The robopaths are the people who pull the triggers at My Lai, Kent State, and Attica, make policy in Washington, and live next door. Dehumanized by regimentation, bureaucratization, and indiscriminate violence, they are growing more numerous in today's society.
review of Lewis Yablonsky's Robopaths by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - March 14, 2008
This isn't, necessarily, a GREAT bk. Yet, I give it a 5 star rating & recommend it to everyone. Published in 1972 when I was 18 & 19, this describes the world I grew up in as perfectly as anything I've ever read. The filmic companion to it cd be Peter Watkins' "Punishment Park". I'll be making a short movie called "Robopaths" wch excerpts text from the bk. [May 1, 2014 interpolation: I actually made a feature-length movie (1:48:20) that I finished in May, 2012. More info can be found about that by looking at entry 369 here: http://idioideo.pleintekst.nl/tENTMov... . Despite at least 5 tries to screen it somewhere I've been unsuccessful as of 2 yrs later.] Below are a few of those quotes from early in the bk:
Paradoxically, although it is increasingly a distinct possibility, the final outcome of people versus their technological robots may not be the total physical annihilation of people. People may in a subtle fashion become robot-like in their interaction and become human robots or robopaths. This more insidious conclusion to the present course of action would be the silent disappearance of human interaction. In another kind of death, social death, people would be oppressively locked into robot-like interaction in human groups that had become social machines. In this context, the apocalypse would come in the form of people mouthing ahuman, regimented platitudes on a meaningless dead stage. The relationship between potential social death and imminent megamachine wars that cause physical death is complex. A fact that can not be ignored is that it is after all the masses of people who ultimately permit their energies and financial resources to be heavily spent on ecologically suicidal technology and doomsday machines. If a majority of people in a society permit, or desire, this condition to exist they must be relatively devoid of compassion and humanistic values; or, to take a more charitable view, they have become so out of touch with reality, and have become so powerless, that they no longer exert any control over their elected acompassionate robopathic leaders. Whatever the reasons, the people in power are actually developing the technological machinery for "a world wired for death," and a majority of people in contemporary societies are socially dead, living a day-to-day robopathic existence.
- page xiii, Robopaths - People As Machines: Preface, Lewis Yablonsky, 1972
Robopaths enact ritualistic behavior patterns in the context of precisely defined and accepted norms and rules. Robopaths have a limited ability to be spontaneous, to be creative, to change direction, or to modify their behavior in terms of new conditions. They are comfortable with the all-encompassing social machine definitions for behavior. Even the robopath's most emotional behavior is ritualistic and programmed. Sex, violence, hostility, recreation are all preplanned, pre-packaged activities, and robopaths respond on cue. The frequency, quality, and duration of most robopaths' behavior is predetermined by societal definition.
- page 7, Robopaths - People As Machines: Robopaths, Lewis Yablonsky, 1972
In a robopathic-producing social machine, conformity is a virtue. New or different behavior is viewed as strange and bizarre. "Freaks" are feared. Originality is suspect.
- page 8, Robopaths - People As Machines: Robopaths, Lewis Yablonsky, 1972
As a child a strong attempt was made to impose a completely robopathic regimen onto me: I was expected to mow the lawn regardless of whether the grass had grown to the height of the cutting blades, I wasn't allowed to sit on the furniture in the living room, there was a certain routine for putting butter on bread that was to be strictly followed, it went on & on. Naturally, I was in trouble a fair amt.
Yablonsky differentiates between sociopaths & robopaths by explaining that sociopaths commit their victimizations outside of the rules of society & that robopaths commit them w/in. B/c of this latter, no matter how heinous the effects of a robopath's behavior, it's all well & good & sanctioned by society. The robopaths can even be self-righteous about it. War? Genocide? No problem. All approved by the robopathic society, the social machine.
This book depressed the hell out of me and put me in a rather funky mood in its first half. It caused a great deal of personal reflection. I am, after all, a second generation military brat raised in the south. I can remember wanting to kill myself as a fifth grader, it took many years to understand, or manage rather, that overwhelming sensation of existential dissonance and helplessness. Though my resistance and rebellion growing up occasionally was poetic (i was an intuitive culture jammer at times) I had a few time periods in my life of getting caught in the wrong river currents, so to say, and allowing myself to be carried by them. I imagine, conveyor belt would have been a more fitting metaphor. Regardless, things seem much more (and increasingly) open-minded and properly attacked from multiple lines of perspective for my existence these days.
This isn't my usual sort of reading. I actually snagged a copy of this thinking it was a dystopian sci-fi thriller type. WRONG. This is a heavy dose of the real dystopian societal shifts and momentums of the book's times (published 1972). It's well articulated, depressingly prophetic, and good for making tactile complex social subjects/themes/concepts that can be very slippery.
I felt a little beaten over the head and exhausted at times. It also doesn't help that I can't seem to escape an atmosphere of stoners, drunks, and volatile professional sports enthusiasts while reading this.
A lot has changed in the 42 years since this book was published, though, a lot hasn't either. It's sobering that "The Revolution" Yablonsky frequently speaks of as fresh, living, and reason for optimism, is now its own mechanical corpse, rebranded and controlled by its enemies. The revolutionary blow has largely been absorbed; its assimilation into the machine now a valuable element of the systematic backlash in action now. Dissenting is carefully curated and well within parameters deemed acceptable and it would seem even a great rumble to the status quo would more quickly fade away from memory/attention in our current world than 1972.
I do think this is an important book and praise its plea for empathetic interaction between people.
I first read this book back around 1972 or 1973, shortly after it was first published. In a nutshell, Yablonsky's thesis is that the pressures and demands of modern life have created a "class" of people who are divorced from their feelings and from morality in general. There is no argung with this, I believe, but it's rather humorous that as a solution he points to the hippies: connected to the earth and to their feelings, and inclined to reject the "plastic" world of their parents. The book is of course dated, but is still an interesting read. It has a strong impact on me as a young an, and in the course of reading it I had a dream one night of an extraterrestrial world entwined with electronics and vat-grown human soldiers, where nations came to fight wars so as not to damage Earth's ecosystem. I wrote this dream down and expanded it somewhat, and it ended up being published as "War Baby," in FANTASTIC in 1974. It was my first published short story. So, I have rather a soft spot for this book. (Plus, something about the cover, which you see here, fascinates me. I don't know why.)