The Inescapable Collapse of Watchmen

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by Thomas Luongo: The
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"Do you
hear that, Mr. Anderson? That is the sound of inevitability. It
is the sound of your death." Those
words
, spoken by Agent Smith to Neo while choking him in The
Matrix
, articulate the great lie that statists use to force
us to accept their rule. Sometimes the arguments are nakedly dismissive
of human potential, la Agent Smith, and sometimes their arguments
are more subtle; masked by literary pretension and cloaked in a
veneer of pragmatism and realpolitik. However, the underlying philosophy
of statism is the same; man is a beast/virus/plague that needs to
be controlled by their betters. There has to be something above
man controlling his actions, someone higher up the food chain, as
it were. It is the way of things. It is inevitable, so stop resisting,
submit, and be thankful for our guidance.

Inevitability
is a central theme in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' graphic novel,
Watchmen.
John Osterman's transformation into Dr. Manhattan, a being that
is "…proof God exists, and he's an American," is the son
of a watch-maker who sees all of time concurrently, not as a linear
stream as we do, but as a tapestry depicting the interplay of the
natural laws of motion. So does Adrian Veidt, Ozymandias, or so
he thinks, and it is for this reason that he embarks on a lifelong
quest to alter the shape of humanity, remolding it in his image.
If Dr. Manhattan is the embodiment of the Deist god the cosmic clock-maker,
then Adrian is the opposite, a meddling god, intent on improving
his creation through his intervention. Veidt believes he is the
only person with the insight, compassion and the will to do what
is necessary in the face of man's inherent barbarism. He executes
his plan with a single-minded ruthlessness leading to the climactic
wiping out of New York City.

The conflict
of Watchmen is predicated on the Cold War between the Soviets
and the Americans, the communists vs. fascists. It is presented
as an eternal conflict held in check by Dr. Manhattan. It is a classic
Hobbesian set up, where two groups of humans, in a natural state
of war of "all
against all
," are prevented from violence by a higher
power, normally the state but, in this case, the ultimate super-human.
The minute that structure is altered, the state is removed, they
revert to ever-escalating aggression towards each other, which must
culminate in the destruction of one or both. Since the only beings
available are other humans, we should place the best and brightest
in these supervisory roles and accept any mistakes they make. In
Watchmen, the spectre of unbridled nuclear war is the issue
and the destruction of the human race is the end game.

At least that's
what Adrian Veidt (and Alan Moore) would like us to believe.

The problem
is the whole setup is a lie. To paraphrase the Comedian, it's all
a big joke. And the joke, unfortunately, is on Alan Moore. For all
of his skill and attention to detail, his Hobbesian world-view,
like Veidt's, blinds him to the economic reality of the world he's
created. Both he and Veidt envision a world where fatal conflict
between the US and the Soviets is both inevitable and eternal. The
world will remain thus until Dr. Manhattan loses interest in us,
leaves, and thereby unleashes hell No consideration is made for
the economic engines that drive this world. That is neatly removed
from the equation. It is a stochastic view of a dynamic system,
the flaw that undermines the entire narrative.

Veidt, for
being the smartest man in the world, and a monumentally successful
capitalist, one who would have had to navigate the dynamics of the
market to build his economic empire is unbelievably stupid, as he
should have seen this stasis was unsustainable economically, regardless
of Dr. Manhattan, and did not require his guidance and eventual
murdering of millions. We knew, as Austrian Economists and Praxeologists
that the structures of both the U. S. and Soviet economies would
collapse under the weight of their own inefficiencies and lack of
an adequate pricing system for risk. Austrian Business Cycle theory,
which Veidt should have been aware of, described and predicted this.
There were plenty of critiques of the welfare/warfare state for
him to read. If not, the balance sheets of his competitors would
have confirmed this analysis to such a smart man. Why did he think
Nixon closed the gold window? For fun? The two economies could only
be sustained with an iron-fist by the Soviets and the use of the
printing press by the U.S. Once either of those mechanisms failed
to scare/bribe the populous, the political class, which is the source
of the potential nuclear war, would lose its power base rendering
moot the conflict of the story.

Viewed through
this lens, Veidt's plan then reduces to a life-long obsession with
beating God (Dr. Manhattan) and replacing him, manipulating events
to suit his own needs, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom
that only he can avert, because he created it in the first place.
He is nothing more than the vain, hubristic Alexander that he modeled
his life after; the ultimate narcissist. His cry of "I did
it!" when looking at the newscasts of the world uniting against
his fake alien invasion is more a cry of personal validation than
any altruistic desire to save humanity. That his u2018solution' to the
world's problem is to substitute one Hobbesian system for another
also betrays Moore's story at its core, as this center cannot hold
either. At least Moore had the good sense to have Dr. Manhattan
voice this before exiting the stage.

Lest you think
I'm daft in my analysis, remember that within 2 years of the publication
of Watchmen #12, the Soviet Union imploded, rendering the
entire conflict of this meticulously-crafted, beautifully-rendered
piece of literature moot. As the reader, how am I supposed to take
this seriously when the central conflict was proven a false one?

Do you hear
that Alan Moore? That is truly the sound of inevitability. It is
the sound of economic death and rebirth. It is, as they say, The
Day of Reckoning.

If you think
the U.S. is immune from the economic law of its system, one only
need look outside the window today or scan the headlines. Granted,
at the time it was written the conflict had been in place since
the 1950's and looked eternal. If Veidt had such a god-like gift
of foresight, couldn’t he see the implosion of the Soviet Empire
was imminent?

I applaud Alan
Moore for creating a powerful statement about the nature of governments
and the danger of nuclear weapons. Watchmen vexed me for
years, as I loved its craft but had a vague feeling of being manipulated
to its conclusions. At its core, Watchmen is a cautionary
tale about power and how no man should wield the kind of power that
Adrian Veidt or governments have; that trusting in heroes or philosopher-kings,
be they private citizens or public servants, is not only dangerous
but also counter-intuitive. On that level, it succeeds brilliantly.

But, for a
work which attempted to put super-heroes into a real world context,
the lack of economic understanding is unforgivable. Its central
premise is based on a cartoonish view of economics, making the modern
left's mistake of equating capitalism with corporatism, believing
that all commerce is a zero-sum game, calling that an economic verity
and using these false conclusions to justify the wholesale slaughter
of those that dare to disagree with their nihilistic worldview.

Moore again
betrays his inherent leftism by casting Veidt not as a President
or Senator with a secret identity, but as a successful capitalist,
whose company is a leviathan conglomerate producing everything from
perfume to exercise equipment to military arms who uses his public
image as the hook for the sale. He is the evil Bruce Wayne. The
story ends with this leviathan extending its tentacles over the
rebuilding of New York, a Marxian view of capitalism if I ever saw
one.

For a libertarian,
what is most compelling is the dichotomy between The Comedian, Edward
Blake, and Rorschach, Walter Kovacs. Both are disgusting, violent
psychopaths, but one is state-subsidized and is able to indulge
his every whim without fear of retribution while the other defies
The State's mandate, attempts to find the truth and punish evil
(at what cost is the question). He is rewarded by being hounded,
marginalized and eventually, imprisoned. The U.S. government protects
its secrets, the identity of their pet assassin Blake, while demanding
that all the other "Masks" be political scapegoats for
failed government policies which result in civil unrest. One lives
in a penthouse overlooking New York City while the other lives in
squalor. One shoots women carrying his baby for expecting him to
make good, the other blows up a child molester who fed a little
girl to his dogs. One dies searching out the cause of the other's
death. Both are sacrificed on the altar of Veidt's brave, new world.

Ultimately,
it is Rorschach, and his objectivist roots in
Steve Ditko's The Question
, that have the final laugh in this
story. Not only does his diary make it into the hands of someone
who can reveal the truth, but the character becomes the conscience
of the story itself, embodying Mises' motto, "Never give in
to evil, but proceed ever more boldly against it." For all
of his faults, and they are legion, Rorschach does that. He is the
story's protagonist. That this story's conscience is that of a brutal
psychotic is even more revealing. Moore has stated how much he despises
Objectivism, saying it ultimately justifies fascism. While I agree
with him to an extent, it is the economic reality elucidated by
Mises et al. and partially articulated by Ayn Rand which renders
Moore's work a thinly-veiled paean to Marx and Hobbes, rejecting
peace. Considering the history of the 20th century where their ideas
dominated, that puts the blood firmly on his hands when he, like
Adrian Veidt, should have known better; to let us find better solutions
than butchering each other, covering it up and consoling ourselves
by saying it was inevitable.

December
9, 2010

Thomas
Luongo [send him email]
is a professional chemist, amateur economist and obstreperous recovering
Yankee residing in North Florida. Look him up on Facebook.

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