Monday, August 08, 2005

Market Forces

I'm only a little over a hundred pages into Richard Morgan's Market Forces, but I've already found a lot to like. It's a near-future SF novel in which the corpratist agendas rule the world, with departments like Conflict Investment and Emerging Markets exploiting war and the third world, respectively. Society is more sharply divided than ever into haves and have-nots, with the poor walled into special risk zones. The well-heeled can enter these zones if they like, at their own risk, and they're entitled to use whatever means of self-defence they find necessary. Naturally, this tends to pretty cavalier use of force - modern armaments against crowbars and zip guns, and the law often turns a blind eye to the excesses of the rich.

The book is satirical, which allows for suspension of disbelief when it comes to the author's vision of climbing the corporate ladder: executives must take to the roads in souped-up cars to perform autoduels against rival partners and associates. It's an idea I remember from an old Harlan Ellison story, only taken to even more ridiculous extremes, and so far it works; the matches are often televised, and winning executives can become quite famous.

What's interesting is that the main character, Chris Faulkner, is clearly conflicted over his participation in the system. Like many limosuine liberals, Chris does the job because it's what he's good at, yet he's mocked by his partners because he's too soft - he often merely incapacitates the losers of his duels, rather than killing them.

Here's what Chris' boss has to say about Conflict Investment:

"Conflict Investment is the way forward!

Yes, yes, we've heard it called risky, we've heard it called impractical, and we've heard it called immoral. In short, we've heard the same carping voices that free-market economics has had to drag with it like a ball and chain from its very inception. But we have learnt to ignore those voices. We have learnt, and we have gone on learning, piling lesson upon lesson, vision upon vision, success upon success. And what ever success has taught us, and continues to teach us, again and again, is a very simple truth. Who has the finance...has the power.

Human beings have been fighting wars as long as history recalls. It is in our nature, it is in our genes. In the last half of the last century the peacemakers, the governments of this world, did not end war. They simply managed it, and they managed it badly. They poured money, withouth thought of return, into conflicts and geurilla armies abroad, and then into torturous peace processes that more often than not left the situation no better. They were partisan, dogmatic and inefficient. Billions wasted in poorly assessed wars that no sane investor would have looked at twice. Huge, unwieldy national armies and clumsy international alliances; in short a huge public-sector drain on our economic systems. Hundreds of thousands of young men killed in parts of the world they could not even pronounce properly. Decisions based on political dogma and doctrine alone. Well, this model is no more.

All over the world, men and women still find causes worth killing and dying for. And who are we to argue with them? Have we lived in their circumstances? Have we felt what they feel? No. It is not our place to say if they are right or wrong. It is not for us to pass judgement or to interfere. At Shorn Conflict Investment, we are concerned with only two things. Will they win? And will it pay? As in all other spheres, Shorn will invest the capital it is entrusted with only where we are sure of a good return. We do not judge. We do not moralise. We do not waste. Instead, we assess, we invest. And we prosper. That is what it means to be a part of Shorn Conflict Investment."

The attitudes and methods of the corporation personified, right there.

Another interesting note: on a trip to one of the restricted zones, one of the working poor, a black man, asks Chris if he's related to "William" (Faulkner). Chris doesn't get the reference, which I find very telling - despite his privileged upbringing, Chris is missing something important, something that the black man hasn't forgotten.

In fact, I haven't read any Faulkner yet, though I at least know who he is, and I share Chris' angst over participating in a system that I know is unfair at best, downright evil at worst. And like Chris (thus far), I haven't figured out a way to be true to my convictions without surrendering the lifestyle to which I've grown accustomed.

But then, perhaps no one can. I look forward to finishing the book, to learn the author's take on the problem.


Dylan said...

Earl, for Faulkner, try starting out with As I lay Dying and Sound and the Fury. They can be a little much, so I also recommend any collection of his short stories.

His short stuff is very moving but he is one of those "classic" authors whose most popular books are his best.

Earl J. Woods said...

There's a collection of those two books plus one more by Faulkner out on the shelves now, and I almost bought it but for the "Oprah's Book Club" logo. How much of a snob am I? You'd think I'd be thrilled that any celebrity would encourage people to read, but something about the whole affair just puts me off, and I haven't yet put my finger on it. I should investigate more thoroughly.