For what men say is that, if I am really just and am
not also thought just, profit there is none, but the pain
and loss on the other hand are unmistakable.
But if, though unjust, I acquire the reputation of justice,
a heavenly life is promised to me. Since then, as philosophers
prove, appearance tyrannizes over truth and is lord of happiness,
to appearance I must devote myself.
- Plato - The Republic
It is an interesting curiosity that this day and age, which has discarded the mere epistemological possibility of monsters, should have free reign to create an abundance of aberrant metaphysical monstrosities.
It is not necessary to split hairs concerning the nature of monsters and monstrosities in our time, for they feed off each other. They do so right under our noses. To miss the lasting significance of the latter would be naïve on our part.
It is also ironic that, in an age that is incapable of fostering respect for the sublime, mythology or religious faith; the healthy status quo of the monstrosities that we nourish speaks for itself. In short, we take tremendous pride in the moral, spiritual, cultural and economic monstrosities that we live by today. Such monstrosities have sealed the fate of our time for future generations. Ortega y Gasset wrote in The Revolt of the Masses, in 1930 no less, that ours is a demoralized age. He goes on to say that we not only learn to live with demoralization, but that we actually come to cherish it.
Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein series, which is comprised of five novels, chronicles the exploits of Dr. Victor Frankenstein, the seemingly mad scientist of Mary Shelley’s creation.
However, Deucalion, Dr. Frankenstein’s brainchild in Koontz’s Frankenstein novels, is not the result of innocent experimentation by a deranged scientist, but rather an end-all attempt to create manufactured human perfection. While Shelley’s novel can be classified as the first work of science fiction, that work is essentially a study in dystopia. Dr. Frankenstein’s failure has become symbolic of the horrors of scientific excess.
Koontz’s Frankenstein is a perceptive and insightful look at the variety of monsters and monstrosities that make the twenty first century home. The author reminds us of the essence of dystopia.
In the twentieth century alone, the list of literary dystopias that have taught us something constructive of human nature is rather extensive. Some of the more memorable works include We, Insatiability, Darkness at Noon, Brave New World, Animal Farm and 1984.
The good doctor in Koontz’s five novels is intent on socially engineering humanoid entities – not quite human beings – whose function and purpose is take over human beings. These entities can be conceived as clones, doubles or replicants. However, these are all monsters that take over the human world, whatever names we give them.
The eerie thing about any attempt at social engineering, Koontz seems to suggest, is that Western culture is very much willing to continue to “experiment” with new – alternative, some will undoubtedly argue – forms of human life. And, why not? Frankenstein’s socially engineered entities are so much efficient and easier to rule over. Of course, these entities lack free will. This makes them soulless. Yet in the eyes of their maker, they are totally free from the hassles of living as autonomous persons.
The great temptation and tragedy of contemporary society is our desire for happiness at all cost, and our goal of making the objective demands and contingencies of everyday life all but vanish. Following the trajectory of our most cherished monstrosities, and what is written and “debated” about them, one gets the impression that we have grown bored – dangerously fed up – with humanity, human beings and the pursuit of autonomous existence.
Is this why it takes us so long in real life, and in Koontz’s novels, to recognize the monsters and monstrosities that we create?
Victor Frankenstein, a.k.a Victor Helios, has been around for over two hundred years. In that time he has ingratiated himself with some of the most efficient tyrants that humanity has had to endure.
As a philanthropist, Victor Helios has placed himself at the mercy of man’s timeliest and seemingly greatest popular causes. This has made him many friends and much wealth. At this point, It is perhaps appropriate to mention C.S. Lewis’ understanding that the worst tyrants are those who oppress us in order to make us better, happier people. The easy seduction of embracing appearance over truth has always been man’s downfall.
Stanislaw Witkiewicz’s marvelous 1930 novel, Insatiability, chronicles the invasion of Poland by the National Socialists and then by the communists. As a partial response to totalitarianism, a mind control drug referred to as the “murti-bing” pill is created in order to make people happy. The creation of such a pill foreshadowed the explosion of mind-altering drugs and the fashion for therapy that would transform the West in the decades to come.
The Frankenstein series takes place in a world where mankind is essentially morally/spiritually numb. As a result of this, evil makes tremendous inroads in all things noble and good. Victor Helios knows that he can throw his charm and money around and have his way. The problem is that “his way” is that of decadence, thus creating what the Spanish philosopher, Julian Marias, refers to as a crisis of expectations.
Consider how bored contemporary humanity appears to be with the many goods, services, morals, values, free market economy and technology that we have at our disposition. Extrapolate this to the near and far future. The outcome, if this pans out to be as daunting as our present-day monstrosities indicate, should definitely not take us by surprise.
The problem with the present is that we are too utterly immersed in it to fully realize just what is actually taking place. To understand the extent of our present moral/spiritual malaise – and incidentally, let us not fool ourselves, this is what determines our collective wellbeing – requires more perspicuity than most people are willing to practice. Perspicuity requires great focus and follow-through. Unfortunately, these are some of the values that we find antiquated and boring today. The practice of diligence and temperance is definitely deemed not cool in our time.
Of course, if perspicuity is what we truly desire, then, this is where the truth and value of the tried-and-failed comes into play. Ideas lead to action, and actions always have consequences. This is the realm of higher and lower values. There is no way around this basic fact of human agglomeration.
Deucalion tracks Victor down in order to free the world of its greatest nemesis. What Deucalion comes to understand about the human condition has taken him over two-hundred years to learn. This is a great amount of time for the ex-monster, who has now come to embrace the realm of those who possess a soul. Remember, Deucalion is the son of Prometheus in Greek mythology. Deucalion realizes that human history is the only laboratory man needs in order to comprehend the truths and values that keep us from becoming monsters.
Books by Dr. González
Dr. Pedro Blas González is a Professor of Philosophy at Barry University, Miami, Florida and is finishing a book on Ortega's The Revolt of the Masses. Professor González's professional interests include the relationship that exists between subjectivity, self-knowledge, personal autonomy and philosophy; ancient Greek philosophy; the thought of Schopenhauer, Albert Camus, Louis Lavelle, Karl Jaspers and the relationship between form and philosophical vocation. He blogs at Castle to Castle.