Money Speaks Louder than Human Voices

March 28, 2017 § 3 Comments

“Everything has a price.” This phrase in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake is not new, but it takes on a new meaning in the context of her novel (139). In today’s world, corporations dominate in every sphere from the economy to religion and politics. While Atwood’s world in which corporations have absolute control is unsettling, her ideas are merely an extrapolation of current times to the future. However, as Atwood shows, commercialism and commodification come at a high price to society and the humans that are a part of it.

Early on in the novel we learn that Jimmy (or later Snowman) lived on a company compound called OrganInc. The corporation controls everything in Jimmy’s life including his school and the rules he has to abide by, enforced through the CorpSeCorps. Later on, we learn that Jimmy and Crake attend what are similar to universities. These “universities,” particularly Crake’s Watson-Crick Institute, aim to generate profits as well, encouraging the very bright students to innovate and develop new technology, carefully securing their facilities, and minimizing interaction with the outside world. In Jimmy’s world, corporations control everything, and their motives clearly dominate.

The corporation-developed compounds seem absurd; however, in reality, they already exist. Massive companies like Amazon and Google have “campuses” that contain everything one needs to live off of. They include restaurants, gyms, childcare facilities, and even sleeping pods – all designed to keep you inside and focused on doing everything possible for the company. Beyond company campuses, universities today mimic those in Atwood’s story. As Vandy students, we even say that we live in a “Vandy Bubble.” Our lives all exist within the confines of our campus as we strive to learn and make new developments in all fields. We are not far off from the fictitious world that Atwood describes.

Images are renderings of future campuses for Google, Amazon, and Apple (from left to right). 

Why does it matter that corporations and technological research centers have such a wide sphere of influence? In a world where profit governs, everything becomes a commodity. This can easily be seen in Oryx and Crake with the story of Oryx. Not only is Oryx commoditized by the pimps that earn money for her sexual acts and pornography but Oryx is also commoditized by every viewer that watches the child pornography, including Snowman. In her discussions of her experience, Oryx has clearly been influenced by the corporation mentality surrounding her, as she states:

“They had no more love…but they had money value: they represented a cash profit to others. They must have sensed that – sensed they were worth something.” (126)

Do we only value human beings for the monetary value they provide? I hope not. Atwood shows a disturbing reality if corporate power continues on its current trajectory. The power of corporations to influence politics and culture even today has implications for cloning and other advanced technology. It is unsettling to think of the development of human clones by companies driven by their own bottom-line. Morality does not seem to have a place in this kind of world.

If we do consider these clones to be “human,” how do we prevent the corporate developers from treating the clones like commodities and not humans, especially when humans today are already commoditized? In the novel, Snowman compares the children in the pornography to “digital clones,” as they did not feel real to him (90). With this statement, Atwood warns of the commodification of both existing humans and potential human clones in the future. If corporations both govern and profit, we cannot prevent abuse and exploitation.

Atwood is not far off in her portrayal of the commodification of human clones. Human cloning has often been criticized for turning human organs into commodities due to their monetary value with cancer treatments and other diseases. President Bush famously rejected all human cloning, stating, “Life is a creation, not a commodity.” He is not alone in being concerned with this idea, as scientists, philosophers, and policy-makers have discussed the implications of human cloning for decades. The Presidents Council on Bioethics expressed the following:

“When the ‘products’ are human beings, the ‘market’ could become a profoundly dehumanizing force.” (The Presidents Council on Bioethics, 2002)

When corporate greed becomes entangled with the morality of health remedies, the potential commodification of humans and human clones is endless. Although Atwood’s fictitious world seems so distant, the reality is that it is much closer to present day than one would first think. From humans to clones to our independence and our value, Atwood shows that everything has a price, and the costs to society are high.

Sources:

Atwood, Margaret. Oryx and Crake. New York: Anchor, 2004. Print.
Arter, Melanie. “Bush: ‘Life Is A Creation, Not A Commodity’.” CNS News. CFC, 07 July 2008. Web. 28 Mar. 2017. http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/bush-life-creation-not-commodity.
The President’s Council on Bioethics. “Human Cloning and Human Dignity: An Ethical Inquiry.” Georgetown University, July 2002. Web. 28 Mar. 2017. https://bioethicsarchive.georgetown.edu/pcbe/reports/cloningreport/children.html.
Cambria, Nancy. “Our 21st-century Prophet, Margaret Atwood.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch. STLtoday, 26 Sept. 2015. Web. 28 Mar. 2017. http://www.stltoday.com/entertainment/books-and-literature/reviews/our-st-century-prophet-margaret-atwood/article_242b5f9b-3ac6-51e3-9024-e858d178f6e2.html.

Images source: http://www.geekwire.com/2013/4-tech-titans-building-campus/

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§ 3 Responses to Money Speaks Louder than Human Voices

  • Katheryn, thank you for your thoughtful post about Oryx & Crake. I’m happy that this class pushed me to read the novel, and I appreciate your treatment of the idea of humans as commodities.

    When you write, “We are not far off from the fictitious world that Atwood describes,” I think of something quite different from commodities, however. When I was reading the book, I really latched on to the climate aspects of the dystopia. The author includes many aspects of the predicted effects of unchecked climate change, including desertification, daily rainstorms, and other severe weather. The daily tornado is not scientifically accurate, but I’m willing to accept that bit of imagination!

    I’ve read some other books in the genre known as “climate fiction” (cli-fi), and I think this book could almost fit, given its indulgence of the current anxieties surrounding climate change. Even when the jungle reclaiming our cities and dogs and cats (wolvogs and bobkittens) run wild, Earth will feel the effects of burning fossil fuels for thousands more years after the end of humanity.

    Just my two cents. Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Emmie Kline says:

    I completely agree with the notion expressed in Oryx and Crake that human beings are constantly commodified. We place a certain value on human life, valuing some (such as a president or popular celebrity) more than others (such as a nameless, faceless person living in poor urban neighborhoods). We’re trained to think of every action in economic terms. If something doesn’t provide a direct monetary benefit, that action might not be worth it to us.
    Principles of Microeconomics and Principles of Macroeconomics are both required prerequisites for my major in Public Policy Studies, so I took both this classes this year. It was my first foray into the world of economics, and I hate it. My professor emphasizes that we should stress the cost-benefit analysis of everything we do, and while I understand that this is a valuable asset in a lot of circumstances, I often find that a purely economic analysis weighs money far more heavily than the wellbeing of humanity. For me personally,I don’t really understand most economic principles that are supposed to be rational because I just really have trouble placing a value on human life and related concepts. I think Oryx and Crake accurately reflect this phenomenon, as you have pointed out in your post. Prostitution is the most explicit reflection of this in both the book and in modern society, but essentially every salary is a reflection of how highly society values that profession and your specific value as a professional in that occupation.

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  • maplesmm says:

    I appreciate the parallel you make between the commodification of workers at corporate campuses like Google. Under the facade of “concern for employees,” these businesses provide for a high quality of life to increase productivity and output. While these campuses became popular among the big, (relatively) new tech companies, the idea of a centralized workforce residential area isn’t new. During the Industrial Revolution and Gilded Age, the big companies would provide communities for their workers in the steel mills, coal mines, etc, allowing for increased control over their employees financially and socially. With that said, the rise and fall (and rise that’s present in current society) of such corporate activity seems to further confirm Atwood’s theoretical world.
    Regardless, your comment about the Vandy Bubble being another representation of this ideal was new to me, and one that drew a new parallel between the novel and our society.

    Liked by 1 person

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