Posts Tagged ‘anarchy’

ruleistobreakcover

I received John and Jana’s A Rule is to Break: A Child’s Guide to Anarchy as a belated holiday gift ostensibly for my 5 year old daughter (but probably moreso intended for me). I missed it originally, but apparently this book caused a bit of tantrum among easily-outraged Tea Party types who equate anarchy with terrorism or liberalism or communism or whatever. Which is weird when you think about it (and forget that most Tea Party folks aren’t all that bright) because libertarianism is in several ways quite similar to anarchism (yes, the capitalism thing is a huge divide, but still).

Alternately, nearly everyone who isn’t a frothing Obama=Socialist, they’re-gonna-take-our-guns-and-ban-Jesus half wit seems to think the book is among the best kids’ books ever and uncritically lauds it. A quick scan of the reviews on Amazon (a great source of scientific data, I know) demonstrates a split response to the book between a bunch of 5s, absolutely no 4s, 3s, or 2s, and a couple of 1s from people who probably didn’t even read the book.

To say the critical response to the book is largely ideologically-driven would be too obvious, right?

Well, as a practical anarchist who has read more than a bit on anarchist theory over the years, I’m going to break with our esteemed Amazon reviewers (and the other glowing reviews or harsh condemnations I’ve read) and land pretty squarely in the middle on this book. I’d give it a 3/5 or C-plus.

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The simple divisions of civilized versus primitive or civilization versus wilderness are rarely actually simple.

Ishi, the last of the Yahi. His story is not identical to John’s in Brave New World.

To reiterate what I said in the first part of this post . . .

Dystopian fiction is often concerned with what can easily be presented as simple dualisms: freedom/restriction, happiness/misery, individual/collective, logic/passion, reason/emotion, civilization/wilderness, and so on.  When I have taught dystopian works, I use these to give students an anchor and rubric for their reading and thinking about the texts.  However, these pairs can also become blinders for analysis of such works, allowing critics, including authors of the works themselves, to over-simplify the complexity of ideas therein into a simple “this or that” option that neglects so many questions of politics, philosophy, and definition.

To my mind, the most glaring examples of this over-simplification are in the spacially-oriented conception of civilization versus wilderness and, by extension, the more complex idea of civilized versus primitive.  In the two posts that will follow, I’m going to take a look at how these concepts are flattened, simplified, and misrepresented in the two defining texts of dystopian literature: Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

Part 2: Huxley’s Brave New World and the Not-so-primitive “Savage”

Like Zamyatin (who he claimed to have not read), Huxley builds his dystopian world off of the examples of H.G. Wells’s utopian fiction.  Likewise, he situates in a world of what seem to be mutually exclusive binary categories.  And again, a central question is the distinction between the civilized (manifested in the World State, its logic of stability, and its citizens) and the primitive (ostensibly all that is necessarily eliminated from the World State).

Within this context of exclusion as definition, the spacial location of the primitive is the Reservation at Malpais (the bulk of which is seen in Chapters 7 and 8).  However, the primitive and uncivilized is also usually read as embodied in the character of John “the Savage,” a young man born (in the old-fashioned way) on the Reservation of parents from the World State.  He becomes the primary protagonist of the novel’s second half when he is brought  to civilization (the World State’s London), and the central conflicts in the book are illustrated most extensively through his dialogue with World Controller Mustapha Mond (in Chapters 16 and 17).

(more…)

The simple divisions of civilized versus primitive or civilization versus wilderness are rarely actually simple.

Ishi, the last of the Yahi. His story is not identical to John’s in Brave New World.

Dystopian fiction is often concerned with what can easily be presented as simple dualisms: freedom/restriction, happiness/misery, individual/collective, logic/passion, reason/emotion, civilization/wilderness, and so on.  When I have taught dystopian works, I use these to give students an anchor and rubric for their reading and thinking about the texts.  However, these pairs can also become blinders for analysis of such works, allowing critics, including authors of the works themselves, to over-simplify the complexity of ideas therein into a simple “this or that” option that neglects so many questions of politics, philosophy, and definition.

To my mind, the most glaring examples of this over-simplification are in the spacially-oriented conception of civilization versus wilderness and, by extension, the more complex idea of civilized versus primitive.  In the two posts that will follow, I’m going to take a look at how these concepts are flattened, simplified, and misrepresented in the two defining texts of dystopian literature: Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

(more…)