|The inspiration for Batman's Joker?|
Toward the end of Victor Hugo's novel, "The Man Who Laughs", before the protagonist, Gwynplaine, aka Lord Fermain Clancharlie, realizes that, having been elevated from his condition of poverty and thrust into membership in the House of Lords, where he is laughed at and ridiculed for revealing his dreams of a better condition for mankind's down-trodden, he expostulates to the Chamber with the following speech:
"This laugh which is on my face your King placed there and expresses the desolation of mankind. This laugh means HATE, enforced silence, rage, despair. This laugh's the production of Torture: a forced laugh a mutilation of mankind, which has deformed right, justice, truth, reason, intelligence, turning its heart into a sink of passion and pain, its feature hidden in a mask of joy. This people is a sea of suffering, smiling on the surface. There will come an hour when convulsion will breakdown your oppression; when an angry roar will reply to your jeers. The Republic was destroyed, but it will return. Tongues which were torn out are turning to tongues of fire and scattered by the breath of darkness, are shouting through infinity. Those who hunger are showing their idle teeth, while false heavens built over real hells, are tottering. Never has a light more sinister illumined the depths of human darkness" (until now?).
The laugh he refers to is the smile that has been permanently sculpted on his face by a nasty servant of the King who, wishing, well, ordered, to destroy the birthright of the King's heir, disfigures it beyond recognition, and, regicide being feared in much the same way that Queen Elizabeth feared it, the progeny is then given to comprachicos, dealers in the selling and buying of children, whence he is offloaded to a group of gypsies, who, as is explained in the first half of the book, desert him now, at the end of a peninsula, as they sail off, under pursuit, into an incipient snowstorm that will soon be fully raging at sea.
Neither the crew nor passengers are to survive this wintry tempest, but before the ship goes under, they write the history of the boy they've left to fend for himself, put it into a bottle and place a waterproof bung on the end of it and toss it into the sea even as their vessel plunges forever into the frothing blackness. It is the discovery of this bottle that 15 years later, elevates Gwynplaine from the carnival act he has become to a Lord, a peer of the realm, from one who everyone laughed at to one they fawned over, and completely destroyed his world, his love, his life. Yet, to have hoped overmuch was his whole crime. Driving home the maxim repeated several times throughout the novel, and one of its central themes: "The enemy of Good is Better".
Because, although, "The rich have no hearing when it comes to the plight of the disinherited. Of lords and princes expect Nothing. He who is satisfied is inexorable. For those who have their fill the hungry do not exist. The happy ignore and isolate themselves", having been thrown into their ranks, he yet is burdened with a fondness for the life that had given him Dea, whom he'd rescued from under her mother's dead body while trudging through the same snowstorm that destroyed those who had deserted him, and the one person in the world who could, being as she was blinded by her ordeal, find him beautiful. He, alas, exaggerated hope into believing in that thing at once so brilliant and so dark which is called society.
We resemble Gwynplaine in this respect. We think that, having been elevated from our brutish existence by modern amenities and luxuries become necessities, such that we consider it now our birthright, we turn our backs on the things from which real happiness is derived to pursue vanities. We are become as the Aristocracy, blind to the travails of those whose lives our own ascendancy crushes into the dust and blaming them for their downtrodden state. Like Hugo's description of the House of Lords, we cherish the same illusion, that we do not change, in which respect we resemble a pretty woman and object to having any wrinkles, and therefore, expect them never to be mentioned by others, as to do so is heretical to our self image.
This can provide us with a clue to explain our incapacity to conceive of, or even consider the possibility of, a world that is not so utterly dependent on growth. Like medieval peasants enthralled by magic, we care not by what mechanisms the fulfillment of our desires are wrought, only that they continue to be magically catered to. This leads to the mentality in which we 'mine the wealth' of the earth, and leave the environment to suffer the fate of a Princess fallen into the hands of robbers, as we cut off her fingers as the most expedient way to get at her jewels, mindless of the beauty we unnecessarily destroy in the process. And it is in this brutal manner of wealth accumulation that one can see the incipient failure of all that we hold to be true, and that we have invested in as the cohesion that holds society together: money.
Because money is not now, if in fact it ever was, what it pretends to be. What should be apparent to all, but is mentioned by none, is that money, although still perfectly useful as a medium of exchange, is no longer, nor shall ever be again, a store of value. As soon as something is monetized it begins to bleed from the many wounds it is then heir to, until it becomes, in a shorter and shorter time span, worthless.
To keep this fact hidden from view is the entire undertaking of the Fed now, its dual mandate nothing but a poor joke, the Chairman, simply The Man Who Laughs as he forces cash out of the hands of the middle class into riskier and riskier 'investments', even as the richest 'people', the Corporations, hoard mountains of it precisely because there are no good investments, because investing looks into the future, trying to foresee, or even create, our needs as we follow our timeline. But to do so, means you have some idea of what it is going to look like. However, we don't. Because it is only by frantically digging up and setting on fire the energy reserves of the planet that we can see any future for our society. But we know that down that road lies ruin.
We all make fun of the so-called "Climate-change deniers", but if you look at how we live, we are all climate change deniers. We talk like we are really really concerned, but it's our actions that make change possible, and those, in that car manufacturing is now producing more automobiles than it ever has before, still planning on creating more than 20 million per annum before 2020 (as just one example), speak of a completely bankrupt imagination and a total capitulation to the dynamic of simply letting the chips fall where they may, as, Pontius Pilate-like, we wash our hands of any responsibility for the consequences, no matter how manifest they may become.
In "The Man who Laughs", Ursus (beast) is the man who rescues the ten-tear-old carrying his precious burden of a blind child through a blinding blizzard, and offers them shelter and sustenance. Sharing his homestead is his wolf, Homo (man), such that the names are opposites of their bearers. Such is the plight we find ourselves in now, in that the machines, which were conceived of and developed with the intention of serving man, have had their roles irrevocably reversed, in that man now lives to serve the machines, which we are completely incapable of living without, even as they make inevitable our utter destruction.