Behind the glitz and glamor of many paradises in this world lies an interwoven network of corruption, fear, and oligarchical rule. From Hong Kong to Los Angeles, a new style of living is enabling the super-rich and their affluent elbow rubbers to wall themselves up and live in ivory towers above the serfdom they created. A bleak picture, I know, but it’s the picture painted by editors Mike Davis and Daniel Bertrand Monk in their essay collection Evil Paradises. This book is a collection of nineteen essays specially selected to broaden the horizons for readers with regard to the wealth gap and how it shapes national and urban developments throughout the world. As stated by Davis in the introduction, “ Evil Paradises addresses a simple but epochal question: Toward what kind of future are we being led by savage, fanatical capitalism? (Davis IX).” Taking this to heart, the editors compiled a list of essays quite worthy of the title. Standout authors and topics include: Timothy Mitchell addressing the questionable leadership in Egypt in his essay Dreamland, Anthony Fontenot and Ajmal Maiwandi reporting on the city of Kabul, Laura Ruggeri’s take on the false Palm Springs in Hong Kong guarded by mercenaries and money, and pieces from editors Davis and Monk tackling Dubai and Neoliberalism respectively.
The major themes in this collection are based in a strong anti-capitalism that believes no good can come from unrestrained wealth, development, and social control. Essentially, the essays show the evils that arise when capitalism is so laissez faire that it gets taken to its extreme end resulting in a wide margin between the wealthy and impoverished. While the behaviors and ends of the super-rich don’t really surprise us anymore the means used to achieve such ends can be altogether terrifying. Davis states,
“No one is surprised to read about millionaires spending $50,000 to clone their pet cats or a billionaire who pays $20 million for a brief vacation in space…so much hyperbole is depleted in the coverage of the lifestyles of billionaires and celebrities that little awe remains to greet the truly extraordinary statistics, like the recent disclosure that the richest 1 percent of Americans spend as much as the poorest 60 million…or that rich individuals currently shelter a staggering $11.5 trillion…in offshore tax havens (Davis X).”
Davis is spot on as the essays will soon show the reader. A wealth of specific empirical data lies between the pages of Evil Paradises. Facts like “300,000 citizens of Beijing forced to move to accommodate the Olympic Games and many of them forced into labor by government and corporate officials” or “Ted Turner poisons fish as far as 77 miles upriver just to keep the flow of trout in his ranch secure and protects the elk population near his land only to allow hunters to shoot for a week for the small price of $13,000” all but confirm without doubt that Monk and Davis have hit the head of this issue.
All in all, Evil Paradises functions primarily as your typical collection of essays on any given topic, providing a well rounded view from multiple angles on a particular theme, but also pushes the limits of what can be said about its area of expertise. Davis and Monk did not simply gather up pieces from friends or works that would offer a view from both sides of the coin. They did not hope to put together a work for the sake of academic speculation. What the editors have done here is purposely create a single work that any individual could pick up and learn from, that would make a bold and direct statement on the condition they believe this world is in, and that would pull the curtain back from the great and powerful Oz revealing him to be no more than a manipulator of society through fear and resource domination. They had no plans of making this read easy to digest or for it to be comfortable to work through. It is obvious their intent was to disturb the mind and clear the awe from our vision. One can not help but stare when we see TMZ taking photos of David Beckham or when we watch Donald Trump say “You’re fired.” Evil Paradises is the slap in the face you need to make you notice that folks like Beckham own land in the corruption capital of Dubai and that Donald Trump would sell you to build his new hotel if he could. If ever such a slap was needed, now is the time. Davis and Monk have issued their wake up call with Evil Paradises. Rise and shine.