Reviews and Critiques

Saving the World and Being Happy (The Computer Ager)

by R. Eric Swanepoel
London: Publish Britannica, 2004

Eric Swanepoel’s book is a revolutionary political statement written in the form of a fairy tale for adults. Fairy tales are about the triumph of virtue and intelligence over evil.  They have glorious happy endings, after which the Prince and the Princess and all of the people live happily ever after. Unfortunately, we live in a period of history in which evil is ascendant and people have lost their confidence that virtue and intelligence can ever overcome it. That is why it is a very good time to read this fairy tale.

Exactly as the title says, this book is about saving the real world of today’s computer age. You know, the world that faces imminent destruction from nuclear war, imperialism, greed, hypercapitalism, merciless exploitation, torture, lying, hypocrisy, inequality, starvation, obesity, addiction, depression, environmental collapse, global climate change, nuclear accidents, propaganda, apathy, and cultivated mass blindness. It is also about being happy because you are helping to save the world. (There is also a joke woven into the title, which you will discover when you read it.)

As a fairy tale, Saving the World and Being Happy portrays a series of improbable events culminating in a successful revolution. It has a perfect happy ending with plenty of dancing, hugging, and kissing. The Prince and Princess will live happily ever after, and then some. The truth of the book does not lie in the improbable events or the smoochy ending. These are just the frilly package in which the fairy tale draws our attention to one of the absolutely essential, unsolved problems of our time. How will the world escape the control of people who are currently bringing it to ruin with their ferocious corporations and banks, abetted by their bought-and-paid-for flunkies in all of the world’s national governments, mass media, and universities? A stark truth hidden beneath the frilly packaging of this fairy tale is that if we cannot solve this problem, nothing else matters.

Another truth is that the only people who can save the world are people like you and me. Yes, us: the anxious, vain, egotistical, self-defeating, unsure people of the computer age. There is a genre of films and books in which the corrupt corporations and governments of the world are overcome by a superhero with the aid of his grateful admirers. At least one old Arnold Schwarzenegger films follows this plotline, and a newer film, V for Vendetta follows it in a way that is currently exciting the teenagers of my corner of the world. But superhero literature poses no danger to the status quo, because it invites us to imagine a superhero who will save the day. Major film studios can profit from such films safely.  Nothing will come of them, because, in the real world, there are no superheros. However, in Saving the World and Being Happy the world is not saved by superheros, but by ordinary people who gradually acquire some insight into how they are being hoodwinked on a global scale and successfully end it by working together in a revolutionary alliance that outwits the world’s corporate leaders. No major film studio will make a film with this plotline and a glorious happy ending, because it is dangerous to the status quo. It offers people a glimpse of hope in their ability to change things.

The most fairy tale-ish aspect of the story is that the revolution is quick and essentially bloodless, because the evil CEOs and entrepreneurs realize the errors of their ways. Those who see their errors even include media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, who makes a brief appearance as his fairy tale avatar, Bear Mudrock. It is essential to remember that a fairy tale is not as a realistic manifesto or detailed battle plan, but a statement that hope is possible, that virtue can defeat evil, and that even people like us are capable of bravery and enduring love. In the end, it offers no more substance than this, but that is plenty for me. I found it inspiring. Besides, it is full of amazing twists and turns and a captivating kind of undisciplined creativity.

Virtue can only overcome evil if there are virtuous people. But where can virtuous people come from in a world where greed and narcissism are implanted in people from childhood? As the tale proceeds, the Prince is gradually transformed from an ordinary computer geek and egotist into a person who is willing to risk everything to save the world. People who wonder about how virtue can possibly emerge in our world will have to read the entire book to follow the Prince’s prolonged epiphany. 

No book does everything. Saving the World and Being Happy only addresses one of the two absolutely essential problems of our time. The second problem is to describe, at least in outline, the world that will replace today’s fatally corrupted civilization. That question must be answered to give people a vision that will sustain the hardships of revolutions as they occur outside of the fairy tale world. The new world vision must of course be more than a negation of the older generation. It must actually be new. A birth (of a child or a civilization) is a bundle of surprises. But what kind of surprises? The author does not answer this second question for us, but, I hasten to add, he is young and blessed with a wide-ranging imagination. We must not be too impatient as we await the sequel.

 

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