Stranger Things and the Monstrous State
The Netflix series Stranger Things is the surprise hit of the year. It’s especially refreshing for libertarians, who can finally enjoy a show where the main villain is government itself: at last, the antagonist isn’t the market or even a corrupt politician, just government. Maybe its best plot twist is that there’s nary an evil corporation to be seen.
Given the amount of evil perpetrated by states through the ages, you’d think it’d be easier to market stories about government evil. Sadly, even Stranger Things seems to get away with it only because it takes a nostalgic and conspiracy-minded approach that focuses less on the practical evils of the state.
In fact, if anything, the show goes a little easy on government (mild spoilers ahead). For example, the government only runs a secret lab that performs horrific experiments on kidnapped children in order to unleash an evil monster through an interdimensional rift in space time. I mean, it’s bad, but it’s not that bad. It certainly pales in comparison with atomic bombs, drone strikes, police violence, the prison system, and immigration controls, to name only a few better-known atrocities.
Actually though, the unspeakable evil from the Upside Down is small-time compared to the government that summons it. Nietzsche called the state “the coldest of cold monsters,” and in a way, Stranger Things plays with the metaphor by juxtaposing both parts in order to compare them. Yet the cold, otherworldly monster could never hope to wreak havoc on the scale of the average government. In fact, the monster could learn a few things from the state about how to violently exploit human beings.
First, the monster needs to stop simply killing and eating its victims. This kind of predation may be useful in the short run, but it requires a steady stream of prey. It would be far more efficient for the roving monster to become a stationary monster: it needs to set up a more stable system of exploitation. Possibly it could capture humans and slowly drain them over time so as to create a constant food supply. This would diminish potential threats and save the trouble of searching for new hunting grounds.
Second, the monster needs a better public relations campaign. At the moment, its human victims are smart enough to fear being brutally devoured. A better strategy for the monster would be to convince people not only that being eaten is a good thing, but that being eaten is absolutely necessary for the survival of society. Perhaps the monster could build some roads to further emphasize this point.
Honestly, if I were the monster, I’d feel pretty embarrassed. I don’t know what passes for malevolent destruction in the Upside Down, but around here we take our monstrous evil a little more seriously.
Matt McCaffrey is assistant professor of enterprise at the University of Manchester.