Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The more things change, the more things become The Village

While many remember how the 1960's went out, with hippies, anti-war movements, sympathy given to barbarians in the name of 'the little people' who were usually the ones killed by those self-same red barbarians, and those who were doing that deciding to stop washing (and thus becoming unwashed masses) few remember how it came in. Popular culture leading into the 1960's was clean cut, defined, categorized and had a feeling that those things we worked hard on as individuals would better ourselves and our families, while giving a chance to enrich the whole world.

While the unwashed replaced the washed and turned to darker visions, we forget that there was a wholly different set of darker visions from those who came in. If Danger Man/Secret Agent and James Bond represented the tough 'good guy', just how would they react when society went bad? Both took down bad individuals and groups, but they depended upon society as a whole to remain stalwart, unflinching in the face of challenges and to support the rights of the common man. They had seen the dark version of society over-run by those that tried to make everyone equal and make no one above average nor below it, and thus create societies where the common man had no reason to make himself better and had every reason to submit to the concerted power of government. The unwashed would take that banner up and take to the streets, shouting for rebellion, equality and freedom... just so long as they got to define those things and were not held to those standards.

One secret agent got a taste of that, when he saw that his service was not working out in the way he had expected. He did the ethical thing: he resigned.

He was too valuable to let go.

And so one side or the other picked him up, to force him to give up his adherence to his ethics and swear fealty to them. The cruel vision of government using 'good' to coerce was seen and the individual was pitted against the subservient society. While being made anonymous had a cachet to it as an agent, when one was stripped of their name and given a number as a fact of life, anonymity became uniformity and repression. And the enforced jaunty atmosphere of The Village would belie the absolute evil of a society coerced to be good by government. The Village would be in many places and yet no place that could be found. Its society existed for the sole use of the side that made it. Everyone had a number, and while numbers had meaning, they are not personalities. We would never learn that agent's name, but his number we would come to know.

He was #6.

He was The Prisoner.

So while those out in the streets were moving towards self-imposed feelings of authority to stop 'repression' one television program showed that if that psychotic view was made real, it would be more horrific than anything that could have been thought up by the brutal forms of socialism that had come before it. Numbers could disappear. Numbers could be played with. Numbers, ultimately, become unimportant. When your name is replaced by a number, then you become unimportant. This was exactly what those protesting in the street *wanted*, and the program would throw the vision of the street marchers right into their faces before many even took to the streets. In many ways the program was prophetic on what happens when Big Brother meets High Tech meets the ubiquity of obscurity.

The show is chock-a-block with quotations, quips and extremely difficult to understand scenes... and yet also had ones that would cut deeply to the problematic attitudes of the 'counter-culture' which would soon become the supporters of barbarism. Sometimes it was simple, and you would miss it:

“Honour is the natural expression of a democratic society.”

--A sign from the Labour Exchange; Episode: Arrival

Strange that no one had honor before democratic societies, isn't it? That is investing 'society', which in this case is government, with the attributes of the individual and stripping them from the individual. A very simple sign, until you think about where it is and what it means, then it becomes an expression of repression of the good of the individual.

In this twisted society the hierarchy of numbers did mean a few things, once you got to the single digits, thus the person who ruled The Village was #2. That position changed, indeed it was the number that had the power, although the individual did have to show some value to get the number. The famous exchange between #6 and #2 would start many of the episodes, and is a telling point throughout the series:

#6: "Where am I?"

#2: "In the Village."

"What do you want?"


"Whose side are you on?"

"That would be telling…. We want information. Information! INFORMATION!"

"You won't get it."

"By hook or by crook, we will."

"Who are you?"

"The new Number Two."

"Who is Number One?"

"You are Number Six."

"I am not a number — I am a free man!"

(Laughter from Number Two.)

And we would find out who was #1, although that, too, would be telling.

The nominal information that #2, and thus the rulers of The Village, wants is why #6 resigned. He had been a trusted, indeed highly trusted, individual if the previous Danger Man series was any indication. A Secret Agent that didn't need Bond's gadgets, just a sharp mind and a willingness to exercise it. Rare was the shoot-out, or blood spilled in Danger Man: he was a secret agent and, thus, trying to keep what he was doing a damned secret. Bond was a walking billboard, but John Drake was the non-entity that suddenly became important and then disappeared, over and over again.

The show's creator, Patrick McGoohan, poked fun at the episodic format, at many of the major failings of shows like The Avengers or Man from U.N.C.L.E. #6 was used to winning, used to winning well, used to winning quickly, and when, at the end of the first episode, he finds that he has *not* outwitted those running The Village, his determined walk back is not only being upset at not winning but miffed at no longer being in episodic television. And he, the versatile man of all seasons, would *not* give in to simple setbacks. Those that would be in the position of #2 on a temporary basis, however, were not so sanguine, as their task was to break #6 and have him come over to their 'side' willingly, not as a broken man.

No.2: “We can treat folly with kindness . . . knowing that soon his wild spirits will quieten, and the foolishness will fall away to reveal a model citizen.”

No.6: “That day you'll never see.”

--Episode: Dance of the Dead

McGoohan purposely made The Village to be a non-place and yet represent every place - we could each claim to be different members of different Nations, and yet conformity of life to certain things would create a global Village, that was not that of Marshall MacLuhan's visage of a global 'tribal identity' but one that was an enforced mono-identity where individuation is not lost but abolished. MacLuhan invented the idea of 'surfing' ideas, which represented the fragmentation of individual thought, but McGoohan places that as a coercive condition enforced by those that rule The Village. In one visage mankind fractionates to a lowest common denominator, in the other we are dissolved until there is only commonness in that we are not individuals but mere numbers. These two outlooks come from the same, short period of years before the 'counter-culture' took off in full, and while many radicals would try to spout MacLuhan, they were, inadvertently, confirming McGoohan: they wanted to abolish the individual and create a state ruled so as to eliminate individualism. Just so long as the elites got to retain their own to 'guide society'. In thinking they spouted radicalism, they were, instead, supporting totalitarianism and we live with that to this day.

The telling thing about McGoohan's vision of this new world against that of MacLuhan's, is that it is highly descriptive as it is not a work to address the intellect, but one to address the visual media. MacLuhan thought the oral tradition would return with power via the spoken word, while McGoohan saw that the written word was a means to an end, and that a living society, even represented in small part, would tell much, much more than any book. Plus it allowed for him to skewer the very artifacts of society and government that would be backing the concept of an enforced societal standard that wasn't tribal, but truly horrific.

The 'arts' had become a source of cultural amusement and ceased to have much in the way of value impact, save via 'shocking' art: those pieces of art that offended and no longer uplifted the spirit. One episode would feature an art contest, and #2 would seek to persuade #6 to enter it:

No.2 [scanning book]: “There. . .At the age of fifteen, top of his class in woodwork! That's the sort of thing! I mean, join in!”

No.6: “I'll make you a handle for this door.”

--inside the Green Dome; Episode: Chimes of Big Ben

This is the strongest and most able of the #2s we see in the program: strong willed, sharp of mind and well able to verbally joust with #6 on an equal basis. He would be back at the end of the series in the finale between #6 and #2, but here in this earlier episode it is the attempt to wear down and persuade that matters. Needless to say that even when he does enter the competition, he creates something that appears to be wholly nonsensical, to the point that even the Judges have a problem with it:

A Judge: “We're not quite sure what it means.”

No.6: “It means what it is.”

--at the art exhibition; Episode: Chimes of Big Ben

Yes, we do hear that quite often from artists in the modern world! Still the art would help in an escape attempt, so that working through nonsense to escape reality does have very deep meaning via the episode. Of course it wouldn't work.

No.6: “The whole earth as. . . `The Village'?”

No.2: “That is my hope. What's yours?”

No.6: “I'd like to be the first man on the moon!”

--Episode: Chimes of Big Ben

When the obvious attempts to escape don't work, then the matter of breaking #6 goes to the core of the man. Can an individual be twisted enough to finally be defeated by society? Time and again he would be assaulted beyond just physically or even mentally, even the bastion of knowledge and dreams would be invaded to abolish his resistance. But the skewering of elitist society of our age would continue unabated, as seen with an episode in which 'speed learn' is tried out as a test on The Village, to see just what can be put into people's minds without them being able to resist it. That would be run by 'The General' and his wife would be heavily into 'education' and 'self-expression' of the very modern, leftist persuasion:

No.6: “What are we all looking for?”

Professor's Wife: “Well, let's see. That gentleman over there. What do you think he's doing?”

No.6: “Tearing up a book.”

Professor's Wife: “He's creating a fresh concept. Construction arises out of the ashes of destruction. And that woman?”

No.6: “Standing on her head.”

Professor's Wife: “She's developing a new perspective.”

--Episode: The General

Yes and a modern 'tax credit' that goes beyond what one actually makes is called: welfare. Just try to say that to a leftist, today, and they will declaim it as something else. But then they are using a new perspective to create fresh concepts. Any appearance of this being just like the 'social activism' of later years is purely intentional, let me assure you, as when these 'fresh concepts' get enforced on society the result is things like book burnings while people cheer at the destruction of knowledge. For that is where 'social activism' leads as we have seen time and again: not to a new tribal state, but to an enforced abolishing of knowledge and wisdom to conform to some elitist ethos that is never stated, but fully mandated. It is very strange the love/hate affair that so many on the left have with MacLuhan, that it is an enticing vision even while it destroys their elitist claim to fame. In trying to avoid it, in trying to create a 'better culture' or a 'safer world' by enforcing their beliefs on race, class and society via what they teach, what they 'create' and in trying to denigrate the actual society around them, they are creating The Village of McGoohan, the one they never talk about because he is so hard for them to understand... due to his vision hitting their mark and their detestation of what his thumbnail sketch shows it to be.

As part of that aversion to actually calling things as they are, excusing barbarism and wanting to create a revolutionary new concept of a society that helps people by diminishing them, politics degrades into a death spiral. If power gets concentrated, then getting hands on those concentrated points of power becomes the end goal of politics. Just as in The Prisoner the 'sides' become mirror images that both point in the same direction. It doesn't matter which 'side' runs The Village as they are no different from each other in seeking to grasp and hold power for its own sake. Thus elections, even for the slot of #2, are held, and absolutely meaningless. And, yes, #6 finds himself compelled to run, by the coercive means of the government... but it is against his better judgment:

No.6: "Elections? In this place?"

No.2: “Of course. We make our choice every 12 months. Every citizen has a choice. Are you going to run?"

No.6: “Like the blazes; first chance I get.”

No.2: “I meant, run for office?”

--Episode: Free For All

Would you want to run for office in today's corrosive atmosphere of politics? Where any slight smudge is taken as a national disgrace... unless you are of the 'pure party' in which case several dead lovers of both sexes wouldn't ever incriminate you in anything. You would run like blazes, too! In an atmosphere where falling short of being angelic is cause for absolute disdain and yet in not holding another side to that standard, you create a disjunction in society. That not only lessens the ability to have an honest discussion, because an unstated bias is present, but it also starts to devolve the actual content of political speech. After a speech saying that The Villagers have heads like 'rotten cabbages' we come to one of the few political speeches that I thought could not be topped for its vapidity, here given by #6 once he is into the swing of things:

There are those who come in here and deny that we can supply every conceivable civilised amenity within our boundaries. You can enjoy yourselves and you will. You can partake of the most hazardous sports and you will. The price is cheap. All you have to do in exchange is give us information. You are then eligible for promotion to other and perhaps more attractive spheres. Where do you desire to go? What has been your dream? I can supply it. Winter, spring, summer or fall - they can be all yours at any time. Apply to me and it will be easier and better.

-- Episode: Free For All

Literally promising the seasons in exchange for what makes you an individual. And yet, today, we get a politician in which 'We are the people we have been waiting for' and that he will ensure that everyone is forced to be 'active' in society, according to his wife. At least #6 promises self-indulgence or be seen as rotten cabbages, while a modern politician promises narcissism and then enforced work.

That haunting suspicion that art, education and politics is all set up to enforce a common, elitist view and enforce it via electronic media no longer looks like something of an idle threat. This is not MacLuhan's concept of a global tribalism, but McGoohan's emerging Totalitarian State becoming present. Just give up all you believe in and government will provide everything for you... and enslave you as you are no longer an individual. No longer a person.

That is the point of Transnationalist ideals, even while they play up 'groups' they ensure that individuals no longer matter as you are just a sum of your groups: never more than that. While that has always been the aim of the Progressive/Socialist/Communist/Fascist/Nazi realm, you would think they would have embraced the wholesome 'naturalness' of a new global tribal culture. And yet it is distrusted as it is derived from a lowest common denominator basis: it has no higher goals, no higher aspirations and would abolish class, race, and ethnic identity. To keep those they must be played up, some elevated and others denigrated via those categories and a willing media must 'toe the line' with this 'intellectually superior' form of totalitarianism. Mankind must have what is 'natural' and 'right' defined for it by an elite, and must never be allowed to self-define it for itself (if that is even possible).

The media's role is also seen in the Free For All episode, as #6 gives an interview with a reporter:

Reporter: How are you going to handle your campaign?

Number 6: No comment.

Reporter: [writing] "Intends to fight for freedom at all...

Photographer: Smile!

Reporter: ...costs." How about your internal policy?

Number 6: No comment.

Reporter: "Will tighten up on Village security."

Photographer: Smile!

Reporter: How about your external policy?

Number 6: No comment.

Reporter: "Our exports will operate in every corner of the globe." How do you feel about life and death?

Number 6: Mind your own business.

Reporter: "No comment."

-- Episode: Free For All

Even better is once he gets off the runabout that the interview takes place on, he goes to the Tally Ho! news stand and gets a copy of it featuring 'Number 6 Speaks His Mind' in the headline... yes, we have precedent for the article being written before the event happens and it pre-dates the internet! And you get the idea that he isn't smiling much for the photographer as the paper needs to use his old photograph seen being X-ed out at the beginning of the program and dropped into a drawer in a cabinet by automated equipment. He gives no interview, gives no smile and yet there is the interview with his smiling self on the front page. Will wonders never cease?

If the enchanting nightmare of an enforced 'happy society' of repression is one that is chilling, then consider that the only way to counter it is the exact, same one that The Prisoner uses: strong individuality. Then look at the predominance of numbers in The Village that have given in to enforced happiness, and you get an idea of why the elites seek such power. A secret agent sworn to uphold society must leave his position if he sees society coming under the sway of government and elites. When given the ability to 'help' such a society but only by giving in to the elites and becoming their pawn, he must ask if there is any 'good' in what the elites seek at all? He will have to face that any choice given him by such an elite structure is designed to enhance itself and subjugate him. His only way to help the entire society is to persist in seeking a way to dissolve the elites out form society so that a greater good can be worked out, no matter how painful the transition is.

The dichotomy of visions between McGoohan and MacLuhan is not a dichotomy: these are not inevitable sides of a coin, nor even ends in a continuum. What they are is the result of two warnings of our historical past written into the future. MacLuhan worries about humanity's ability to boil its essence down to a 'tribal' basis that is quite primitive. McGoohan warns of the totalitarian past fresh in his culture's mind right after World War II, and the ability of the then Communist powers to misdirect their culture via Orwellian techniques. One posits the lowest common denominator effect and the other the enforced culture via government effect. The other major path, and there are many, is the rights of man to create society, talked about in the Declaration of Independence, which was a distillation of centuries of thought on the role of the individual in creating society.

Currently these three main realms of human interaction types are pretty well defined.

1) MacLuhan tribalism - The 'social' sites like MySpace, Friendster, etc. These look to be social interaction venues that do tend to remove higher level discussion and enforce a more 'tribal' form of lowest common denominator culture via link-association groups. That rendering process is ongoing and will probably never settle into the full MacLuhan mode due to the diversity of human culture. Attempts to boil cultures that far down will be resisted by those who want no part in loss of cultural identity as that gives meaning to the lives of individuals. It is a force and it is present on the internet, but it is not the overwhelming majority of the net, but of particular venues for certain parts of some cultures.

2) McGoohan totalitarianism - Here the MSM and Leftist venues are in accord to attempt to create this. The Orwellian 'memory hole' is now seen with ever changing and often disappearing articles. The internet provides a venue for historical revisionism within those who adhere to these ideals. What it is, however, is global in reach: that is not to say each country but to all the varying ethos types on the internet. The problem totalitarian has with the internet is that it is 'flat' in structure. It is a common address space that does have key sites to run the space, but not dominate it. Any attempt to filter or subvert a part of it sees information start to re-route via other means. This is partly the 'information wants to be free' concept of the Open Source community coming into play, but it is more the curiosity of humanity forcing these other ways to open. China dearly wishes to make its Great Firewall a success but find, just like the earlier physical Great Wall, that people go around it, bribe guards and generally find other means to negate it.

3) Rights of Man Individualism - This is the slowest growing type, but one of the most vital as it does not seek a lowest common denominator nor a systemic thought control system. The idea that individuals band together to create society to protect themselves and, thereby, open up a civil venue for discussion is one of the most revolutionary in mankind's history. Tribalism resists it, but can be changed by this form of dialogue, although slowly. Totalitarianism attempts to suppress it, but finds its means unequal to human curiosity. Individualism requires civil dialog and content, while the others do not, meaning that the descent to name calling, base emotional attacks and juvenile forms of behavior become the norm for both tribal and totalitarian realms. While in the physical world it is not possible to shut up such people, online the power to remove such debasement while not turning totalitarian is something that can be done, but only with trepidation. If we value freedom of speech, then individuals making judgments on the validity of some speech to be heard is one that can lend itself to totalitarian suppression or the enforcement of minimal content via addition like tribalism. The touchstone to the Rights of Man is Civility, for that is how Civil culture and Civilization are formed: without civility we, as humans, tend towards the other means of government and thought. Individualism resists the very action of regularization of discussion, however, as the power of the individual for self-expression is given paramount importance.

Thus when it is asked 'where is the conservative version of dKos, DD, DU, Huff Po, etc.' the answer is that there is no regularity of intercourse because we are all free people and have our own way to express ourselves and do not want nor need centralization of control for messages or thought. The structure that has not been tried is that of the minimal support alliance system: where individuals with a set of base common ideas and ideals form associations based on those ideals and exchange ideas within that loose association. The 'blogroll' or 'web ring' is close to something like this, but is an inexact tool for mutual aid and support. To get that requires some mutual cooperation and support by members, which is a task that will take time and energy to do. Civilization is hard to support and requires effort to do so. Individuals often forget this and, thusly, do not put in more than minimal support save for those things they support wholeheartedly. Even worse is the over-zealous supporters will feel that not everyone is contributing as much as they are: they are correct. No set group of individuals will EVER feel the exact same amount of passion on ANYTHING. That is what the tribalism and totalitarian areas do - force support either socially or via the controlled echo chamber. Supporting individualism requires that each individual understand that basic concept and that no denigration for those who DON'T support things with equal zealousness be derided in that. The obverse is that your hard work sets a GOOD EXAMPLE and may SHAME others into pitching in more. That is not the 'why aren't you doing as much as I am?' question, which is a form of self-horn blowing, but should be one in which an individual says: 'I believe fervently in this, understand that others do not and accept and gladly thank those that can contribute for their contribution to our common effort'.

While each of these three areas overlap, which is no surprise given the diversity of individuals on the planet, they also are mutually in check. Each of the areas is not amenable to be absorbed into the other two, as the touchstones for each are different and require things that the other two cannot ever give up wholly or even in large part. Tribalism dare not go rigid and totalitarian as that turns members of society away from a vibrant culture, nor can it go the free-wheeling way of individualism as it supports common culture over individualism, although leaves space for some individual expression. Totalitarian views require inflexibility, by and large, and so cannot adapt to the flexibility of culture in tribalism or the mass interplay of ideas in individualism. While some individual self-expression is allowed, the mandated 'party line' or 'talking points' must always be adhered to. Individualism shuns the rigidity of thought in totalitarianism and the straight jacket of base common culture in its assertion that civility creates structures above mere tribalism and helps for larger common endeavors. While members may be parts of tribes and more rigid communities, the necessity of civil and honorable ideas and content while addressing your fellow man excludes the debasement of language used in the other areas.

The only worrying part is that only one of the three, totalitarianism, is set up for large scale power grabs. If that does happen in the physical world, the online will suffer or even disappear due to that. That is, however, a 30 year out worry, but the trends towards it must be observed, analyzed and countered at all costs as the death toll to totalitarian societies coming into being is horrific beyond compare. So if you see more and more of the world start to mirror The Village, you will know what is happening. And the disturbing trends of recent years is towards that sort of world view... global and totalitarian.


Peregrine John said...

This is genius, my friend. Remind me to bug you again about collecting these in book form...

A Jacksonian said...

My thanks!

I will probably start doing that at my Alternative Fiction place, where I am putting some of my fictional work... it seems that the world is turning far too much into fiction these days, so my ideas being so far out of tune with reality become, thusly, fiction.