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Rooting for the Apes

In the movie Planet of the Apes (1968), the chimp-archeologist Cornelius in quoting from the sacred scrolls of the apes:

Beware the beast Man, for he is the Devil’s pawn. Alone among God’s primates, he kills for sport or lust or greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother’s land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him; drive him back into his jungle lair, for he is the harbinger of death.

Those familiar with the the Planet of the Apes series know that the action moves back and forth between a distant future, when apes inherit the world, and a not-so-distant human Apocalypse, genetically engineered apes rising against the cruelty of their masters.

When I watched the latest reboot, Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), I surprised myself rooting for the apes. A casual search on the Internet convinced me that I was not an exception. Tired of human cynicism and decomposing ideals, the public was ready to embrace primate liberation as a cause worth the demise of humanity. The reaction is catalyzed by a subtle racial/political subtext.  The rising apes are perceived as racial stereotypes.The pandemonium is a cartoon of white fear. The uprising stands for the  emancipation of the third world.

Let’s go briefly over the movie. A young scientist, Will Rodman, works in a biotechnology lab. The research team is looking for a retro-viral drug to enhance mental capacity and cure brain disease. Rodman has a special interest in this work, as his father had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The drug is tested on a female chimp named Bright Eyes, increasing her mental power. Without them knowing, Bright Eyes gives birth to a baby chimp who has inherited her almost human intelligence. As she perceives him to be in danger, Bright Eyes turns violent and is killed. The project is terminated and the chimps are ordered to be euthanized. Will takes the baby-chimp home, determined to continue the project by himself. His father calls the baby-chimp Caesar.

As Will continues to medicate Caesar with the mind enhancing drug, the chimp grows as a frustrated would-be human. For all reassurances, Caesar realises that he is  just a pet. The hysterical reaction of their obnoxious neighbour reinforces his doubts. Eventually, Caesar has a confrontation with the bad neighbour and ends up in a primate shelter. Here he discovers his own species. Caesar is disappointed by their stupidity and cruelty, but is more repelled by human insensitivity toward animals.

In the meanwhile, Will develops an improved version of the mind-enhancing drug. Caesar steals it and medicates his tribe. He organizes an escape. The rebel apes confront humans successfully on the Golden Gate Bridge and escape into the forest. Therewith the retrovirus created by Will turns lethal to humans and spreads through airlines. Man’s rule on earth comes to an end.

As Caesar is moving center-stage during the movie, the spectator begins to identify with his cause. It seems like there’s a deep self-hate in humanity feeding archetypal fantasies about hell and the Apocalypse. The retroviral pandemic at the end of the movie is received like an act of biblical justice. On the other hand, Caesar has been identified with liberation icons, like Mandela Gandhi, Malcolm X, even Obama. All these are beside the point. Caesar stands for Mao-zeDong.

Why Mao? After all Caesar is against unnecessary violence. However, Caesar is Mao, because he merges the struggle against the West and the dethronement of man, in one and the same cause.

Says Mao:

The life of dialectics is the continuous movement toward opposites. Mankind will also finally meet its doom. When the theologians talk about doomsday, they are pessimistic and terrify people. We say the end of mankind is something which will produce something more advanced than mankind. Mankind is still in its infancy…  In the future, animals will continue to develop… And can it be, moreover, that of all the monkeys only one species can evolve, and all the others are incapable of evolving?

This is exactly the point in the Planet of Apes. The movie is more than an allegory of racial/political liberation. It is Maoist dialectics. Toppling western imperialism is the first step in toppling humanity: “Can it be, moreover, that of all the monkeys only one species can evolve”? Forget class struggle, forget racism, forget Western dominance and Third World emancipation. The true oppressor  is humanity.

One can only understand the subtle chemistry of postmodern academics toward Mao. He walked the walk where they only talk the talk (killing means business). Google yields 82,600,000 results for “human race is a cancer of the earth”, and 38,700,000 results for “white race is the cancer of human history”. If humanity is cancer, the West is metastasis.  So, what is the point?

The point is that the West stands for the concept that a human being is defined by something which is universally true, rather than by culture and blood. I don’t mean that this has been an exclusive prerogative of the West, or that universal humanity has been historically embodied in it. My point is that the West has aimed for universality, and that anti-western sentiments are rooted in the absoluteness of culture and tribal identity.  When science and reason are denounced as forms of cultural imperialism, a process of infinite regression is set in motion. One ends up rooting for the apes.

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4 responses to “Rooting for the Apes

  1. Marcus Crassus 29 December, 2014 at 22:04

    Eddie,
    Have you read Daniel Quinn’s books, especially “Ishmael”? “Planet of the Apes” also makes sense through the eyes of the ecologist. Quinn introduces the “takers vs. leavers” dichotomy, in which “leavers” are defined as hunter gatherers, indigenous people whose creation myth states that the Earth is sacred and humans are part of it. Archaic humans, eventually starting with homo erectus going through sapiens, would have been ‘leavers’. This creation myth, restrictive as it might have been, ensured that humans used the earth’s resources wisely.
    “Takers” are defined as a post-neolithic group that has become dominant. Takers’ creation myth states that Earth is a hostile realm, nature red in tooth and claw, and that their destiny is to conquer it. The consequence of this myth was the agricultural neolithic revolution; takers decided not to live at nature’s mercy anymore, so they violated the law of limited competition (which stated that you could consume as many resources as you need at a given moment, and without murdering your competitors – Quinn’s definition) by producing more than they needed, through agriculture or grazing. They also removed competitors (wolves who threatened their flocks, plants who threatened their fields), which led to overcrowding, migration, new colonies and so on. Everywhere they went, Takers imposed their ways as the only right way of living, forcing the indigenous peoples to either embrace violent agriculture or grazing, or get out of the way. Systematically, Leavers were killed or converted into Takers; the only ones left are minor populations of american natives, papuan, inuit, aboriginal etc. So it’s not about the western vs. third world distinction, since Quinn clearly includes India and other third world countries on the list of takers’ civilisations.

    Leavers didn’t claim to be the owners of the only true way of living; they simply embraced the way that worked for them. On the other hand, the Takers’ myth of origins lead them to intolerance; since nature is seen as a chaotic realm in the absence of MAN (nature red in tooth and claw, primordial dragons fighting in the mud), it follows that man’s destiny is to tame this ‘dragon’, to conquer it to the last inch of land and make it the home of a single species – himself. Everything there is exists for himself; he just has to conquer it. Therefore, this is the right way of living.

    Quinn considers Genesis as a myth of the Leavers, at least in its origins. The Semitic natives were frightened by the northern takers who threatened to invade their lands. They acted as if they ate from the tree of the gods, because they claimed to have the absolute knowledge of good and evil. Cain killed Abel, Cain’s descendants built a city that would reach the heaven (refusing to live at nature’s mercy), they built cities etc.
    Quinn argues that only from a leaver’s point of view it would make sense that the knowledge of good and evil would be forbidden.

    The apes’ cause might lead to tribalism and anti-western culture, or it might not; but takers’ supremacy is destroying the world anyway, with or without western universal values; think about the population bomb for instance.

  2. Edmond Constantinescu 31 December, 2014 at 06:05

    Marcus,

    I read Ismael though never realized the connection with Planet of Apes. However, it seems to me that Caesar himself had to take a bite from the forbidden fruit in order to protect his tribe. For what is worth, Koba (Stalin?) and even Caesar adopt the ways of the takers in their war against humanity. Actually, when Caesar creates a graphic sign (standard) for the sake of which one may kill or be killed, ape killing ape included, he does commit the original sin. This is also the reason why he calls the man who saved him “friend”: not because of having saved his life, but rather because Caesar has come full circle to understanding the takers from personal experience.

  3. Marcus Crassus 4 January, 2015 at 19:01

    I agree that apes being led by an enlightened dictator (Mao or maybe Ataturk) seems to be something beyond the leavers realm. The leader himself needs to know the ways of the takers in order to succeed in wiping them out.

    Toppling western imperialism is the first step in toppling humanity: “Can it be, moreover, that of all the monkeys only one species can evolve”? Forget class struggle, forget racism, forget Western dominance and Third World emancipation. The true oppressor is humanity.

    That is also Quinn’s point; the rules of competition (followed blindly by animals) require that no species should make the Earth their own; mankind obviously transgressed this rule, when it built the ‘tower of Babel’, produced more than it needed and stopped living at the mercy of the gods.
    From what we know from the fossil record, the Pleistocene world looked like a “Hobbit” type world, with many hominid species coexisting and probably interacting. Were it not for certain hazards, several of them might have been able to make it into the present and eventually evolve to higher intelligence. I’m not saying homo sapiens was responsible for their extinction, but in the present state it really seems that mankind is the true oppressor of the planet. What do you think about Quinn’s apocalyptic scenario? Do you think there’s any way of stopping mankind from spreading like a cancer? In Quinn’s view, it will require the inventiveness of our ‘taker’ culture to find a peaceful solution to the population bomb and increasing production.

  4. Edmond Constantinescu 8 January, 2015 at 10:28

    Marcus,

    I do believe that agriculture was a necessary evil. The Pleistocene hunter was a predator, which means living in ecological harmony with pray. Cave art is a fascinating manifestation of a hunter’s fascination and identification with game. Agriculture changed human nature and destroyed wildlife. However,it made possible the accumulation of wealth and knowledge through our time. I think that cyber-technology and bio-technology will generate a dialectical negation of the negation of the Pleistocene culture. Demographics will slow down and even reverse growth like in the most advanced countries today, and we will probably reconsider eugenics. All in all, I don’t think that we need Eliade and Heidegger to tell us what to do, but rather the geneticist.

    I do also think that we don’t need to return to the caves but rather reinvent urbanity on an ecological/technological basis with gardens on tall buildings and clean energy.

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