The Descent of Man...


History has ended in the postmodern West, and humanity’s future burns brightly. Nothing will impede inexorable progress toward the perfect harmony envisioned in Coca-Cola’s hilltop commercial, prophesied from Rome 40 years ago:

I'd like to teach the world to sing (Sing with me)

In perfect harmony (Perfect harmony)

I'd like to buy the world a Coke

And keep it company (That's the real thing)

Indeed, the great dream draws ever closer to realization as democracy is enshrined as religion, labor flows erase borders, and the political economy is globalized. Enjoy a Coke! And think nothing of your demographic displacement by alien cultures, of rape and other atrocities, of riots, looting and twitter mobs—just turn to another channel on your flat-screen.

This proud technical civilization is assumed the apex of human development. Poverty and inter-tribal war will be abolished by proper social engineering and consumption for all, and our longing for transcendence numbed by any manner of surrogate narcotics, from sex, drugs and shopping to every possible electronic amusement.

Yet postmodern ecstasy is soon interrupted by rough beasts emerging from the haze of a false order. In everyday life, we witness the criminality and savagery loosed upon us by multiculturalism and the egalitarian idea. In works of popular culture, monkeys show up to ruin the party. This summer’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes takes the Coca-Cola hilltop sing-along and subjects it to marauding chimpanzees and a doomsday plague.

Monsters like King Kong are not simply primeval invaders; rather, they arise from anarchy of our own making. The massive gorilla that rampaged through 1930s New York City and scaled the Empire State Building to bat at airplanes was brought to America for the purpose of profit and entertainment. In the same way, the super-primates depicted in the new prequel to Planet of the Apes are none other than our creation.

Rise may be a product of Hollywood, society’s indoctrination powerhouse, but the nightmare it evokes stems from the politically incorrect subconscious. Whatever the intentions of its director, Rupert Wyatt, the movie serves as a pop-culture indictment of modernity. Valueless freedom, equality and utilitarianism are all proven utterly bankrupt.

Alongside other science-fiction stories, Rise conveys a not uncommon yet worthwhile theme—the quest to achieve mastery over nature, having no higher end than to draw power from knowledge, ends in a backlash of chaos and death. Bay Area scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) works relentlessly to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but instead unleashes both a simian rebellion and a pandemic to wipe out humanity. In the course of the plot, there are also pointed reminders that NASA has embarked on a flight to Mars. Man sets out to conquer the red planet, and apes inherit the earth.

It is in the details of Rise that the liberal project is discredited. The story’s plot is set in San Francisco, a city rivaled perhaps only by Amsterdam as a symbol of Western decadence. Rodman’s workplace, a cutting-edge biotech company, is impeccably “diverse,” as is his choice of mate. The Open Society proposes the equality of individuals, uproots and dissolves peoples and flattens culture into a commodity. Nothing is sacred but a very specific kind of tolerance, the act of voting and the purchase of consumer goods. We recoil in fear and bewilderment when the primitive and the savage reassert their rights with ever greater violence. Yet why the surprise, if man is only an intelligent ape with no soul or higher purpose but the satisfaction of desire and the glorification of self?

The dystopia in Rise of the Planet of the Apes is not the ape society, but the civilization that through titanic hubris would write its own death sentence. In Fedor Dostoevsky’s novel The Possessed, the mad mystic Kirillov hopes to achieve transfiguration through suicide. He converses with the narrator:

History will be divided into two eras: from the gorilla to the destruction of God, and from the destruction of God...

...to the gorilla?

Kirillov would go on to tell of a new, divine man, a god beyond good and evil. The narrator’s preemptory response rings more true, though. Man divorced from the sustaining Transcendent is not even a gorilla, but a beast more wretched and absurd, for he has relinquished the human dignity that once ennobled him. We have been called to struggle toward a nature much higher.