Yesterday I posted on a social networking site in which I compared a drone strike on an US Citizen on US Soil to the Mechanical Hound from Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. I did this for several reasons:
1) the symbol of the mechanical hound as an avatar for governmental oppression looms large in a book speaking on the systematic removal of rights.
2) the technology involved in the drone strike is not unakin to that of the mechanical hound as outlined in the book and is being used by the government to subvert behavior.
3) the lack of due process inherent in both is also of striking resemblance.
4) both the hound and the drone are unmanned but are remotely controlled by humans which in both cases is extolled as a virtue which would help keep such technology safe.
I then toted that I would fear what happens in the book as the hound attempts to track down a fleeing Montag. The chase is broadcast live and they need the hound to be successful, so they have the hound quickly attack an unsuspecting bystander whose face is obscured. The hound kills “Montag” and they secure a victory, people feel safe, and everything is great. Except they’ve got the wrong guy, and even know they do but need to have a quick capture to quell fears.
I said this not because I honestly believe that the current administration will purport any drone attacks on US Citizens on US soil at all, but because I was attempting in this case to highlight a moral slippery slope which I find concerning when it comes to the possibility of this Pandora’s Box.
At the end of my post, several people started discussing such possibilities, which was my intended goal… to provide a form of discussion on the morality of such a decision, but then the strangest thing happened. I got a private message on the site highlighting that I had spoiled Fahrenheit 451 by describing the hound, which is not a primary character but is merely a personification of the Greek furies in the book. This person was upset.
I had to think about how to respond. First off, the book is turning sixty years old this year, so I really am unsure I should spoiler alert anything there. Secondly, this book is widely considered one of the greatest works in the dystopia genre, and I honestly think in many ways it is better than Nineteen Eighty-Four so not only is it a classic that I thought most people read in high school but it is additionally an archetypical work that has now been told and retold so many ways. Equilibrium and V for Vendetta come immediately to mind, for example, but really anything that deeply probes the innate human need for art and culture as a unique and irremovable part of our existence is really in the same vein.
Thirdly, the specific element of which I spoke is really only focusing on a government which uses technology to oppress, and this element of dystopia has been hashed and re-hashed more often than the wholesale idea I just described. Even in Watchmen, they use the “technology” that is inherent in Dr. Manhattan to win the war in Vietnam. I came to a dangerous conclusion, if this person had not been living under a rock, I had terrifying news, something deeper was afoot.
The education system had failed to teach this person the value of questioning ones government which is an essential cornerstone of democracy and, I believe, of the actuality of the social contract inherent in government. I found this alarming in and of itself but the implications ran deeper still, it is highly unlikely that a college student (as this person was) would have missed the Bioshock franchise, reading dystipia as an essential part of their english class curricula for college if not high school, and the numerous dystopic popular movies which have come out recently. Could it be that the person failed to understand the underlying messages?
As I struggled to find a reaction that was not to simply ask the person how it was possible that I had uncovered for them some strange and hidden truth that governments could be subversive, I thought about when I read the book. I was in sixth grade. My mom actually bought me summer reading lists every year, and the summer before I had read the Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, the Dark is Rising Series, the Wrinkle in Time Series, and the Black Calderon Series. So for that particular summer, she was going to teach me some philosophical standpoints on life-it was important for me at the time because I was having to put up with some serious bullying at school. She piled up Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, Stranger in a Strange Land (the complete unabridged 2000+ page tome), Nineteen Eighty-Four, Walden Two, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Slaughterhouse Five, and Trout Fishing in America. These books transformed my thought process to realize that there was more going on in the world around me and that I should question others perceptions of reality. It didn’t actually help with the bullying thing at the time, in fact it probably made it worse because sixth grade bullies do not actually understand the existential question. However, it shaped who I was, and who I would become despite all of the negativity in my life. It was an integral exercise in thought in the way that every artist should try Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.
At that point I started to feel somewhat judgmental because if we’re looking at a future in which the masses aren’t even taking time to self-actualize their lot in life, are we in a dystopic future, with no hope of redress? Surely at my young age I’m not that cynical. I then chose not to answer the person directly but to make an apologetic post to anyone who I had spoiled the book for, discovered much to my credit that many of my close friends were as flabbergasted as myself and moved on.
That was, until last night when I began to discuss it with the boyfriend. He admitted to me that he had never read the book either. He went to a small town school, like me, but I had the luck of going to a very well-staffed public school and was in a class where I didn’t graduate in the top 10% with a 98.5 average. I can see how the educational system would have failed him but he’s into the Princippia Discordia, so it is beyond me how he never experienced it. However, I made him promise that he would read it. I refuse to buy the book in the e-book print, Bradbury never even wanted it digitized he held tightly to it being only print but in the end he had to choose between letting it go out of print and allowing e-copies, and I am getting a used and well-worn copy from Half Price Books, but I honestly feel about this book that it is an old friend that I am just introducing him to.
I just wish I could introduce everyone to the same friend-bygone fellows from an era when a book was 300 pages or less and said more than we do today in three times that. Now, I’ve decided that I will revive that in my own way. I am going to write a book. One like my old friends, a throwback, because I think that it’s what we as a society need-to have things that make us think.
I’m writing this post to re-hone my writing skills in preparation of what I am about to do. I have no idea how long it will take me to finish or what my subject will be, or where this will take me, but I am excited.