VI. The Obsolete Man
(Season 2 / Episode
24)

This month – a slight diversion.

This blog was formed to illustrate elements
of right-wing
(individualism, small-government, creativity, risk and reward) thought
in an
otherwise left-wing environment (Ithaca NY in the 1960s and 70s, where The Twilight Zone was conceived). The
implications of the sliding scale, how the mainstream left wing of then
has
become the mainstream right wing of now, is a shocking shift in the
political
spectrum. If today’s moderately conservative are inline with the
moderately
left-wing of a half century ago, it shows how far the spectrum has
tilted left
in the intervening years.

But with The Obsolete
Man,
the final episode in
Season 2, we see not only how a strange situation of today illustrates
truths
about a world gone by, but also how this phenomenon is universal –
there are
elements in The Twilight Zone meant
to unnerve and shock the audience which, decades before its creation,
were seemingly
innocuous, even celebrated events.

First, the cinematography: in The
Obsolete
Man,
we see a dystopian future (of course) where
citizens are led before a tribunal to prove their work has value (to
the state)
and they are not, indeed, obsolete. If the tribunal, in their infinite
and
infallible wisdom, finds that you are obsolete, then it is only the
duty of the
state to liquidate (that would be execute) you. Serling and his
cinematographers and set designers picked all the great cliches
for the scary
tribunal room – the stark lighting, the high angles, the
indistinguishibility
of the tribunal members, these people who hold so much fate in their
hands.

Scary stuff.

But it reminded me of
something, something I
had seen before, something not
fictional, but in the real world.

Oh yes. Just as creepy. Yet this is not the
set of some
sci-fi horror flick, it’s the signing ceremony which opened the United Nations in 1945. Nothing utopian
about the United Nations, right? It’s shocking that the elements by
1970 we
universally agreed would be "scary" for an unthinking behemoth of state
overreach were so similar to those which were legitimately used by
these
unthinking nit wits to create a behemoth of state overreach. One
wonders what
the League of Nations looked like when it opened for business –
something like
a mix of a Nuremburg rally and a Superfriends conference?

The fact that the actual opening of the
U.N., the press
photo staged to best show whatever its creators wanted to show, is more
akin to
a dystopian nightmare about the mortal dangers of bureaucracy could be
an
article in itself. But for now just let it sink in.

‘Cause there’s more…

The man trying to prove his
non-obsolescence, Romney
Wordsworth, is a librarian. The library was
the historical repository of knowledge, but now through an unidentified
combination of technology superceding books (sound familiar?) and the
state
desiring control of information (sound familiar?) libraries and thus
librarians
are deemed obsolete.

As an aside, if you have the instrospection
of try to
discern good and evil in the world, in any situation look to who is
seeking to
destroy – and there is the evil.

When Wordsworth appeals to the idea of God,
the tribunal
replies "The State has proved there is no God." Besides the obvious
deductive
fallacy in this statement, it interestingly echoes an earlier TZ
episode. In Eye of the Beholder,
Mrs. Tyler declares
"The State is not God!" In Obsolete
Man
, the state finds a way that they don’t have to be.

Wordsworth of course is sentenced to die
that night and gets
to choose his method of execution (who ever said the state isn’t
benevolent?).
Here the God issue develops further, and becomes the pivotal argument
in the
conclusion of the story. Wordsworth locks himself and the state’s
Chancellor in
his explosive-rigged apartment and, while the hidden cameras broadcast
the
scene live to national television, he calmly argues with the
increasingly
agitated Chancellor.

Wordsworth doesn’t fear death, partially
because of his
faith in God and perhaps partially because he longs to escape the
nightmare
world he lives in. The Chancellor of course becomes increasingly scared
and
ends up begging for his life, which Wordsworth ultimately grants.

But the damage is done – although he escapes
with his life,
he does not keep it for long – the next person called before the
tribunal is
the Chancellor, who cannot defend his non-obsolescence. The irony of
the state
becoming so large it attacks itself, like
a rabid animal or the mythological ouroboros, is
delicious.

But it is during their time locked in the
apartment that
strong statements on faith are made – Wordsworth has a secret Bible,
banned by
the state (sound familiar?) but read openly, on live television, in his
hour of
need, for comfort. And as a weapon. You see in choosing not only the
method of
his execution, but his deportment during, Wordsworth, like the
Christian
martyrs of antiquity and hunger strikers of today, has exercised the
epitome of
power. It is an
individual power.

A concept that is not spoken outright in
this episode but
eluded to throughout is the concept that the individual’s fight against
a
bloated self-important bureaucracy is not the struggle of belief vs.
atheism,
it is the struggle between belief in a supernatural god-creator of
human things
and belief in a human-created
thing
itself
– the state
. The Chancellor and the
tribunal are not simply anti-religion government workers, they are the
priests
and prophets of a new religion, the religion of the
state.

Anyone who thinks that likening
big-government supporters to
religious zealots is an unfair comparison should search for things like
"environmentalism
as religion
" or "statism
as
religion
" and see what arguments
come up. It’s an issue too large for these pages, but the general
concept is
that humans have a need to interface with a God-like entity, and if
atheism
reigns (as it has in all statist societies) those energies and that
relationship must be grafted on to something else – the creation of a
safety
net which provides security (social justice)
or a doctrine which spouts doom and
gloom consequences for our immoral behavior (environmentalism) easily
fill the
void. Then the adherents defend their position as a religious zealot
would.

Disagree? Try arguing with them.

But to return to the episode for a wrap up,
the crux of the
argument is made in a pair of bookend quotes from Serling’s opening and
closing
monologues. Setting the stage he says "This is not a new world – it is
simply
an extension of what began in the old one. It has refinements,
technological
advances, and a more sophisticated approach to the destruction of human
freedom. It has one iron rule: logic is an enemy and truth is a menace."

Disagree? Like I said, try arguing with
them, and you’ll see
how far logic
and truth
get you. At the end, he adds: "Any state, any entity,
any ideology which fails to recognize the worth, the dignity, the
rights of
man, that state is obsolete."

Oh, Rod….now who’s
being idealistic?