J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise is like MySpace pages or user comments on a blog entry about Glenn Beck or Michael Vick – it’s a good place to lose your faith in humanity. According to Ballard’s novel, it would take about three months for polite, civilized society to devolve into violent splinter groups of thugs and cannibals.
That devolution time may seem a little compressed from a Western vantage, but the book advances the theme that technology hastens our descent – which in this case is an automated high-rise arcology. Not that technology by itself is the cause, but as it fills a bigger role in creating and maintaining social structure, it frees us to explore all our wayward or deviant impulses.
It can even amplify our deep-seated psychoses. If I had read this book ten years ago, I might have thought it odd that Ballard’s bourgeoisie took pictures of their hedonistic exploits, but that would have been before I saw the pics from Abu Ghraib, where the perpetrators inexplicably documented their crimes, apparently for their own edification.
Of course ten years previous (1999) was a more innocent time, when videos of women crushing kittens and small animals were all the rage on the Internet. And those videos may rise again, if the Supreme Court goes the Scalia Way on U.S. v. Stevens (the Scalia Way is the way that works only if you have your bloated head up your own fat ass far enough to prevent you from noticing the inherent contradictions in your own twisted belief system).
Maybe three months is too long for devolution. It gives us too much credit. The Internet, it is just a personal echo chamber that gives the illusion of relevance to any and all comments and activities (including these words I am typing right now…) while also making it easier for people to decontextualize their actions.
Look at any Internet story on Michael Vick, and you’ll realize there are innumerable people who think they are being funny or original or vaguely clever with the comment “dogs is tasty.” That would be disheartening enough, but it gets outright depressing when you realize the level of dialogue isn’t much better in the “hallowed halls” of the Supreme Court or Congress.