[UPDATE: This is now available in an improved version with a shorter title as an ebook!]
Professor Bruce K. Alexander, the author of The Globalization of Addiction, A Study in Poverty of the Spirit, has just sent me this review of my novel, Saving the World and Being Happy, The Computer Ager:
Fairytale vision of political revolution
Eric Swanepoel’s book is a vision of political revolution written in the format 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. 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 and smooching. 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 the relentless machinations of their gigantic corporations and banks, abetted by their bought-and-paid-for flunkies, which include almost all of the world’s national governments, mass media, and universities? A stark truth contained in the frilly packaging of this fairy tale is that if we cannot solve this problem, nothing else matters.
Dangerous to the status quo
Another truth is that the only people who can save the world are people like you and me. Yes, us: the anxious, oversensitive, 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. Superhero literature like that 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 media. 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.
Inspiring. Amazing twists and turns.
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. The converts to sanity even include media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, who makes a brief appearance as his fairy tale avatar, Bear Mudrock. The value of a fairy tale obviously is not as a realistic manifesto or detailed battle plan, but as a statement that hope is possible, that virtue can defeat evil, and that even people like us are capable of 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.
How virtue can emerge
Evil can only be overcome by virtue if there are virtuous people. But where can virtue 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.
We await the sequel
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 old world. It must actually be new. A birth (of a child or a civilization) is more than a negation of the old; it 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.