All posts by Cate Larsen

About Cate Larsen


Favorite Quotes

1. Walden by Henry David Thoreau (Stanza 16 of Chapter 2- Where I Lived, and What I Lived For)

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.

(I bolded my favorite parts.)

2. Temporary Autonomous Zones by Hakim Bey, pg 97

By failing to follow this curve, the up-rising suggests the possibility of a movement outside and beyond  the Hegelian spiral of that “progress” which is secretly nothing more than a vicious circle. Surgo – rise up, surge. Insurgo – rise up, raise oneself up. A bootstrap operation. A goodbye to that wretched parody of the karmic round, historical revolutionary futility. The slogan “Revolution!” has mutated from tocsin to toxin, a malign pseudo-Gnostic fate-trap, a nightmare where no matter how we struggle we never escape that evil Aeon, that incubus the State, one State after another, every “heaven” ruled by yet one more evil angel.

3. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, pg 238 &239 (Chapter 9)

It is our suffering that brings us together. It is not love. Love does not obey the mind, and turns to hate when forced. The bond that binds us is beyond choice. We are brothers. We are brothers in what we share. In pain, which each of us must suffer alone, in hunger, in poverty, in hope, we know our brotherhood. We know it, because we have had to learn it. We know that there is no help for us but from one another, that no hand will save us if we do not reach out our hand. And the hand that you reach out is empty, as mine is. You have nothing. You possess nothing. You own nothing. You are free. All you have is what you are, and what you give… You cannot buy the Revolution. You cannot make the Revolution. You can only be the Revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere.

That first part is very Machiavellian.

4. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, pg 173 (Record 31)

And as for happiness… Really? After all, desire is torturous, isn’t it? And so it’s clear that happiness happens when there are no more desires, not one… What a mistake, what ridiculous prejudice, that until now, we have been putting a plus sign in front of absolute happiness. It is, of course, a minus sign – a divine minus.

If true happiness (true utopia) is the removal of desire, would anybody be willing to give up that desire that is so fundamental to our lives?

The Matrix (1999): Beware of Existential Crisis.


The Matrix, while presenting the story of a rescue from a dystopian society, is every computer geek’s dream come true. Directed by the Wachowski brothers and released in 1999, it details the double life of seemingly average Thomas Anderson. Anderson is a mediocre office worker in a cubicle by day and a genius computer hacker known as Neo by night.

One night, as Neo is asleep by his computer, he is wakened by messages on his screen from somebody who seems to know who he is and directs him to a meeting. Neo follows the instructions and is confronted by another famous hacker named Trinity, who claims that she knows he has been looking into the matrix and he is now in great danger. Despite this warning, Neo is very shocked that the infamous Trinity, hacker of the IRS database, is a woman.

The scene cuts to Neo waking up late in his bed the next morning and rushing to work. However, this is no ordinary day: mysterious agents in dark glasses swarm the workplace after Neo is contacted by a dangerous and wanted computer hacker named Morpheus. Following this contact leads a sequence of events in which Neo is transferred from the hands of the agents to that of Morpheus’ black-leather-clad gang. Among this group, references are made to him being “The One.”

When Neo meets Morpheus face to face, the truth about the matrix is revealed to him. The matrix is the world we live in: where we breathe, live, and work daily. However, all this life is in fact nothing but a carefully constructed virtual reality. Human bodies are actually dominated by technological forces and lie asleep in pods in their dystopian structure, providing energy to the ruling artificial intelligence. This occurred as a result of a war between machines and humans. Supposedly Neo is The One to save humanity from this miserable existence.

At this point, Neo is confronted with a crucial choice upon which the future of mankind depends. He can consume a red pill and become further involved with Morpheus’ gang of male and female super-humans in leather to save the human race; or, he can take a blue pill that will make him forget everything he has learned and continue to live his ordinary, ignorant life.

Our protagonist of course chooses the red pill, and sets off on his destiny to save the world. He is trained in the martial arts via computer chips, and battles the agents who represent the controlling world and operators of the matrix program. He learns to bend the virtual world of the matrix to his will, knowing that the governing laws of physics are actually meaningless. This mental strength and his physical strength as The One help him to defeat the machines in a final battle full of slowmo gunshot scenes. The movie ends with a promised next step to reveal to humanity that the world they live in is nothing but a construction.


Technology and Ethics

The theme of technology has a prominent role to play in The Matrix, and it is not the most positive one. The downfall of humanity came about from man’s complete dominance on it. As Morpheus tells Neo, “You are a slave.” Indeed, many modern humans have been enslaved to revolutionary technologies (How many times did you check your smart phone while reading this internet blog post?). Historically, the dependency developed to such an extreme that it produced the Y2K scare of the turn of the century that was certainly in full hype during the production of The Matrix. The loss of computer systems meant the falling apart of many necessary things we rely on computers for, including big business.

This extreme expression of technology to ultimately control society is also represented in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, where technologies such as feelies and soma render the masses utterly dependent. However, the directors show, through both Neo’s mental and physical powers in the matrix and productive technologies such as the computer chips that teach concepts in mere seconds, how technology can be harnessed by humans and mastered rather than the other way around.

Ethics certainly has a role to play in the technological world, particularly the heated debate over the power of artificial intelligence, which has formidably taken over the world in this movie.

The actions of all the characters are ethically questionable, as Neo and all of his friends are wanted computer hackers (note that this practice is illegal in iLand Getaway!)



Religion also has its threads in The Matrix. Neo is a Christ-like figure in many ways. He is the Messiah of Morpheus’s crew, hailed by oracle prophecies as “The One” in the same way that Jesus was referred to in the Old Testament and foretold by John the Baptist. Continuing on the path of Jesus’ life, one of the group members, Cypher, betrays Neo’s location to the agents in exchange for nice dinners and a promise that he will forget all about The Matrix and live ignorantly. This inside agent is reminiscent of Judas, who betrays Jesus to the Pharisees in exchange for a monetary favor. Neo even operates with Morpheus from Zion, the last human civilization to exist and not coincidentally the name of the mountain from which Christ will reign during his second coming in the Bible.

Perhaps the most clear reference to Neo as a Christ-like figure is his death and resurrection to a new body in the final fight with head agent Smith. Though he is shot and his heart stops beating, in an act that defies logic, he comes back to life in a restored body that is even more physically and mentally capable than before. Neo completes his Christ-like journey by ascending into the sky at the movie’s end, as Jesus ascended into heaven after his resurrection.


Compare and Contrast

The Matrix reminded me of the concept of The Giver and the cave scene from Plato’s Republic, especially regarding how the reality the population experiences is not all that is really there. In The Giver, the true world of emotions and color is stomped under the surface via daily injections and rules, leaving community members to experience a weaker version of the real world. The cave scene detailed by Plato paints a similar picture, as members of the cave blindly sit and watch the shadows flicker on the wall. They are ignorant to the goings on of the real world; this constructed reality is the definition of their existence, until one cave dweller ventures outside and sees the beauty of the real world. Similarly, the Matrix is “the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.” The only contrast here is that the real world is not a beautiful one in any sense, but rather a nightmare that some such as Cypher would risk everything to forget about and go back to blissful ignorance. However, a parallel can be drawn between Neo and countless utopian protagonists such as Jonas from The Giver, who cannot turn back to their old way of living once they have tasted the truth.


Famous Red Pill/Blue Pill scene

The scene of Neo’s death and resurrection, referred to as The Passion of Neo

Off the iLand: The Next Big Thing

#Perfect! MacBarbie07 thought with a contented smile, as she wedged deeper into her chair and looked at her finished product, herself, on the iLens screen. Her previous blonde hair had been nice at first, but was getting a bit outdated after a few weeks of wear. Photoshop had properly lengthened and dyed it to a ravishing color that she was sure Surferboi would admire on their date tonight. She snapped a screenshot with the blink of an eye, opened up a new tab with a sideways glance, and realized it was that time of day again for her old body’s daily Foodamin.

Lazily casting her old arm (Janet’s arm, though she rarely thought of Janet anymore) into the compartment of the chair she called home, she prepared to post a witty caption underneath her new avatar’s selfie. Suddenly MacBarbie07 noticed that her fingers were casting about in the compartment and not touching a thing. She made sure she had covered every corner but…emptiness. Her Foodamins had not been refilled in their pouch today. What?! The outside workers haven’t been late in their delivery once since I got admitted into iLand Getaway twenty-one years ago… I was one of them once… I had to earn my way in here. The work schedule is strict, and nobody would dare mess it up and throw away their chance to join iLand… As MacBarbie07’s Facebook wall loaded, she noticed the last few posts from the afternoon:


“#Foodaminsonstrike” “G0t f00damins?” “Any1 else not get a refill 2day?!”


MacBarbie07 began to grow nervous. She immediately checked the Facebook pages of all of the Founding Fathers, beginning with the innovative Mark Zuckerberg. No explanation. God’s Facebook page was also mysteriously blank, with no questions answered all day. She noticed several posts on His wall asking about the Foodamins incident, but to no avail, not even the standard replies of “Keep web surfing and all things will work out for the good of the Wifi.” His last post had been made a few days ago, simply reading “See Paragraph 102.” It had not received any likes, and MacBarbie07 had therefore overlooked it as irrelevant, and even now did not focus on it for more than a fraction of a second.

The whole purpose of iLand Getaway was to help its citizens forget everything about their physical lives, bodies included. Everything was arranged to have as little body maintenance as possible. A perfect avatar was maintained, while the body itself was just a willingly forgotten shell. iLand Getaway showcased the real individual, the inside that counted, that those in the real world had never accepted.

For the first time in twenty-one years, MacBarbie07 was reminded of the old life and body she had not missed or longed for very much since her arrival. She remembered the black turbans of the chanting militant religious group, the beheadings, the cancers, the wasted political system…and on a smaller scale, the turned-off faces whenever anybody looked at her, the rejection, the crushing loneliness. A twinge of annoyance accompanied this crisis, along with worry. What would the pixels of iLand do without the nutrients that kept their minds alert and functioning to surf the web and watch the newest cute cat videos?


An excerpted chat history between MacBarbie07 and Surferboi, retrieved from iLand’s WiFi system long after it became obsolete:


Surferboi: Foodamins?

MacBarbie07: NoneL

Surferboi: Aww u r 2 beautiful and popular 2 b sad *hugs*

Suferboi: I wish my food printer was working. I wud make u ur fav food. I feel like I know u so well.

MacBarbie07: Aww *blushes* thank u! So sweet. The FFs no wut they r doing. I <3 Zuckerberg. And u 2!

Surferboi: I luv u moreee. Can u ask some of your followers to follow me 2?


Note: The full pointless conversation can be found in the iLand Wing of the Old Technology Museum, located adjacent to the Blackberry Wing.


Three days. Three long days. MacBarbie07’s mind was growing bored, dim and tired. She had little energy to even navigate the screen before her eyes and post any sort of status. No word from God or any of iLand’s founding fathers on any subject. No Foodamin refill. No clean water from her versatile chair. Only weak one word answers from her friends in all of her group chats. Some had disappeared altogether, with no presence declaring their streams of consciousness. A few remaining desperate pleas rang out on all social media outlets:


“We thought we cud count on u Mark…#Schmuckerberg” “God is dead.” “Steve’s not dead.”


Her mind in a sleepy fog, without adequate stimulation and left to its own weak entertainment-deprived devices, MacBarbie07 hardly noticed when her entire virtual vision winked out and went blank. My lenses went to sleep, she thought weakly. She blinked rapidly to wake up the screen, her muscle movements connecting with the lenses that had become her world. No response. The first drip of adrenaline in a long while shot through her veins. She straightened her depleted body violently, blind to all worlds. Her throat croaked in protest, but after years of disuse would not make a sound. MacBarbie07 continued to blink, to dart her eyes around every which way, but to no avail. The Wifi that powered her virtual world had, for the first time in iLand’s history, shut down.

MacBarbie07 knew something must be very wrong. In shock, she began to realize what would have to be done, what many others had probably done already. She slowly reached up her hands to her eyes and scraped at them weakly. One film came out of her eye, then the other, feebly dropping to the floor. Vision slowly returned, along with Janet. Plain, boring old Janet with the slightly stocky build, mousy brown hair that must have gone a bit gray by now, and those awful beady eyes. Darkness continued to fill up her vision, yet this time it slowly adjusted. Janet peered around the blackness of cubicle that was her body’s home. A small window drilled into the wall showed that it was nearing the end of the day.

Weakened by the lack of essential vitamins to her body, dazed from lack of amusement, Janet slowly got up from her chair, pulling the tube that dealt with her drink and waste processes out with her. The door. I must have to go to the door and see if there are others…See others…Oh no. Oh no. This can’t be happening. This must be fixed. Janet began to walk over to the door, leaning against the wall for support as her unused legs buckled beneath her and cramped up; they had forgotten the reflexive movements of walking. She paused before turning the door, wondering if she should even bother to fix herself after years of neglect. Her hair had grown ragged and long, her face sagging and wrinkled from the feel of it. She weakly straightened her rumpled brown dress that had grown faded and tight over the years.

Finally, with nothing left to do, Janet opened her cubicle’s door, not knowing what would await her there…


Piercing light from the big windows, which were thankfully dirty enough to not reveal the world all at once. Janet was nonetheless brought to her knees in the hallway outside her cubicle by the glare that had been absent for so long. After this temporary rest, she opened her watery eyes. There were others, as 30 cubicles lined each wall. Some had not been strong enough to make it down the hallway, unconscious bodies littering the doors to the other cubicles and the passageway itself at the exertion of physical activity.

She spotted a man in his thirties, about the age she had been when she joined iLand, picking his way over the others with less effort than it would have taken her in this state. She tried to speak, but again, no sound emerged. Janet instead pounded on the wall faintly for his attention. He turned, though his reaction was a bit delayed. His eyes were hazy, and he squinted through the light to see her. His nose was several inches too long, his scraggly hair almost covering his eyes, his back stooped over into a hunch. Despite how Janet knew she must have looked, she could barely hold back her disgust at his appearance. Yet at the same time, the three dimensional body made of individual veins and bones and cells fascinated her.

He hoarsely choked out a whisper, breaking her reverie: “What do we do?” She could only stare at the sound of another human voice. It was full of substance and reality, rich with an unpleasant tone of horror and disbelief. Janet choked slightly, attempting to clear her throat. Her voice box finally participated and spoke, for the first time in twenty-one long years, without the rich power of inflection the man had possessed… “I don’t know.” She had never been one for words anyway.

“Um. Let’s get out.” the man cracked out in a mix of awkward human speech and the somewhat shortened sentence structure typical of online lingo. Janet nodded gawkily and started to follow him, self conscious that she would be slowing him down. They made their way into the narrow elevator at the end of the passage, and when it opened a handful of others were revealed, clearly on the same mission as them. They all stared at each other with eyes as wide as saucers, only to quickly look down and avoid any eye contact.

Janet trudged into the elevator using the wall for support as if she were ice skating for the first time. Her legs ached. She stared intensely at the floor. Her mind was cranking out thoughts of fear and panic, the whole machine breaking down. Her life was thrown up in the air, but instead of coming down it seemed to be floating farther and farther up.

Yet despite her burning worry and confusion, she was too afraid to ask anybody around her what they knew. As a matter of fact, nobody spoke at all. There was no frenzy or hurried movements. Her eye caught the pale leg of the woman next to her with pale blue varicose veins lining its length, so full of flaws, nothing appealing to the eye. Nobody spoke in the elevator ride down all fifty floors. Perhaps they were too ashamed to draw attention to themselves. Perhaps they just didn’t want to.

When the elevator creaked to a stop and opened into the entrance room with the exit door, Janet realized how poor the infrastructure of her residency was. Because nobody was living their lives in the physical space or even aware of its features, the entire building lacked adequate lighting and visual appeal. Maintenance was hardly a requirement. There would have been no windows for light in the hallways or lobby at all if not for the delivery workers.

Janet shuffled to the door with the others. They all paused, not out of any sense of unity or to wait for one another, but because all were aware of what was beyond that splintered and faded wooden door. It stood there as innocently as Pandora’s Box, making it hard to believe that evil was indiscriminate when it came to space: it always wedged its way into a space from the wide world beyond. Contagious disease, rotting garbage, animals dead, violent storms of hail and lightning, ruthless criminals, rage-filled terrorists… this rickety old building was a lighthouse for the citizens of iLand in the midst of all this chaos, and now they were being set afloat into the rocky waters of the all too real world. Nobody made a sound of either comfort or fear. One by one, at their own paces, they walked through the door separately and soundlessly.

When the world of iLand Getaway fell, once so full of life and laughter and opinions, nobody emitted so much as a single scream. It was just too embarrassing to do so.


Janet stared. The world was a different place than the one she had left behind, that was certain. How insidious these changes had been she did not know. Nobody in iLand’s virtual world, which was so much more real to her than this wasteland, had any contact or news from the outside. When she had arrived, these buildings were newer, taller, brighter.

Janet turned her head from side to side, taking a look at the tree-lined streets which were beautiful in juxtaposition to the crumbling cubicle-crammed constructions. It was autumn, and as the multicolored leaves crunched under her feet and disintegrated, others crunched through the leaves ahead of her. Footsteps of many others formed a resounding beat, streaming from the building complexes. They all walked alone, united only by direction and purpose.

Janet did not know what to do. She squinted in resistance to the raw natural light that filtered into her vision, no dirty windows to hold it back now, molten rays splaying patterns at her feet through the trees and branches. Luckily the sun was not at its apex, so the light wasn’t painful, though she had not relaxed her eye muscles out of their squint. All of the iLand compounds stretched into the sky, bleak and squashed and grey. This austere exterior somehow held a colorful universe within two clear iLenses.

Janet stumbled towards the people walking ahead of her and spent about fifteen minutes trying to get up the nerve to ask the woman closest to her side where they were going with such purpose, where the founding fathers were, where all the crime and disease and pain was lurking. She had so many questions but no courage. Speaking to that man in the hallway had been strange and unpleasant enough, and that was from a distance. She decided she could not bear to do it or touch somebody to draw their attention to her, and inside of her she began to panic, wondering if she would ever return to her homepage again.

Others, mostly the younger ones, were quietly speaking yet maintaining many inches of range between each other, a wide sphere of personal space. “They left.” “Gone…” “Nobody in the power plants.” “Town close by, I just got here a few months ago, I remember.” “What happened to the Wifi?” The hushed whispers from afar were broken by the most jarring sound of all, one that had not yet occurred amidst the entire world being hacked and shattered. An athletic young man was making his way towards them from the direction they were walking towards. He was with another man, and this man was shouting something to them.

Everybody stared in horror at the unfamiliar noise and shrunk back, some even ceasing to walk. An even deeper silence rippled over the crowd. The young man and his companion stopped a few feet away. The boy was in his teens, likely new to iLand, but still showed the ragged appearance, cloudy eyes, and staggering footsteps of a person disconnected. He quickly disappeared into the crowd. The second man, however, was older and dressed in a charcoal grey suit with combed back hair. He stood straight before the crowd and continued to yell the same phrase: “It’s over! It’s all over!” The citizens of iLand did not answer him. They did not want to. They did not know how to. They simply stared. He squinted at them quizzically and began to shout again. “People of iLand! I am from the nearest city where your Founding Fathers live. I am a secretary in their headquarters. Your fellow citizen was the first to make it to our city running and seeking answers. He didn’t say much but it seems that he was not aware of what happened to your society. Does anybody else not know what happened to iLand?” Though all were burning to know the answer to this very question, the silence prevailed, growing awkward. Everybody wanted to continue the conversation, but nobody wanted to interact. The man wrinkled his eyes and eventually stopped waiting for a response. “Well, okay. I guess I’ll tell you anyway, incase some of you haven’t realized what happened.” Silence. The man appeared frustrated. He muttered something about doing all the dirty work. “iLand is over! You will not be returning. Ever!”

Though Janet’s eyes and those of her fellow citizens grew wide, and some even made O’s with their mouth, nothing was said. “Don’t you get it?” the man related, exasperated. “It’s over! The Founding Fathers moved on! You are all obsolete. They have decided to invest elsewhere, in…space tourism.” That worked up the crowd- some breaths got deeper, caught in gasps. The man, tired of waiting for any verbal communication, went on in the midst of the slight noise. “This was a condition in the terms of service which you made clear you had “read and agreed to” on your first day in iLand. You all clicked that you understood. Did everybody forget? Paragraph 102 of the contract states that…” At this point the man pulled a paper from inside his suit pocket. “’WHEREAS, the five Founding Fathers and Service Providers may withdraw financial and technical support from this society at any time in pursuit of a more worthy field of interest.’”

The man looked up and coughed uncomfortably. Janet looked around her and saw many lowering their heads in frustration and sadness. She would never dare admit that she had not so much as read the first sentence of that contract before providing her electronic signature. The man went on, giving out instructions that all iLand citizens would now have to rejoin with their real families or make their own way in the world, but all were welcome to join his growing city and the space tourism efforts. For the first time noises erupted through the crowd in waves. Some began to wail in cracked voices rusty with disuse. The young ones were again the first to find their frantic voices: “Moved on?!” “We have to live on the outside now?!” “They forgot about us…” Fear began to seep into Janet. She suddenly felt vulnerable, exposed in a chaotic world where nothing could protect her from the abundance of evil. This was a place where germs floated in the air, wickedness could not be adequately controlled, and people rejected you with their loud words and disgusted faces.

At that exact moment, timed more perfectly than the Foodamin deliveries, the glowing sphere of the sun touched the horizon. It nested precariously there for a few precious moments before being pulled under the horizontal line. Smoldering golden rays illuminated certain faces as they shot through the sky, which was full of clouds glowing deep oranges and reds, blues and purples. The people of iLand looked up as one in wonder, and Janet herself was taken aback, awestruck.

She had forgotten what a sunset looked like. All that time and she had not once bothered to remember past the distractions of her avatar’s hair color, the latest hashtag, the forum fights over which founding father was the best (It was Mark). She could not even breathe. The fiery rays set a fire in her that consumed the fear, the loss, the worry over what would happen to her now.

Janet looked around her and realized that she would remain Janet forever. MacBarbie07 was obsolete. Others were peering around too, a bit more boldly than they had before, some even daring to look others in the eye. A hand nudged hers. Janet looked to one side and saw that a chain had started, all the castaway citizens of iLand grasping each other’s hands as they gazed up in awe. Janet held the doughy hand of the woman next to her, soft from lack of use. She gripped it tightly, felt the places where the creases and wrinkles rose and fell. She prodded the person on her other side in turn, desiring nothing more than to gaze with mankind at this ball of fire that had been in existence from the beginning of time, looked upon by the eyes of all those who had come before her. The human chain continued.

Some in the crowd had delirious looks in their eyes. The sun had not left them reverent; rather, they took on the bewildered look of Icarus, as if the blaze had melted away the artificial means of survival that brought them somewhere they never should have been in the first place. A few pulled from the mass and ran back to the infrastructure of iLand; now a floating, polluted sea of brown rickety buildings that reached to the sky but never quite made it to the source of all the splendor that had struck the citizens of iLand with deep wonder.

They all walked forward together, step by step, hand in hand, looking up. Janet smiled, forgetting all about herself in the wake of this magnificence. “Space tourism!” The beaming woman next to her, hair frazzled around her sagging face, remarked breathlessly. Janet found her voice. “The iLand system was getting outdated. Up there is where I want to be. I bet it was Mark Zuckerberg’s idea! He is so innovative!” And so the citizens of iLand picked themselves up and, seeing the beautiful world around them, chose to run full speed to the next big thing.

“Foundation” (1951) by Isaac Asimov

Foundation is the first book of Isaac Asimov’s acclaimed trilogy, published in 1951. The hit science fiction series was the recipient of a Hugo Award in 1966, claiming the title of “Best All Time Series.” Asimov was a Russian native who emigrated to America with his family at the young age of three. He studied chemistry at Columbia University and went on to get a PhD in the subject, a credible scientific interest which is certainly reflected in his writings. He later became a faculty member at the Boston University School of Medicine. Asimov produced more than two hundred works, most popularly science fiction such as I, Robot, in addition to many works of non-fiction.

Foundation drew its initial inspiration from The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by historian Edward Gibbons, an account read twice by Asimov. Foundation is a combination of five short stories spanning about one hundred and fifty years in the interstellar Galactic Empire. Rather than trace the story of an individual hero in an isolated period of time, Foundation zooms out on the larger picture of civilization over a wide span of time and setting while touching on how forces such as technology, religion, and government all work together.

Asimov relates this concept of emphasizing the bigger picture of the world over the short-term individual to the existing cultural landscape of his own lifetime, where a strong sense of nationalism was on the rise. In particular, Asimov lived through the beginnings of the Cold War tension between Communist Russia and Capitalist America. Both countries isolated themselves from the other and pitted against each other in a head-to-head rivalry. However, Asimov favored a more global unification of this split: “To my way of thinking, the biggest obstacle to solving the problems we have…is that the world is dividing up into separate nations, all of which are more concerned over their own short-term interests than over the long-term survival of the human species. And as long as that is so, then I don’t think we will have a chance, because we will all go down the tube quarreling, so to speak” (Konstantin). Asimov supported unification over disagreement in order to promote the existence of humanity. He was also a strong liberal, a staunch opponent to the Vietnam War, and a supporter of political candidates who focused on grassroots movements as the force of change rather than bureaucratic governmental forces.

Foundation begins with an introduction of Hari Seldon on Trantor, the capitol planet of the Galactic Empire. Seldon is a dying old man who has perfected his own science coined “psychohistory.” This branch of psychology uses statistical science to predict the course of future events, and according to Seldon’s predictions, the Galactic Empire comprised of countless planets is doomed to fall within three hundred years. The data project a thirty thousand year of recovery from this fall rife with anarchy, a parallel to the Dark Ages following the fall of Rome. In response, Seldon formulates a plan to create a new civilization that will survive the fall and change the course of history, cutting the post-fall recovery period down to a mere one thousand years and emerging as the center of the Second Galactic Empire. Seldon is accused of treason for bringing his radical predictions to the government’s attention, yet cleverly negotiates a deal with the Emperor to found a new civilization of scientists on an insignificant planet called Terminus, located all the way on the outer rim of the galaxy. Terminus is created as a small community of scientists working on a scientific Encyclopedia, a disguise for its true setup of the community that will reunite the Galactic Empire in one thousand years.

The remaining four stories track the progress of Terminus in its role, in which it rises to become an all-encompassing political, religious, and economic power. The only catch is that the population of Terminus is not made aware of this plan until fifty years after its initial settlement, when a civilization is already established and there is nothing else to do but stay put and follow Hari Seldon’s plan. This is why Seldon makes intermittent reappearances in the lives of prominent and capable politicians who arise as mayors of Terminus, such as Salvor Hardin and Hober Millow. Prior to his death, Seldon had recorded short clips of himself, which can only be viewed by inhabitants of Terminus when an otherwise unbreakable Vault unlocks every few decades. The timing of these viewings chronologically lines up with Seldon’s data that predicted that Terminus would be in the midst of a major clash of internal and external crises. These “Seldon Crises” are the key points that move the Foundation along the path of rebuilding the Empire. The crises revolve around the other planets on the periphery of the Galaxy that have been forgotten by the declining Empire and left to their own barbarically independent devices.

The comparison to Rome is clear as both the Empire and Terminus were often under pressures both from without and within, which Rome ultimately collapsed from. The references to outside “barbarian” planets parallel the invading tribes that threatened the borders of the Roman Empire. Asimov projected this world far into the future with such strong parallels to likely advance a cyclical view of history in which events repeat themselves. As he said himself, “I was essentially writing future history, and I had to make it sufficiently different from modern history to give it that science fictional touch” (Seiler). The brilliant politicians constructed by Asimov, who play a main role in the resolution of each “Seldon Crisis,” do as little as possible to rectify the problems. Instead, they choose to let the course of history play out on its narrow path, making improvised moves that work around this greater sense of course.

In the context of the time period of the writing of Foundation, countries such as Russia, the United States, and Germany had all begun to play with the idea of space travel. By this point, rocket designs were being drawn and the first monkey was even launched into space in 1948. A futuristic view of spaceships was a fascinating new concept at the time, made even more appealing in its growing accessibility. Comparable technology in Foundation mirrored the rising technologies of Asimov’s time via thinly disguised names: for example, people crowded around visors in their homes, which are essentially televisions.

The first mayor of Terminus, the clever Salvor Hardin, must convince the writers of the Encyclopedia who run the planet (before being made aware of Seldon’s plan) that there is another purpose behind their civilization, and that the neighboring planet of Anacreon presents a severe threat of takeover that must be faced and overcome. He maneuvers out of the situation with his sharp insight and break from traditional means, getting Anacreon and its surrounding three kingdoms to fear Terminus, particularly its use of nuclear power, which has been absent from the periphery planets for decades. In the course of the Foundation’s history, this nuclear power is the main leverage Terminus has over the surrounding warlords of the planets. Salvor Hardin actually forms a religion around the sought after power source: “a fluffy flummery to get them to accept our science without question” (134). The barbarians on other planets see this nucleic power and science as a magical power. Therefore, on Terminus, priests are taught the way of the “Galactic Spirit” and are sent out to the periphery planets to perform their religious duties of operating the equipment, which are in essence a guise for technological power controlled by an all-knowing political force.

Technology clearly is a prominent theme throughout Foundation, particularly the role that nuclear force plays and its entwinement with religion and government. Here again, the theme of the work parallels Asimov’s own life, which witnessed this powerful nuclear force being advanced and utilized in both World War II and the Cold War. During this period of history, nuclear warfare dominated the political landscape, and countries competed for advancements that would enable them to have the military edge. The Foundation, wielding its small supply of nuclear power, therefore makes surrounding planets rely on them for power, economy, and life. The planets become dependent on power plants and technology, while citizens blindly hold fast to this since it is their religion. This pseudoreligion is nothing more than a tool of political conquest paralleling Christianity with its concepts of paradise, hell, a spirit, and even commandments. One example of this combination of government and religion is the divine kingship on Anacreon, where nuclear power allows the divinely crowned king to rise in the air with a beautiful aura surrounding him. This display is proof that he has been specially selected. Asimov’s emphasis on technology as a strong force when combined with government and religion reflects his personal belief in the prominence of technology for human existence both in his time and in the future. Asimov thought technology could be wielded for the good of society, promoting a more optimistic view than many of his science fiction counterparts.

Asimov himself was an atheist and a rationalist who believed in reason alone. Asimov was also a Humanist, philosophical view that credits humans as the guiding forces behind society rather than attributing these to a God. These beliefs led to his representation of religion in Foundation as a usefully constructed tool of government to trick the masses and exercise control. This idea reflects the views of Karl Marx, author of the Communist Manifesto, who said that religion is the “opium of the people.”

Aside from the intermingling of government and religion, another major theme of Foundation centers on the corruption of many governmental systems, which leading political figures of Foundation, beginning with Harry Seldon, exist to outwit. Indeed, mayor Salvor Hardin evades two Seldon Crises using mere improvisation and common sense. Often, the lords and kings of the planets surrounding Terminus are mocked as humorously pompous and overly extravagant with nothing very intelligent to say, and are easily outwitted by Terminus’ capable mayors. These dysfunctional reigns are marked by divine kingships, totalitarian governments, or feudal estates which employ harsh punishments reminiscent of totalitarian dictators, including assassinations to gain power and gas chambers. It seems as if Asimov’s ideal Foundation government centers on scientific progress ruled by the intellectually elite and centered in a representative democracy, as exemplified on Terminus.

The use of science as the focal point of society is reminiscent of Salomon’s House in Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis, which focused on the advancement of humans via scientific progress. Much of the scientific language employed in Foundation was also very reminiscent of “We” with its application of mathematics to human life. Here, mathematics was applied not to emotions but to broad historical concepts and events on a large scale through the statistics of psychohistory.

Foundation is a captivating story with many themes; the most fascinating of these is the interplay of technology, religion, and government. While reading this novel, the cyclical view of history presented was a reminder that the Galactic Empire is not a completely far-fetched, fictional society. Foundation is not only meant to be an outline of the past, but a reflection on modern times. Asimov poses the weighty question to readers as a takeaway: “Can we afford to take chances? Can we risk the present for the sake of a nebulous future? We must – because the future isn’t nebulous. It has been calculated” (119).

My presentation

 Works Cited

 Asimov, Isaac. Foundation. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1951. Print.

Konstantin, Phil. “”An Interview with Isaac Asimov.” “An Interview with Isaac Asimov”- by Phil Konstantin. Southwest Airlines Magazine, 1979. Web. 05 Nov. 2014.

Seiler, Edward. “Isaac Asimov FAQ.” Isaac Asimov FAQ. N.p., 1994. Web. 05 Nov. 2014.


Asimov calls religion and politics a “lethal” combination.


Andrew Niccol’s “Gattaca”

Gattaca, a 1997 film starring Ethan Hawke, Jude Law, and Uma Thurman, tells a thrilling tale set in the “not too distant future” as the opening scene chillingly states. The narrative follows a young man named Vincent Freeman, who lives in a world where one’s genetic makeup determines their entire life.

Vincent’s parents conceived him naturally in a world where eugenics reigns as the norm and parents can use technology to construct their own babies, picking the traits before birth that they desire most from gender to eye and hair color because “we have enough imperfection already.” Without such bioengineering to his advantage, Vincent is born and nurses instantly check the specific statistics that will determine his entire life. The expectations are not very promising: he has extremely high chances of attention deficit disorder, near-sightedness, and most importantly heart failure that forecasts his expected life span to be a startlingly young age of 32. Vincent grows up with messy hair and goofy glasses next to his brother Anton, who was genetically engineered and perfect, unlike him.

Genetic engineering and precise statistics of life expectancy are central to the Gattaca world because they determine one’s education, social class, and career. Those who are not reproductively structured for perfection like Vincent are “invalids” and cannot have high-ranking positions due to a short life expectancy and the problems caused by disease. As Vincent puts it:

My real résumé was in my cells… Of course, it’s illegal to discriminate, ‘genoism’ it’s called. But no one takes the law seriously. If you refuse to disclose, they can always take a sample from a door handle or a handshake, even the saliva on your application form… an illegal peek at your future in the company.

Unfortunately, Vincent is a bright boy and his dream is to go to space—he leaves home and gets a cleaning job at the space station Gattaca in order to be as close as possible to the flights. He realizes that he can no longer merely stand just watching the spaceships take off one by one without being a passenger, so he decides to resort to illegal measures. Vincent illicitly seeks out a man on the DNA black market to help him take on the identity of a young man named Jerome Morrow, a valid with perfect genetic makeup who was paralyzed from the waist down in an unrecorded accident out of the country. Jerome’s future is down the drain as a result of this accident, and he therefore shares a room with Vincent in which he donates the dreamy invalid his urine, blood, and even skin samples in return for money.

After he fixes up his appearance to look more like Jerome, Vincent finally applies to be on the team for a space mission. He instantly gets a position with an interview consisting of only a blood sample rather than any questions on ability. When he meets coworker Irene, we find that even the relationship between the sexes is genetically based: Irene presents him with a strand of hair to be genetically evaluated to see whether she would be a worthy partner.

Every morning Vincent must scrub himself raw in a shower to get rid of the loose skin that may fall off and reveal his identity in this extremely controlled world, and apply a skin sample filled with blood to his fingertip to be pricked as his entrance into work. Controversy ensues upon the murder of the space mission director near which Vincent’s eyelash is found, and Vincent must fight for his dreams, lying to authorities and living as a “borrowed ladder.”

In this world, the class system of elites versus lower workers on the bottom reminds me of The Time Machine’s divided workers, strictly separated based on how they were born rather than their skill level. There were certainly also historical parallels to be made in this movie. One such comparison is that between DNA discrimination in Gattaca and racial discrimination in the real world, especially when it comes to advancement and job opportunities. Vincent says “I belonged to a new underclass, no longer determined by social status or the color of your skin. No, we now have discrimination down to a science.” The eugenics of the world of Gattaca, or the control over birthing a “perfect” population was also eerily reminiscent of Hitler’s Nazi regime. Eugenics is a prominent feature in Gattaca, and it is no coincidence that the real Jerome requests to be called “Eugene” when he gives over his identity to Vincent. The parallels run into the eugenics class system of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. This genetically engineered form of mass reproduction reminiscent of cloning is called Bokanovsky’s Process, and is used to mass produce the Gammas, Epsilon and Deltas who perform working class servant jobs. This idea even has strands that go as far back as the metals myth employed by Plato in The Republic: the “noble lie” told to citizens that everybody is born equally, some just have gold in their veins while others have iron and therefore perform skill-based roles rather than leadership. Everybody must therefore be content in their class and career because it is embedded in one’s very being, quickly shutting down many incentives for revolt or effort to change the way things are.

The coldness of the movie’s colorless setting also reminded me of Yevgeny Zamyatin’s “We.” Every surface area is engineered to be as flawless as the DNA of its elite, clean and sterile. It seems as if this world is a dystopia for the invalids, and a utopia for the valids. However, with a little rebellion and enough determination, Vincent makes it into space and concludes:

For someone who was never meant for this world, I must confess I’m suddenly having a hard time leaving it. Of course, they say every atom in our bodies was once part of a star. Maybe I’m not leaving… maybe I’m going home.



Cool fun facts about the movie:

The most interesting fact I found from this is that the name Gattaca came from an arrangement of the four beginning letters of the nitrogen bases of DNA (adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine).

The Disston Saw Works


Disston Saw Works was a utopia of the working class. It all began as one company in the mid-1800s, a very successful saw business owned by British immigrant Henry Disston. Disston came to America towards the end of the Industrial Revolution when factory life had been established as a result of an increase in machinery. This was a prime time in history for Disston to start his company. His handsaw business soon became successful and reputable for its high-quality handsaws, even on an international level (which were made from scratch unlike most saw companies at the time). After the growth of his business, Henry decided to move shop from urban Philadelphia to the small and isolated Tacony section of Philadelphia. During this time, he also expanded his business to manufacture many other tools and steel products. In 1872, Henry had laid the foundations in Tacony for what became known as a company town stretching over 400 acres.

Overlap of Government and Economics, With a Dash of Human Rights

Company towns were actually quite common in America in the 19th century, at one point housing 3% of the population. They were communities isolated from urban areas that completely revolved around a central monopolizing company. The company, in this case the Disston Saw Works, had complete ownership of all business, infrastructure, housing, and shops in the town. The Disston family acted as not only the workplace, but also the ruling government and surrounding economy, blending many acting societal forces into one.

The Disston family controlled and regulated economic life, owning all of the businesses in town and barring certain businesses completely, for example “dirty” ones such as tanneries and any business not owned by Disston. All of these businesses bore an emblem on its front of a keystone (the nickname of Pennsylvania) with a “D” in the center, showing Disston’s economic control of the town. Under Henry Disston’s governance, workers for these businesses were paid somewhat low wages but had a short hour workday, were trained at a special trade school, and received good benefits (for example, in the case of illness). Sometimes families were even given paid days off for leisure activities. All workers had a right to a decent living.

Henry Disston did not use his power to be a ruthless leader; rather, he was somewhat of a paternal figure for his 2,500 workers. He wanted them to live in the utmost convenience with all they needed to survive comfortably. His main reasoning was that if he treated workers fairly, it would increase work performance. This mutualistic relationship led to the construction of many public works buildings such as movie theaters, libraries, and music halls, which Disston personally financed the construction and maintenance of. Disston also made sure that each and every one of his workers had a place to stay, building thousands of homes and financially assisting buyers whenever necessary.

One of the only restricting governing rules imposed on working citizens by Disston was that they were not allowed to form a union. This was a common fear of employers at the time, as a union put rules into the workers’ hands rather than the employers’. Since the economy and the government were so overlapped in the Disston Saw Works, a union would have been double the threat to the leader of a company town like Henry Disston.

Gender Roles

In respect to gender, women were active participants of working life. They were not restricted to the home, but like the men were educated in schools and participated in small tasks in the factory work. Everybody who lived in Disston Saw Works was able to work for the company in order to maintain their stay. All were dependent on the workplace.


The workforce of Disston Saw Works in Tacony lived in a very well-regulated society that echoed a clear utopian vision. Prevailing ethical uprightness was encouraged in order to promote better workers. For example, there was no alcohol allowed. If workers were liable to be drunks, it may have affected their work performance the next morning or even over a long period of time depending on severity. Disston saw ethics as reaching into the workplace, and therefore did what he could to set a high moral standard.


Surprisingly for a factory town, Disston was environmentally conscious and ecologically friendly. In an 1886 visit by the Pennsylvania Secretary of Internal Affairs, the water was reported as pure because the town had its own water supply (a drastic contrast from dirty, unhealthy and crowded urban life), and the air was fresh and clean.


Another important factor of the Disston Saw Works was the religious tolerance established by Disston. Land was made available for several churches of different backgrounds, with no unifying community religion. Not only did this ensure peace and open-mindedness among citizens, but it also meant a greater workforce. Less workers would have chose to live on the acres opened up by Disston if they did not want to conform to a ruling religion.

The entire community certainly benefited from a mutualistic relationship between hard worker and benevolent boss, a utopia not as often recreated in today’s workforce.

All Good Things Come to an End

A few things contributed to the downfall of the Disston Saw Works. After Henry Disston’s death, there were issues with keeping the business in the family in future generations. There was less regulation of economy: other businesses that were not Disston-owned were allowed to populate the town, decentralizing the Disston monopoly. In addition, the prevalence of the automobile meant that workers no longer had to live close to their workplace, and many moved away. After providing the steel for tanks in the WWII effort, Disston Saw Works was sold out of the family in 1955. However, the company remains to this day, keeping the name by calling itself Disston Precision.

An interesting example of a modern day company town.

My presentation

Henry Disston. The way this picture was drawn reflects his image to the public- a benevolent and kind paternal figure.
Music Hall architectural structure built in Disston.
A layout of Disston Saw Works. Shows factories by the waterfront and the houses beyond.
Inside one of the factories, where women were permitted to work.
The emblem on all Disston-owned buildings.

Vices and Virtues: From Thomas More’s Utopia

“They have, however, two sorts of games not unlike our chess…the other resembles a battle between the virtues and the vices, in which the enmity in the vices among themselves, and their agreement against virtue is not unpleasantly represented; together with the special oppositions between the particular virtues and vices; as also the methods by which vice either openly assaults or secretly undermines virtue; and virtue on the other hand resists it.”  (Claeys, Gregory, and Lyman Tower Sargent. “Of Their Trades, and Manner of Life.” The Utopia Reader. New York: New York UP, 1999. pgs 78-79. Print.)

I found this quote to be fascinating in its somewhat negative examination of human nature as it ties into the rest of the work. Utopia is not perfect by virtue of its people, but rather of its societal system of laws. Its carefully constructed rules and regulations seek to keep man’s natural instinct towards evil in check.

We see a few instances in which citizens do the wrong thing in this excerpted reading. For example, some people in Utopia rebel against the laws of travel. Rather than obeying, these offenders visit other cities without authority from the Prince. Repeated violations of this crime lead to a life of slavery (as with other crimes). Even more extreme, those who commit adultery more than once are sentenced to death. Punishment of this sort may serve to keep the Utopian people in check. More may be suggesting that utopia can only come about through a society that regulates and controls people’s vices through the proper “education.” If vices are severely punished, the citizens of Utopia will more naturally strive towards being virtuous as a form of self preservation.

Besides punishment, another way in which this occurs is the reduction of money’s worth. Societal values and needs are built in such a way that the natural jealousy and greed that stems from the love of money is curbed. The potential for jealousy and greed therefore lie dormant in mankind, and Utopia’s laws serve to avoid any activation of these passions. The virtue of society therefore overcomes the inherent vices in mankind. The game described, one of only two that the people in Utopia play, is an almost propogandic reminder that immoralities and sinful pleasures will always be resisted and overcome by virtue. This whole system of government is essentially a way to battle those evil passions in mankind which historically have caused the best of societies to spiral downward.

“We Will Become Silhouettes” by The Postal Service

“We Will Become Silhouettes” presents an extreme contrast between lyrics and sound, reminiscent of Master Pangloss’ reality versus perspective from Voltaire’s Candide. Despite what appalling disasters befall him, even in the midst of an extreme earthquake, Pangloss stubbornly holds true to his view that “all is for the best in the world.” The events being described in this song are likewise horrific, to say the least: “Because the air outside will make our cells/Divide at an alarming rate until our shells/Simply cannot hold all our insides in/And that’s when we’ll explode…And it won’t be a pretty sight.” The music video depicts what appears to be a post-apocalyptic scene, with a band member uncontrollably giggling as he rides his bike through a large tumbleweed in what used to be a busy street, a contrasting attitude to an ominous picture. I related to the song by connecting it to modern times, particularly the line “But all the news reports recommend that I stay indoors,” satirizing the news we are constantly hearing of damaging sun rays, borderline poisonous food, storms, terrorist threats, and even the end of the world.

Yet The Postal Service’s frontman Ben Gibbard takes on a matter-of-fact and cheery tone while describing the dystopian chaos surrounding him consisting of empty streets, deceased friends, and a very lonely time spent in a fallout shelter. With an almost ridiculous sense of optimism, vocalist Jenny Lewis happily bobs her head to the catchy beat, idly singing “Ba…ba…ba…ba.” (Meanwhile, the “ba’s” likely refer to the sound our bodies make when they “finally go.”) Even the children in the video are excitedly bobbing and tapping their feet to the upbeat tune as they prepare for a bike ride through a bleak landscape and an equally unappealing picnic of preserved food.  Though there seems to be some sort of presence of imminent death due to the fact that the world fell apart, the incongruous bubbly attitude taken here almost seems to overshadow that destruction. Though it may be extreme and out of touch with reality, how else does one survive in such a tumultuous place? Even in the midst of destruction, life goes on. Dystopia is what you make of it, a hopeful message for us today in a world full of global warming and nuclear bombs. Maybe it will somehow all work out.