The first part of this essay recounts the totalitarian features of a little-known imaginary dystopia: Ira Levin’s This Perfect Day. The second part applies Levin’s revolutionary insights to the contemporary world.
“Chip, listen to me,” he said, leaning forward, “there’s joy in having it, in controlling, in being the only one.”—Wei, master spider of the Invisible Government (in Ira Levin’s This Perfect Day, 1970)
“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants.”—Thomas Jefferson, 1787
Many of us are familiar with George Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Both imaginative dystopias share the same pessimistic outlook: Once the Invisible Government takes over, revolution is impossible. In both novels, slavery is forever.
But not all artists share that pessimism. One such literary masterpiece is Ira Levine’s This Perfect Day (available in English in pdf format here and in Spanish in WORD format here). Though the novel was completed in 1969, it offers some vital lessons to contemporary revolutionary movements.
All power in Levin’s future world is centralized. Humanity is minutely managed by one gigantic computer, UniComp (or Uni for short), securely located in one enormous subterranean vault. Uni in turn is controlled by a group of some 100 programmers, doctors, and other professionals who live deep underground too, near Uni. These programmers are in turn answerable to a benevolent 200+-years-old dictator, Wei, the master spider and original mastermind of that dystopia.
As long as the programmers follow Wei’s agenda, they enjoy a life of luxury, fake night sky, freedom of movement, and a measure of intellectual freedom. They also benefit from a superb medical technology that has the potential of prolonging their lives almost indefinitely. On the other hand, if they try to meaningfully change the system, they will be forced out and partake again in the short, miserable life of the masses.
To the masses, and even to those chemically-untreated individuals living in comparative freedom in a few islands that are kept deliberately outside the system, the real government—the few programmers controlling Uni—is invisible. Also, everyone is under the false impression that the central computer is located at a display center above its real location. Thus, occasional attempts to destroy Uni (the central computer) fail because revolutionaries attack the wrong target, and because they mistakenly believe that their real enemy is a machine.
The sheeple have only eight names: four for men and four for women. There are no surnames, only a unique sequence of letters and numbers that identifies each person. Most people have been engineered to look alike. They always wear a bracelet which monitors and controls their every movement. Uni decides what their job will be, where they will live, and whether they will have children. Each person has an adviser, who reinforces the view that all is for the best in that best of all possible worlds, corrects the slightest deviation (by manipulating thought and by modifying the mind-controlling chemical regimen), and serves as a father-confessor.
Conformity is maintained through cradle-to-grave indoctrination and through a monthly chemical treatment that standardizes the people and renders them meek, gullible, and obedient. Infractions are often reported to the authorities by fellow citizens, friends, lovers, and family members who are led to believe that non-conformity = infirmity. Thus, in that perfect world, your own mother might turn you in, sincerely believing that she is helping you!
In this dystopia, the programmers and their central computer control the opposition too, thus further minimizing the chances of a meaningful revolution.
Controlling the opposition also serves as an ingenious, Darwinist, method of isolating potential trouble-makers and of recruiting new programmers. Both goals are achieved by deliberately providing an escape valve. Occasionally, an exceptional person—most likely just before receiving the chemical treatment—might begin to entertain doubts. This is particularly likely in the case of high-level yet indoctrinated officials who are themselves engaged in the brainwashing of others. Such people might begin to form a nucleus of resistance and figure out ways of reducing or eliminating the mind-altering chemical treatment. Once people get to that point, they gravitate towards an old-world museum, where some ancient books are on display. If they are highly intelligent and persistent, they can decipher the books (which are written in unfamiliar pre-New World Order languages such as French). They are intentionally given sufficient hints to help them see that their ancestors were freer and often lived longer than the assigned age (62 for the sheeple). Eventually, they become aware of the existence of a few remote islands free of Uni’s control.
The journey to one of these islands is perilous, and only a few lucky and intrepid voyagers make it. Each island sports a Honduras-style dictatorship. Most immigrants—despite their outstanding qualities and courage—are viciously discriminated against and barely manage to make ends meet. Now and then, the most determined undertake perilous expeditions to destroy Uni.
But here too Wei (the master spider) leaves nothing to chance, for one member of any expedition, a “shepherd,” is Wei’s agent. Those few who reach Uni—after an enormously difficult journey—usually explode the display center where Uni is allegedly located, and are then captured and enslaved again. The few wiser strategists who reach the real Uni are disarmed at the last moment by the shepherd, who then usher them into a room filled with laughing and applauding programmers. The master spider Wei then congratulates them and explains the new realities: From now on they will be awake and form part of his Invisible Government.
Intellectually, physically, and morally, the lucky newcomers are as good as it gets. They have successfully liberated themselves and prevailed against all odds. And yet . . . just about all of them willingly acquiesce to a world that assigns the vast majority to life in a termite mound.
Only one successful new arrival—the chief protagonist of the novel–has the moral and intellectual courage to resist. That man is nicknamed Chip (his formal name is Li RM35M4419). Chip owes his exceptional character to a few converging factors (besides his genetic makeup). First of all, in that standardized world, he must appear to his fellow zombies, and later even to his fellow programmers, as a grotesque, for he was born with one brown eye and one green eye. Second, his great-great-grandfather was an accomplished astronaut, and he too had one brown and one green eye. That is why his grandfather nicknamed him Chip (as in “chip off the old block”). Third, his grandfather was also an accomplished man who dared think for himself. At critical points during Chip’s early years, his grandfather did everything he could to plant seeds of doubts in his grandson, despite the risks. (Indeed, the young Chip ends up snitching on his “sick” grandfather ). Lastly, while Chip and his family were getting ready to descend 5 km underground and see the fake Uni, his grandfather (who was a member of the team that had built the central computer) unexpectedly appeared on the scene and took Chip on a private tour. His grandfather explained that the pretty, gleaming metal bulks presented to visitors as Uni are a façade. He then took Chip farther down, to see the real, ugly and cold, Uni. While there, he told Chip that Uni can be approached through a long, subterranean access tunnel—a tunnel first conceived by Chip’s grandfather himself. Thus, when the time comes to blow up the central computer, Chip will know where the real Uni is and how to approach it (but he will be lacking one critical piece of information: the existence of Uni’s programmers).
After joining the programmers, and after a few tentative attempts to confide in someone, Chip shares his misgivings with no one, lies low, and dedicates himself to the task of lulling Wei’s qualms. For example, to please Wei, Chip consents to the replacement of his green eye with a brown one—even though this involves giving up a cherished part of his identity.
Nine months after the arrival of Chip’s demolition team, another team is ushered in, receiving the same applause and rationales as Chip and his companions received upon their arrival. Chip slips away, gets hold of their explosives and weapons, and sets out to destroy Uni. After a physical confrontation with the powerful Wei (who has the body of a young athlete), Chip kills Wei and blows up Uni.
At the end of their fight, with Uni’s end approaching, Wei lets go of his previous rationalizations and explains his real motive for engineering the New World Order:
“Chip!” Wei cried. “It’s yours! It’ll be yours some day! We both can live! Chip, listen to me,” he said, leaning forward, “there’s joy in having it, in controlling, in being the only one.”
“That’s the absolute truth, Chip.”
“You’ll see for yourself. There’s joy in having it.”
Chip knew all along that it was power hunger—not altruism—that drove Wei to murders, chicanery, and conquests. On his way up from Uni to sunlight, Chip tells an angry programmer: “’There’s joy in having it’: those were [Wei’s] last words. Everything else was rationalization. And self-deception.” .
(We may note in passing that the same psychology probably applies to the likes of Alexander, Amschel Rothschild, Napoleon, John Rockefeller, and Adolf Hitler).
Following the demise of Uni and Wei, Chip, fellow programmers, and sheeple, walk away from the scene of devastation. With the sole exception of one member of the last expedition, everyone is angry at Chip and there is talk of lynching him. But Chip is armed and willing to defend himself, and both sheeple and programmers are too confused, too timid, to actually do him any harm.
The book ends with Chip riding a helicopter toward the island where his wife and son are hopefully waiting for him. For the first time in his life, Chip sees raindrops in daytime—nature’s affirmation that the era of total control is finally over.
Awake readers will immediately perceive parallels between life in This Perfect Day and our day. Indeed, if we allow the 2 or 8 or 80 or 800 people who control the West now to complete their project, our grandchildren will be lucky to live in a variation of This Perfect Day or Brave New World. If they are a bit less lucky, they will live in Orwell’s 1984. The most probable outcome, however, is a combination of all three novels, with variations. All these projections, however, might be forestalled or followed by biospheric collapse and the extinction of humanity.
In This Perfect Day and in our day, few men control most of the world’s countries. In these countries, almost all politicians, judges, and information sources are nothing more than the gleaming bulks of the fake Uni. Like Wei, the men of today’s Invisible Government are willing to forego fame and adoration by the crowds in exchange for power and their immediate subordinates’ servility and awareness.
There is no doubt that invisibility in our day enhances their power, just as it enhanced Wei’s power in This Perfect Day. Thanks to it, the vast majority believes that presidents, prime ministers, governors, judges, and other functionaries possess real power. In those rare instances where a few perceptive souls fully internalize one iniquity or another, they end up misdirecting their ire at these puppets.
In both This Perfect Day and our day, the opposition is controlled. Many well-known “enemies” of today’s system, many popular alternative websites, are part of that manipulated or owned opposition. Some of them are perhaps conscious of their role and take part in that deception willingly. Others might believe that they are fighting the system, unaware of their usefulness to the Invisible Government.
Let us move to what is perhaps the key practical message of Levin’s cautionary tale. All dissidents in that imaginary world understand the futility of trying to change the system through civil disobedience, appeals to the Invisible Government, or peaceful protests. They do not attempt to open the eyes of the chemicalized, hormonized, televised, indoctrinated, and timid masses. They shun civil disobedience, rioting, or killing indoctrinated and ignorant police and soldiers. Every dissident in Levin’s dystopia fully sees that only decapitation can destroy the system.
By contrast, today most contemporary “dissidents” talk themselves into the curious notion that a direct physical attack on the Invisible Government is immoral or bound to fail. Some writers and broadcasters in this camp are content to catalog the daily horrors of our world, but ignore Shelley’s obvious questions:
“O cease! must hate and death return?
Cease! must men kill and die?”
Others entertain the ill-conceived notion that the system can “democratically” reform itself. Still others might realize that the problem is systemic, and yet content themselves with such counterproductive and servile strategies as peaceful demonstrations. They are then capsaicinized, mauled, incarcerated, harassed, or even killed. Unless their movement is subtly backed by the Invisible Government (as was the case, e.g., with the Civil Rights and Women’s movements in the USA), these dissidents always, always, accomplish nothing—and yet they come back for more.
These dissidents dedicate themselves to doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. How many assassinated idealistic leaders, for instance, does it take to realize that the Invisible Government is perfectly willing to smear, incarcerate, or kill its opponents until genuine resistance dies? These dissidents have heard about the Gracchi brothers, Gandhi, King, the five Kennedys, Hammarskjold, Allende and thousands of others, yet somehow believe, or profess to believe, that this time around it will be different. Or: How many conversations with family members, friends, colleagues, or students does it take to convince oneself that the vast majority is brainwashed and will only wake up after the vicious system is overthrown? Your typical progressive intellectuals know history and yet, inexplicably, condemn themselves to repeat it.
Thus, the coming strategic uprising against the masters of war, inequality, slavery, and ecocide will be ignored, ridiculed, reproached, or given the silent treatment by both the mainstream and “dissident” media.
Like Chip, we are on our own.