Last night I watched a strange movie called Equilibrium, starring Christian Bale — another apocalyptic and dystopian themed film in the manner of The Matrix and Orwell’s 1984. While it was a bit campy, it had some contemporary references that might be worth considering and commenting upon, as they have some bearing on the recent discussion of “chaotic emotion” raised here in The Chrysalis.
The film opens upon a post-apocalyptic fascistic society now called “Libria” that has survived a nuclear war. The survivors blamed the World War on chaotic emotions, and now set about to criminalise all emotion and feeling. Highly trained assassins called “Clerics” hunt down and murder “sense offenders” or feelers as being a threat to peace. The citizens of Libria (a reference to the sedative Librium, I guess) are required by law to take a daily dose of “Prozium” (evidently Prozac) which is a drug that suppresses emotion and benumbs sensation.
As a consequence of this drastic repressive solution to the problem of the chaos of the passions, Libria is riddled with ironies and self-contradictions. “Freedom” has come to mean freedom from feeling. The citizens have come to believe they have achieved social peace under the wise guidance of “Father”, and have eliminated war and murder, even though Libria is highly militarised and very violent, and is engaged in constant surveillance, war and the daily massacre of “sense offenders”. All music, poetry, and art is criminalised and ruthlessly suppressed, as are all expressions of empathy.
And, of course, it wouldn’t be a story without an inner “Resistance” of feelers and sense offenders who disturb the peace of equilibrium, which is only the “ratio” of rationality and which is quite irrational because the Librians have confused this equilibrium with equanimity so that they do not recognise that their own murderous violence against “sense offenders” in the name of preserving “equilibrium” is a self-contradiction. Equilibrium is a perverted and distorted understanding of what is really equanimity, which is the orderly arrangement of the passions. So the logic of “Father” and of his “Cleric” assassins is a quite self-contradictory and maddening pretzel logic.
In those terms, its possible to see Libria as the realised totality of Iain McGilchrist’s left-hemisphere of the brain and the suppression of the right-hemisphere’s mode of attention, but which makes its active presence nonetheless real in terms of the self-contradictions of Librian society and its rulership. Those contradictions are evident to everybody but the Librians who remain benumbed and oblivious to their own self-contradictions.
Is such a dystopian future society at all conceivable? More or less. To a certain extent, the features of that future society are already present — chaotic emotion and the loss of equanimity interpreted objectively as loss of equilibrium, the management of chaotic emotion and anxiety by suppression or the routine resort to sedatives, consolidation and centralisation of power along with indoctrination and mass surveillance. Many of the core features of Libria are already in place, even though the criminalisation of dissent hasn’t really reached the murderous and pathological levels found in the film — yet, anyway.
As mentioned, the film is a bit campy but it hasn’t really completely lost the plot. It’s core themes remain anchored in contemporary sociological truths — chaotic emotions, the social consequences of such affective disorders, deficiency of a rationalistic, totalitarian response to those chaotic emotions or affective disorders, misunderstanding of the implicit connection between equilibrium and equanimity, so that every violent effort to preserve or restore equilibrium has the perverse effect of destroying equanimity, requiring more sedation and more violent efforts — and so, a vicious circle which becomes self-devouring and self-consuming. Libria is Blake’s “dark Satanic Mill”.
“Everything possible to be believed is an image of truth” (Blake). And while some aspects of Equilibrium are quite implausible, others are not so implausible but are exaggerated for effect.