Libertarian Papers

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games

Whatever good you have heard about The Hunger Games, the reality is more spectacular. Not only is this the literary phenom of our time, but the movie that created near pandemonium for a week from its opening is a lasting contribution to art and to the understanding of our world. It’s more real than we know.

In the story, a totalitarian and centralized state — it seems to be some kind of unelected autocracy — keeps a tight grip on its colonies to prevent a repeat of the rebellion that occurred some 75 years ago. They do this through the forced imposition of material deprivation, by unrelenting propaganda about the evil of disobedience to the interests of the nation-state and with “Hunger Games” as annual entertainment.

In this national drama and sport, and as a continuing penance for past sedition, the central state randomly selects two teens from each of the 12 districts and puts them into a fight-to-the-death match in the woods, one watched like a reality show by every resident. The districts are supposed to cheer for their representatives and hope that one of their selected teens will be the one person who prevails.

So amidst dazzling pageantry, media glitz and public hysteria, these 24 kids — who would otherwise be living normal lives — are sent to kill each other without mercy in a bloody zero-sum game. They are first transported to the opulent capitol city and wined, dined, and trained. Then the games begin.

At the very outset, many are killed on the spot in the struggle to grab weapons from a stockpile. From there, coalitions form among the groups, however temporary they may be. Everyone knows there can only be one winner in the end, but alliances — formed on the basis of class, race, personality, etc. — can provide a temporary level of protection.

Watching all this take place is harrowing to say the least, but the public in the movie does watch as a type of reality television. This is the ultimate dog-eat-dog setting, in which life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” in the words of Thomas Hobbes. But it is also part of a game the kids are forced to play. This is not a state of nature. In real life, they wouldn’t have the need to kill or be killed. They wouldn’t see each other as enemies. They wouldn’t form into evolving factions for self-protection.

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BOOK AND ARTICLE REVIEW | The Oft-Ignored Mr. Turton in E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India Thumbnail

A Passage to India, by E.M. Forster [trade paperback]; also made into an award-winning film.

Perhaps the most important task of all would be to undertake studies in contemporary alternatives to Orientalism, to ask how one can study other cultures and peoples from a libertarian, or a nonrepressive and nonmanipulative, perspective.

Edward Said, Orientalism

When I asked Dr. Plauché what I should review for my first contribution to Prometheus Unbound, he suggested that I elaborate on my recent Libertarian Papers article: “The Oft-Ignored Mr. Turton: The Role of District Collector in A Passage to India.”  Would I, he asked, be willing to present a trimmed-down version of my argument about the role of district collectors in colonial India, a role both clarified and complicated by E.M. Forster’s portrayal of Mr. Turton, the want-to-please-all character and the district collector in Forster’s most famous novel, A Passage to India.  I agreed.  And happily.

For those who haven’t read the novel, here, briefly, is a spoiler-free rundown of the plot.  A young and not particularly attractive British lady, Adela Quested, travels to India with Mrs. Moore, whose son, Ronny, intends to marry Adela.  Not long into the trip, Mrs. Moore meets Dr. Aziz, a Muslim physician, in a mosque, and instantly the two hit it off.  Mr. Turton hosts a bridge party — a party meant to bridge relations between East and West — for Adela and Mrs. Moore.  At the party, Adela meets Mr. Fielding, the local schoolmaster and a stock character of the Good British Liberal.  Fielding invites Adela and Mrs. Moore to tea with him and Professor Godbole, a Brahman Hindu.  Dr. Aziz joins the tea party and there offers to show Adela and Mrs. Moore the famous Marabar Caves.

When Aziz and the women later set out to the cavea — Fielding and Godbole are supposed to join, but they just miss the train — something goes terribly wrong.  Adela offends Aziz, who ducks into a cave only to discover that Adela has gone missing.  Aziz eventually sees Adela speaking to Fielding and another Englishwoman, both of whom have driven up together, but by the time he reaches Fielding the two women have left.  Aziz heads back to Chandrapore (the fictional city where the novel is set) with Fielding, but when he arrives he is arrested for sexually assaulting Adela.  A trial ensues, and the novel becomes increasingly saturated with Brahman Hindu themes.  (Forster is not the only Western writer to be intrigued by Brahman Hinduism.  Ralph Waldo Emerson and William Blake, among many others, shared this fascination.)  The arrest and trial call attention to the double-standards and arbitrariness of the British legal system in India.

Rule of law was the ideological currency of the British Raj, and Forster attempts to undercut this ideology using Brahman Hindu scenes and signifiers.  Rule of law seeks to eliminate double-standards and arbitrariness, but it does the opposite in Chandrapore.  Some jurisprudents think of rule of law as a fiction.  John Hasnas calls rule of law a myth.  Whatever its designation, rule of law is not an absolute reality outside discourse.  Like everything, its meaning is constructed through language and cultural understanding.  Rule of law is a phrase that validates increased governmental control over phenomena that government and its agents describe as needing control.  When politicians and other officials lobby for consolidation or centralization of power, they often do so by invoking rule of law.  Rule of law means nothing if not compulsion and coercion.  It is merely an attractive packaging of those terms.

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