Thursday, January 15, 2009

Book Review

Hocus Pocus

There seems to be one consistent theme running through this book. That theme is the criticism of capitalism. Breaking it down further, it could simply be a statement on evolutionary theory and how there is a relentless winnowing of all that is good in place of all that is efficient. You'll notice that this description of evolution serves as a decent description of capitalism. Not having the book in front of me, there are three examples I can remember to support this.

1. Vietnam. This one is hard to quantify without actual quotes but since no one reads this blog I'll try. The Preacher repeatedly refers to the corporations of I G Farben and Du Pont, makers of napalm and other war materials. He implies that warfare is bound by the same rules of business, the most efficient side usually wins. Efficiency in this context means which side can side the other side with the least expenditure of blood/treasure on their end. He also makes several statements on how the young soldiers under his command are simply there as cannon fodder. The weak (or maybe just unlucky in this case) are removed in a relentless and remorseless winnowing process. The implication - the efficiency of war leads to one endpoint and that is the annihilation of everyone.
2. Tralfamadore and bacterial spores. Apparently the entire point of human existence is to create a bacterial spore strong enough to float through the universe and make contact with other lifeforms. We create viruses and cures for those viruses that only mutate them and make them stronger. Those viruses that are too weak die out, those that aren't become stronger. A relentless selective process - he doesn't say so explicitly but the implications are clear - eventually we'll create something that we won't be able to contain and will most likely consume us.
3. The Japanese takeover of most American industries. Vonnegut takes some liberties with part of the novel, describing Japanese takeovers of American prisons and a couple other examples that I can't remember right now. The point being, that our pursuit of efficiency (in itself a pursuit of profit) has led us to this point. To make the point even more explicit, he ties the prison to Vietnam through the Japanese warden. The Warden considers his job as analogous to a tour of duty in Vietnam. To them, America is a quagmire. The endpoint? America as we know it no longer exists.

So, the theme here? There's not much hope for us as a species. This novel is pretty bleak in that regard. The method of our destruction? Our own quest for efficiency, our own curiosity, and the systems we've set up to enable them.