Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A Platonic Response to "The Veldt"

While reading “The Veldt” I immediately adopted a Platonic perspective on the society portrayed by Bradbury. Every machine, every visit to the nursery, every detail about the children, seemed to emphasize Platonic concerns about how products of human ingenuity unwittingly influence our own realities and our own development (often negatively.) And although this fictional scenario might seem absurd or far-fetched to some, I think there are many parallels to be drawn to both our present situation, and the potential that looms in the depths of our highly virtual and technological era.
The most obvious and striking influence of Bradbury’s ‘machine’ world is its desire to comfort and numb its members into a state where there is absolutely no need for mental or physical self-sufficiency. This dependency on machines becomes most significant in places like the nursery, where fundamental brain developments seem to be inhibited (the children are immediately entertained by the images and smells in the nursery that they do not wish or conceive of anything outside that room.) Instead of an imagination growing around the sensory world and subsequently departing from it through the mind, the nursery provides such a comprehensive and potent alternate reality that the children feel no need to leave their surroundings (neither physically nor psychologically.) Obviously this idea of a technological reality is applicable to our studies of fictional and cyber realities, but most importantly I think it subtly conveys where our technology is taking us – Mr. Hadley was so tempted by the new technology, convinced that it would provide his family the “best” life, that he failed to recognize the numbing effect on creativity, imagination, etc.: “I don’t want
to do anything but look and listen and smell…”
Plato would not only say that this kind of technology encourages an indulgence in unnecessary pleasures
(and therefore brings us further away from true happiness,) but he would also argue that our faith in and support of technological advance above all else as an indication of our progression is what is most dangerous – not only does it create worlds that allow us to escape every moral framework, but by satisfying every unnecesary desire (to be comforted, massaged, etc.) it can also lead us further away from abstract non-material reality that should provide the basis for that framework.

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