No Gods, No Men, No Future: Bioshock’s Unregulated Nightmare

 

In “The Battle for Galt’s Gulch: Bioshock as Critique of Objectivism,” Joseph Packer argues that Rapture, the Objectivist underwater dystopian setting of Bioshock (2007), is full of  “dangerous [Objectivist] enemies, seeking to inflict harm for their own personal gain” (215). He consistently reiterates his argument that these enemies, called splicers, are acting in accordance with Objectivism’s core tenet of rational self-interest (216-21), suggesting that they are making these choices consciously and of their own volition. In painting all citizens of Rapture with such a wide brush, Packer misinterprets the motivations behind Bioshock’s enemies, and in doing so, he also misses the central catalyst for Rapture’s ruin in general. Society has collapsed in Rapture not because its citizens are selfish, but because there of the lack of government intervention to counter the moral bankruptcy of the business world of rapture.

In Brigid Tenenbaum’s audio diary “ADAM Explained,” she reveals the negative effects of ADAM, a popular substance in Rapture that allows for instant genetic modification. ADAM’s process of cellular regeneration, she states, causes “cosmetic and mental damage. You need more and more ADAM just to keep back the tide.” Because its debilitating effects can only be subdued by repeated applications, users are caught in a trap of psychological dependence after using it, leading to their violence against others who have ADAM. Therefore, Packer’s explanation of the splicers’ violence is inadequate. They attack the player not because of their ideology, but for physiological reasons beyond their control. The splicers are essentially stand-ins for drug addicts with no access to rehabilitative services.

In response, one might wonder why there are no rehabilitative centers in Rapture when there would certainly be a high demand. After all, Rapture is a free market society. The answer is that there is more money to be made from selling to the users of ADAM than rehabilitating them. As Tenenbaum also states in “ADAM Explained,” “From a medical standpoint, [the addictive nature of ADAM] is catastrophic. From a business standpoint, well… Fontaine sees the possibilities.” Frank Fontaine is the founder of Fontaine Futuristics, the business enterprise that funded Tenenbaum’s experiments leading to the discovery of ADAM. The high demand for ADAM only increases during the civil war, when “Johnny and Janey Citizen are lined up round the block for Plasmids” (Bioshock, “Fontaine’s Legacy”). In Rapture, there is no institution in place to stop someone like Fontaine from taking advantage of the masses’ dependence on ADAM.

Another prime example of the dangers of unmitigated ADAM distribution and consumption is Dr. Steinman. Steinman is a plastic surgeon in Rapture’s Medical Pavilion who becomes obsessed with elevating his trade to an artform. He pontificates about Pablo Picasso’s deconstructivist experimentalism and suggests that it has influenced him to perform unorthodox procedures on his patients (Bioshock, “Surgery’s Picasso”). Thus, his unregulated and unconventional practice usurps the desires of his patients, leading to horrifying deformations and even deaths (Bioshock, “Not What She Wanted”). Steinman, like the nameless splicer enemies, exemplifies how well-adjusted citizens can be destroyed by the unchecked, amoral free-market economy of Rapture.

The lack of official oversight in the form of safety nets in Rapture leads to class inequality. Because Fontaine has control over ADAM production, he is able to hoard the wealth of Rapture for himself, leaving the masses poor. He further takes advantage of them, as he explains in the audio diary “Sad Saps”:

These sad saps. They come to Rapture thinking they’re gonna be captains of industry, but they all forget that somebody’s gotta scrub the toilets. What an angle they gave me… I hand these mugs a cot and a bowl of soup, and they give me their lives. Who needs an army when I got Fontaine’s Home for the Poor?

He is able to use these vulnerable citizens as soldiers to insulate him against any retribution. Once again thanks to the lack of government regulation, Fontaine is able to build a private army with deadly weapons and plasmids, exploiting the lack of a state-sanctioned military in Rapture.

To understand the graveness of the oppression brought on by the free market economy in Rapture, one needs only to listen to Julie Langford’s audio diary “Arcadia and Oxygen.” In it, Langford reveals that oxygen production and distribution in Rapture is also a part of the free market. Since Rapture is located at the bottom of the ocean, breathable oxygen is not naturally occurring and has to be farmed from trees in an area called Arcadia. Andrew Ryan, Rapture’s founder, demonstrates the dangers of such an arrangement when he kills the trees with herbicide, putting all of Rapture in jeopardy due to its oxygen dependence. Because oxygen is privately owned, prices can go unregulated, and the very life of public is determined by the state of the market. This is an extreme analogy that parallels real-life anti-government sentiments that oppose universal healthcare, food stamps, and other state-funded social safety nets.

Another injustice inherent in the absence of centralized government in Rapture is the lack of a public police force. Ryan has the privilege of employing a man named Sullivan to investigate anything Ryan perceives as criminal activity (Bioshock, “Timmy H. Interrogation”). These investigations often result in the murder of Ryan’s enemies, such as smugglers working for Fontaine that harm Ryan Industries’ profits and a young singer who gained popularity by singing protest songs (Bioshock, “Picked up Timmy H.”, “Artist Woman”). Again, the privatization of a force that is meant to protect the public leads to more inequality in Rapture. Even Sullivan becomes disillusioned by the impropriety of his own job and threatens to quit in his audio diary “Have My Badge”. Without public servants to protect the rights of the lower-class citizens of Rapture, the social disparity that is already so pervasive will perpetuate.

Similarly, if there had been an ethics committee to regulate scientific experimentation, all of the multitude of problems caused by ADAM would be non-existent in Rapture. Ryan openly celebrates the lack of ethical oversight in the sciences at Rapture. In the video that accompanies the first bathysphere ride, Ryan describes Rapture as a place “where the scientist would not be bound by petty morality.” In another, particularly dark, revelation, it is revealed that Tenenbaum’s genetic experimentation that lead to the discovery of ADAM was likely a continuation of Nazi eugenics, in which Tenenbaum participated as an assistant in the concentration camps (Bioshock, “Useless Experiments”). The indifference toward using Nazi science is a clear indicator of the fatal extremes of Rapture’s laissez-faire take on science. As a result of being unhindered by government intervention, “Fontaine Futuristics is the biggest thing going in Rapture” according to Bill McDonagh, one of Rapture’s city council members (Bioshock, “Arresting Fontaine”). Thus, Fontaine Futuristics jump-starts the end of Rapture by mass-producing and distributing ADAM, completely unregulated and in defiance of ethical business practice.

Ryan’s favorite analogy for the free market is the Great Chain. He likens the path of the market to human industrial progress being pulled in the right direction (Bioshock, “The Great Chain”). This is ironic because there is no universal morality in Objectivism since every person has their own independent moral compass. As Ayn Rand writes in The Virtue of Selfishness, “the achievement of his own happiness is man’s highest moral purpose” (23). Thus, each puller of the proverbial chain is pulling in his or her own direction, without regard to the others, leading to stagnation. This is where Ryan’s Great Chain analogy falls flat, and his philosophy is complicit in the every aspect of the downfall of his city.

Ryan’s motto for Rapture is “No gods or kings. Only Man,” and that in itself is not problematic. But the overall sentiment is that Man doesn’t need anyone else to survive and prosper, which the downfall of Rapture has shown to be false. Government intervention is not a mere moral obligation, it’s also a rational one for a society to prosper. Public institutions help offset the greed, dysfunction, and chaos that arise from any the social interactions of any complex society. In denying the citizens of Rapture such benefits as medical regulation, social services, free access to breathable air, and a public police force, Ryan launched his city in a doomed trajectory for the masses.

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Pferd

Brigit Schmidt

English 2

Miss Hoover

 

Writing Journal

Write a paragraph (in English) describing what you did over the weekend. Make sure to use new vocabulary from the current chapter in each journal entry. Even though this is an online class, you are not allowed to use Google Translate. Check the syllabus for a list of acceptable dictionaries.

 

21 September 2015

This Weekend I went to the store with my mutter and father. I buyed three apples und went to the park. I had fun. My brother and my friend Klaus went to the pool. Klaus went to the pool and dived from the diving board. Then my brother died from the diving board. I swimmed four laps. Then I see the (sorry I don’t remember the word) Pferd. He smiled and we go back to the house.

 

28 September 2015

Over the Weekend, I went at Großmothers house. I ate three apples, and we watched television. I ate three apples. I did.

 

5 October 2015

He did not let me to go this Weekend.

 

12 October 2015

He did not let me to go this Weekend. It is to dark to sehe anything else but

 

I see the Pferd.

 

13 October 2015

I know there is no assignment today. But I see the Pferd. I have to tell someone. Maybe you can to help. All I can see out of the window is the Pferd. Please do not type the other word. When I type it he looks right at me and I can not move I am to scared. If I read the word he knows so please don’t type the word please please please.

 

19 October 2015

I should not have done that. He knows that I only type on Mondays, and he would not stop looking to me. You have to understand that I can not tell to you how to get here and what it looks like you just have to understand that I always see the Pferd.

I sdddddddddd

Don’t worry. Things are fine!

Don’t worry. Things are fine!

Don’t worry. Things are fine!

 

Do not leave. Things are fine!

 

Do not leave. Things are coming.

The Curse of Language

 

The monster’s reflections on Felix’s history lesson in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein wield oppressive power over him. In learning about the nature of human beings, he dives deeper into knowledge of how he would be perceived by them. As he dwells on the meaning of Felix’s words, he forms a new self-image, one that is informed by the society’s concepts of status and wealth. The monster’s despondent reflections are caused by the knowledge bestowed by human words.

The monster demonstrates an awareness of the power of words after eavesdropping on Felix’s lesson. He is induced by the words to “turn toward [himself] (122),”  stating it so the words place him in a position of subordination. Until now, the monster has obsessed about “acquiring the art of language” (118) and hoped that he could command language in order to introduce himself to the family. After hearing Felix’s lesson, however, he is subjugated by the words’ power, and made to “turn toward [him]self,” away from the human family. He now understands that the tendency for language that he originally embraced is a force that alienates him from humanity.

The monster struggles to define himself with words. “What was I?” he asks himself (123), ignorant of his origins and ancestry, and therefore having no discernable purpose in life. Importantly, defining himself as “what” instead of “who” shows the influence that human perception has on his words. To a human being, the monster is an object. The monster is aware of the fact that if he continues to use the language of man, he is emphasizing his place in the world as an other.

The monster compares himself to a “blot upon the earth” (123), as if the earth were a written document. Essentially, Felix’s dictation from the history book is the monster’s perception of the world, which is oppressively the only avenue for understanding the world that the he has. In this metaphor, the monster would be a misshapen spill of ink, forming no intelligible words. A blot would assuredly be considered a mistake and would never be recognized as a legitimate part of a written work.

The monster proclaims “I cannot describe to you the agony that these reflections inflicted upon me” (123). Again his language demonstrates that he feels victimized, this time by the “reflections” of his new knowledge brought about by Felix’s words. Words are not enough, however, to describe his agony, because it is beyond what human beings are able to experience. In this passage, the addressee is Victor Frankenstein, who, the monsters recognizes, would be unable to understand his level of agony.

Because the monster’s “sorrow only increased with knowledge” (123), he can only avoid it by avoiding learning. Ironically, he originally believed that learning the ways of human beings would help him interact with them and, as a result, he would be happy. Now, the monster wishes that he had remained in nature in ignorance, without having “known nor felt beyond the sensations of hunger, thirst, and heat” (123). Essentially, he wishes he could divorce himself from the human world of written knowledge and become purely animal, recognizing only the things he senses.


Works Cited

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus. Ed. Maurice Hindle. London: Penguin, 2003. Print.


Appendix

Selected Passage from Frankenstein (122-3):

‘The words induced me to turn towards myself. I learned that the possessions most esteemed by your fellow-creatures were high and unsullied descent united with riches. A man might be respected with only one of these advantages but, without either, he was considered, except in very rare instances, as a vagabond and a slave, doomed to waste his powers for the profits of the chosen few! And what was I? Of my creation and creator I was absolutely ignorant; but I knew that I possessed no money, no friends, no kind of property. I was, besides, endued with a figure hideously deformed and loathsome; I was not even of the same nature as men. I was more agile than they, and could subsist upon coarser diet; I bore the extremes of heat and cold with less injury to my frame; my stature far exceeded theirs. When I looked around, I saw and heard of none like me. Was I then a monster, a blot upon the earth, from which all men fled, and whom all men disowned?

‘I cannot describe to you the agony that these reflections inflicted upon me: I tried to dispel them, but sorrow only increased with knowledge. Oh, that I had forever remained in my native wood, nor known nor felt beyond the sensations of hunger, thirst, and heat![’]

Zampanò’s Record

In House of Leaves, we are only told Navidson’s story through Zampanò’s text. When Johnny remarks that many of the books cited in the footnotes are fictitious (xx) we immediately begin to question the reality of the narrative. In fact, as we continue reading, we realize that it’s quite likely that Zampanò fabricated the whole story.

The Navidson Record is title of both the film about which Zampano is writing but also the title of his writing. When it’s called “a hoax of exceptional quality,” the statement can just as easily refer to Zampanò’s writing. An unconscious example of Zampanò hinting at his authorship is on page 320: “[Tom] might have spent the whole night drinking had exhaustion not caught up with me.” Zampanò’s typo can be seen as a Freudian slip admitting to his part in making up the story.

Zampanò describes the film so thoroughly that he must have a copy of it to study while he writes about it. However, in the six sets of instructions at the beginning of the appendix (530-5) he doesn’t include any stills from the film or primary sources (The Reston Interview and The Last Interview are noted by the editors as missing). It is uncharacteristic of the thorough and meticulous compiler of data that he shows himself to be throughout the text.

The Delial narrative has an obvious real-life parallel that is acknowledged by the editors on page 368. The editors suggest fictionality by saying that Delial “is clearly based on Kevin Carter’s 1994 Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph….” Again, such a studious researcher as Zampanò would have certainly mentioned the parallel. The fact that he ignores it shows that he doesn’t want to draw attention to it.

Lastly, in one of his handwritten notes (552), Zampanò muses “[p]erhaps I will alter the whole thing. Kill both children” and goes on to describe the deaths of Daisy and Chad inside the house. Zampanò has left behind evidence of a potential plot point that he decided not to use after all.

Son of Frankenstein

“Alas my father […] how little do you know me” (189).

These words are whined by Victor Frankenstein after his father tries to teach him about the futility of pride. Frankenstein refuses to hear it because he believes his father misunderstands his suffering. But perhaps he’s really just that transparent, and the reason he is suffering is because of his overabundance of pride.

He knows that the monster has emotions and the ability to reason, and is essentially a human being in that regard. But he keeps trying to justify keeping him from having someone to love. That’s because the monster’s only flaw is that he is ugly. He is superior to regular humans in every way, and if he also could find love then he could truly become the next evolution of man.

Victor has too much pride in himself to let his creation overtake him. In fact, the very reason he created the monster in the first place was to give himself greatness. Once the reality of the living creature manifested, however, he couldn’t face the horror. The first thing the monster wanted from him was love, reaching out his hand to touch Frankenstein. When Frankenstein ran away from him, he was denying the monster love because he had none to give because he was too self-absorbed.

The irony of course is that Frankenstein tells his father that he doesn’t understand his troubles and he goes on to neglect the troubles of his creation. In his arrogance he is blind to his creation’s needs. If he had also had the foresight to not make the monster so ugly, he might not have had such a violent reaction to its animation.

Frankenstein’s refusal to understand his own flaws eventually comes back around and leads to his own death. Just as Frankenstein stood at his father’s deathbed, the monster stands over his creator’s corpse and laments his death, showing that he doesn’t lack compassion for him. We see that if Frankenstein had not been so blindly proud of himself, the story would not have had such a tragic end.

Frankenstein the Monster

When Robert Walton rescues Victor Frankenstein from the freezing Arctic waters, Frankenstein immediately faints and needs to be “re-animated” with a small amount of brandy (Shelley 26-7). Once he recovers, Walton takes care of him and treats him kindly even though “his eyes have generally an expression of wildness, even madness” and “he gnashes his teeth” (27). Walton is able to see “benevolence and sweetness” (27) in him and begins to “love him as a brother” (28), even though he barely knows him at all.

In contrast, when Frankenstein gives life to his creation, he is immediately horrified and abandons it in his laboratory (58). He is disgusted by the creation’s physical appearance, even though he picked each piece of it himself (58). He doesn’t even try to talk to or understand the thing to whom he has given life. In fact, the creature opens his mouth and may have been trying to talk to him, but he is not listening (59).

It could be that once a person has, like Frankenstein, attained the unthinkable and unnatural — the sublime — they are unable to reconcile with their own humanity. By laboring obsessively and neglecting correspondence with his family (55-7) Frankenstein has become alienated from humanity and become purely a vessel for science. Frankenstein refers to this state as a madness (29), and attempts to prevent Walton from pursuing a similar path of passionate scientific endeavor (29).

Frankenstein perceives himself as having created something monstrous which originally seemed only beautiful until he reflected on his work (58). This is all too apt a metaphor for the life he has created for himself over the 2 years he obsessed over his re-animation project. When Frankenstein says that “breathless horror and disgust filled [his] heart,” this is as a result of his deprivation of rest and health (58). He has become a monster in his narrow-sightedness and is desperately trying to stop the creation of another monster (of Robert Walton) by relaying his tragic story.