Dark Curricula: February 2017
"As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron."—H. L. Mencken
I thought I could power through it. I've always been a masochist. If I see people avoiding an unpleasant idea I shackle myself to it and dive into the well, I take it out for ice cream, I tandem jump out of the plane with it, I make the goddamn beastly thing my best friend so that I can completely understand it. I've always been this way. And that was the intention this month. The planned line up was Brave New World, 1984, then Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism. I only made it through Brave New World. Chuckle. This is fine. Day by day, over and over, non-stop derangement wore me down. Complete ignorance of the past. Complete disregard of warnings from experts. Most distressing, to me, are the ~44% that think this is apparently, absolutely great. So I dropped my reading list after Brave New World and I hobbled around like a gimp. Consider this a sign of weakness. I jumped out of the plane with this thing and now I've cut it loose. A gramme is better than a damn.
Brave New World
I'd forgotten a lot here. I must've read it in my late teens. And I vaguely remember the things that horrified me then, aren't the things that horrify me now. I remember being shocked by the social passivity, the reliance on Soma. I was shocked because I saw this as the evolution of modern Western society. Rereading it I found that the attack on social conventions, of small talk, endlessly seeking escape and pleasure, the use of Soma and neuro-linguistic programming, is actually a timeless criticism and not particular to the modern West. People most affected by passion for expression and involvement and responsibility unavoidably circle around the shallowness of daily life. They're not necessarily wrong, but given that I'm much older, it didn't shock me again. It bothers me in a different way. Anyone who works an office job understands this unfortunate reality. So too, I guess anyone who works in government.
The use of "Ford", well, similarly, the replacement of religious dogma with capitalistic dogma I take for granted. You probably don't say "Ford", but I guarantee that a lot of you have an Apple logo within reach. And some of you feel as reverently about Steve Jobs as citizens in Brave New World did about Henry Ford.
What Huxley displays is an ordered organized society of people treated like children. A society much more successful and efficient than what we have. See how age changes you? While we have social castes, we are a kleptocracy that has fantasies of being fascist but is too dumb to really pull it off. We live in chaos and disintegration. Instead of tightly structured governance, the idiots rise. Is our current situation better than what Huxley presents? Is Huxley's portrayal actually our dark fascist wet dream? Yes and yes I think. But as I read it and as I watched President Trump tweet his way into our hearts, it was a fine line. Give all this up for a defined role, healthcare, free drugs, pleasure and consistency? Shrug.
What did strike me this time however, was Huxley's portrayal of the dissatisfied, Bernard and Helmholtz. How the characters' existences tacitly supported the pleasantly nightmarish society, by supporting the case, as made clear in the final exposition, of their unhappiness as harmful to the greater social apparatus. And, ironically, that they would be "punished" by being sent to live in Iceland with others like them. Sounds awful, right? I volunteer.
Of course, if you want to become recursive here, how do I know we aren't living in an engineered society? Fueled by selectively terrible fast food diets, selective access to better education and better resources, selective long term media programming and jingoism. My anger at the current direction of leadership and society is completely determined. Golly, it sure is great being a Beta-Plus. If you consider location and race, this is in a sense undeniable.
The trappings of the fictional world Huxley built up aren't actually that important to the story, these just provide the mechanism for Mr. Savage to be contrasted against. Soma is catchy, and orgy-porgy and the Malthusian Belt, but focusing on that misses the deeper, and honestly more depressing point. That point is not that we're doomed to a eugenics-based authoritarian society—I doubt it since we couldn't possibly become so organized—but that human unhappiness and struggle is eternal, and that believing it is noble doesn't help. Sacrificing yourself to misery might be personally worthwhile, but in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't necessarily convert and convince. How then is it different than Soma? The point is almost as nihilistic as the pleasure craving society produced by test tubes. Mr. Savage couldn't gain a moral high ground on a human culture that had reduced itself entirely to metrics and measure, and the final chapter of mockery of his beliefs is much more painful and consequential than the initial cheery descriptions of intentional human retardation.
Keep calm and carry on.
Agustín Fernández Mallo
In a book that has to do with the world, the modern world, the world as a city, and really nothing about constructing a reflective dystopian scenario, Mallo writes in short vignettes that overlap pleasingly. Granted, this kind of writing is, how you say, in my wheelhouse. I love narrative bits and pieces. I love incomplete contexts. The form here is modernistic. And there are some other trappings of that cleverness that grew out of the 20th century, but it doesn't collapse under them. It reads, in the end, more as a story and less like an act of art.
Mallo works as a physicist. This book prompted the term "Nocilla Generation", and along with the "Mutantes", is seen as an evolution of Spanish literature into something that lives in a digital, 21st century. So there are underpinnings of intention here. I'm always suspicious of things like that. While fun to write a manifesto, it's probably utter crap to read. This book though, thankfully, works beyond the intentions. And at least to me, it doesn't feel cutting edge or experimental, we've seen structure like this before, in the sixties, in the late thirties.
While trying to be "modern", he avoids those kind of forced references to something like Facebook that will be completely embarrassing in 20 years and completely irrelevant in 50. Some of the interesting topics contained within: micronations, shoes, roads as art, contextless photographs, rootless cosmopolitans. There's a fixation on the American West even though Mallo is Spanish. I dunno, as someone who lives in America but nowhere near the West, Mallo could be either entirely accurate or entirely misrepresenting. I have no idea. It doesn't matter, all part of the story.