Banksys 'Devolved Parliament' & Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove: or What I Realized in Lockdown

Updated: Apr 2

Banksy, the world’s most famous street artist, joined the ranks of the world’s most expensive artists when his 2009 satirical painting, “Devolved Parliament,” showing Britain’s House of Commons populated by chimpanzees, sold for 9.9 million pounds with fees, or about $12.1 million, at Sotheby’s, setting an auction high for his work. “Devolved Parliament,” is a Victorian-style oil on canvas showing the debating chamber of the House of Commons packed with earnest-looking chimps.


Devolution is the statutory delegation of powers from the central government of a sovereign state to govern at a subnational level, such as a regional or local level. It is a form of administrative decentralization. After creating the painting in 2009, Banksy premiered the piece again, during the date Brexit was originally supposed to happen. Banksy was obviously playing with the term devolved, when representing the group of chimps in parliament. It’s basically saying we are governed by primitive and irrational forces, both literally and figuratively.


The painting is a great commentary on British Parliament, but also on the human condition. We are a group of advanced apes, on a floating rock, hurtling through space. To cope with existence on this planet, we developed a variety of systems. Rules, regulations, cultures, religion, language & systems, agricultural, trade, social and political, to help us through existence, and make it easier for ourselves and those around us.


Life is inherently tragic, by the mere fact that you exist, it’s guaranteed that you and everyone you know & love, will die. But, what makes it worthwhile is that you get to be on Earth, and see things, and experience places, people, cultures, music and sceneries. There’s so much beauty on Earth that’s waiting to be experienced, mountainous ranges, rivers, rainbows & rainforests, with animals, colours & sounds.


Humanity's creative force is also responsible for a lot of the greatest things in life, the fact that we’re able to alchemize abstraction into material, science, paintings, food, sound, architecture, literature & film, it's incredible. Then you’re able to love & socialize, & enjoy people's company. You're also able to perceive & experience, philosophize & act on your curiosity. Another bonus to life is having the proclivity to be a creative person. So you must be alive, inside architectural marvels, around people you love, eating great food, listening to transcendent music, sitting on marvelously crafted furniture, paintings hung up everywhere, reading books & eating pears by lakes, creating things, all the time. What’s the problem? There shouldn’t be one, right? Wrong!


Just like Banksy depicted, we are still a bunch of sophisticated chimps, we are prone to bias, hatred, greed, stupidity, malevolence, fear & more. We’re all born into a broken world, with its millennia long history of war, tribalism & conquest, knowing nothing, and forced to look to other people for support, we require guidance, attention & care. The goal is that by a certain age, you have the ability to take care of yourself and the world around you, and then take care of other people.


We are raised by our parents, society, culture, religion and experience. All of those have their own systems, rules & regulations, that can be extremely useful and necessary. A parent imposing a bed time and feeding time isn’t a bureaucrat or a dictator, but there can be points, where all of those systems, can be overly rigid, flawed, and unnecessarily complicated, to the point where it defeats the original purpose of creating the system.


The reason for working within systems, rules & regulations, is to become more efficient in completing a task. The way voting was done 100 years ago, was the most efficient way possible during that time, now I have a cell phone, it does not make sense that I have to miss work & line up for hours, when I can just go on my phone and click a button, but, due to a lack of innovation, we continue to operate within an antiquated & primitive system, and calling it tradition. This is a symptom of a condition that exists in a variety of other ways & places, because many of us fear change.


The most frightening, and simultaneously enlightening phase in existence, is when you find out, everyone is just a guy. Everyone, ever, was just a guy, and everyone who will ever be, will be just a guy. You remember all those people from Kindergarten when you were a kid, they were in your class, constantly screaming, crying, sitting in their feces and lying all the time. They were idiots. You become an adult and realize, that’s all of us. All of us are still idiots, that’s just part of the human condition. Think about how flawed you are as a person? That’s everyone else too. We walk around with our baggage, in everything. All of our ambitions and actions are decided by so much that we don't have control over, and the control we have is always decided with a limited scope of information.


If this Covid-19 pandemic proves anything, it's that we’re all constantly stumbling through life. We have no idea what tomorrow brings, we can only decide in the moment based on our best intentions, with the limited information we have access to. But most of us aren’t that thoughtful in the decisions we make, a lot of our decisions are made based on the irrational forces of history, family, conformity, Country, traditions, bias & culture.


A lot of us don’t want to transcend into that role of decision maker, that’s why we cling onto antiquated tradition & irrational systems, because it feels like a connection with someone that might have known better. We want someone else to make decisions for us, because it’s easier. Many people want to be led. We exist within systems and allow people to run them. Many people are prone to enjoying the confines of history & identity. They are likely to fear change, they enjoy rigidity and routine, they cling to ideas like ethnic or national pride.


History has proven that change isn’t always great, so some routine, structure & rigidity isn't always bad. Some things that aren’t broken, don’t need to be fixed. There is utility in tried and tested methods of operation, certain systems make things easier, things could always be much worse than they already are, and the road to Satan is always paved with good intentions.


But certain antiquated systems have been able to modify modern humans to chimps with paleolithic emotions, living in medieval institutions, using godlike technology to make primitive decisions, like Brexit, & that's what Banksy depicted in ‘Devolved Parliament.’ Many of us aren’t thoughtful about the decisions we make, we make them based on our own biases, neuroses, insecurities, belief systems, tribalism, symbolism, ideas, & blind faith, even those supposedly in charge, they are just members of the population. We are all largely governed by hidden irrational forces.


A movie that perfectly depicts this thesis, at its most extreme level, is Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. This movie has been called a Comedy, but I don’t think that was on purpose. Dr. Strangelove is how Kubrick saw people, and how he envisioned the end of the world would go. A crazy man, with grandiose ideas, an incompetent system, and a bunch of incompetent people in charge of very dangerous things, they know vey little about. It would be funny, if it wasn't intensely relevant.


This movie was a prophetic tragedy. It was structured as a tragedy. The movie was a more accurate depiction of how the end of the world might look. We’re always fed these grand apocalyptic tales of Aliens, demons, fire, brimstone and beasts, but it’s more likely to be a group of idiotic & flawed human beings, with access to Godlike technology.


Kubrick, like Banksy, could see the truth behind all of our systems that display so much sophistication under the guise of prestige, institutions, & titles, all of these positions were held by average apes, who were prone to doing dumb things. In the movie, the War Room is depicted as just another group of guys, hanging around, staring at screens, talking about blowing other people up. Even the smartest people in the room, like the Nazi scientist, were complete psychos, developing destructive weapons like fun toys.


As someone with a rumoured 200 IQ, Kubrick's point is that the guys who are entrusted with the nuclear codes are insane, warmongering, idiots. The system we have built around ourselves, politically, and in the business of war, specifically, is absolutely psychotic. He believed there was so much bureaucracy in our institutions, and they were prone to so much miscommunication, because humans are prone to bureaucracy and miscommunication & the system had become so overcomplicated, it had spiraled out of human control, & devolved into becoming the thing it was trying to protect against. The themes of bureaucracy are a constant in his movies, with scenes like in A Clockwork Orange, where Alex is being interrogated by the Police and they make it a point that he stands within the outlined lines on the floor.


In Dr. Strangelove, the systems were clunky & inefficient, the people were stupid, and they had a hard time communicating. None of the phones in the movie would work, and when they would, the individuals on either side were having a hard time understanding each other. The people often thought the information they received was a lie or a joke.


When the President of the United States called the Soviet Premiere, Dimitry Kissov, at first he couldn’t hear him because of issues with the phone, then loud music, we found out Dimitry was drunk & The President had to accommodate his emotions. The President kept having to reassure Dimitry, that their relationship wasn't only professional & that he would love to give him friendly calls and say hello. The scene displayed how relationships between Nations require accommodating individual emotions. The representatives feelings, beliefs, and attitudes could be the reason behind two nations going to war and millions of people dying.


Kubrick kept depicting the men in the movie as aloof, average and strangely regular, if slightly eccentric. General Buck Turgidson, whose presidential advice consists mainly of panic and statistics about "acceptable losses" was a neurotic war mongering General. He would receive the call to come into the War Room while in a hotel, having a secret affair with his secretary & lying about it. General Turgidson would then receive sexual calls inside the War Room, from the secretary, begging him to come home to her. It's eerily reminiscent of Bill Clinton & Monica Lewinsky, but the film came out decades before the scandal, adding to its eerie prophetic nature.


Everyone, from the War room, to every other branch of military & government, was incompetent, ill prepared & none of the people were aware of the codes they had, which could disrupt all of civilization, they kept having to read from handbooks and screens.


Everyone in the movie was uncomfortably human, and that's what made it a comedy. The fact that we could see ourselves in the characters, and that's what Kubrick understood is the scariest part.


We have feelings and emotions, and regardless of what a hyper-logical person like Kubrick might have wanted, they matter. Emotions decide so much more of our decision making, than logic and rationality. It’s completely fine for a 22 year old like me to be a bumbling, emotional, conspiratorial idiot, like General Turgidson, but that’s because I don’t have the nuclear codes, yet.


Kubrick is afraid of irrationality, in many of his movies, human irrationality is the villain. In the Shining it was the crazy Jack Torrance, not Ghosts, like in the original novel. In Clockwork Orange it was young men and their irrational ultraviolent instincts, and an oppressive bureaucratic system.


In Dr. Strangelove, Kubrick showed people as they are, not as we would like them to be, under the guise of order and structure. Nobody in this movie was a hero, yet everyone thought they were a hero. Everyone was following orders & relied on some technological authority, be it handbooks, guidelines, & screens. Everyone operates within this flawed system, as a flawed person, with orders to follow blindly & the belief that what they are doing is a positive deed, for the correct team.


They all had neuroses, they misprioritized the importance of certain symbols, biases, & belief systems, all of which they held dearly, and impacted their decision making, on a global level. This is very much a theme in real life. According to an unconfirmed report, US President George W. Bush, in the prelude to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, told French President Jacques Chirac, "Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East." Bush is said to have continued, "This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase His people's enemies before a new age begins." Irrational & primitive forces control so much of our decision making, just like Banksy depicted with the Chimps.


Former Libyan leader Mu'ammar Al-Qadhdhāfī went to the UN General Assembly and told them his conspiracy theories, ranging from the assassination of John F. Kennedy, to the Jews secretly controlling the world & he ripped a page out of the charter in a show of defiance. That was a world leader, but he had the same conspiracy theories as the average Whatsapp chain message my Aunt gets. That is precisely what happened in Dr. Strangelove.


General Ripper, was an average man with great power, having a psychotic breakdown, he feared that communists had infiltrated the military, he began his plan to attack Russia, based on his own conspiracy theories, he sewed mistrust among his men, and had two countries on the brink of war, civil war & nuclear annihilation, because of his own crazy conspiracy theories, yet he still believed he was doing the right thing. General Ripper thought he was saving his country from a credible threat. This literally just happened with Donald Trump championing Q-Anon conspiracies on television. A group of Reddit users actually influenced this man's Presidential decision-making.


Ranging all the way from religious extremism, to acts of war, everyone involved believes they are a hero, because everyone has their own values and rulebook of what a hero is, that’s molded in by so much of our life, history, experience, institutionalization and information, & so much of it is dangerously irrational.


Around the end of the film, the Russian Premier Dimitry notified the American President that their calculations misled them and that one of the American fighter planes carrying bombs, which they thought had been successfully shot down, had survived by flying low and under the radar, as they were instructed to do. The Pilot, who was about to cause the end of the world, was just following orders, and doing it incredibly well.


That's the problem, the guy that's gonna end the world is gonna be following the orders of some psychotic, deranged lunatic, & the poor fuck is gonna think he’s doing a great job. It's happened before (Hitler etc.) and it almost worked. The 2020 American Presidential Election debate had 2 senior citizens screaming at each other, for a seat at the throne, and an opportunity to destroy the world, if they would like. They would be placed at the helm of the most powerful military on Earth, by calling each other names. Everyone in the military is trained, day and night, to follow orders, at all cost.


Dr. Strangelove is more relevant, now, during this pandemic, than ever. And to me, both Banksy's painting and this film emphasize the need for self sufficiency & governing, becoming more important by the day.


We have to transcend into that role of decision maker over our lives. The argument of ‘just following orders’ has been uttered by so many mass murderers, you are the most dangerous Animal on the planet. You have to live with your awareness of that. Treat yourself like Superman & the world around you like fragile cardboard.


We like to place a lot of our blame on corporations & politicians, this -ism and that -ism, but that’s the people. The people make up everyone in those seats, we produce politicians, businessmen, drug dealers, religious leaders, doctors, teachers, artists, architects, engineers, pilots, murderers & con artists. They are products of schools, families, social groups, churches. That’s all of us. What quality of people are we in our daily lives, how are we affecting our communities & what type of people are our actions creating. What decisions are we making, in our daily lives, and are they hindering, or furthering the broader community.


A lot of my readers are young, most of you are 15-30’s. None of us feel like we are in positions where we can drastically affect the lives of others. We’re not polluting the water supply, we’re not killing unarmed people, we’re not sending nukes at each other. But, through not paying attention to what decisions we are making in our daily lives, and how they affect other people, we could easily become the guy that destroys the world. History proves that everyone involved always thinks they are doing the right thing. When they realize it’s the wrong thing, they use ‘just following orders.’


That’s why critical thinking, autonomy and self sufficiency are so important. These aren’t just catchphrases, they are a way of life, to willfully accept responsibility & your role as a decisionmaker, to prevent the world from descending into further chaos, within your means. Many of us are lucky to operate within structures that operate well enough that we do not feel overrun by tyranny, even though this lockdown isn’t helping. I live in Toronto, I understand various levels of privilege that affords, that many people, in various countries around the world aren’t afforded. The people who are afforded these luxuries then have a responsibility, to make the world a better place during their time alive, through their means and capacity.


That’s part of privilege, you have to start adopting responsibility in fixing problems that present themselves to you, through your skillset. If you are an artist, you have a responsibility to craft the greatest art possible, you have a duty to beauty, and community. If you are a doctor, become the best doctor. Whatever it is that you do, you have to do it, to the best of your ability. You have to add some value to the world around you, because by virtue of being born, you have adopted responsibility for this globe, and if you do nothing to help, then you're culpable for its demise.


In order to experience the beauty, positivity, peace, harmony,& love you have to produce it, and reduce harm, in every decision you make. By adding value to the world, you receive value from the world. By being kind, by giving to charity, and doing all of those things our systems ideally reach for, is how we create a better experience for ourselves and hopefully the broader community. If we want to see moral behaviour, we must act in a moral way. We have to be the change we want to see in the world, and all those self evident clichés.


We need reminders of those truths because we are constantly trapped in history, we're trapped between tradition & culture, between rigidity and freedom, between primitive and civilized, between rational & emotional. We live in the moment, but carrying on remnants of the past and hopes for the future. We will always be in that place, structure is necessary, rigid, restrictive, yet malleable, flawed, yet beneficial, as long as it's not unbearably overrun by tyranny, but it still requires us to prevent it from becoming chaotic & tyrannical.


We have to work with the malleable potential. We have to shape our individual life, and thus the communal life, into its most optimal form, by focusing on things like beauty, functionality, utility, & responsibility, in every decision we make, when interacting with the world, on an individual level. We need to adopt traits from the humanities & design thinking, when interacting with the world, in any way.


By reducing harm & straying from your most primitive instincts like bigoted fear, tribalism, & hatred, and making a corner of the world better, more functional, more meaningful, more beautiful, more useful, more educational, or more valuable for someone else, you are doing something positive for the world, and keeping it a step away from complete annihilation.


This pandemic proved that we have to think of things in terms of the broader community, when making every tiny individual decision, if we hope to achieve anything. A guy ate a bat in China, and forced me to be stuck in my house for a year, because we have an affect on each other. Make your individual life the most beautiful, joyful, valuable, informed, healthiest, autonomous, self sufficient, self governed & meaningful life, & then continue to do it for the broader community.


Its our duty to constantly educate ourselves, to the best of our ability, and learn how to critically think & discern through information, as autonomous and self sufficient people, before making decisions. Making a decision because you were following orders isn't an excuse.


Dr. Strangelove taught us that it's necessary to acknowledge our own Dunning-Kruger effect, because, ultimately, we are chimps & the people who know less, usually believe themselves to know more, but we're constantly operating inside our own biases, neuroses, emotions and beliefs.


There's an infinite field of information, & we constantly only know as much as we ever know in the moment, and it's dangerous to overestimate your knowledge, because it can land you in grave danger. So we should always seek accurate, useful, & resourceful information when interacting with the world around us, & also assess with our moral compass instead of blindly following orders.


We are all the chimps from Banksy's 'Devolved Parliament' & the only way to overcome it, is to aspire for our highest ideals in every tiny decision we make, and it's hard, but it's our responsibility.


The way to prevent further chaos, is to adopt our responsibility as humans. It's to make our section of the world better, in some capacity, whichever way we might know how & to make each decision with as much information & positive intent for our fellow humans as possible in that moment, & as far from greed, hatred, bigotry and fear, as possible, instead of making decisions because we were following orders.


Even if it's just putting some time into making a Tik-Tok that made someone smile, or making someone you love some food, you're doing something autonomously, to add something of positive value into the world. Your mission in life is to love, create, evolve, experience, enlighten, entertain, instill hope where their was once despair, and make the world a better place during your time alive, it's your duty as a human, in any capacity. Constantly avoid sinking into your most bigoted, greedy, suspicious, fearful, primitive & controlled state, because if you don't, you could end the world.


“Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become the next moment.”

-Viktor Frankl


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