Thursday, December 11, 2008

Book almost released

Hey all,

Soon I will be self-publishing through a little book. It will be a collection of my short stories from this semester.

The title: A Little Fiction.

Here is a little graphic of the cover., front and back.

If you are interested in an early copy, let me know.

Look for it soon.

312 Final. My Country ‘tis of Who?: The Extended Version

This is an essay that I wrote for an English class. None of the following statements are necessarily the views of the writer. Some are just simply thoughts put forward for discussion.

Constructive comments are welcome.

All rights are reserved. No publishing, reproducing, altering, or distributing any portion of this without the author's permission.


My Country, 'tis of who?: The Extended Version

    The United States of America was founded on the principles of equality and liberty. These principals have guided this country into a period in history where gender and racial prejudices have disintegrated to the point where anyone from any race or gender can become leader of this country. However, despite these advances, this country has not achieved its goal of a "more perfect union," rather it shows signs that it is becoming less perfect every day. Due to the erosion of individual liberties, an increase a dramatic increase in surveillance, and an ever –widening disparity between two classes, the United States of America is devolving from a nation of freedom into a nation of fear, threatening to tear apart the country socially and economically; The United States' of America isn't becoming a dystopia, it is a dystopia.

    Like a dystopic novel, the United States' increase in surveillance puts fear into the hearts of its people. For example, in novel 1984, the government of Oceania uses the pervasive television screen to spy on people. This is no different from the modern day security officer, overlooking the constant influx of surveillance footage and reporting anything suspicious. In fact, this is Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon personified (Foucalt "Panopticism"). However, unlike the Panopticon, the modern day surveillance system is ripe for abuse. Whereas Foucalt's panopticism describes a perfect system where everyone, including the jailer, is under surveillance, those in charge of modern day surveillance are left to their own discretion. Oversight is done through visits, not through constant viewing of actions. As such, the utopia envisioned by Foucalt where the jailers are equal to the imprisoned is never realized. Instead, the United States' continues that path toward a dystopia by giving power to some and none to others. The citizen and his or her liberties are at the mercy of the police system.

    Similar to a dystopia, American citizens have in the last eight years lost several liberties, specifically, the right to a public trial by jury. Similar to 1984, where the government can detain and torture a citizen of Oceania, the United States' government can now knock on a citizen's door and detain that citizen for an indefinite amount of time, all under the guise of the citizen being a possible "terrorist." This is done, allegedly, to protect the people of the United States', fulfilling that important part of the Constitution's Preamble which charges the government with insuring "domestic tranquility" and "providing for the common defense." There is no doubt that the government must protect its citizens, but the line between the terrorist and the advocate is too blurred to allow this to be the definition that permits a violation of the constitutional right to a public trial by a jury.

    Some might argue that the United States' is simply doing what is necessary to protect the country until the threat of terrorism has passed. These people would argue that the powers granted to the government are temporary, and are a necessary means to achieve a necessary end, the safety of the citizens it is charged with protecting. However, there is no indicator that the government will ever abdicate their new powers. Instead, it embraces them and does so without apology. This causes one to pause, and wonder, is power the goal of the government?

This goal of power is dystopic for several reasons. For example, in
the movie 1984, there is a scene where the main character Winston is being tortured by the character O'Brian. O'Brian tells Winston that real power is to make someone believe that two equals five. Similarly, the goal of the American government appears to be the gaining of power to make its citizens into worker bees and robots who go about their daily life, working and buying. Similar to Marx's Communist Manifesto (though this author is no supporter of communism), the United States' government seems to care less for its peoples' happiness (unless their unhappiness undermines the governments own power), but is more concerned with keeping its citizens on the train of consumerism, stopping at every shopping center and convenience store to spend their hard earned wages. This dystopic vision is the opposite of a utopia, where class systems have been abolished, but is more similar to the concept that citizens are a means of production, both the production of capital and of goods. Similar to Altusser's scheme of production and reproduction in his essay, "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatus's," the United States' requires the production and reproduction of their citizen's consumer action.

This goes hand-in-hand with the government's desire to keep peace through surveillance because, in order to assure frequent consumer spending (as opposed to theft of goods), more surveillance must be employed. More surveillance equals more power to the state. The state then uses that power to keep its citizens under control. If a citizen is abnormal in his or her behavior, the government technically has the right to detain the citizen. Hence, it can be seen here that the government and spending are united. Also, a result of this symbiotic relationship, anyone who goes against this system becomes part of a separate class of citizen, even in the eyes of other citizens. For example, just as the outer party is separate from the inner party in 1984, so also are frequent, traditional consumers and property owners separated from those who are not. One only needs to look at the disparity between the homeless and home owners to see the difference. The homeless citizen is more often the victim of discrimination by the police apparatus, whereas a clean-cut citizen in a suit is looked upon with admiration. Despite this visual disparity and the alleged class distinctions, the police apparatus can be no more assured that the suited citizen is anymore or any less a danger to the local citizenry than the homeless. The dystopic vision of America continues. Similarly, the suited citizen is often wary of the homeless citizen because of the homeless citizen's appearance, that is, the quality of his clothes are less and his rituals for cleanliness are different (but perceived as less). Besides the obvious class distinctions, there is an even deeper dystopic relation between the homeless citizen, the suited citizen, and the American government.

The United States' of America fails to make use of the homeless person's productive and reproductive potential. For example, the homeless person, at best, is given a little aid and is often ignored by the government and its well-off citizens. This leaves the homeless citizenry, a major source of production, out of the labor force. One might argue that this is because the capitalist environment does not necessitate the homeless citizen's employment and would only cause an overproduction in goods. However, this neglects the homeless citizen's ability to become a productive citizen in his or her own right; the homeless citizen, once he or she has obtained enough capital, becomes a consumer. Others might argue that the American government's small attempts at making the homeless productive are part of the dystopic problem. This group says that homelessness is a necessary part of any capitalistic system. In other words, in order to have functional capitalism, logic necessitates that there must be a bottom. Unfortunately, this definition correlates homeless with unemployed. A person can be unemployed and still have shelter; however, a person who is homeless is still by definition homeless. The fact is, the American government, due to its lack of support of the homeless, and many citizens for their lack of concern for the homeless, are fine neglecting them because of their lower economic status. Even allowing for the necessity of the homeless in a capitalist system, this only strengthens the argument that the United State's as a bearer of capitalism is a dystopic environment. Similar to Foucault's description of binaries, where there is the branding of those in society as mad or sane, dangerous or harmless, so also does modern American society brand the homeless. There is still a great disparity between classes. There are those who have property, and those who do not, those who have money, and those who do not, those who have jobs, and those who do not. Focault says that ths is a "constant division between the normal and the abnormal" (199). Some might argue that ridding the world of the homeless would lead to a more utopic environment. However, this would only bring about the perception of a healed problem. The idea of binaries would remain; it would simply be the next lower class which would be subject to derogation and neglect. Furthermore, the neglect of a human being is a sign of a dystopic environment and the elimination of a lower class through neglect only provides proof of America as a dystopia. Unfortunately, this solution only highlights America's dystopic problems with class distinctions.

Even the United States' educational system resembles a dystopia. Foucault agrees with this assertion, saying, that schools "must not simply train docile children; it must also make it possible to supervise the parents…" Here, admittedly, Foucault is referring to religious schools where it is necessary for the school to produce children with a certain amount of piety and morality. Often, American religious schools start from the ground up, beginning with clothing. Similar to dystopic novels, children in a religious school sometimes must wear a uniform. As is often the case with dystopias, these uniforms are meant to serve as a method of discipline and allegedly functions to prevent violence. As a method of discipline, even before the students arrive at the school they are already forced to enter into a certain mindset, unifying and conforming to the school's agenda. Some might say that as this is a religious school and thus not part of the American public school system, the link between educational dystopias and America is invalid. However, the American government does provide at least some support in the form of vouchers and thus has ties to the religious educational system. Second, the argument was never about specifically the American government, but about the United States' of America as a whole. Third, the public school system itself has many of the same symptoms (many public schools do use uniforms) , some even more apparent than a religious school.

Foucault's conception of discipline is prominent in public school. For example, the simple conception of the school bell prepares children for American dystopic life. After the bell, an observer would see droves of children forming up in single file lines. This is very similar to the droves of mindless drones who head off to do government work in dystopic fiction. Year after year in public school, the school bell persists. As a child, the concept of time and deadlines is almost non-existent. However, as exposure to this bell continues, from kindergarten through twelfth grade, students begin to conform their lives to rigid schedules determined by the bell. The bell is symbolic for the rules present in a dystopic society. It says, metaphorically, "You have thirty minutes to eat lunch then back to work" or "Now you may go home, but remember, the bell rings at 7:45 tomorrow." This reinforcing of rules is a discipline and a real world example of Foucault's Panopticism. Other examples abound. One could go on and on about how the pledge and patriotic songs are similar to a dystopic brainwashing.

In dystopian literature, the lower class often suffers from a lack of accurate, historical knowledge, due to revisionist history in its dystopic culture. The United States' is no different. American public schools influence a young citizen's knowledge of history. For several hours a day, a person sits in front of another, allegedly wiser and more educated individual and is expected to swallow that information whole. The concept of a class of people who have the information imposing facts on those who do not have the facts is evidence of dystopic America. For example, if the history teacher teaches revisionist history such as the nobility of Thomas Jefferson while omitting his life as a slave owner, the student, not knowing any better, believes the teacher. Similarly, in 1984, the citizens were also taught revisionist history. Some might say that America's teaching is wholly different than 1984, as America is self-correcting through free speech and the allowance and provision in schools for students to disagree. However, what is at issue isn't the allowance of disagreement, rather it is that students are often not informed enough to disagree. How many students truly know their history from multiple perspectives? Instead, America is filled with students who only know that America has a "glorious" past with that little thing called slavery tucked somewhere in the middle. This perspective of the United States' is dystopic as well.

Often in dystopic literature, the citizens of the oppressive government love the government and stand beside its principles regardless of its actions. Once again, in 1984 the people love their government and swallow the history given to them. In the movie Equilibrium, the situation is the same. The totalitarian government says that it is the rest of the world filled with hate and that the state's way is the more civilized way. Some might disagree with this assessment, saying that today's America is clearly one in which the government is under terrible scrutiny, that the people's distrust of government is proof that America is not a dystopia. On the contrary, America is a dystopia. Despite its supposed distrust for the government, the most that happens when a citizen is illegally arrested and locked up for months on end is a loud media circus which is played in the background at work. No large amounts of citizens take up picket signs, protesting at the disgusting abuse of freedom. Instead, citizens cling to the old maxim, "America is still the best nation on the planet."

Despite their apparent love and ability to customize, Americans live in a dystopic society. Similar to both the novel and the movie 1984, citizens are under almost constant surveillance and fear a departure from the norm. These fears have been realized through the arrest and detaining of several citizens outside of constitutional boundaries. Also, American citizens are broken up into two classes, the haves and the have-nots, those with property and those without. Citizens then become the means of production and reproduction of consumer activity. As a result, equality and liberty have become bywords, slogans for first the government, second, the home owners and frequent consumers, and third, those who hope to become home owners and frequent consumers.

Works Cited

    1984. Dir. Michael Radford. Perfs: John Hurt, Richard Burton.Atlantic Releasing

Corporation. 1984

Altusser, Louise. "Ideology and the Ideological State Apparatuses." 1970.

Equilibrium. Dir. Kurt Wimmer. Christian Bale. Dimension Films. 2002.

Foucalt, Michael. Discipline and Punish. The Birth of the Prison. "Panopticism." 195-

228. 2nd ed. New York: New York. Vintage Books. 1995.

    Marx, Karl. The Communist Manifesto. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 1988.

Orwell, George. 1984. New York: New York. New American Library. 1961.

The United States Constitution.


All rights are reserved. No publishing, reproducing, altering, or distributing any portion of this without the author's permission.