Planet of the Taxpayers
The remake of The Planet of the Apes — the apes look real this time — purports to give the backstory of how it is that the world came to be governed by primates while the handful of humans are caged and abused.
The story line is so conventional that you could make it up just sitting there. A private-sector biochemical corporation rushes to test a drug that is supposed to reverse Alzheimer's. It is tested on apes and the drug makes them strangely intelligent. But the same drug unleashes a killer virus among humans. The rest is science-fiction history.
The anticapitalism is so familiar that it is not even as disturbing as it should be. The CEO struts around in super-fancy suits, always in a rush from place to place, and his main job is to look cool and bark at everyone. Several times he snaps that drug development is all about profits. He tells a research scientist (paraphrasing): "Don't talk to me about risk. Develop the drug. Then you get famous and I make money. That's the way it works."
Ah yes, corporate management, as told by the movies.
Then there is the privately owned ape prison where the animals are enslaved in cages before being taken to the laboratory to be pumped full of experimental drugs. They are shocked with electric prods, hit with clubs, fed gruel, and humiliated constantly by the jerk in charge.
How the viewer feels such deep sympathy for these poor creatures. And how satisfying once they plot their big break. Led by the most intelligent and strong among them — an ape learns to pick a lock — they reenact Bastille Day; they leap out the top of the ape prison and run wild on the city. But they don't just kill people. No, they are compassionate and even humane. They only want to get back to their native habitat, where they can climb and leap from tree to tree.
Cheer the wonderful apes! How much they seem to embody our own plight!
How so? Well, if you get the ideological import of the film, we are all enslaved to reckless corporations and their relentless drive for profits. They experiment on us when they are good and ready and otherwise keep us in their cages and feed us gruel.
Not to put too fine a point on it: we are the apes!
What must we do about this? We must gain a new consciousness, come together, and plot our escape! Let us find the key, outwit our corporate masters, and run like hell until we find our paradise, which is surely somewhere where we can commune with nature and live without the corporate noose around our necks.
There's just one problem: this has nothing to do with reality. Yes, corporations want profits. Surely those are better than losses. And how do they get them? By making stuff that we want to buy. If we don't want the stuff, we need only not buy it. Refraining from spending is how we get the alleged noose off our necks.
The whole system in a free market operates not on a master/slave relationship but on an exchange nexus. All parties have to agree. If anyone is enslaved in this system, it is the corporation, which must slavishly try to extract money from us by giving us goods and services that we want. If they fail, they die. If they live, it is we who give them life.
The successful companies make profits because it turns out that we do want smartphones, good clothes at an affordable price, healthcare, cool home furnishings, laptops, food that doesn't poison us, ice cream from time to time, fish from Vietnam, social-networking applications, fruit from Brazil, shoes from China, pianos from Germany, and electronics from Japan.
What's more, these companies are not hogging their profits. On the contrary, many are urging us to pay into an ownership stake with them in the hope that we will earn dividends, and the value of our ownership claim will rise as the company becomes ever more valuable.
And yet it is true that a form of slavery exists and thrives today, all over the world. We do live in cages. We are prodded by electrical shocks. We are fed gruel of sorts. And they do experiment on us. I'm speaking of the relationship of individuals all over the world to governments all over the world.
They live off us entirely, because governments produce nothing of their own. They extract 40 percent of our wealth in one way or another and use that money to build their castles and their power. In fact, that is our main value to them. Otherwise, we would have no value at all.
In the name of providing us welfare throughout life, they loot us throughout life. In the name of providing us security, they humiliate us and treat us all like animals — and then have the gall to say that this system is all about public service. They manufacture billions of laws that no one can possibly keep and yet put us in jail when they decide to catch us breaking them. They order us to kill each other in the name of patriotism, but they are the only winners in this game.
The states have organized the whole of humanity along political lines. I'm an American. You are Chinese. You are Russian. You are Nigerian. You are a Swede. But look at it: most of these political borders are wholly arbitrary and even artificial. The sea-to-shining-sea idea was a concoction of 19th-century elites, not of the founders. There is nothing in history called "China" — the elites had to trample down historic regional dynasties to concoct the modern nation-state.
And with social networking and digital communication, we are discovering something extremely important. We all have closer connections — potentially more-profound relationships — with each other than any of us have with the individual states that rule us. The salient fact is that we are stronger together than apart. Together we are the overwhelming majority, and they the minority. As we've seen in the Arab Spring, we can come together to teach each other and plot and plan our future. Then we only need to act.
But there's no need for any escape to anywhere. We are already home. It is the state that is the uninvited guest, the interloper who trashed the place, the invader who has distorted reality and violates our rights. We need only to assert our authority over ourselves and claim what is rightfully ours. They will be left to scramble, but their propaganda will have no effect, because we know the difference between the truth and their lies.
And what will we be left with? The freedom to serve each other, to cooperate with each other, to innovate and own. The result will be what Murray Rothbard called "anarchocapitalism," or what Hans Hoppe called the "natural society" without the state.
So, yes, there is a sense in which this movie has it all exactly right. We are the apes. But it makes one giant error in radically misconstruing the difference between friend and enemy in the cause of liberation.