Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the lifestyle of the sick and famished.
The promise of technology was to relieve us of onerous labors, leaving us more time for delight and relaxation. Instead, technology has provided new onerous labors to replace the old, placed greater production demands on the laborer, or left unemployed and poor those it has rendered unnecessary to production.
What the hell, Technology? Why did you break your promise?
Come to think of it, where did you get off making such a ludicrous promise in the first place? How exactly was free time going to be redistributed in a world of every-man-for-himself capitalism?
What da hell wuz you thinkin'?
Now, capitalism didn't make us any promises, but it certainly did good by technology. You create some great new technology, capitalism might just be your best friend. Unless your technology cuts into a market dominated by an older, entrenched technology. Then, you better watch your back. If that's even possible. If you've invented a machine that allows you to watch your back then you might stay one step ahead.
Is that it, technology? Did you make us those utopian promises only to help your pimp, capitalism, succeed? Was it a conflict of interest? Or was it just the way things went?
The dream of a future in which humankind would be relieved of the necessity of labor went like this: society needs stuff. Right now (they said back then), in order to make that stuff and sell it at a profit, a factory has to employ one hundred children and pay them the equivalent of a bowl of lightly salted gravel per day. But the time will come (the dreamers dreamed, egged on by the promise of technology) when a single machine will be able to produce in an hour as much as all those children can in a week. After deducting the cost of building and maintaining the machine, the increase in productivity, hence profitability, ought still be enough to allow those children to retire with a severance package of, jeez, maybe two bowls of well-seasoned pond sludge daily. All that by the age of twelve.
But exactly what is the incentive for the company to share the increase in productivity with the erstwhile-employed children? There was none then and there is none now. Not unless people outside the ownership of the company demand that part of the increase in profit be paid back to the society that supplied the workers before the technology replaced them.
Unfortunately, the principle of ownership dictates that those outside the company have no say about what those inside the company do with the company's operating capital, workers, products or profits.
Did technology really think we would all be socialists by now? Silly goose. Is that why it made those promises it couldn't keep?
Just think: back in days of yore, when folk whether simple or sophisticated imagined a world where technology would free humanity of poverty and disagreeable tasks, underlying their beliefs was an unspoken faith that some benign form of socialism was in humanity's future. Nowadays, when folk whether simple or sophisticated imagine the future, they imagine that, regardless of how technologically advanced we become, the ability of the rich to keep the poor in poverty will advance at the same rate.
"The poor you will always have with you," Jesus said. It might have been the only thing he said that a Talmudic rabbi or a Greek philosopher hadn't said already, and it seems to have been the only accurate prophecy he every made. He also admonished us to "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's." Since he knew enough about economics to predict the eternal persistence of the poor, he must also have known that everything belongs to Caesar eventually.
Pierre Boulle, famous for writing the novels Bridge on the River Kwai and Planet of the Apes - I know, isn't the world a weird and wonderful place? - anyhow, Pierre wrote a short story in 1966 called "L'arm Diabolique," or "The Diabolical Weapon." In it, the governments of the world ban nuclear weapons because they make war so devastating it would be impossible to actually fight one without destroying the Earth. And since war is a necessary process of international relations, it would be unthinkable to never fight one again. The diabolical weapon was outlawed so wars could continue to be fought.
When George Orwell etched the phrase "War is Peace" on the facade of the Ministry of Truth, he didn't know that years later Stanley Kubrick would make a film in which the motto, "Peace is Our Profession," would appear on a billboard during a battle scene. And Kubrick couldn't know that forty years later the US Military's mission would be jobbed out to corporations whose motto might as well be, "War is Our Business."
I think Dick Cheney has a tattoo that says "War is Our Business" on his lower back. He got it long ago, in 2003, in those wild days when he thought he'd have that shapely body forever.
The remarkable, intertwined history of technology, business and war come together in the new film, War, Inc. I just saw it Friday night and it is excellent, funny, and disgustingly on target. Even Dick Cheney's lower back figures into it. Mark Leyner (whom I mention in my novelette Memoirs of the Unrealistic) is the main writer of the screenplay co-written by John Cusack and Jeremy Pikser. I met Leyner briefly so, so many years ago, when he was the latest thing, and his book of short humorous pieces, My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist, had just been published. At a reading I asked him if he considered himself a satirist or "just a humorist." He said he didn't mind at all being known as a humorist.
But War, Inc. is satire, and good, painful, angry satire. I'd been wondering where Mark Leyner had gone to, and here he comes out with this thing, this important, smart and funny thing. John Cusack and Marissa Tomei lead the excellent cast of a movie that's like Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine turned into an Alan Moore comic.
I have no idea why this movie has been panned. It's better than Wag the Dog, which was pretty damn good. I don't see how you make a more scathing indictment of the privatization of the US Military, or rather the privatization of war, unless it were to do a remake Carney where Dick Cheney runs the shooting gallery booth and makes teenagers give him one of their body parts for the chance to fire at Iraqi children to try to win cheesy papier-mache body armor made in China. And I just don't see how you sustain that gag for the duration of a feature length movie. So really, you know, War, Inc., for practical purposes, is a way better idea.
Yes, it's stylistically over-the-top, I suppose. Not like Natural Born Killers, which makes you want to punch Oliver Stone in the face every thirty seconds. Maybe I've been watching too many Stephen Chow movies, but the lunatic quality of the storytelling in War, Inc. did not detract at all from the accuracy with which the satire stabbed its targets. How do you make a more realistic movie about what's been going on in US foreign policy since 2001? What's the more dignified response that answers the insults and injuries the George W. Bush administration has administered? I mean, I know the answer to that, but I would be surprised if even those involved with the picture could gather that much chicken guano together and arrange to have it flown above the proper targets and released at exactly the most embarrassing moment. I don't think even Oliver Stone could do it, though Natural Born Killers sure smells like he did.
I really don't want to recount the plot. That's for critics who get paid by the word. I'm just here to tell you the film is good. It expresses what so many of us want to scream out every day that the war in Iraq continues, that simple rage brought on by such a complex situation, such a complex and idiotic confluence of greed and violence and ideology and gullibility and misplaced patriotism.
As a matter of full disclosure, I do know people involved in the making of this film. But I have absolutely nothing to gain or lose from its reception other than the satisfaction of seeing my righteous anger given life in audiovisual form every time those twenty-four frames-per-second go scrolling through the gate. I didn't even know the film existed until last week, which is an indication of how close I am to the production. So enough of that.
Listen, long before Naomi Klein wrote her book about entrepreneurs taking advantage of natural and man-made disasters, I was wondering what Clinton's Secretary of Commerce, Ron Brown, was doing flying around in a helicopter in Croatia when the peoples of the former Yugoslavia were at war with each other. Back in 1996 I was struggling to piece together what the commercial potential was in a country in the throes of genocidal conflict. Of course, now such a question seems a little silly. What puzzles me now is why Walmart isn't selling cheap bags of rich topsoil from Rwanda. Don't tell me if I'm mistaken about that, by the way, and they are selling Rwandan dirt. I just can't go into a Walmart right now, because if they are selling it, I just might drop out of the back of my skull.
Maybe poverty is a constant quantity in civilization, regardless of how magical our technology becomes. But that just means the smarter we get the stupider we look. It's embarrassing. The other species on the planet would probably be laughing at us right now, if we weren't busy doing such sad, ugly things to them.
So when our catastrophic foolishness is presented eloquently in under two hours, and our major newspapers don't see any redeeming value in that achievement -- I mean, sure, a lot of great art goes unnoticed. But this is a movie. With stars in it. Action. Comedy. Romance. Explosions. You have to wonder if the subject matter is what's keeping it out of the "free market." Or ... I don't know. Maybe we're just doomed to be the punchline of a bunch of jokes told by mutant cockroaches after the next world war.
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!