Human Liberty and “The Obsolete Man” | Thomas M. Doran | CWR's The Dispatch
Have we finally arrived at the real—and inhuman—Twilight Zone?
Is there a common thread between Christians and other “enemies of the faith” murdered by the scores in the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere; “enemies of the state” beaten or disappearing in Russia, China, and North Korea; and many other states where a failure to conform to the orthodoxy of the day gets one publicly vilified, shunted to the side, or worse?
At first glance, an avowedly atheistic Kim Jong-un of North Korea, materialists Vladimir Putin of Russia and Xi Jinping of China, and the leaders of ISIS and Al-Qaeda don’t seem to have much in common, though all of them share a foundational belief in the obsolete man.
Rod Serling captures this truth in the 1961 Twilight Zone episode, “The Obsolete Man”, which he himself wrote, where Romney Wordsworth (Burgess Meredith), a librarian in a state without books, is judged to be obsolete and sentenced to death. There’s not much room for subtlety in a half-hour show, and Serling gives it to us with both barrels, a parable rather than a fleshed-out story. The warehouse-like courtroom has no human ornamentation, a spartan beehive with buzzing drone-like people, while Wordsworth’s small room is cluttered with books but feels homey and comfortable, in spite of the menace outside his door.
Serling introduces this dystopian state as a place where “Logic is an enemy and truth is a menace…a future that might be”. As the story progresses, we learn the “State has proven there is no God”, to which Wordsworth replies, “You can’t erase God with an edict.” When he’s judged obsolete, Wordsworth responds, “No man is obsolete. I am a human being. I exist”, to which the Chancellor of the state responds, “Delusions that you inject into your printer’s veins with printer’s ink…the state has no use for your kind…no more books means no more librarians”. How this state executes Wordsworth, giving him a choice of how to die and broadcasting his death for its “Educative effect on the population” is where Serling displays his characteristic ironical twist, when the Chancellor poses this question: “How does a man react to the knowledge that he is going to be blown to bits?”