“I’m getting hot,” croaked the frog as he floated in a pot of water from which steam was beginning to rise.
“Me too,” croaked the other frog as she paddled listlessly. “This water used to be warm. Now it’s too hot.”
“Oh well…nothing we can do about it. Maybe it’ll get better.”
“Let’s enjoy what we can,” she croaked. “We’ll listen to the music and watch the pictures on the ceiling that keep changing. They’re pretty.”
“OK…I’m feeling dreamy.”
As the water simmered, the frogs slipped into a stupor; they were unconscious as they began to boil.
Like the frogs, we are provided with pictures, music, and other pleasures to distract us from the worsening conditions of our lives and render us incapable of changing them. These entertainments lull us with subjective emotions that offer solace and escape from our objective reality. They range from the crude to the refined, but all are characterized by glorifying the inner life of the supposedly sovereign individual. This esthetic trend, part of the romantic movement, began with the ascendency of capitalism and expressed the self-oriented mentality of the rising bourgeoisie. The new rulers supported institutions and art that reflected their personalities: extreme individuality that rejected all fetters and pursued its desires regardless of the consequences for others. In exalting the superior autonomous spirit over the mediocre masses, it served to isolate the growing socialist movement. By the mid 19th century this had trickled down to become a widespread mentality of the educated population, cutting them off from the working class. Marx summed it up: “The ruling ideology is always the ideology of the rulers.”
As the crises of capitalism deepened in the 20th century, the emphasis on subjectivity increased, especially in the realms of art and philosophy. The inner world, the joys and pains of our private emotions, was portrayed as the highest and most authentic topic for art. The artist became the new priest, guiding us to sublime planes of existence. This prevailing esthetic encouraged us to leave the crass social reality behind and become an aristocrat of the spirit. It reinforced passivity and turned the personal life into a refuge from and a substitute for the public life. This trend has now reached its effete endstage in postmodernism with its deconstruction of reality into conceptual narratives which have only subjective meanings.
We are saturated with art and entertainment that tell us to shun the social deterioration surrounding us and focus instead on romance, violence, and the shimmers of our interior zones, while outside the heat is gradually turned up and the conditions of our lives degraded. Our eyes are captivated by images on electronic screens and our minds captivated by hyper-stimulated feelings flooding our mental screen. We are losing the capacity for clear thinking and objective analysis, so effective action is slipping from our grasp. We’re on our way to becoming frog soup.
We are in desperate need of an esthetic that will enable us to recognize our calamitous situation, identify the causes of it, and act to change it. Once we can understand how destructive capitalism really is, the necessity of socialism will be obvious.
Some works of art do criticize the system, protest it, and urge reforms, but very few challenge it fundamentally. Instead they seek to improve it. But this gradual ameliorative approach has been tried for over a century now and has yielded only superficial changes. Capitalism can’t be fixed from the inside; it is inherently savage and must be replaced.
It is time to move beyond criticism, protest, and reform and instead build a mass movement that can eventually overthrow the government and the corporations it serves. This impulse inspired my new novel, Lila, the Revolutionary, a fable for adults about an eight-year-old girl — smart, charming, and tough as can be — who sparks a world revolution for social justice. She not only jumps out of the pot but shows everyone else how to do it. No one ever told her she couldn’t end poverty and inequality, so she doesn’t doubt that she can Just Do It! Starting with the Nike shoe factory where she works. Like the boy in “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” Lila can see the reality that adults are blind to. And she’s not shy about pointing it out. The book is a call to action: If Lila can do it, so can we. Her story convinces us that Yes, a better world is possible, and we’re the ones to create it.
From here, with an extract from William T. Hathaway's novel, 'Lila, the Revolutionary'.