May. 20th, 2009

vikki: (Default)
I can't think of a nice way to segue into this, so let's just be upfront: this entry is an essay about Cybertronian society as I perceive it, based on the Transformers 2007 movie. In other words:

Why I think Transformers are Socialists


A little while ago I was reading a fic where an Autobot talked about credits (as a form of currency). And that made me think: What would giant alien robots buy?

Humans are motivated at their base level by basic needs: Food, shelter, and clothing. Our current level of society in first-world countries means that when these basics are achieved, we can pursue other interests as well - entertainment, primarily. Or we get bigger shelters, better food, more trendy clothing. No matter what, you can trace back nearly everything commercially available to these four things (three basic needs + entertainment).

Now, let's consider Transformers. What are their basic needs? Not clothing. Do they need shelter? Does the planet Cybertron have things like weather from which they need to shield themselves? If so, would it need to be more than a space in which to recharge? They don't eat, although I've been told that they drink oil or some such. Entertainment is something we cannot know about.

So I wondered: Why would giant alien robots need money at all?



A society without sex
Humans are obviously invested in the propogation of our species, by which I mean: people enjoy having sex. Kids happen.

But when we have children, we don't do so with a specific purpose in mind - I mean, okay, we hope they will become doctors or the president or something else equally awesome, and we hope they will give us grandkids we can spoil the dickens out of, but in a free society (a la most Western societies), we do not dictate the path of our child's life to them completely. In addition, a human child won't be useful to society as a whole until 16-20 years after their birth: until then they are dependent on a guardian to care for their needs while they attain the life skills to provide for themselves. We spent a fourth of our life just learning how to live it! But in the end, whether dictated to or not, we are expected to contribute meaningfully to society (via a job) or we cannot expect to survive in it (we will not make money and thus not meet our own basic needs). Our best function in society is informed by our developed skills and natural talents, which may not be realized until adulthood.

Importantly, the birthrate is generally not something controlled (although not true globally). People will either have kids or not, and they will have as many kids as they want. Therefore, even in a society where a child is raised specifically to fulfill a particular function (i.e., take over the family business), there is no guarentee that society as a whole will remain balanced (more future bankers may be born than future farmers).

Now, take Transformers. I can't find any canon (although I can find plenty of fanfiction, of course) suggesting that Giant Alien Robots (I will never get tired of that phrase!) actually grow up. Movie canon suggests that if you put the Allspark's energy into something mechanical, it suddenly becomes a Transformer. So we can extrapolate that on Cybertron, bodies were built, Allspark was applied, and viola! New Transformer. That means on Cybertron, a group of people (perhaps society as a whole) may decide they need a new maintenance robot. So they build one. A Transformer would, in theory, come out of the Allspark fully functional. Remembering that they are robots, you could teach them everything they need to know by programming or download. There would be no meaningful 'learning period' previous to contribution to society.

There is only one source of life on Cybertron: reproduction is not controlled by pleasure (e.g. sex). Presumably the Allspark is under the control of the state. Therefore, production is informed by function. In a society like this, you can create a perfect balance of need. Oil/energy/electricity consumption can be quantified and regulated by knowledge of exactly how much each robot will need based on how they were built. Entertainment needs can be met by creation of robots to provide said entertainment. Knowing exactly how many Cybertronians there are means precisely the number of shelters needed can be built. The raw materials to build more can be provided based on projected/determined need.


Socialism: The Kind of mindset needed to make it work
Full control of all resources by the state or society as a whole, being perfectly allocated, is the ideal function of a economic system known best as socialism. In a perfect socialist society, the needs of the individual are perfectly provided for by society as a whole, and in return the individual contributes their resources and skills to society. Rather than a focus on the individual, concerns are dedicated to the entire society. Done perfectly, money should not generally be needed, since the state would provide for every need and want. Everyone would be equally provided for, and everything is completely fair.

This is a great idea in theory - much more idealistic than capitalism, to be sure, in which the individual is placed above society as a whole: one works to provide for themselves, and their work will hopefully contribute to society so that others can benefit. Money is key in a capitalistic society, used to trade for anything a person might individually want. A capitalist society can never be fair since everyone provides only for themselves - those who do not have may never have the means to gain.

However, for a perfectly functioning socialist society to work, the entire society must be willing to lay down their personal wants for the sake of society. If you dream of being a scientist but no more scientists are needed at that time - but they do need a farmer! - you must be that farmer so that society can remain in perfect balance. In other words, a completely perfect socialist society must have a gestalt mindset - you are not your own person. You are part of a function of society, and if you do not fulfill your function, society as a whole will suffer.

(I would like to state at this time that I am not saying socialism cannot work, since one could argue that both England and France are socialist societies. I am simply saying that neither are perfect socialist societies. I would say both are socialist societies with elements of capitalism.)

Going back to the subject. For me personally, being that I live in the United States and spent most of my life being told that I am free to do whatever I damn well please, the idea of a gestalt mindset is completely foreign. But would such a mindset be foreign to Giant Alien Robots(tm)? We even have mini-versions of the same thing in canon - the Constructicons, monstrous Transformers made by a bunch of Transformers mind-melding together! To make something like that function you would need everyone involved to think as a whole rather than individually.

These are robots. (Maybe mechs.) They must be able to make network connections similar to our computers (okay, it's all well and good that you made Bumblebee mute, movie. But he's a scout, and being a scout is no good if the scout can't tell you what he's discovered. Fortunately movie supplementary material supports me with this theory). In fact, there's no reason why they can't all be globally connected to one another. Their very creation would be informed by what society needed at the time! To think of oneself as simply part of a whole (Cybertronian society) would be practically natural.


Politics informed by socialism
Another fic I read recently called Cybertronian society an autocracy - the entire population is ruled over by a few individuals. This is a form of government, not society, but it's not inept considering that we know Optimus Prime is the former leader of Cybertron, and Megatron was formerly the High Protector, his fellow leader perhaps a step down from the office of Prime itself.

Socialism requires a leader of some sort. In a perfect socialist society, someone must be able to perfectly allocate resources: in other words, there must be someone in charge of allocation, and that person must have perfect information. The Prime of Cybertron in the original Transformers story carried the Matrix, which was the original version of the Allspark. Who better to know exactly what society needs at all times! That would be the Prime's first function, perhaps helped along by a board of advisors. Remembering these are robots, guesswork about allocation would be virtually eliminated by virtue of being walking, talking computers.

But what, then, of Megatron's office? High Protector? Protector of what? What need does a gestalt society have for a protector?


Aberrations - crime, aka wtf Megatron!
What I have failed to take into account up until this point is that these aren't just Giant Alien Robots(tm) - these are Giant Alien Robots(tm) with personalities. Being that I'm overanalyzing a fun summer movie and a series based on toys for 8-year-olds, we don't know precisely how their all-important sparks function. Are they like a robot soul? A heart? Simply a source of power? The way they're talked about suggests that destroying a spark is destroying a Transformer, but in a world where your body can be rebuilt from the ground up, that means the spark itself must therefore define the individual. I'm going to consider a spark as a soul and therefore, combined with basic programming (aka the mind), the personality format of a Cybertronian.

In a gestalt society, where does the individual's personality come in? Having a personality means a potential for aberration. The ability to self-reason means you may not necessarily agree with your fellows.

This is where the role of High Protector comes in. Aberration would be necessarily detested. Someone who steps out of their function may or may not have the ability to petition themselves into another position and be replaced, but someone would have to preserve the way of life. Whatever crime is on Cybertron (in a perfect socialist society where all needs are met, would anyone feel the need to commit a crime?), the Protector could potentially be the one to stop it. Perhaps a Protector is also there to guard against the Prime stepping out of their function - failing to properly allocate resources for whatever reason.

Alternatively - and more likely - the role of Protector is to guard against outside threats. I've heard in several places that Decepticons were largely the Cybertronian military. But why would you need a military on a planet with no countries? To guard against off-planet threats, of course.

The irony here, of course, is that I am proposing that the Lord High Protector himself was the one who aberrated from his role. Something in his personality led him to desire more power: power over other planets, perhaps, and at some point more power over Cybertron. And eventually, this desire for power sparked the planetary war that would span the galaxy and end on Earth.

Autobots vs. Decepticons
In a gestalt society, civil war might be even more devastating than in a capitalist society. Resources would suddenly be fought over. Perfect allocation would be impossible. A restructuring of the entirety of society would be necessary.

Okay, both names are incredibly silly-sounding (seriously. Calling yourself a deceiver doesn't seem like the best way to win friends and influence people). But here's what Optimus says when he talks to Sam for the first time in the movie: "We are autonomous robotic lifeforms from the planet Cybertron." And Ratchet adds: "But you can call us Autobots for short."

Autobots, then, consider themselves autonomous. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines 'autonomous' as follows:

(1)having the right or power of self-government; self-contained;
(2)existing or capable of existing independently; responding, reacting, or developing independently of the whole.

It's this last point in particular I want to talk about. There's two ways to read this.

1) Optimus, communicating with biological life forms that consider robotics to be machines, is expressing that he is not being controlled by an outside force and is, in fact, a separate living being made out of circuits and metal rather than flesh and blood.

2) Optimus is expressing that they are a group of robots that consider themselves individuals and independent thinkers, with the right to govern themselves as individuals.

Considering that Optimus also thinks that all sentient beings have the right to freedom, I think both readings are viable, and the second explanation may even be the intended reading. But I've just spent a couple of hours explaining how Cybertronians must think of themselves as part of a whole, so how do I reconcile this?

Well, Cybertron could have gone two ways. One, after Megatron aberrated from his role and became the aggressor, Cybertronians could have buckled down and destroyed anyone who deviated from the gestalt mindset. This would have been possible if Megatron had been the only one to aberrate. But instead, he gained the approval and support of a huge faction of the society (and incidentally the ones better at being 'robots in disguise' - sorry, Autobots, but seriously, parking yourselves on the lawn is NOT HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT). With the notable exception of Starscream, most of the Decepticons seem to be loyal to Megatron almost to a fault - operating, in fact, like a gestalt society dependent on their leader to properly allocate their resources and skills.

The second option, therefore, became the only one viable. The people of Cybertron had to decide for themselves between the Lord High Protector and the Prime. Each one had to make an individual decision. Therefore, they became autonomous thinkers, self-governed themselves to a side - and the Prime recognizes that with the name for his new army.


And that is all I have to say about that! WHICH IS A LOT. SORRY GUYS.

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