My Story

April 16th, 2010

This has been a while coming, to find the words of how I feel about this college and this country… here it is….enjoy

The lights of Manhattan glimmer in the distance. I am so enraptured that, wide-eyed, I cannot blink. After seventeen years of waiting, this was my first time seeing New York, yet it was slipping away, like so much water. Maybe if I stare long enough, hard enough… A million points of warmth wink at me through the tiny plane window. The night lights of a million dreamers, radiating excitement. Every second the city gets smaller and smaller, but I feel like it is really me getting smaller and smaller, and lonelier and lonelier, until we are both shrouded in darkness; it still celestially burning somewhere with the fire of a million hopes, but I am left nursing the embers of just one.
There is a strange isolation in this moment. I reflect, and I am numbed by my powerlessness to recapture what was briefly mine, gone like a perfect snowflake that melts as soon as it is touched. That after all this time, my dreams should be washed of their color, hollowing me until I was but a hunched shadow on a dark concourse; where the only light was from the skyline in the distance, so close, so close that I could almost touch it… but my fingers met only cold, hard glass, and my hopes met only cold, hard truth. I had lived here, but I couldn’t stay. That my life here was now reduced to mementos in a shoebox, that I should wake from my American Dream not with a bang but a whimper – this was hard to fathom.
America is a place where my inner, intellectual world is mirrored by an outer world of opportunity and optimism. Here, immersed in diversity and discussion, I encounter plethoric perspectives. I marvel at ideas, each a fragile cornucopia, a firecracker that fizzes and winks before lighting up with an illuminating flash of lucidity, sparking off one more, three, a dozen – a chain reaction of thought that spreads and spreads, feeding off itself and expanding ever outwards. Tracing these thoughts, I wonder at the epic tapestry that illustrates the human experience. America is the place where all the threads of life are interwoven, yet here I sit, watching as my part of that epic unraveled.
I listen to the background hum of the engine now that the electric melody of America had faded. I felt my mind grasp at new sounds, new chords… day dawns over the Atlantic, promising a bright warmth that would consume even the neon glow behind me. I look back into the plane, and through my glassy eyes the flashes and faces in the plane coalesce into a hazy nebula, brilliant and dazzling as the one I had just left behind.

My Logo

April 15th, 2010

I believe, as a graphic designer, everyone should have a logo. Here is mine.

Homeless…

April 3rd, 2010

It’s been a while since my last post, and  for good reason. I’ve been wanting to share an experience of mine but its been difficult to write. That said, after countless redrafts, edits and re-edits here it is, the story of when I was homeless on the streets. It’s a topic which requires just the right wording to come across.

The purposeful strides of people jostling and bumping into each other on their way home for the evening filled my vision like a black-and-white film from the 40’s, as I crouched in the darkened space–devoid of warmth and light.  The crusty brick wall, which cast its shadow like a dense shroud hiding the remains of a human being, also served to keep me upright like a second spine.  I felt its cold brick surface press into me, leeching any vestige of hope and heat from my body while my laborious breath turned to billows of icy clouds.
I attempted to keep the decaying stench of the alley at bay with the lapel of a tatty, moth-eaten overcoat, to no avail.  The confident step and belief in myself, a mere mirage or dream of a life left behind, no longer register as reachable or recoverable.   I could not wait for the sandman to grant me sleep, so that I could escape from the weariness, cold, and fear of being one of Ireland’s shadow people.
The only thing I had left to look forward to was the future, though the thought of the struggles ahead coupled with my Irish obstinance did leave me a few degrees warmer–as adrenaline surge in waves throughout my body.  Not surprisingly, a pleasant, dream filled, night of rest escaped me as the cacophony of the city served to surround me with doubt and the blaring, body buzzing sound of car horns.
I was left to the caprice of the daggers thrown by the bone-chilling wind, the imprisonment of emptiness, and the racing chaos of my thoughts. At daybreak, penniless and hungry, I sat in footfall central with a tattered, cardboard sign asking for food.  As time crawled forward, I found myself facing a quandary of sorts.  On occasion, a passing suit would toss pennies at my worn, scuffed, fourth-hand boots.  While, I appreciated the thoughtfulness, the lack of personal connection and eye contact made me feel like an apparition–not real or substantial.  After a few days of invisibility, I slowly began to begrudge the kindness of other coin-tossers, not because I wasn’t grateful but rather that my welfare was so dependent on others.  Few of the suits, saw me or read my sign for food.  Instead, to appease their conscious, the few pieces of coinage bought absolution from having to recognize my humanity.
That feeling of being in the shadows, however, thawed a bit, when a young girl stopped to read my magic-marker sign asking for nourishment.  She made eye contact and searched my face for an emotive thread or human connection before handing me her prized cheeseburger.  I was transfixed, as the girl’s angelic grin made its way to her eyes and tilted the corners of her mouth heavenward.  It was the most beautiful smile I had seen in a long time–unassuming and filled with kindness.  Her simple act touched a part of my soul that had been long dormant.  As she walked further along the walkway, she paused and turned back towards me, while clasping her mother’s hand.  Our eyes met, and we both shared a knowing smile.  It was as if the young girl had lived a thousand lives.  I saluted her soul with mine, a emotive link to each others atman through the medium of a simple smile. To this day, it is the finest burger I’ve ever had.
My self-imposed distance, my world weariness, fell apart in that moment because of the girl with a wide grin.  No longer were the skies gray and the wind as chilling.  As the days unfolded the shadows became imbued with the colour of oak leaves falling to the earth in Autumn, and I found my self carving a path out of the darkness and into the light.  I fit a lifetime into those days of rediscovery.  Whenever I’ve been back in Ireland, I’ve looked for the girl who gave me back my faith in people, encouraged a newfound appreciation of the importance of kind deeds, and challenged me to pursue a path that assists other in finding themselves while being considerate of their needs.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to share another smile with the youngster someday.

New Beginnings

April 1st, 2010

I’ve been working on a bumper entry this week and the last. Hopeing to get it done this week so stay tuned! It’s going to feature insight about Woo, my own thoughts on intellectual endeavours and more! Start getting excited

Engineering Paradise

March 21st, 2010

Aldous Huxley’s most enduring and prophetic work, Brave New World (1932), describes a future world in the year 2495, a society combining intensified aspects of industrial communism and capitalism into a horrifying new world order. Huxley’s title, taken from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, is therefore ironic: This fictional dystopia is neither brave nor new. Instead, it is so controlled and safe that there is neither need nor opportunity for bravery. Coupling horror with irony, Brave New World succeeds in creating a world where no one experiences suffering, only happiness. The literal consumption of soma-like drugs caught Huxley’s attention. By the 1950s, readily available tranquilizers adjusted people to a maladjusted culture, smoothing out any inconvenient instincts of resistance, just as a soma-holiday eliminated the recognition of unhappiness. However this begs the question, is true happiness possible without freedom?
In this paper I will examine the use of soma in the novel Brave New World and in particular focusing on its numbing effect on human emotion.
Soma, not nuclear bombs, is the weapon of choice for the World Controllers in Brave New World. These men have realized that fear and intimidation have only limited power; after all, these tactics simply build up resentment in the minds of the oppressed. Subconscious persuasion and mind-altering drugs, on the other hand, appear to have no side effects. Add to this the method of genetic engineering, and soon almost all “pre-Ford” problems have been wiped out permanently. The drug has a long established history in the creation of the state – first created in in A.F 178. Six years later, the brave new world was producing soma commercially, so this narcotic, which came on the market in A.F 184, is nearly 450 years old.   The original intention of Soma to Huxley was to  “raise industrial productivity by chemical means envisioning the development of a wide variety of new and pleasurable stimulants…which was eventually to ferment into soma” . An ingenious system, which numbs the intellect and thus the ability to rebel from, the established order of the caste system.
The enforced caste system of Brave New World is equally ingenious. Free from the burdens and tensions of capitalism, which separates individuals into social classes by natural selection, the world dictatorship of the book only need determine the number of alphas and betas in society. Class warfare is non-existent because greed has been eliminated, with each individual perfectly content from genetic engineering and individual social conditioning from birth. The citizenry of Brave New World are “socialized for specific societal roles. The stratification system is rigid, Alphas to Deltas, but regardless of caste they are all content with their social position because their phenotype was groomed to accept it. Pain, suffering, and unhappiness are virtually unknown because basic needs are provided for all, and “soma” tablets are readily available should anyone feel anxious or sad.”
Freedom, including the freedom of expression resulting in art and religion has been eliminated by a newly redefined version of happiness. Indeed every individual in the book, with the exception of Bernard and the Savage are perfectly content to lead a gray, mindless and mundane life. Everything is a shade of grey to the reader, except the savage, who promotes the idea that a grey happiness is the goal of Mond and other world controllers.
Indeed it seems in order to create a Utopia, certain sacrifices must be made. Human nature must change and conform to a new ideal if we are to live in harmony. In this way we could say that a Utopia may only exist as itself if it excludes and does not include the present version of humanity.
Emotions such as to the right to love another and to grieve over someone’s death are examples of the sacrifices that for this paradise. An example of this is when the khaki twins were laughing at the Savage when Linda died “They met his eyes and simultaneously grinned. One of them pointed with his éclair butt. “Is she dead?,” he asked.”  This example demonstrates that the khaki twins are unable to experience emotion, to grieve and mourn for the loss of their friend perhaps due to their social engineering and conditioning. The twins, along with the rest of their caste and society, are incapable of feeling any lasting or real emotion.
Indeed most elevated states are out of the reach of the majority of the people in Brave New World. Everyone is encouraged to experience ‘highs’ by consuming the ubiquitous drug, Soma. Soma is a hallucinogen that takes users on enjoyable, hangover-free “vacations”. It is consumed frequently by all castes. There is no evidence that this society has any problem with substance abuse.
As pleasure drugs go, Soma underwhelms. Its effects are more similar to an opiate or alcohol without a hangover or a tranquilizer like Prozac. Nowhere near as strong or as addictive as the designer drugs of today.
In fact Soma is little more than a cheap thrill, creating people who are shallow and intellectually uninteresting. The insomniac Bernard Marx, when he takes Soma, finds it to be a very one-dimensional drug. John the Savage commits suicide soon after taking Soma.
Soma brings no sublime, life enriching or enhancing experiences. It brings no life defining insights or epiphanies. It doesn’t promote personal growth; instead it provides a mindless, disingenuous imbecilic happiness, an escapism, which essentially creates happiness in the lack of freedom. Another effect of the drug is it enhances suggestibility to government propaganda and other nefarious methods of persuasion. Soma is a lifestyle narcotic which creates a quite a quite impenetrable wall between the actual universe and their minds.
In a different Utopian world, which seeks to tantalize rather than repress emotion, then some of these new drugs could have reinforced or enriched our most cherished ideals. Perhaps in our imaginations we might have allowed, via chemical persuasion to turn into the idealized versions of the people we have always dreamed of becoming. Perhaps behavioral conditioning could have been used to sustain this vision of a content life. With the tremendous power of genetic engineering, people could have been created with astounding intellects and enhanced physiques. This would have been far more fulfilling and lasting than a rigid pre-ordained caste system, removing much of the class tension, which exists throughout the novel.
But one could argue that this is not Huxley’s intention in creating Brave New World. Instead he is trying to warn us against scientific utopianism, a task he succeeds at all too well. Not only do the people within the book become the victims of propaganda, but it is also we who become the victims.
Instead Huxley’s engineering is a very rudimentary take on the unnatural hedonistic engineering that the majority of us crave. One of the consequences is to heighten the fear of state sanctioned mood drugs. Many of those today, who would benefit from clinically tested mood booster and anti-anxiety agents, suffer in silence in part because they fear they may become zombie like addicts and become supplicants of the medical profession.
Of course, there are no overdoses or bad trips on Soma, perhaps due to the limited imaginations of the user. Perhaps also Soma is about as intellectually illuminating as getting drunk. In Brave New World our original primitive impulses and emotions have been constricted. The ability to be creative and destructive has been purged. Spirituality? Extinguished. In the words of the World Controller “Anyone can be virtuous now. You carry at least half your mortality about in a mottle. Christianity without tears—that’s what Soma is”
Not only has the fundamental nature of mankind become eliminated but also the state has taken control of all aspects of the human psyche that further introspection. It is the ultimate provider because it provides the means of production and distribution of vices such as Soma. This leads to a childlike dependence upon the state with individuals unable to work without homage to the Gods of consumption and provision, evidenced by Linda left with the Indians and unable to think or act for herself. The state has become the mother, the father, the God and religion to a race of beings that are slaves to consumption and lack any discernable identity.
Indeed, emotional wellbeing is not preprogrammed, nor assured from birth. Infants in Brave New World are behaviorally conditioned through Pavlovian shock therapy, terrorized with loud noises. Even aversion therapy towards not liking books is employed. We are told the citizenry of Brave New World are happy, yet they frequently experience unpleasant thoughts, feelings and emotions, each banished with Soma “One cubic centimeter cures ten gloomy sentiments”. Comparing the novel with the Tempest In the novel it is soma which obliterates thought and action; administered to Bernard, Helmholtz, and John it soon dispels all their antisocial inclinations.
Yet, none of the castes in Brave New World seem very happy. The permanent faux-happiness which glazes across all the inhabitants sounds so uninteresting it’s probably even less interesting to experience. Most of the Utopian ideals are somewhat idealized, docile and contented places, yet the emotions of its citizens are blunted and repressed. Life is nice, but also slightly boring and mundane. As the Resident Controller of Western Europe states: “No pains have been spared to make your lives emotionally easy – to preserve you, as far as that is possible, from having emotions at all.”
“The masses are not as docile as their conditioning would seem to imply” as revealed when the Savage disrupts the distribution of soma to a group of Deltas, causing a riot. “Tremendous effort is expended to maintain this dystopia, which begs the question, to what end? What is the point of vigorously perpetuating this static and artificial contentment?”
In conclusion one can clearly see that human beings can adapt to anything. Is our society becoming like Brave New World? According to Leon Kass, American society stands at a critical juncture. To the left is the dystopia of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, where the singular but careless pursuit of technology threatens our very humanity. To the right is Kass’s ancient world of virtue where science policy and in-deed all social policy are properly guided by timeless moral universals. The question is: do we want to adapt to a society like Brave New World? What direction is this relentless pursuit of science taking us? This is a world that one cannot help but be happy, a world that has replaced not destroyed religion, a world that has even eliminated racism and stereotypes. It is a world where you only possess knowledge you need, where everyone has the same values and principles. Finally here is a world with no war, no disease and no old age. Yet for some like John the Savage, this world is dystopic not utopic, in his own words “I don’t want comfort, I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin”
To John all the happiness is vacuous and artificial, due to the regulation of Soma. The lack of humanity is disturbing to him, for John the pain and emotion of art are more real and useful than mindless obedience. John as a device is crucial for the moral tale Huxley espouses, the only one who can see that a Utopia based upon consumption is impossible as it can only breed infantile dependence and thus lack of individuality. The reader as an outsider makes John’s statements more compelling. Indeed happiness can only be valued when it is compared and contrasted to suffering. This is when happiness can be truly valued for its full scope and meaning. Indeed the term Brave New World has come to serve as a false symbol for any régime of universal happiness.
To conclude in the words of Kass “Huxley’s novel is, of course, science fiction. But yesterday’s science fiction is rapidly becoming today’s fact. Prozac is not yet Huxley’s soma; cloning by nuclear transfer or splitting embryos is not exactly Bokanovskification; MTV and virtual-reality parlors are not quite the ‘feelies’; and our current safe-and-consequenceless sexual practices are not universally as loveless or as empty as in the novel. But the kinships are disquieting, all the more so since our technologies of bio-psycho-engineering are still in their infancy-and it is all too clear what they might look like in their full maturity.”

A Lazy Break

March 21st, 2010

So concludes a rather relaxing spring break spent relaxing with my friends, looking after the people on my floor, helping friends with IS. What have I learnt this week? A little of a lot. One thing I’ve been learning about is my new topic of interest. I had so much time during the break I decided to read the excellent Brave New world. It captivated my interest so much I wrote a short paper on it, to practice the writing skills Wooster values so highly.

C’est la vie

March 4th, 2010

I’m sitting here at the Office of Admissions trying to think of a title for my next entry and then a catchy, long forgotten song popped into my head. C’est la vie by Bewitched, a very bad irish girl band. I remember growing up in Ireland hearing that song, trying to forget it/turn it off/run out of the room but it wouild continue to play over and over again.

The sentiment remained some XX years later while I sit here typing. That song, long buried/repressed resurfaced to rise to my immediacy. C’est la vie.

What causes a thought like that to seemingly randomly resurface? I don’t know. Seemingly random pairing and structurings create our mind, our past, who we are based on memory and experience.

C’est la vie. That’s life, now Frank Sinatras song pops into my head, the lights low, his eyes closed towards the heaven singing that melody. Now the thought of coffee speaks to me as I reach down for my cup. *slurp*.

What causes that cascade of memory to trickle down to the ahora? *thought suspended*

As I look around me know I am shown a beautiful vista of campus around me, my thought move back to my hands typing this entry. A unspoken link between my thoughts and hands. As if by magic words appear from the screen. These words however are mere fragments of thoughts.

Imagine if one could put into text every thought in the conscious. What would that be like? *memory resurfaces* I remember seeing a show about telepathy once and that the telepath could hear the thoughts of others. I used to wonder how that could happen to me as I had no ‘voice’ in my head telling me what to do. People would tell me of that voice in their head, here I was alone but without the feeling of lonliness. Voiceless, no internal dialogue. Just emptiness.

I glance down at the phone in front of me 2:37. I’ve been writing for 7 minutes. Already (pause taken to text). It’s now 2:40. I look at my words. Seemingly incoherent nonsense. Rambling. My thoughts unstructured.

Has college helped to clear my cranial mutterings? Perhaps, it’s given me a lot, helped me (pause to reply to text) become more organized (ironic indeed, internal laugh )and structured, accountable. What will the rest of the semester bring? I believe the greatest gift an education can give you is social skills, to become a social animal and in doing so become truly human.

2:43. Silence. The clatter of keys crowd out the crescendo of words coming from my conscious. Silence begins now (full stop)

Long Week

February 26th, 2010

It’s been a long week, but that’s good. Why? Because that’s part of the liberal arts challenge. Incredible growth, incredible striving. Going beyond the beyond. Im glad its been a hard week, that means it’s incorporated incredible growth.

Enraptured Continued

February 26th, 2010

true objectivism?
At the beginning of the game, upon entering the lighthouse the player is greeted with an enormous statue of Ryan with the slogan: “No Gods or Kings. Only Man.”  Reminiscent of the Lenin/Stalinist statues, this statue is a brilliant demonstration of Ryan’s quest for pontification. Of interest however is that atheism and the denial of God is promoted above the Randian concept of promoting self-interest over altruism. In the words of Rand:
❝Rationality is man’s basic virtue, and his three fundamental values are: reason, purpose, self-esteem. Man, every man, is an end in himself, not a means to the ends of others; he must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself; he must work for his rational self-interest, with the achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose of his life.” Thus Objectivism rejects any form of altruism—the claim that morality consists in living for others or for society…❞
This looming pontification and deification of Ryan runs contrary to the teaching of Rand, which doesn’t seek to replace one God with another. In this way we could say that Ryan’s desire for power has overshadowed the objectivist teachings, a first step in the move towards becoming a dystopia.

little sisters
Following Rapture’s civil war between Fontaine and Ryan all the original supplies of ADAM were destroyed. The Little sisters were physically and psychologically altered prepubescent girls, created with the express purpose of extracting ADAM by extracting it from the dead and modifying it within the genetic structure of their own bodies turning it into EVE. The Little Sisters are protected by Big Daddies; genetically altered men enhanced with superhuman strength and bulletproof deep diving suits. Here lies the moral dilemma Bioshock presents to the player, kill the Little Sisters and extract the full amount of ADAM needed to progress through the game or allow them to live, making advancement through the game far more arduous and difficult.
Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to kill or rescue the little sisters is the focal point that the game’s objectivist premise hinges on: if one can look at a individual as an expendable resource, then that promotes the objectivist ideology. On the other hand if you rescue the little sister and can recognize that the benefits received from ADAM should not come at the expense of an individuals life, then objectivism is rendered inert. The player is given a choice to accept Rapture’s Weltanschauung or to reject it.
Bioshock raises some fascinating bio-ethical questions. Some women today have objections to solely becoming “incubators” for children. Bioshock may instead be making a clear argument against abortion, that the removal of ADAM (masculine) from EVE (feminine), results in death. Clearly, the objectivist view of treating the girls as less than human, as incubators for ADAM shows that it is wrong to treat an individual as something less than human, as just another resource. Clearly ADAM, in both the context of the game and from its original biblical origins is “life” but it is conditional life as it is based on the taking of life from another.
Bioshock’s use of little girls is of particular interest and received much media criticism with some saying that  “[BioShock] is testing the limits of the ultraviolent gaming genre with a strategy that enables players to kill characters resembling young girls.” Kenneth Levine, director of 2K games stated in response “As a piece of art, we want to deal with challenging moral issues and if you want to do that, you have to go to some dark places and BioShock certainly does go to some dark places.”

morality and freedom: mutually exclusive?
Rapture’s approach can be best summarized in the words of its founder Andrew Ryan:

❝ A city where the artist would not fear the censor.
Where the scientist would not be bound by petty morality.
Where the great would not be constrained by the small.
And with the sweat of your brow, Rapture can become your city as well. ❞

Here the logically incoherent of nature’s laws and morality appears. The concept that, if not explicitly banned, man will perform the darkest and morally repugnant deeds which may or may not correlate with his own moral persuasions. This is similar to the fallacious argument that the legalization of drugs will lead to widespread usage including those who find the use of drugs to be erroneous. Here lies the true philosophy of Rapture, the freedom of thought leads to the loss of morality. Similarly, the creation of ADAM and subsequent genetic manipulation, designed to improve mankind, began with forced human experimentation against the individual’s wishes. This idea runs contrary to the idea of Objectivism, as proposed by Rand:
❝ [Objectivism] is a system where no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force, and no man may initiate the use of physical force against others. The government acts only as a policeman that protects man’s rights; it uses physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use, such as criminals or foreign invaders.❞
Here we can see that clearly forced genetic experimentation runs contrary to the philosophy of Objectivism. Clearly this perpetuates the myth that without mans central locus of control for morality, he will degrade into immorality. Similarly the inverse implication is also a fallacy, that man with laws man in risen above his animal nature into a moral paragon. If taken to the levels of Rapture, the proposition is that if given the freedom to do so, man will commit horrific immoral actions. Therefore the fall of Rapture into a dystopia is the result of two factors. First an inherent flaw of mans humanity but also that the lack of true objectivism in the founding principles of Rapture.

defining utopia
Since Thomas More’s utopia in 1506, scholars have debated the precise meaning of the word Utopia. word comes from Greek: οὐ, “not”, and τόπος, “place”, indicating that More was utilizing the concept as allegory and did not consider such an ideal place to be realistically possible. It is worth noting that the homophone Eutopia, derived from the Greek εὖ, “good” or “well”, and τόπος, “place”, signifies a double meaning that was almost certainly intended. Despite this, most modern usage of the term “Utopia” assumes the latter meaning, that of a place of perfection rather than nonexistence. Some scholars believe it should remain a literary term without the flourishes of precise meanings other fields insist upon precise meaning. As Utopian fiction generally applies to literary works a broader meaning is required to encapsulate Bioshock within the genre. As Bertrand de Jouvenal says,
❝Eutopie, it shall be, if and when brought into being: till then Utopie. A dream: aye but that is a capital point, a dream, while less than reality, is much more than a blueprint. A blueprint does not give you the “feel” of things, as if they existed in fact; a dream does so. If you can endow your “philosophical city” with the semblance of reality, and cause your reader to see it, as if it were actually in operation, this is quite a different achievement from a mere explanation of the principles on which it should rest. This “causing to see” by means of a feigned description is obviously what More aimed at: It is also the essential feature of the utopian genre. ❞
Fye is in broad agreement with Jouvenal, stressing that at its core a Utopian dialogue will have several elements at its core. First “the utopia-writer is concerned only with the typical actions which are significant of those social elements he is stressing.” Fye goes on to state that the second element is “for someone, generally a first-person narrator to enter the utopia and be shown around it by a sort of tourist. The story is made up largely of a Socratic dialogue between guide and narrator, in which the narrator asks questions or thinks up objections and the guide answers them. In the second place, rituals are apparently irrational acts which become rational when their significance is”
It is clearly evident that Bioshock, in creating the city of Rapture, has created more than a philosophy but a living breathing metropolis which encapsulates at its heart the philosophy of objectivism and the literary meaning of Utopia. However can Rapture also be described as a dystopia? Andrew Ryan envisioned Rapture as a Utopia which quickly destabilized into a dystopia?

As Sargant states:
“When a convinced utopian tries to build a eutopia, conflict will arise because, failing to achieve eutopia, he or she will use force to achieve it. Force will be necessary either because people question the desirability of the utopia or because there is disharmony between the perfect blueprint and the imperfect people.”
Indeed life in a perfect society is best even for imperfect people because they will accept it as better or law (force) will impose it. Indeed some believe that a deliberately constructed society of this sort can only be maintained by continual use of force. As Karl Popper, the best exponent of this philosophy states:
“”The Utopian approach can be saved only by the Platonic belief in one absolute and unchanging ideal, together with two further assumptions, namely (a) that there are rational methods to determine once and for all what this ideal is, and (b) what the best means of its realization are”
It is important to realize that according to Sargent “both (a) and (b) are impossible as 8T his is due in part to our lack of knowledge and in part to the inevitability of unanticipated effects, the certainty that we cannot perfectly reproduce our blueprint.”

Of course it could be argued that, if these totalitarian methods are employed in every Utopia then the very meaning of the word becomes distorted. Beauchamp takes this view “Utopians tend to assume that there is one, and only one, right method of doing everything and consequently that all other alternatives must be rigorously excluded, by whatever methods the society has at its disposal.” The intent of utopia is, of course, benevolent, but the techniques are totalitarian. For Beauchamp all utopias are dystopias.”

In this sense one could argue that the original Utopian Rapture was in fact a dystopia, albeit with benign intents which eventually became replaced with the dystopian Rapture of Bioshock.

However to take this of argument, although intellectually appealing, negates the original meaning of the word. Indeed many utopias are, from the perspective of individual freedom, dystopias. Some have this appearance because the author wants to emphasize a value seen to be in conflict with freedom.
Indeed perhaps the real purpose of utopia is not to produce a blueprint of the perfect society but in the words of Sargant the real purpose of Utopia is to serve as “a mirror to contemporary society, pointing to strengths and weaknesses, more often the latter, this is one of its most important functions. The author need not intend that the details of her or his preferred society should be adopted. As an alternative to the present, utopia shows flaws in the present by picturing the more desirable.” Perhaps the real strength of Utopia is its multivocality. Indeed the two approach to Utopianism could be, in the words of Sargant that “in arguing that we cannot or should not attempt to improve on the present, he or she is saying either that we live in the best possible world, or that any change is likely to make our imperfect world even more imperfect. The first position is utopian. The second is basic to the classic anti-utopian argument.”
Whether utopias are simply a fantasy, a description of a desirable or an undesirable society, an extrapolation, a warning, an alternative to the present, or a model to be achieved. The utopian views mankind and its future with either hope or alarm. In the former case the result is usually a eutopia; in the latter, a dystopia.
But if we follow the view of Bloch, the Marxist theologian “utopianism is an optimistic disposition that translates generalized hope into a description of a nonexistent society.” In this sense we can see that Rapture is a clear utopia, which transforms into dystopia.

collapse to dystopia
One can see through progression of the game that one can see that the flaws of ethics that led to Rapture’s Utopian origin and dystopian ending were not the result of the philosophy of objectivism failing but failing to adhere to it. For example, through progression in the game, as the storyline reveals itself, one learns of a Fontaine’s black market operation. Objectivism holds as a central tenet the idea of laissez faire capitalism as Rand herself states:
❝The ideal political-economic system is laissez-faire capitalism. It is a system where men deal with one another, not as victims and executioners, nor as masters and slaves, but as traders, by free, voluntary exchange to mutual benefit. ❞
How can a black market exist in a laissez faire capitialist system especially in a supposed “Libertopia” where economic bans should not exist?
Here we can see the starting point of the decline was not the scientific discovery of ADAM but the divergence from the ideals of the objectivist society. It is learned through in game revelations that Ryan outlawed aspects of consumerism to maintain the monopoly of power and enhance his fortune, to exact control of Rapture. Ultimatly it was this non-rational greed and the obsession with power which overcame rational progress which led to the downfall of Rapture.
It is here that we see the divergence from a true objectivist society. It is learned that in order to exact control of Rapture, Ryan outlaws certain aspects of consumerism in order to maintain a monopoly of power and enhance his own fortune using forced torturous human experiments. It was this non-rational greed that lead to the downfall of Rapture, as well as the obsession with power which overcame the balance of rational progress.

rapture: conclusion
Here lies a fascinating glimpse at the actions which can transform a Utopia to a dystopia. The human condition lies at the heart of the issue, that despite ideals, human greed, the desire for power can so quickly overcome.
The game could be imagined as a thought experiment, where the lofty ideals of Objectivism are practiced en masse. The problem with any philosophy is that it is practiced by people – good, evil, and all ultimately fallable people. However as demonstrated objectivism was never truly tried in Rapture.
In truth, BioShock’s philosophy seems more inspired by that of Charles Foster Kane in Citizen Kane. Kane was a man who ruled his world, who tried to impose his will on every one and everything around him, until finally descending into madness. The parallels in  BioShock are obvious, and its clear to me that while the game’s jargon and imagery may be superficially Randian, its heart truly lies with Orson Welles.
In the end, Ryan the liberator becomes a tyrant, and Fontaine the common man empowered by “the sweat of his brow” becomes a monster. But others are able to rise to the challenge. Professor Julie Langford spent years making defoliants for the military, and in Rapture she grows a forest. Bridgette Tenenbaum is at first the slave of greed and curiosity, but ends up fighting for the salvation of those she once victimized. Ultimately, the question is left to the player – is the flaw in the philosophies, or in the men and women who hold them?
As Sargant states “The utopian laments that this life is intolerable and feels there must be a better way. War, crime, rape cannot be all that we are capable of achieving. We must improve-and some add even if it costs some people some freedom. There cannot be freedom to rape, rob, and kill.”
Today we are s skeptical of any real and lasting improvement in society but as long as we have hope, that intangible human quality, which tells us that we as a species can do better, that humanity can achieve harmony, unity and lasting peace. As long as we can hope utopias such as Rapture will always exist in the collective consciousness.

Enraptured? Examining Bioshock’s Objectivism

February 18th, 2010

BioShock is a action-adventure, survival horror first-person shooter by 2K Boston/2K Australia (previously Irrational Games) that is based on exploring the dystopia of an isolated underwater city called Rapture in 1960 and surviving the mutated beings and mechanical drones within it. The architecture and society of Rapture was strongly inspired by the art deco movement and also the collected works of Ayn Rand, especially her philosophy of Objectivism.

Rapture: History
Built in 1946 by Andrew Ryan, Rapture is an underwater city, designed to be entirely self-supporting, with all of its electricity, food production, water purification and defense systems powered by undersea volcanic openings. Rapture numbered several thousands in the mid 1950’s with what Ryan classified as the “best examples of human beings.”
A scientific discovery became the catalyst for the downfall of this society. Rapture’s chief scientist, Bridgette Tenenbaum, whilst studying indigenous marine life dwelling deep in the reef, discovered a species of sea slug that could secrete stem cells. These could be used to miraculously enhance one’s body, improving physical or mental capabilities, curing diseases and healing injuries. A young entrepreneur named Frank Fontaine invested in the research to gain control over the material. The substance, dubbed “ADAM”, became so sought after in the society, that it became the primary currency of the city.
With science being unrestricted by, according to Ryan, “petty morality,” inhabitants of Rapture could explore paths previously deemed immoral or too controversial to follow. One of the major breakthroughs achieved in Rapture was the creation of Plasmids, from ADAM, a substance created by a deep-sea species of slug. Essentially, processed ADAM introduced special stem cells into your system, allowing for genetic modification and real time mutation which allowed new genetic material to be ‘spliced’ into the DNA of the host.
Thus a full-scale genetic arms race broke out between Ryan and Fontaine for control of the city and monopoly of ADAM. During the war, many of Rapture’s citizens began to modify and manipulate ones body to adapt and survive the conflict. Drawbacks were later encountered by excessive splicing (mainly during and after the civil war) among common citizens of Rapture, such as cellular mutation involving permanent brain and physical damage, losing ones humanity in the process. During the conflict, all natural sources of ADAM were destroyed, which eventually resulted in a major shift in the “ecology” of the city, as all inhabitants had become biologically dependent on ADAM to survive. On December 31st 1958, attacks with biological weapons lead to the downfall of Rapture’s society, and the city fell into a state of disrepair.
The original goal of Rapture was to create a society free of God and government, where any citizen could achieve for his or herself, rather than for others’ benefits. The “world’s best and brightest” were mainly granted freedom of will and choice; left unrestrained by government, religious organizations or any other established institutions. Instead of these conventional forms of restriction, topics such as logic, science and reason were to guide the inhabitants. This would-be utopia had significant problems. In Rapture’s purely capitalistic society, completely devoid of socialist programs, everything from health care to public restrooms and even the city’s oxygen supply was privately owned. There were few, if any, standards for business and labor, allowing dishonest and unscrupulous business practices to flourish. This system alienated Rapture’s less fortunate citizens, who began to resent Ryan as naïve and elitist. Indeed Ryan’s paranoia and xenophobia led to the eventual downfall of his city. His one edict, that the outside world never be permitted to learn of Rapture, enabled a former member of the Mafia named Frank Fontaine to build a criminal empire through smuggling. Unlike the idealistic Ryan, the former mobster could not be satisfied by mere material wealth – he desired domination. A civil war later ensued that reduced Rapture’s majesty to ruins.

Objectivism

Rapture’s philosophy can best be described as a “gulch,” a term derived from Galt’s Gulch in the Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged. A gulch is a localized, underground economic and social community of freedom-minded individuals and differs from a utopia or a commune in that it is uniquely freedom-focused, and so upholds individual and property rights rather than operating by the rules of community property.
Rand’s philosophy made evident in books like The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged essentially boils down to the notion that humans are self-interested and should be allowed to pursue their own happiness. In her own words:
❝ My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.❞
Those that are smarter, more talented, or superior should be allowed to pursue their own interests without interference from government, religion, or anyone else. The societal consequences of this are, of course, unfettered laissez-faire capitalism,  the exact same principle that Andrew Ryan, the central character of Bioshock, lives by.
In Bioshock, Ryan perfects the notion of objectivism in his underwater city however the introduction of plasmids and ADAM made his concept flawed. Although we know that Ryan continued to have faith in free market capitalism ultimately human nature took over. The power of plasmids was too hard to resist. And some, like Ryan and Fontaine, just became addicted to power.
While Bioshock shows us the promise of objectivism it also shows its downfall. What Ken Levine, the game’s writer, seems to be saying is that human nature is incompatible with Rand’s vision of the heroic person and that objectivism, noble and promising as it may be, is doomed to failure.
Objectivism tosses out the notions of morality or honor and simply focuses on bettering oneself. Rand’s concept was essentially that man’s greatest duty is to better himself regardless of the consequences of those around him, and the true goal is to reach the pinnacle of humanity and perfection .
Andrew Ryan, the game’s assumed antagonist is the personification of Objectivism. He tosses out the notions of God and Country, and focuses on self-improvement.
The concept of Bioshock consists of Moochers and Looters. In Atlas Shrugged, Rand defines the Moochers and Looters as those who depend on the invention and creativity of the enlightened people of the time to live good lives, but simultaneously despise them for being better or smarter or richer. Along with the elite however Ryan also had to bring janitors, chefs, waiters and all the other people who were essential to the maintenance and upkeep of Rapture. These people became the Moochers, who benefited from the creations, but despised the creators. Thus the whole fight over Adam, those signs near the bathysphere of people begging to be let out, and the constant struggle in the city. They revolted, seemingly tired of being looked down upon by the elite. They wanted the power they were assumedly not entitled to like the plasmids.

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