Elysium – Statist Paradise?
Elysium, starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, has garnered an almost unanimous negative reception from the libertarian commentariat: “Socialism 101″, “Marxism for 8 year olds”, “Commies will love it!” I was a little reluctant to see the Sci-Fi actioner based on all the buzz. If you can’t trust the collective opinion of a bunch of individualist libertarians, who can you trust? (Yes. That is sarcasm). I went in expecting it to be a Socialist morality tale, but was surprised at how anti-state and anti-fascist it really was.
Neil Blomkamp’s futuristic story set in a devastated Los Angeles follows grown orphan, Max (Damon), in his pursuit of a dream to reach the circular and pristine Elysium floating in space. Up there life is lavish, the land lush and the legs long. But the “border” is well protected by Foster’s defense secretary Delacourt. Any “illegals” seeking entry to the paradise are mercilessly shot or deported. The most sought-out luxury in Elysium is advanced health care technology that can cure any disease or heal any wound (really.. ANY wound).
If you’ve heard anything about Elysium, you’ve heard this plot overview and how it is preaching a political message about immigration and socialized medicine; about the divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots”. What no one seems to grasp is that the preaching here isn’t blaming either group or advocating for a statist solution. Rather, Elysium shows what statist policies ultimately lead to.Elysium lays bare the statist paradise: but it isn’t the luxurious habitat orbiting the globe.
In L.A., an ever present state is felt. It’s effects apparent. Drones fly overhead scanning the populous. Surveillance is everywhere. Literally robotic police forces violate people’s rights with stop and frisk routines. If you don’t comply, expect a broken arm and a report to another robotic parole officer after the ER. The hospital is under-resourced and can only provide basic services. Advanced illnesses are not treated, even for families of the hospital staff. If you want a picture of the eventuality of state involvement in healthcare, Elysium has it, writ large. The only people getting modern health care are the “citizens” of Elysium. Everyone else gets 20th century plaster casts and pills. The equivalent of leeches and blood-letting.
In the paradise of L.A.., the only legit jobs are working for the manufacturer of the police droids or the hospital. Everything else is black market or criminal. Clearly, the business climate is unsuitable for all but the politically connected. Critics point to the evil caricatures of the foreman and the “CEO” John Carlyle as though it is some indictment on private enterprise. To the contrary, Carlyle is the ultimate crony. His one customer is the state and his product lines span all the statist needs from police robots to voting machines to Elysium itself. In a crucial scene, Delacort wheels and deals with the mercantilist, offering him a President of his own choosing and a centuries long contract. As the avatar of the state, Delacort is clearly the one doing the corrupting throughout the movie. This is how corruption works. Business doesn’t corrupt government. The state corrupts everything it touches.
Against this backdrop of bleak decay and stark corruption we have Max. From childhood he’s wanted to get to Elysium. When a work accident leaves him with only days to live, that desire is kicked into overdrive. At this point, Max turns to some old buddies to help get him to his goal. Max and his group of friends play the role of the hero protagonists from here on. It is notable that these heroes are all all agorists engaging in smuggling, black market medical procedures (like exoskeleton implants) and hacking. Even the love interest, Frey, provides black market medical care to Max and evidently to her daughter.
But showing the depravity of a statist controlled society and making the agorist, black market hackers sympathetic characters doesn’t excuse the overt open immigration and free healthcare message, right? Let’s see what those messages really are.
Let’s tackle immigration first because it is the easy one: Immigration is a statist idea. Full stop. Immigration presupposes borders, presupposes “citizenship”, presupposes nation-states. In a free society, none of these things exist. Borders are imaginary lines drawn on paper by governments to outline the boundary of their control. Citizenship is bestowed upon people within those boundaries for the purpose of collecting tribute from them. This is the basis for the nation-state.
Am I saying we should have open borders? First of all, who is we? and Secondly: YES. Not just open borders, but no “borders”. I suppose you could accept an ocean shoreline to be a border for the purpose of identifying a landmass, but not for the purpose of defining the extent of a state’s power. The concept of a border is fictitious and is a tool only a statist could love. Borders divide people arbitrarily and cement the fantasy of state authority in the minds of the “citizens” within the borders.
The borders of Elysium may be a little more real than the US border. But crossing the mesosphere in 2154 will seem like crossing the Rio Grande today. This shouldn’t detract from the idea that a border enforced by guns is a purely statist idea. As anarcho/libertarian/agorists we should reject the notion of borders and immigration. If one wants to relocate to another area to conduct their business, the state should not prevent this free flow. If you find yourself unable to compete due to this free flow, then you should have the freedom to relocate to another area to improve your lot.
So on immigration, Elysium promotes a free market and denounces by demonstration the statist idea of borders and immigration.
But what about healthcare? ***Spoiler alert*** At the end of the movie, Max and his hacker buddies reprogram the whole system making everyone on Earth citizens of Elysium. After this, several ambulance-like space shuttles set off from the orbiter and land on Earth to distribute free healing for all. As I initially watched, my stomach turned in a knee jerk reaction to the obvious message of redistribution here. The heroes stole from the rich of Elysium and gave it to the poor on the Earth. But then I thought about it for a minute…
Let’s back up a bit. Remember, the advanced health care technology that can heal any sickness or disease? Every house on Elysium has one… even the unoccupied model homes. And they are always on. It is a simple bed and a scanner. Think of a CAT scan with a little less tube and little more style. After scanning, the device “reatomizes” the subject to restore the body to its healthy state. There is no indication that this process uses any resources other than time. That is, no consumable drug, no sutures, scalpels, doctors or dilithium crystals. It’s a beam of light and likely some computer code. In other words, given enough of these beds or enough time, this healing is a super-abundant resource.
When Elysium is reprogrammed, we suddenly discover that a fleet of shuttles is sitting idle, each with upwards of 20 of these beds. There is no constraint other than time that is keeping these shuttles and beds from visiting every city, town and village on the planet’s surface and administering healing to the masses. The crime of Elysium isn’t the rich having access to something that the poor can’t afford. It is the hoarding of a super abundant resource by the state for the purpose of control. If you carry out the state’s wishes like the mercenary who hunts and kills border crossers, you get access to the healing machines. If you aren’t useful to the state, get in line at the hospital and hope for the best.
As I thought about the dynamic of this healing resource, I realized it is less about healthcare and more about intellectual property. The healing beds themselves were nothing special and could likely be mass produced to meet the demand on the earth Basic free market economics would make it affordable for all. The technology that did the healing is what had the real value. And, apart from the favored few on Elysium, it was locked up and sitting idle on the docks. Does anything represent the idea of intellectual property more than a super-abundant resource locked up by the state and available only to few? Elysium isn’t about redistributing scarce resources from the rich to the poor. It is about freeing intellectual property from the shackles of government-granted monopolies to everyone who is a citizen of Earth.
In closing, let me recap. In Elysium we see a society completely stratified by an ever present state that gives favors to the heads of companies creating the military police apparatus, while homeland security uses mercenaries to kill people trying to cross (not so) imaginary borders. The state uses drones, pervasive surveillance and violence without due process against the pro-gun agorists trying to bring down the explicitly corrupted system. Elections are shown to be manufactured. Socialized medicine is shown to be horrific for all but those favored by the state. And the one thing that appeared to be “redistributed” turns out to be a super-abundant resource. Free market, black marketeers are the heroes while defense contractors making police robots are shown to be corrupt from top to bottom. Random “stop and frisks” by the police are established. The result of statist policies are that, apparently, everything ends up looking like a bombed out Baghdad with rationed substandard healthcare and no good jobs. Sounds like socialist propaganda to me!
Finally, Elysium isn’t perfect. There are plot holes a-plenty and ridiculous deus ex machina devices (literally). This isn’t Tolstoy or even Scorsese. It’s a summer Sci-Fi actioner that asks you to suspend disbelief for some of the most outlandish bits of story. That said, it does have a rail gun, sticky bombs and other sci-fi/videogame tropes that are executed very nicely. Don’t listen to the naysayers about Elysium. This is possibly the best movie of the summer. And it is certainly the most anti-state movie of the year.