Saturday, January 12, 2013
The Men in the Jungle
What a book for a 13-year-old to read. Norman Spinrad's The Men in the Jungle, that is.
Spinrad published it in 1967, when he was 26 or 27 years old. He says he is an anarchist, but in this, his second novel, he comes across about as conservative as Joseph Conrad is in Heart of Darkness. Spinrad's novel, not surprisingly, has a lot in common with it.
I originally started reading science fiction because of the sense of wonder and awe that I felt from it. I certainly didn't get any of those feelings from The Men in the Jungle, which is about how power intoxicates, and immunity corrupts. It's also about murder, cannibalism, genocide, slavery, and rape.
This novel remains the bloodiest, goriest, slice 'n' dice novel I have ever read. Even today, I have never read anything that even comes close to the horrors in this book. And yet, oddly, enough, I can't say it is a horror novel, just a science-fiction one.
Horror can be defined as evil attacking good, or chaos attacking order. None of those definitions really apply to Spinrad's novel. There isn't any good in it, or any order for that matter, not if order means "harmony." It's more like bad attacking evil, or chaos attacking something even more chaotic.
The novel is set some few hundred years in the future, on the planet Sangre, which had been ruled for the past 300 years by the Brotherhood of Pain. These several thousand human monsters enslave some 15 million people, torturing them for fun, eating them since there are no animals on the planet, and raping the specially-bred hot babes. There's nary a word about young boys and children, though. Maybe even that was too much for Spinrad,
It's all "fun and games," as one of the novel's character comments.
The whole planet is as close to a Hell as I have ever read, far worse even than Dante's Inferno.
The Brotherhood of Pain lives as the Marquis de Sade philosophized: self-willed, with unfettered free choice, committing hideous and irrational acts in their attempts to live as gods, lacking any moral sense in relation to other people, and, of course, sadististic and murderous. Nihilists, really, ones who worship themselves. And, as Russell Kirk so perceptively noticed, "the monstrous ego is the source of all evil."
Into this mess drops one Bart Fraden, along with his girlfriend, the improbably-named Sophia O'Hara, and his partner, Willem Vanderling.
Fraden sees the revolutionary potential on the planet, which he plans on exploiting to take the place over. That's not what exactly happens.
I won't spoil the novel, but I will point out what Spinrad is saying.
One, there are no good Revolutions, and I mean revolutions with a capital R. That is the kind of revolution in which people think they can destroy a society and rebuild it from the bottom up. The Nazis and the Communists tried it, and it lead to the deaths of some 100 million people.
Two, society is but a thin film holding down a lot of nasty human nature. When societies are destroyed by revolution, what you get is not all the inherent goodness of human nature popping up, but oftentimes a lot of destruction and genocide. Think the French Revolution, in addition to the Nazis and the Communists. Also think Pol Pot and the "Cultural Revolution" in Red China.
Three, those who direct violent, bloody revolutions almost always lose their souls. They become corrupted and intoxicated by the blood and the power, and after that happens, find it nearly impossible to repent. Dostoevsky, in his The House of the Dead, put it this way: "Blood and power intoxicate; coarseness and depravity are developed; the mind and the heart are tolerant of the most abnormal things, till at last they come to relish them. The man and the citizen is lost for ever in the tyrant, and the return to human dignity, to repentance and regeneration becomes almost impossible."
That's Sangre, alright.
Dostoevsky also noted that humanity's worst failing was a "constant lack of moral sense." To this I'll add that people rationalize they do have a moral sense no matter what perversion they use it for, because when people do evil they must convince themselves it is good, and people can deceive themselves into believing anything.
One of the most horrible thing about The Men in the Jungle is that the ghastly society destroyed is immediately, literally in the blink of an eye, replaced by something much worse, what Kirk called "Chaos and Old Night."
Those three characteristics above I would call "conservative," in the sense that true conservatives believe in flawed -- sometimes terribly flawed -- human nature, as opposed to liberals, who usually believe in the essential goodness of human nature, almost always to be developed by the government. However, it is the "government" that has bought three centuries of horror to Sangre. On this planet, our own Earth, it has also always been government which has murdered the largest number of people throughout history, without fail. One only needs to be The Gulag Archipelago to understand that.
After all, ultimately, all government is based on brute force and fraud.
The Men in the Jungle is a horrible and awful novel, not in the sense it is poorly written, but because it is about horrible and awful things. In a word, people.
The whole novel can be summed up in the dying Kurtz's last words in The Heart of Darkness: "The horror! The horror!" When it comes to the bad people can do, truer words were never spoken.