Is Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code and the new blockbuster novel Inferno, a clever pulp fiction author or a dastardly propagandist?
In Inferno, the Catholic Church is a villain again, only this time, she is doing more than leading believers into error — she is leading humankind to hell on earth in a nightmarish world of overpopulation and scarce resources.
Dan Brown writes formula fiction — Hardy Boys for adults. Brown’s hero, Harvard professor of “Symbology” Robert Langdon, is Encyclopedia Brown in a Harris Tweed jacket. Langdon and a cute female sidekick always face off against a shadowy network of villains. The hero carries a McGuffin — a cool decoder thingy — on a time-critical treasure hunt through spectacular historic locations.
Inferno applies the Da Vinci Code formula, putting “the Consortium” in the place of Opus Dei; a brainy blonde in the place of Sophie; and Florence and Venice in the place of Paris and London (with some twists and turns I won’t spoil).
Alongside the fiction formula, Dan Brown applies a three-part propaganda formula:
- He reveals a Dark Secret of Humanity. In The Da Vinci Code: Christianity is a lie, and the Church knows it — How dark the con of man.
- He offers a Villain Who Takes It Too Far. In Da Vinci: Leigh Teabing, a bitterly anti-Catholic man who is willing to turn to murder to find the truth.
- He stakes out a New Middle Ground. In Da Vinci, Langdon finds a sensible alternative to the villain’s extremism and decides not to upset the poor benighted Catholics.
Here’s how the formula is applied in Inferno.
- Dark Secret of Humanity: The human race is overpopulating, like rabbits eating themselves out of a future.
- Villain Who Takes It Too Far: Misguided genius Bertrand Zobrist and his nefarious plan to thin the herd.
- New Middle Ground: The good guys abhor Zobrist’s solution but agree something drastic must be done to slow overpopulation.
There are many problems with the New Middle Ground that the novel establishes.
First of all, it relies on the theory of Thomas Malthus. It actually includes a longish quote from his Essay on the Principle of Population, which begins with its thesis:
“The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race.”
The book even includes a “hockey stick” graph to show how population has spiked in the 20th century. The problem: the “math of Malthus” didn’t add up. The predicted dates of massive food shortages have all passed with no global famines due to overpopulation. That’s because there was another “power of population” that Malthus didn’t factor in: brainpower. We figured out how to “produce subsistence” at a rate far greater than Malthus could imagine.
The book also shows another supposedly damning graph, this one a manipulative piece of propaganda from the World Health Organization (WHO). The graph points out these shocking consequences of higher population: If you have more people … they use more water! And more paper! And more motor vehicles! And (gasp) create a higher GDP! And these new brown people even dare build farms and dwellings in their formerly pristine lands! All the lines rise together!
Of course, there are no numbers on the graph. That’s because there is no single fixed point of comparison possible between “Exploited fisheries” and “Foreign Investment” and “CO2 Concentration.”
In the novel, the graph is used to demonstrate how the Church is setting us up for a hell-on-earth of human beings reduced to the level of animals fighting over resources. The good guy protests that she has done her duty: She has sent plenty of contraceptive missionaries to Africa.
The bad guy answers: “And an even bigger army of Catholic missionaries marched in on your heels and told the Africans that if they used the condoms, they’d all go to hell.”
“He was correct on this point,” the narrative voice tells us, “and yet modern Catholics were starting to fight back against the Vatican’s meddling in reproductive issues. Most notably, Melinda Gates, a devout Catholic herself, had bravely risked the wrath of her own church by pledging $560 million to help improve access to birth control around the world. …”
I have written elsewhere about Melinda Gates and the Contraceptive Imperialists, who have decided that the best way to help poor people feed children is to eliminate children needing to be fed, and that the cheapest way to care for the poor is for the poor to not exist to have to be bothered with. I’m not sure what bumper sticker would best sum up their approach:
What would Dante think of all this?
A key phrase in the novel is a favorite quote of John Kennedy, given the weasel attribution, “derived from the work of Dante Alligheri.” The not-Dante “Dante” quote:
“The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.”
In fact, in the real Dante’s Inferno, the deepest part of hell is reserved for traitors against their friends, who are gnawed on for eternity by a three-faced Satan in an arrangement that leaves both unsatisfied. Dante’s Satan is a grotesque mockery of the Trinity: He replaces God’s love with hatred, God’s wisdom with ignorance; and God’s life-giving abundance with impotence.
In other words, Dante’s Satan rejects human beings, can imagine no solution to the world’s problems, and is marked by his impotence.
What would Dante say of a novel that tacitly agrees that human beings are a cancer on earth, rejects the possibility of human ingenuity serving new people, and longs for global sterility?
“Abandon all hope, you who enter here” comes to mind.
The real Dante would reject this call for fewer people. He would call for more love — “L’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle.” The Love which moves the sun and stars.