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Signs of the Times for Thu, 27 Apr 2006

Signs Editorial:

Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Pete Jamieson
What's it like to live in the 21st century? Can we see it as it really is? Can we make out the wood for the trees?

Or do we need dreams to make sense of it?

In 1924 Fritz Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou set about creating the silent film Metropolis. Several million Marks later, the film was released in 1927 - to mixed reviews. Visually stunning, even today, it was perhaps too much for many people to grasp. The storyline, too, seems somehow distant and otherworldly: evocative of something vaguely other, and yet rooted in the world of today, the world we know. Or think we know.

A world of dreams - and making the same sort of sense that dreams do.

Metropolis was speculative cinema, speaking in archetypes straight through the eyes to the heart with its dystopian vision of the future - the future of the early 21st century.

Fritz Lang had been impressed by the visual spectacle of the Manhattan skyline, and incorporated a Raygun Gothic version of this into his sets for the film. That's the same skyline that speaks to us too - but in a different way. For us, it's a scarred skyline, marked as it is by the absence of something. Where are those ugly 60's twin towers?

Metropolis - the city that never sleeps, the city that does not need to lose itself in dreams. Because it's living the dream, isn't it?

But who actually is asleep, and who is awake?

The plot of Metropolis involves the creation of a robot woman - a gynoid - who mirrors the human character Maria, and creates mayhem amongst the upper-class men through her exotic dancing - an inversion of the way in which the human Maria is consolidating a worker's movement amongst the serfs in the lower levels of the city, and encouraging peace.

As a fictional device, though, robots weren't new. A few years before Lang and von Harbou set about creating Metropolis, in 1921, Karel Capek's play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots) was premiered in Prague. It created quite a sensation, being translated into English shortly after, and put on the stage in London in 1923, with Basil Rathbone playing the part of Harry Domin, the General Manager of the robotics plant.

Except that these are not the normal robots we think we know. These robots are fully fleshed - more the result of biological research than research into electronics. One of the characters in the play, Helena, burns the formula for making the robots, and when the robots have revolted against their human masters and killed all but one of them, they cannot make more of their kind; all they can turn out on the robotics factory line are bloody chunks of meat.

Aldous Huxley (a Kropotkinesque Anarchist, as he mentions in the foreword to a later reprint of Brave New World, and thus an enemy of the State), envisaged a more satisfying scenario of foetuses grown in a factory to specific requirements - for example, for the production of epsilon semi-morons, the lowest class of human, who would do the menial work for the society in which they lived, without having the perspicacity to see that they were being used.

Capek's robots are highly intelligent, but they have a specific limitation. They remember everything, but have no real creativity; they can see the past very well, but cannot envisage the future. As Harry Domin says at one point, they would make excellent university professors.

Karel Capek always pointed out, though, that it was not he who had come up with the term 'robot'. That had been the suggestion of his brother Josef. Josef had also been a writer, and the word 'robot' was taken from the Czech for drudgery; 'robotnik' means 'peasant' or 'serf'.

Years later Josef entered Belsen concentration camp as a guest of the Nazis. The motto for this system of Arbeitslager, or 'work camps' was of course 'Arbeit macht frei' - 'Work makes us free'. Josef himself did not survive this kind of work, this extreme form of serfdom.

But even before Capek's play, G. I. Gurdjieff had been promoting and exploring the idea that people were not necessarily who they thought they were. People were really machines, he said - and had to learn how not to be machine-like. They had to develop their free will in order to become truly human, and lose their robotic nature. They had to wake up.

The Ukrainian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, who studied under Freud in Vienna, also worked along similar lines. In the 1920's he came to understand humans as constrained by something he called 'Character Armour': sets of personality characteristics which would protect the individual, not just from the blows of life, but from one's own desires and instincts - desires of which the individual is actually afraid.

Further experience in the Soviet Union, and then in Berlin, indicated to him that the State could use this weakness in the human individual for its own ends. Fascism, he suggested, is the "basic emotional attitude of the suppressed man of our authoritarian machine civilisation and its mechanical-mystical conception of life".

In this political model, reinforcing a person's Character Armour through enforced self-control, and encouraging him or her to find a deranged fulfilment in 'purity', has a specific purpose: the paralysis of the will to rebel. Not only would the individual be unable to rebel, they would not even know that there was something which ought to be rebelled against.

Unable to properly anticipate the future, freedom would become their greatest fear - though a fear so locked in the depths of their subconscious that they would not even be able to properly identify it as a fear. Instead, they would tend to characterise the future as always at the mercy of some unholy 'anarchy', i.e. the end of their world - the end of 'purity' - and the fulfilment of their real, subconscious, desires. It would mean the Triumph of the Heart, and thus the loss of all the tiny controls in life which allow the individual to feel secure.

Thus the good citizen of a fascist state and economy would become unimaginative, controlling, intentionally dumbed down, fractured to the depths of his psyche, overconfident, unable to see where the State was taking him, and a natural bully.

Naturally, such a situation could never happen today, since fascism has been abolished by our enlightened leaders.

Seeking a free place to pursue his work, Reich was ironically sent to prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, on technical charges brought by the US Food and Drug Administration. Copies of his books were burned by government officials at the Gansevoort Incinerator in New York on 23rd August 1956. The books burned included perhaps his most important work, the Mass Psychology of Fascism, which outlined how and why people fell for the lies of authoritarian states, becoming robotised in the process.

But of course that book-burning can't have actually happened, because only the Nazis did that sort of thing, and America is the land of the free - isn't it?

People tend to think, "I cannot be a robot, because I am flesh". But isn't that part of the lie? Robots aren't necessarily like the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. They might be made of flesh like Capek's robots were - or like the citizens of Huxley's Brave New World (1932). All it takes is to stop asking questions, and to identify ourselves with the bland culture presented to us every day on television - the manufacturer of consent.

Who is awake, and who is asleep?

As the astrophysicist Jean-Pierre Petit says: "Sleep, the Principal Investigator of my Heart".

But the Heart can be suborned by the State, because, as Reich said, the social order will create character forms that support the social order in a closed cycle.

And thus the Hive is born, the type of society most useful for an authoritarian leadership - where freedom and free will are celebrated, but only as a part of the general lie. Where books are freely available - and yet seldom, if ever, read. And those who do read widely are discreetly marginalised as eccentrics - or even feared as subtle enemies of the social order. Where robots imagine they are free when they have been conditioned to be nothing of the sort - and are thus the more easily controlled.

So even our dreams can be controlled by the State, here in the Hive of Metropolis.

Maria, and her robotic double, were the fictional creations of Fritz Lang and of Thea von Harbou. And in a sense these two Marias stood for Thea von Harbou herself. She could develop into one or the other: the gentle Maria who serves others, and becomes human in the process - or the manipulative gynoid Maria, who serves herself by controlling others, and masks her true nature as a robot.

Thea chose the second of these options. In 1931 she separated from her husband, Fritz Lang, and they were soon divorced. The split was perhaps as much an ideological one as anything else. In 1932 Thea joined the Nazi party, one year before Hitler came to power. Fritz, however, was forced to flee Germany after his 1934 film, The Testament of Dr Mabuse, was banned by the Nazis because of the film's criticisms of Nazi thinking.

In 1937 Thea wrote the screenplay for Der Herrscher (The Ruler or Director), a film which celebrated complete submission to absolute authority, eventually finding reward in total victory. Detained by the British after the end of the War, Thea found work clearing rubble from the bombing of Berlin. She died in 1954.

Der Herrscher centres on the character of Clausen, the wealthy director of a munitions firm. This family-owned company has been running for more than a century, and is clearly based on the Krupp dynasty, which owned the largest industrial concern in Europe at the time. Metropolis, because it had run so far over budget, had put its film studio (Universum-Film AG or Ufa) into financial difficulties. In 1927, Ufa was taken over by Alfred Hugenberg, himself a close friend of Gustav Krupp. Eventually, in 1937, the Nazi party bought up most of Ufa's shares, making it a vehicle for their propaganda.

Gustav Krupp had opposed the Nazis until 1930, when they had convinced him that the party was good for business: the trade unions would be robbed of power, and the growth of the armed forces would bring Krupps more revenue. At this, Gustav threw in his lot with them, becoming chairman of the Adolf Hitler Spende, a political fundraising organisation for the NSDAP.

The Corporation, a recent Canadian documentary, details how large companies assume the same characteristics as human psychopaths. Devoid of any significant degree of empathy, the aim always is control of larger market share, at minimal cost. That constitutes profit for the company; and nothing else - not even worker happiness - is allowed to get in the way of that. The conditioning of our culture is such that possibly most people would say that this is obvious, because you can't run a company any other way. That's profit, which is intrinsically good.

Robots can only think this way, and that is their tragedy. They can see the past, but cannot creatively understand the final outcome, what the future promises to deliver to us if we carry on thinking and working in this way.

In Capek's play R.U.R., Harry Domin asks Helena what she thinks would be the perfect employee. She answers that it would be the one who is most honest and dedicated. Domin replies: "No, it's the one that's the cheapest. The one with the fewest needs... [Young Rossum] chucked out everything not directly related to work, and, [in] doing that, he virtually rejected the human being, and created the Robot."

Krupp evidently felt the same way. Seventy thousand concentration camp victims died working for Krupps in their forced labour programme, for example at their fuse factory near Auschwitz. In 1947, when a U.S. Military Tribunal at Nuremberg was trying Gustav's son Alfried (Gustav himself being too senile at this stage to stand trial), it was found by the judges that the Krupps factories were marked by a brutality exceptional even under Nazism.

Alfried denied any guilt. He stated: "The economy needed a steady or growing development. Because of the rivalries between the many political parties in Germany and the general disorder, there was no opportunity for prosperity. ... We thought that Hitler would give us such a healthy environment. Indeed he did do that. ... We Krupps never cared much about [political] ideas. We only wanted a system that worked well and allowed us to work unhindered. Politics is not our business."

Convicted of slave labour, Alfried was sentenced to twelve years in prison. However, it was not long before he was free (being released to applause in 1951), and had resumed control of the firm.

Before Der Herrscher, Thea von Harbou had written another influential screenplay: Frau im Mond (Girl in the Moon). This film, released in 1929, dealt with the launching of a rocket to the Moon. Hermann Oberth, the rocket pioneer who played such an important part in the development of the V2, was involved in creating a rocket for the special effects department at Ufa. His involvement with the film studio didn't last long, but the film probably had a lasting effect on German militarists, who became conditioned to the idea of long-range rockets as a workable idea. The engineers working on the V2 project were highly enthusiastic about the film, one of the first V2's even having Frau im Mond painted on its tail. However, Frau im Mond was at last withdrawn by the Nazis, as being too close to the truth of research then underway.

There was something undeniably dramatic about the V2, especially at launch. It was a weapon, not just of Vergeltung or vengeance (which is what the V in V2 stands for), but of shock and awe. It was also a stealth weapon, undetectable through its supersonic ballistic flight, until it hit its target. And the primary targets were significant too: it was the metropolis of London and the city of Antwerp. This was a weapon of terror, designed to strike at the densest concentration of civilians.

Of course, only the Nazis do this sort of thing. Allied bombing of Dresden, Hamburg and Berlin was designed to destroy only munitions production - and when Churchill declared that the purpose was really to strike terror into the heart of German workers, he must obviously have meant something else; after all, the British unfailingly believe in fair play. Naturally, the same goes for the bombing of Baghdad and Fallujah in more recent days. The shock and awe involved were only ever directed at Baathist cadres and Islamist terrorists. Civilian casualties are regarded as regrettable - even though civilians are the ones who bear the brunt of such assaults, and their after-effects. Still, can't be helped, can it?

Work on the V2 (and on the V1, an early cruise missile) was carried out by slave workers at Peenemunde on the German Baltic coast. Development of the technology for the V2 was done by possibly one third of Germany's research scientists, most of them knowing nothing of where their research was heading. Today, scientific research is only carried out to improve our living standards, and the work done by scientists and engineers working for defence companies and government research agencies is really only directed towards refining existing technologies, like ruggedising laptops for desert use, or something. Pioneering new weapons and technologies like the V2 are now over and done with - because only the Nazis did crazy off-the-wall things like that.

Eventually, after a heavy Allied bombing raid in 1943, research and production shifted to other sites in Germany - including underground facilities. Again, such facilities - obviously - do not exist today, because scientific research now is an open book, with the general welfare of everyone its prime concern.

No longer do governments hide the results of their research. The Northrop B2 Spirit bomber, for instance, though a secret plane, is nevertheless actually flown at air shows for the admiration of the general public. Which of course makes it anything but secret. Rumours that in fact such aircraft are only pale copies of the real B2 - capable of flying at speeds of Mach 10, and giving the United States a strike capability of within two hours to any point on the earth from their base in Minnesota - well, this is just pie-in-the-sky. The fact that they cost $2 billion each is only another instance of military overspend. And anyway, any sort of magneto-hydrodynamic technology would allow passenger aircraft also to travel at such speeds - and where are they? It's hardly likely that our governments would conspire to keep such things secret, when they might have such useful civilian applications.

Because of course there is no such thing as conspiracy. Only the Nazis did that sort of thing, when they conspired in the Final Solution, for instance. Or when they put together their secret plans for world domination. Only James Bond villains in their cavernous underground lairs do that sort of thing today - and that, of course, is fiction: technothriller, the diet of teenage boys and other immature individuals.

The Nazis are gone. We know this because no one wears jackboots or goose-steps any more - unless, of course, they're a bunch of sad losers meeting in some secluded semi in Beckenham, to drink schnapps, watch a rerun of Triumph of the Will on the video, and dream of a Fourth Reich. That a military coup was in the process of happening against Harold Wilson in the 70's, with lorry-loads of paratroopers on the road from Aldershot to take over the Houses of Parliament - again, such things don't happen. This is a stable democracy. It always has been - and therefore, by extension, it always will be.

Our world depends on us being complicit in the lies told to us by the State. We must be complicit in their official narratives, to maintain the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves. The State implies that each of us has little worth, other than as members of the societal form that the State has provided for us.

This societal form is the Metropolis.

Metropolis is a Greek compound. It means the mother-city, the mother-state. And we, poor souls, feel we need a parent in order to feel secure. That's why we buy into the lies - so that we can feel secure in the protection afforded us by our parent.

But what security do we really have under the State's protection? Is this security real, or just another of the State's illusions?

In 1984, George Orwell's vision of a society founded on lies to the disintegration of all forms of mutual aid and true love, rockets are landing daily on London. Julia, the girlfriend of the chief character in the novel, Winston Smith, recognises what is happening. These rockets are being fired by their own government, as a means of maintaining support for the war against whoever is the enemy of the day.

In New York, on 9/11 2001, two airliners crashed into the Twin Towers. They collapsed, and though the death-toll was tiny compared with the ongoing massacre of the innocents in Iraq, the effect as a televised spectacle was probably unique in the history of humanity. It was a new Pearl Harbour, which ensured the beginning of a war without end, and an excuse for the government of possibly the most moronic of presidents to assume unprecedented powers over its people. The citizens had been frightened into the ever-closer embrace of the Metropolis.

Fear stops thought. The State knows this. Fear means that people will no longer ask questions, but will instead accept whatever baby-food the State feeds it with. These are the official narratives, the acme of impudence. No longer can people see what happened to World Trade Center Building 7, which collapsed despite being hit by no aircraft - the dust raised by the Twin Towers' collapse being nothing compared to the clouded thinking of our frightened and bewildered infant selves.

Likewise, few of us can question the strike against the Pentagon. There is no trace of an airliner there, for there never was one there. There never was one there, for the simple reason that it's too difficult to fly by remote control a whopping great 757 into the side, rather than the roof, of such a building - and thus minimise the damage caused. It is the Pentagon, after all - the place where they plan their stupid wars.

And so another sort of aircraft had to be used. The State knows that the populace will never enquire further, because the Lie is too big to be questioned. Only Nazis would use a pimped-up modern equivalent of the V1 flying bomb - i.e. a missile-bearing Global Hawk drone - to create their own Reichstag fire. And the Nazis, of course, are now safely in the dustbin of history.

The plentiful CCTV footage of the incident, naturally, has never been released.

There are no government conspiracies, for the simple reason that if there were, then our Metropolis would be seen to be nothing but a sham, and we would have lost our parent. Nobody wants to be an orphan - which is why there is no conspiracy.

The Metropolis makes robots out of otherwise sincere individuals - individuals who possess such astonishing potential for growth into love of others, and knowledge. This is the social and psychological order that opposes the Triumph of the Heart. They want to make serfs out of us all, and their means for doing this are fear and lies.

And when another false-flag terror attack occurs here in the West, it will be done to reinforce the power of the State over us - as will the rain of bombs on Teheran and Damascus from the city-killer B2's.

But though cities are destroyed, the Metropolis remains.

For the real target is us.

[Peter Straughan's radio play, Metropolis, an adaptation of Thea von Harbou's novel and screenplay, provided a good deal of inspiration for this essay. It was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 24th March 2006 - and, like the first ever television science fiction presentation, a version of Capek's R.U.R., aired in 1938 on the BBC, is now sadly unavailable.]

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