Why I Created a Millennial Lemuel Gulliver and Wrote Travels of a New Gulliver
“Investments in zero-carbon energy are relatively inexpensive and good for the economy . . . But it’s tough –pointless? — to make these arguments to the energy companies and their Congressional lackeys, who will fight as they have been effectively paid to do.” — Mark Bittman, “Let’s Not Braise The Planet,” NY Times, July 2, 2013
All manner of crises, fierce arguing, unfathomable advocacies, and Yahoo level (Jonathan Swift’s “Yahooes” and not the search engine) absurdities accompanied me as I wrote Travels of a New Gulliver over the past three years.
While I always hoped for a break into “sweetness and light” in our politics and a sudden appearance of our “better angels,” what went on confirmed my belief that only satire with a Swiftian edge was what the circumstances demanded. When “their” rationality and “your’ rationality” clearly emerge not from any much desired and much abused Objective Realm of Rationality but rather from imaginaries that come fully loaded with their arsenals of reason, you need to deal with those imaginaries.
Imaginary realms are fictional realms. They come provided with cast of characters, plot, motives, tragic flaws, dreams, antipathies, ambitions, hard shell beliefs, bedrock certainties, and unshakeable histories. Let’s call it the usual baggage of human nature. And of course there is an underside, the “Dark Side,” call it a repressed unconscious, or The Unthought, or The Devil, “He Who Cannot Be Named.”
So, the whole package looks like this: we live in imaginary spaces that defend themselves with “objective reasoning” but at very bottom, we find that the darkest forces of human nature prove more aggressive and compelling than the pale prohibitions of restraint. What proves most dramatic on the human stage is not some hand in hand walk to a peaceable kingdom but a hearty and vicious struggle to overcome others, empower oneself and bask in the rewards of such victory.
Whose reason is universally accepted to peel back the curtain here? To disclose and announce to everyone’s satisfaction The Truth? We live in a millennial clime in which truths not only cry out in the streets but narratives roam cyberspace the way the cicadas this summer swarm the east coast. We pay heed in nano seconds, or, we find OUR narrative and we look no further, dismissing channels, websites, friends, apps, hashtags, and politicians who insist on The Truth of their narratives. The fact that we now use the postmodern tag — narrative — for argument, brief, exposition, analysis, case, strategy and so on tells us directly that we are aware of our spinning ways. But, alas, we are aware only to the degree of recognizing your opponent’s spinning/narrating ways while you yourself remain on the path of Truth.
How useless is our toolbox of rationality? Consider two examples: global warming and immigration:
The warming may be only temporary and in accord with a natural cycle we’re too new to have experienced.
Or, it may be only slowly progressive and we’ve got plenty of time to develop the tech to deal with it.
Or, it may be the result of what humans have been doing to the atmosphere since the industrial revolution.
If we choose either of the first two cases and it turns out the third case was true and something could have been done, we’ve doomed ourselves and certainly all those future generations so often envisioned when austerity and the national debt are the topic.
If we choose the third option and proceed from fossil fuels to a green economy and it turns out human action wasn’t involved in global warming, or that hi-tech solved the problem so that we could pollute the planet without jeopardy to ourselves, we’d be alive and well with egg on our faces. Sad but not fatal.
Rationality tells us to take the safe course because so much is at stake. But we don’t. The science is “not yet in,” or the dire consequences have been overblown by beserk environmentalists who are anti-capitalism at heart. It’s also possible that global warming will be the sort of crisis that smart market players will turn into a profitable opportunity. We’ll have beach front where previously there was no beach front. We’ll have more Florida like winters in New England and who doesn’t love Florida in the winter?
Because we are in a “Quick Return on Investment” climate, one in which we are not investing for the future but for increased profit to shareholders NOW, predicted dystopic futures carry little weight. “Get in and Get out” captures the mood of capitalist investment in our financial sector which is the engine driving the economy. “Get yours and Leave the Scene” is nothing more than a resurrection of the ancien regime’s “après moi, le deluge.” No amount of reasoning, no amount of evidence can overwhelm this dominating ethos. As the Millennial like to say; “It is what it is.” So what it is is patent absurdity impervious to any critical approach.
My second example of irrationality is immigration. Quite clearly, the economic success of the U.S. in the 20th century had much to do with the hybridity of its population. Variant cultural mindsets came at the same problems from different directions, hence our American inventiveness. Immigrants have been good for the U.S. and vice versa.
As TV sets reached the poor in places like Africa and South America, American and Western European bourgeois prosperity, with all its material comforts, became alluring screen spectacles. The hordes of the hungry, homeless, jobless wanted in. But if they entered the country legally, they would be able to qualify for “entitlements” paid for by taxpayers. No one likes to pay taxes but some don’t like to pay them because the Federal government will hand out that money to “Moochers.”
Capitalist competitiveness is a game that is frustrated by rewarding people who are not in the competitive arena. Such largesse is an affront to capitalism itself, a transgression that, if left unchallenged, will turn capitalism into a welfare state, a socialist pit of equalized poverty and misery.
Also, if a rational immigration program was in effect to legalize immigrants, they would be eligible for wages and benefits denied illegals. No illegal alien has to be paid union wages or given health insurance or a retirement pension. They don’t initiate class action suits and they don’t vote. And so wealthy and thereby powerful Democrats and Republicans who enjoy the cheap labor that illegal aliens provide as gardeners, nannies, drivers, cooks, housekeepers as well as field and factory workers, do not want their illegal alien supply to vanish.
When both sides of a two party political system share the same interests in regard to illegal aliens then you can expect little headway in immigration “reform.” A conservative/libertarian/Tea Party entrepreneurial class must, however, satisfy the xenophobes, bigots and sometimes racists who support them by seeming to be fighting to keep Latinos out of the country. Behind the scenes of this front, however, there is little inclination to tamper with a status quo that has proven profitable to the wealthy on both sides of the aisle.
Immigration is certainly not the only issue in which wealth and profit trumps political ideology or moral concern. Profits were not made only by market rule Republicans in Iraq and Afghanistan, nor are Republicans the only ones collecting dividends on fossil fuel consumption. Regardless of political affiliation, those making profit on a status quo that harms planet, workers, and consumers join hands in preserving that status quo.
Given this state of millennial affairs — and I cite only two incidences of our “theatre of the absurd” — I resurrected Lemuel Gulliver, or, in truth, only the name, and satire and fictional fantasy as my representing tools.
Satire punctures but not in the fashion of a scrutinizing riposte.
What sense is there is assuming a rational high ground or some neutral outside point of observation when those you wish to reach do not recognize or accept either assumption? Comical satire punctures the imaginary bubble, the dome of reality, we each construct for ourselves, and lets some outside/otherness air in.
Attachment to our own arguments and truths remain steadfast because they are not being countered in my satirical novel, but nevertheless the characters, plot and dialogue of our imaginaries move to a larger stage. You might say our dedication to our own attachments weakens as it is dispersed, not to The Real Truth, but to a more accommodating imaginary. What and who did not exist before for us become representable within an expanded imaginary. We feel and sense differently in this new imaginary. And, I suggest, we begin to fashion reasons that support the renewed imaginary life-world into which we have entered. I acknowledge that every novelist hopes this is the case.
Because I believe we have gone so far astray in the ways in which we imagine each other and so deeply entrenched in our rational justifications for the way we imagine each other, the toolbox of rationality — point/counterpoint, logic, analysis — and realism — facts and evidence — only work on those already in your camp.
A satire, however, which aims not at “the world as we all know it,” but at fictional, fabulous and fantastic worlds, imaginary worlds we all know are not real, has a chance at a universal impact. Regardless of whether you are Liberal or Neo-liberal, a Have or a Have Not or a Diminishing Have Just Enough, fantastical satire is never about you — until it has set its barb and you are hooked and it is all about you.
Whether you believe Obama and the Affordable Care Act are socialist or not, global warming is a hoax or not, believe the Federal Government and not Wall Street caused The Great Recession or vice versa, believe more technology will solve environmental problems or hold that less tech will do that . . . and so on, ad infinitum, you can enter the fictional world of the new Gulliver without fear.
In answering a question as to whether there is any hope in my satiric novel, TRAVELS OF A NEW GULLIVER, I answer that I hope my satire reaches home, regardless of what camp you are in, and that the result may be a bit of laughter at ourselves, a richer way of imagining the world you are in by imagining the world others are in.
When the way we imagine the world changes, the world we create changes accordingly. My greatest hope runs counter to Jonathan Swift’s own estimate of satire: Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own. I believe and hope we do see our own face among the laughable others and learn thereby to laugh at our own absurdities. In that is the beginning of a a saving politics. A final hope.
Travels of a New Gulliver (Chapters 1-4)