Here I am, it’s a day of deadlines, and I have to cook up an exam and an exam-preparation for some of my students -- two classes full of them. But anyway I while away my time reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers, in anticipation of its upcoming movie release December 18th.
There is clearly something that fascinates humanity about fantasy. Fantasy empowers, for its power to create whole realities, to endow reality with a new hue, and to bring inspiration to planning. It was part of Paulo Freire’s idea of education -- the process of “conscientization,” of coming to an understanding of reality, involved a moment of “utopian dreaming,” of the discovery of a vision of a better world worth the effort of struggle. The steely logic of “realism,” so used to inspire the Henry Kissinger vision of “realpolitik,” is really just a conceptual vise to crush fantasy visions of a world better than the fantasy vision that the world-society has acquiesced into being, and so the “realists” use their “realpolitik” to fight for a world that drags on in dreary installations of corporate hegemony: the world as future site of the next Wal-Mart franchise, suburban subdivision, factory farm, privatized prison, or landfill.
The “realist” philosophy is itself, of course, just a disguise, a Potemkin village of material success to disguise a historically-unprecedented expansion of the world of fantasy that shines from every Nintendo gamecube, every college student’s aspiration of social change, every entrepreneur’s vision, every rock star’s drug-inspired brain, every end-of-year holiday season. Should we do something about this? It’s the wave we currently ride, and for all the fun things that it brings us today we might recognize dawningly that when it craps out we don’t really know if there will be anything so spectacular at the end of the society of the spectacle.
We must examine, then, the form of the dominant fantasies of today, to criticize the ways in which the life of fantasy has made today’s society. The fantasies of the past and present, we can say for sure, are all infused with this historic process of conquest, this S&M reality of dominance and submission (described so thoroughly in the bondage enthusiast Michel Foucault’s theoretical tour-de-force Discipline and Punish) that conquers the world anew with each rising regime. As we enter the atmosphere of world war at the beginning of the 21st century, we can see the fantasies of conquest as clearly as they ever were in the 20th. Cowboys and Indians on the wild frontier of Afghanistan. Hitler’s thousand year empire, taking shape today in the form of the WTO and the IMF and UN Resolutions against Iraq (whose dictator’s grisly fantasy is to be the next Stalin) and the Fortune 500 and the other organs of world dominance. (Hitler, remember, was himself merely an ugly, totalitarian echo of French and British imperialism.) The Kingdom of David and Solomon, taking shape today in Greater Israel. The end of the business cycle. The paradise of Alvin Toffler. We might have a need for a fantasy life -- but do we need to conquer others to get it? This is the question that humanity will have to ask itself as it goes through the coming ecological and economic crises.
And then there's the biggest conquest-fantasy of all -- the jealous God of the proselytizing religions. Given their explosive growth, we can see in all daylight the desire for a Church that conquers all humanity with faith, so that we can all pray to a God that tells us to be fruitful and multiply (until we screw up the planet somehow) and to view all nonbelievers as going to a Hell too horrid to even imagine permitting the others of our society the freedom to believe what they want. And what more powerful fantasy is there than to have an all-powerful God on your side? It should be of no little import to historians of the "God concept" that Bishop Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE), during the period of the disappearance of the old polytheistic religions in the Roman Empire, started his City of God Against the Pagans with this retort to non-Christians: "My God is more powerful than any of your gods." Since then, the contest in the West has been between competing versions of the same all-powerful God. The culmination of it all will be when the conquest-fantasies get together in the "Holy Land" to declare war on each other. Too bad for the half-million-or-so victims?
Ecosocialism, on the other hand, is the ultimate in realism -- a world where everyone shares (for the sake of survival) and where the world's group survival isn't something that takes the planet apart. It's about survival in communities of solidarity -- or resistance to conquest. Which explains why it should be the object of our fantasies -- what better fantasy than the dream of being around tomorrow to fantasize?