a Stalinist, left-wing, or collectivist totalitarian state. Many people today--in their ignorance--believe those two things to be opposites. I would ask in response: How is totalitarianism the opposite of totalitarianism? Isn't freedom in fact the opposite of totalitarianism?

George Orwell's vision of the future has proved far keener than that of Jack London, but then Orwell is not so removed in the past. Many of his ideas have proved terrifyingly prescient, and his neologisms have passed into common usage: Big Brother, thoughtcrime, Thought Police, memory hole (1), doublethink, newspeak, duckspeak, Room 101. Fortunately, the dystopian future he warned against has not fully come about. It looks as though it won't, not because there are fewer totalitarians and more freedom-loving people in the world. On the contrary, totalitarians are at least as common now as they were in the twentieth century. The difference is that back then they used physical force to get what they wanted. The totalitarians of today have figured out they don't have to use torture or murder to make people comply. Instead they use their control of language and other tricks (as George Orwell foresaw) to force lies into truth and truth into lies, or crime, or an indicator of insanity. 

To that point, I'll draw your attention to an essay written by Mark Steyn, "Birth of the New," on Mr. Steyn's website Steyn Online, dated June 5, 2015. Mr. Steyn is known for his humor and erudition. His long essay closes with a tongue-in-cheek (or maybe not) reference to 1984:
What happened this week [regarding Bruce Jenner] was a strange mix of Huxley and Orwell, Brave New World and 1984, hedonism and totalitarianism, sexual diversity and ruthless conformity in everything else--a stiletto heel stamping on a human face, forever.
So if The Iron Heel hasn't come about and 1984 hasn't quite come about, then we arrive at a question: Is dystopia even possible? Or is the dystopian novel merely a kind of satire, or, alternatively, a description or diagnosis, a warning or Jeremiad? Will human beings really surrender their freedom? Will they comply with the requirements of totalitarianism? The evidence of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union suggests that there is an irrepressible desire among us to be free. I would say that the desire for truth and freedom is innate in human beings, an unalienable part of our nature. But what if the Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov or Yevgeny Zamyatin's Well-Doer in We or Aldous Huxley's Controller in Brave New World is right, that in order to be what they call happy, people will give up everything that makes them human? Some people would say we're living in a dystopia right now. I wouldn't argue too hard against that idea. There are certainly signs of it all around us.

* * *

By the way, I just finished re-reading Brave New World. I prefer 1984, but Brave New World, with its masses of morons addled and dehumanized by drugs, hedonism, materialism, selective breeding, psychological conditioning, and mindless sloganeering, might be closer to the truth of our world today. If only they had Facebook and Starbucks their lives would be perfect.

* * *

I'm still searching for the first totalitarian in literature. He isn't to be found in The Iron Heel, in which the Oligarchy is a group of men and not led by one man possessed of absolute and arbitrary power.

* * *

I should point out that this whole series is predicated on the idea that utopias and dystopias--being about the future or asking the question what if?--are a kind of science fiction, hence within the realm of fantasy. I hope you're okay with that. If not, I have a table waiting for you in Room 101.

* * *

Finally, what does all this have to do with Weird Tales? I'll admit that I have been writing about what I want to write about in this series instead of anything to do with "The Unique Magazine" (except for in the first part about Vennette Herron). I might be stretching things by saying all this connects somehow and eventually I'm going to make my way back to Weird Tales. Between now and then, I'm planning to write about Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, William Gibson, Hugo Gernsback, Christiana Figueres, and maybe even Rajendra Pachauri, Hillary Clinton, and two doctors, Evil and Zachary Smith. So stay tuned.

(1) Ask Hillary Clinton about that one--I think her "private" computer server was manufactured by Memory Hole, Incorporated.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley in the Bantam edition (1953) with cover art by Charles Binger. I don't know who are the two who escape the "soulless, streamlined Eden." Nobody escapes from dystopia.

Original text copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Iron Heel and 1984-Part Six

So, two families: London and Herron. Two books: The Iron Heel and 1984. Two writers: Jack London and George Orwell.

George Orwell was born Eric Arthur Blair on June 25, 1903, in Motihari, Bengal Presidency, British India. (Today is the 112th anniversary of his birth. Happy Birthday, Eric!) The facts of his life are well known. Suffice it to say that he was both a man of action and a man of words, like Jack London, whom he admired and may have emulated. Orwell even wrote about London, including an essay called "Prophecies of Fascism" (1940). Although he was a socialist, Orwell authored what is probably the most scathing and penetrating critique of statism and totalitarianism in all of literature. His book, 1984, came out in 1949. Eric Blair died the following year, on January 21, 1950, in London. He was forty-six, the same age, coincidentally, as H.P. Lovecraft at his death in 1937.

Reading 1984 is like entering a nightmare that is practically unrelieved by any humor, hope, redemption, or triumph. The only saving grace experienced by the two main characters, Winston Smith and Julia, is a loving and affectionate interlude which ends, predictably, in horror. The book no doubt came out of its author's own experiences and observations of life in Europe during the totalitarian era of the 1930s and '40s. In that way, Orwell had an advantage over Jack London, who wrote in what was, in retrospect, a far more innocent time. Here is something of what the former had to say about the latter in "Prophecies of Fascism":
The reprinting of Jack London's The Iron Heel brings within general reach a book which has been much sought after during the years of Fascist aggression. Like others of Jack London's books it has been widely read in Germany, and it has had the reputation of being an accurate forecast of the coming of Hitler. In reality it is not that. It is merely a tale of capitalist oppression, and it was written at a time when various things that have made Fascism possible--for instance, the tremendous revival of nationalism--were not easy to foresee.
 * * *
It is worth comparing The Iron Heel with another imaginative novel of the future which was written somewhat earlier and to which it owes something, H. G. Wells's The Sleeper Wakes [1899]. By doing so one can see both London's limitations and also the advantage to be enjoyed in not being, like Wells, a fully civilized man. As a book, The Iron Heel is hugely inferior. It is clumsily written, it shows no grasp of scientific possibilities, and the hero is the kind of human gramophone who is now disappearing even from Socialist tracts. But because of his own streak of savagery, London could grasp something that Wells apparently could not, and that is that hedonistic societies do not endure.
There are many among us who like to throw around the epithet Fascist, the way a toddler repeats a just-learned curse word. The Oligarchy in The Iron Heel has been called Fascist, as has anyone who has ever opposed the schemes of the Left. George Orwell, who ought to have known, saw that the Oligarchy in The Iron Heel is not Fascist. He didn't go into great detail as to why. I can offer a one-legged interpretation that the Oligarchy is not Fascist because it is--though statist--not socialist or nationalist. Fascism was both, as was Nazism. We should remember, after all, that Mussolini cut his teeth on socialism and that the word socialism itself is actually part of the full name of the Nazi party, Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei.

To be concluded . . .

1984 by George Orwell in the 1950s Signet edition with cover art by Alan Harmon.

Original text copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

The Iron Heel and 1984-Part Five

The narrator of The Iron Heel writes:
The condition of the people of the abyss was pitiable . . . . All their liberties were gone . . . . Choice of work was denied them . . . . Likewise was denied them the right to move from place to place, or the right to bear or possess arms. (p. 205)
So who is it who wishes to strip people of their liberties? To deny them a so-called "right to work"? To keep them from moving from one place to another, including out of the country, and for various reasons, not least of which is to escape onerous taxation? And who is it who wishes to deny people the right to keep and bear arms, a right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution? You know the answer. Jack London was half right.

The mob was no more than twenty-five feet away when the machine-guns opened up; but before that flaming sheet of death nothing could live. The mob came on, but it could not advance. It piled up in a heap, a mound, a huge and growing wave of dead and dying. Those behind urged on, and the column, from gutter to gutter, telescoped upon itself. Wounded creatures, men and women, were vomited over the top of that awful wave and fell squirming down the face of it till they threshed about under the automobiles and against the legs of the soldiers. The latter bayonetted the struggling wretches, though one I saw who gained his feet and flew at a soldier's throat with his teeth. Together they went down, soldier and slave, into the welter. (p. 229)
That passage was written more than a century ago, yet it must sound startlingly familiar to current fans of fantasy and horror, for it seems a perfect description of an attack by a wave of zombies. Last year, I wrote a long series about the monster of the twenty-first century. I concluded that the zombie, as a symbol of the mob or the mass man or the dehumanized other, is that monster. The belief of the Leftist or Statist is that there is no such thing as the individual, only the masses, or at the very least that the individual is insignificant compared to the masses. Jack London seems to have known that and deserves some credit for it.

So, Jack London, knowing something about power and the people who chase after power, foresaw some of the events of a century that was still young when he wrote his novel The Iron Heel. You might say that he was a visionary. His vision failed, however, when it came to the ideology or political orientation of the people he warned would seize power and establish a dystopian state. I think we can excuse that. There was not yet in existence a totalitarian state when London's novel was published. He would not have borne witness to it. I believe the world, having just emerged from the nineteenth century, had not yet incubated long enough to hatch out such a creature. But in a comparatively brief period of time, the totalitarian monster matured and, burning across the world like a firebird, laid waste to half a hemisphere. George Orwell was there to witness the catastrophe and by firsthand experience wrote a more powerful book than his predecessor Jack London. The book was of course 1984.

To be continued . . .

Original text copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Happy Flying Saucer Day!

Flying saucers do not come from other planets. They come from science fiction. That's why they were first seen in the 1940s, beginning on this date in 1947, and why they were hyped by a science fiction writer and editor, Raymond A. Palmer. Earth vs. the Flying Saucers came out nine years and eight days later. Based on a book by former pulp-fiction author and teller of weird tales Donald E. Keyhoe, the movie was written by Curt Siodmak, who should have been in Weird Tales. Siodmak also wrote the screenplay for I Walked with a Zombie (1943), which was produced by Val Lewton, who was in Weird Tales. Anyway, Happy Birthday to the Flying Saucers!

Caption copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Iron Heel and 1984-Part Four

Quotes and predictions from The Iron Heel continue as Ernest Everhard speaks:
"The ownership of the world . . . lies between the trusts and labor. That is the battle alignment . . . . The middle class is a pygmy between two giants. Don't you see, you poor perishing middle class, you are caught between the upper and nether millstones, and even now has the grinding begun." (p. 101) (1)
This quote is preceded and followed by illiterate Marxist claptrap, but the quote itself is illuminating, for it shines a light on the desire of the Leftist or Socialist to destroy what he hates the most, namely, the middle class, the people who by their success in life have taken away the power of the élite, of which he considers himself a part by virtue of his superior intellectual ability. And why does he hate the middle class so much? It probably goes beyond a mere gospel of envy (Churchill's phrase) and into the pathology of self-loathing diagnosed by Eric Hoffer in The True Believer: Thoughts On The Nature Of Mass Movements (1951). We should note that Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, and countless others of their kind emanated from the middle class they so wished to destroy. A point for Jack London.

In The Iron Heel, Bishop Morehouse is
led away to a private sanitarium for mental disease . . . . a sane, normal, saintly man . . . crushed by the brutal will of society. (p. 126)
The bishop's crime? Giving voice to unpopular ideas. In the parlance of 1984, he has committed a thoughtcrime, and like Winston Smith, he is classed as a lunatic. So where in the United States today are the laws against thoughtcrime enforced? In the hotbeds of leftism and statism, that is, in academia, government, media, and entertainment, and probably few other places, although the Thought Police have now extended their into the private sector and soon into our private lives. Jack London: right in general, wrong in the specifics.

Science fiction may not be about prediction, but try this on for size: In the winter of 1912, war with Germany threatens, that is, between the United States and Germany--a year and a half early for the war that really came about, five years early for war between the two nations. There's more: On December 4, 1912, a German fleet launches an attack on Honolulu, sinking four ships. Jack London got the month right and was pretty close on the day. He was also right about the place and about an attack on naval vessels. He was just twenty-nine years off on the actual date and marginally off on the attacker. In any case, you've got to give London points for those two predictions, even if they're not really pertinent to this essay.
And through it all . . . continued to rise the form of that monster of the ages, the Oligarchy. (p. 157)
Jack London recognized the monstrousness of the totalitarian state, even at that early date. Score a point for him.

A plot to explode a bomb in Congress is hatched among the oligarchs, who will blame the socialists for the attack. (pp. 171-172) Twenty years later, the Nazis hatched a similar plot with the firing of the Reichstag. London was right in predicting the ruthless machinations of statism.

Avis Everhard travels undercover as a wealthy woman, complete with a maid to attend to her lapdog. The author of the footnotes opines:
This ridiculous picture well illustrates the heartless conduct of the masters. While people starved, lap-dogs were waited upon by maids. (p. 177)
One of the hallmarks of a socialist or statist society is the destruction of the family, for the State cannot tolerate anything that separates the individual from itself. George Orwell foresaw it 1984, Aldous Huxley in Brave New World, and William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson in Logan's Run. Did any authors of the past foresee, however, that dogs would one day--meaning now--take the place of children? (2) I'm not sure that they did, just as no one seems to have predicted that the highest sexual license of the future would involve something other than heterosexuality. In any case, the wealthy woman's dog in The Iron Heel is probably not an expression of the Statist desire to destroy the family. More likely, it's an expression of the fact that when people are powerful, they are easily corrupted, a corruption that includes elevating animals to the level of human beings and/or demoting human beings to the level of animals or even of inanimate objects.

To be continued . . .

(1) The image of the upper and lower grindstones may have come from Henry George (1839-1897), who wrote:
Private ownership of land is the nether mill-stone. Material progress is the upper mill-stone. Between them, with an increasing pressure, the working classes are being ground.
Somehow or other, that quote became transmogrified into a supposed quote from Lenin:
The way to crush the bourgeoisie is to grind them down between the millstones of taxation and inflation.
That's a good quote, and I wish it were attributable to the the demonic, mummified Bolshevik himself, but alas, no. A blogger called "The Skeptical Libertarian" has puzzled it all out here.
(2) It occurs to me that the craze for purebred and designer dogs may represent a kind of eugenics practiced by people who own dogs and view them as their surrogate children. Their message seems to be: better dog = better child = better parent = better dog owner. Instead of a bumper sticker that reads, "My child is an honor student at Springfield Middle School," the contemporary dog owner should have one that reads, "My dog is genetically superior to your dog (or child)." He might as well add, "My self-esteem is so fragile that my status as I perceive it is dependent upon my choice in designer dogs."

Original text copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Iron Heel and 1984-Part Three

The Iron Heel was published more than a century ago. By the timeline of the book, we should be about one third of the way through the reign of the Oligarchy or Plutocracy that it described. There are people today who would argue that our country has indeed become an oligarchy. I think the evidence of that is pretty weak. After all, we have a president who is, with his talk of "Wall Street fatcats" and "you didn't build that," decidedly leftist in orientation. More to the point, in the one hundred and seven years since Jack London published his novel of an oligarchical dystopia, leftists and socialists have committed atrocities that are horrifying in the extreme. Any crimes committed by capitalists pale in comparison to the tens of millions of deaths brought about by the Nazis, Fascists, Marxist-Leninists, Maoists, and other socialists of the last century.

As I've said before, science fiction is not meant to be predictive, although it is capable of foretelling future developments by extrapolation. Jack London may have been blinded somewhat by ideology, but he had some understanding of power, and he understood the nature of the socialist as a True Believer burning with holy fire. I'll let him speak (in the voice of his main character):
The socialists were revolutionists . . . struggling to overthrow the irrational society of the present and out of the material to build the rational society of the future. (The Iron Heel, Signet, 1971, p. 53)
The theme: socialism as "rational" vs. freedom as "irrational." Witness the mission of the spaceship Integral from We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (1921, 1924): "You will subjugate the unknown beings on other planets, who may still be living in the primitive condition of freedom, to the beneficent yoke of reason." Since Marx or before, socialism is said to be "scientific" or "rational." Even today, those who oppose socialism are tarred with the accusation that they are anti-science. Mark one up for Jack London.

Mr. Wickson, a capitalist, stands up to the saintly socialist Ernest Everhard:
"We will grind you revolutionists down under our heel, and we shall walk upon your faces." (p. 65)
Later, Everhard repeats Wickson's words:
". . . the Iron Heel will walk upon our faces . . . ." (p. 117)
London placed those words in the mouth of a capitalist, yet has Mr. Wickson's kind perpetrated crimes that are in any way equal to those of the Socialist or Statist in the last hundred years? George Orwell, in 1984 (1949), echoed Jack London's words, but he placed them at their true source: in the mouth of the Statist, in his case, the monstrous torturer O'Brien: "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face--forever." (Signet, 1981, p. 220) Jack London: half right.

Mr. Wickson continues:
"There is the word. It is the king of words--Power. Not God, not Mammon, but Power. Pour it over your tongue till it tingles with it. Power." (p. 65)
Orwell, through O'Brien, paraphrases: "The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness; only power, pure power." (p. 217) Here is Saul Alinsky, one of our president's surrogate daddies, on the same subject: "In this book we are concerned with how to create mass organizations to seize power and give it to the people . . . ." (Rules for Radicals, Vintage, 1971, p. 4) Translation: We, the Statists, will seize power, ostensibly for "the people," in the same way that the Bolsheviks seized power, and in the name of "the people," proceed to commit atrocities. Again, London was half right.

Here is a footnote in The Iron Heel, written hundreds of years in the future:
[John Cunningham's book Economics and Education] dealt, in elaborate detail, with . . . the capitalistic bias of the universities and common schools. It was a logical and crushing indictment of the whole system of education that developed in the minds of the students only such ideas as were favorable to the capitalistic régime, to the exclusion of all ideas that were inimical and subversive. (p. 71)
Substitute leftist, statist, or totalitarian for capitalistic and you have a pretty accurate picture of what's going on in American education today. London: again half right.

To be continued . . .

Original text copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley