Report on the Threatened City


Doris Lessing

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Altruism vs. Capitalism Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Perception and Belief Theme Icon
Indifference Theme Icon
Paranoia and Conspiracy Theme Icon
Altruism vs. Capitalism Theme Icon
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Altruism vs. Capitalism Theme Icon

“Report on the Threatened City” portrays capitalism as a system that encourages profit and self-interest over the common good. In the story, alien envoys visit Earth to warn San Francisco residents of an impending earthquake, and their mission requires them to push their planet’s technology to its limit and “postpone[] certain cherished plans.” They seem to consider these sacrifices worthwhile when balanced against the mass death and devastation that they believe the earthquake will cause. The humans, by contrast, aren’t nearly as altruistic: the envoys observe that the larger the group, the less humans care about it.

The local news broadcasts that occasionally interrupt the envoys’ report do sometimes focus on individual acts of generosity: five “ordinary people” each donate a month’s pay to cover a toddler’s heart surgery, for instance, and a brave man sacrifices himself to rescue four others from a burning building. The envoys also note humans’ “infinite care and devotion to individuals or small groups.” Yet other reports suggests that San Franciscans are generally more concerned about economic expansion than the population’s well-being. Instead of evacuating people before the earthquake or addressing the city’s high poverty rate, the broadcasts largely focus on commercial interests and activities: an entertainment extravaganza, plans for new suburbs that will bring more residents to the city, or new infrastructure to draw in more tourists. Furthermore, individual acts of heroism contrast sharply with more tragic reports, such as when 60 people die in a stadium accident because the stadium owner prioritized profits over safety. The alien envoys thus conclude that under capitalism, people tend to make decisions not by considering people’s needs, but by negotiating between “many conflicting bodies and individuals” who participate out of “self-interest.”

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Altruism vs. Capitalism ThemeTracker

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Altruism vs. Capitalism Quotes in Report on the Threatened City

Below you will find the important quotes in Report on the Threatened City related to the theme of Altruism vs. Capitalism.
Report on the Threatened City Quotes

But, very shortly, a strong emotion was raised by phrases and words of which we list a few here: profit motive, conflicting commercial interests, vested interests, capitalism, socialism, democracy—there are many such emotive words. We were not able to determine, or not in a way that our economic experts would recongise as satisfactory, the significance of these phrases, since the emotions became too violent to allow the conference to continue.

Related Characters: The Envoys (speaker), The Technicians
Page Number: 255
Explanation and Analysis: