In Arlanda airport, men’s rest room.
If someone (more or less in my condition) asks me about the best way to spend her $5, I will ask her “subscribe to SEP“. By doing so, you can download 5 articles in high quality PDF format every single day. Believe me, it’s much better than reading the free html version.
To start with, I recently completed reading the entry on “Environmental Ethics” (Read PDF version). It is a well written summary on different philosophical schools about the value of environment. The authors go through main paradigms of environmental ethics which are traditionally dominated by anthropocentric views: environment / nature / species / animals / life support systems / ecosystems / etc. are valuable only instrumentally in relation to the service and benefits that they can or may bring for human being.
Specially, I liked the sections on “Feminism and the Environment” and ”Disenchantment and the New Animism”. I was shocked by the deeply engaging views of T. Adorno regarding the need to re-enchant the nature.
Tonight I watched “The Seventh Continent” (Der siebente Kontinent) directed by Michael Haneke. This is my short reflection toward the film and I am going to write about it freely, so if you are planning to watch it, please note that this short commentary contains spoilers.
The movie depicts a cold, emotionless and machine-like society in which “faceless” people are not only drowned in the banality of modern-urban-middle class everyday lives, but also are reduced to instruments, repeated activities, duties, processes and labor doing agents. The societal landscape depicted in the movie is so cold and dismal that you start to realize that the seemingly depressed “family” (the man, woman and child) do not have much internal issues. The depression is not coming from inside of the family or individuals, but it must be seen as the obvious reflection of a ubiquitous hopelessness of the society. In fact, as the movie (which enjoys from a carefully composed script and skillful direction) goes forward we realize that the family members love each other and are in perfect harmony regarding their plans. Therefore, this highlights the idea that the lifelessness and depression of the family is not internal and many elements in the movie suggest that capitalistic modern societies in general are to be blamed.
We also learn that the family has been long planning an escape. Ads on the street and the dreamlike scene shown in a few second long cuts (the photo above) suggest that this place might be Australia. However, referring to the name of the movie we know that Australia is not the seventh continent on earth and we all know that there is no such continent on earth. Therefore the escape to the seventh continent must be symbolic. Symbol of where? Heaven maybe one option, as the little girl prays “Jesus help me to be a good girl so that I go to heaven”, but the movie does not show any other religious believes among the family members beyond this. Anyhow, the family members are seeking to escape from a phenomenon which has dehumanized the whole society and themselves. This phenomenon is global and ubiquitous all over the earth, as wide as the capitalism itself. So, if there is no place on earth for the conscious individuals (represented by the family members) to escape to, the question is what can they do then?
They should go to the seventh continent. There is no such continent on earth, and they are not talking about fictions either. The seventh continent is a metaphor of nowhere. If you want to escape from capitalistic society which has reduced you to money, products and emotionless beings what should you do and where should you go?
According to the family members, one way is to revolt in the most radical form. I see the last 30-50 minutes of the movie as a metaphor of such an escape route to the “seventh continent”. These people were not angry and they did not act spontaneously (the long term planning of the escape become obvious if we notice that the woman who was seeing psychiatrist was long storing the prescribed pills), but they act in a well planned and self-controlled manner. The fact that the child also willingly joined them depicts how “radical” is this solution. Not only the current generation, but also the future one is joining it. And the revolution is against every single manifestation of the modern capitalistic society. They use tools such as hammers and scissors (symbol of constructing) in order to destroy chairs, desks, tables, mirrors, TVs, notes, albums, etc. They tear apart money (large notes) and flush them into toilet. They use scissors to tear clothes (objects of fashion), newspapers and photographs and almost everything else. This revolution is so radical (specially if you look at it symbolically) that they even take their own lives: we do not give anything to you… we do not leave anything for you…
The group suicide in this movie, is one of the most intolerable scenes that I have seen in any film. However, the question is “what would happen to them if they did not commit suicide?” or “couldn’t they just break things and left town to live a rural life?”.
Well, we know what would happen to them if they had not revolted. We would probably see another 10000 car washes, another 1000 or more marital sexes, another 10000 times breakfasts, another 10000 minutes or hours the presence of mass media (radio, TV and newspaper) and so on. And eventually we would expect that same thing that happened to the old boss (the boss of the man who got retired) would happen to these family members as well. When the boss grew old, he was kicked out of the “machine”, he was of no use anymore for the capitalist system.
So considering this eventual fate (according to the world constructed in the movie this fate was eventual) the group suicide does not seem so tragic and it may even look like a relief. I like to think of this movie as a film about radicalism and revolution.
PS: One strong aspect of the movie is that it does not overdo this depiction of widespread depression in the society by falling into formalism trap. Certainly it benefits from its own share of formalism, but by no means it can be considered a formalist movie.
PS1: I would like to mention another point (this one is more like a guess). I guess that considering the timing of the movie (late 80s) there has to be implications about political situations regarding the decline of the east-west divide in Germany and the decline and soon falling of the Soviet Union. The movie is in German and I watched it by English subtitle and subtitles do not cover background sounds such as radio news, however I overheard words such as Gorbachev from radio broadcasts….
President of Uruguay Mr. Jose Mujica chose to live in his wife’s farm, living a very decent rural life. OK, some may go ahead and accuse him of being another “populist” politician; but I don’t think so.
“I may appear to be an eccentric old man… But this is a free choice.”
The Uruguayan leader made a similar point when he addressed the Rio+20 summit in June this year: “We’ve been talking all afternoon about sustainable development. To get the masses out of poverty.
“But what are we thinking? Do we want the model of development and consumption of the rich countries? I ask you now: what would happen to this planet if Indians would have the same proportion of cars per household than Germans? How much oxygen would we have left?
“Does this planet have enough resources so seven or eight billion can have the same level of consumption and waste that today is seen in rich societies? It is this level of hyper-consumption that is harming our planet.”
Mujica accuses most world leaders of having a “blind obsession to achieve growth with consumption, as if the contrary would mean the end of the world”.
Quite an interesting president.
(from Björn’s facebook, thanks)