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

Updated: May 12, 2021

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.