Published: December 17, 2018
I know a lot of people have their own opinions on this. People say something like “It’s Fontaine’s Fault” or “It’s because of ADAM”. To get to what really caused Rapture to fall let’s get rid of the things that actually didn’t.
First lets look at “It’s all Fontaine’s Fault”. People are comfortable in blaming Fontaine because he’s a monster of a human being, so it’s clearly HIS fault. Nice and simple, right? Well, the world isn’t nice and simple and neither is Rapture. The problem with Fontaine being the reason for Rapture fall is that he is only one man. Now he did sneak some of his own people in Rapture but that would be only ten or twenty people. That means it’s ten or twenty people verses a whole city of tens of thousands of people. Those are not good odds.
But Fontaine had help a lot of help that people were giving to Fontaine and they didn't know it. The objectivist philosophy that Rapture followed meant that there wasn’t a large law enforcement apparatus in place. Most “law enforcement” was handled buy private security companies which would only protect people who paid for it. This meant only the more well to do people could afford it. There was Rapture Security, but it was too small to effectively police Rapture in any meaningful way. For an experienced grifter like Fontaine, out maneuvering Rapture Security was more like a leisure activity, not a challenge. Another product of Rapture’s objectivist philosophy was that there would be a huge disparity between the rich and the poor. Peach Williams talks about this in the Audio Diaries and how the “Great Chain” is really a “Ball and Chain” for people like him. Fontaine also makes note of this as well and uses this. Before long he has a very large number of people under his thumb that are more scared of him then they are of Rapture Security.
The result of this is that Fontaine can get away with most anything he wants to. And what Fontaine wants to do early on in Rapture's history is smuggle in good from the surface. Now here is the thing though, no matter how much stuff you bring from the surface it means little unless there are people in Rapture who are willing to buy all those smuggled goods. Looking at how much wealth Fontaine accumulated it’s very clear that he was making a very handsome profit from smuggling goods and was shipping in a large amount. Now who is buying all the goods being smuggled in? The people of Rapture and many of those people would be the richest people in Rapture as they have the most money to spend and the desire for the things that Rapture would not provide.
On the surface Fontaine would not have been nearly as successful with his smuggling and rackets as he was in Rapture. Oh, you can make money and get away with murder, sometimes. But not on the scale that Fontaine was able to do in Rapture. Fontaine was able to do what he did because the institutions of government and law enforcement were weak and ineffective. And this weakness is the direct result of the objectivist philosophy that the people of Rapture subscribed to. If Fontaine was not there to take advantage of these weaknesses, than someone else would have. They would have taken longer to get going, but sooner or later someone would. It’s a sad part of human nature that there are people who find no real difference between right and wrong or define it as what is right for them is “right” period. And in Rapture a basic tenant is being selfish and only doing things for you own benefit. There would have been hundreds and maybe thousands of people in Rapture that would have done what Fontaine did. He just beat them to it.
So the reason Fontaine was able to succeed was because of a glaring and fundamental weakness in the objectivist philosophy that Rapture ran on. Not because he was all that special.
Now on to “It’s ADAM’s fault! If ADAM hadn’t been discovered than Rapture wouldn’t have fallen!” If ADAM hadn’t been discovered what would have happened? Fontaine still would have accumulated power and money. It would have taken a longer time to get powerful enough to challenge Ryan for control of Rapture, but he still would have been able to do it. The discovery of ADAM only accelerated Fontaine’s plan to take over Rapture, it didn’t make it possible. Also the exploitation of ADAM only was possible due to Raptures very lax laws. In a place with even a half way effective government much of the ADAM research would have been illegal and when Plasmids and Tonics hit the market the government would have clamped down on it and done so very hard when they figured out what was going on and the fact that ADAM users tend to go insane.
You should be able to see where I am going with this. It was only the lack of basic oversight and the lack of morals (A city where the artist would not fear the censor, where the scientist would not be bound by petty morality,) the that allowed ADAM become a problem. If there hadn’t been ADAM something else would have come along, some new drug or device that would have corrupted the city.
Well, “It’s Ryan’s fault! He turned his back on his beliefs!” To tell the truth there is something to be said for this. Ryan when he became threatened by Fontaine did toss all his belief in objectivist philosophy out the window. There is no doubt about that. But at the same time he still followed them. He used and abused his authority on Rapture’s Council to go after Fontaine despite having little solid legal proof. And when he discovered how ADAM was produced he made the most of it. He increased production and developed new Plasmids and Tonics making himself richer than ever. Never mind he was kidnaping children and enslaving them to do it. After all it was for his own benefit that it was happening and it was their responsibility they allowed themselves to be exploited. The Little Sister’s hands were on the Great Chain’s just as Ryan’s were.
Yeah, that’s a bunch of crap.
Ryan most certainly did use his power and abuse his power in Rapture. But it was the objectivist philosophy of Rapture that allowed him to get away with it with near total impunity. As seen in both BioShock and Burial at Sea, Ryan’s people were kidnaping little girls by the dozens and hundreds to be turned into Little Sisters. And what was the reaction of Rapture’s citizens and government? Ryan owned what little government there was and the people of Rapture basically did nothing. Oh, they put up pictures and were sad, but what did they actually DO? Anyone with a working brain could put two and two together. Disappearing little girls and a huge growing in the number of Little Sisters. And the people of Rapture did nothing. And why should they? If it wasn’t their kids being kidnaped why should they care? After all they got their Plasmids and Tonics. Now if dozens of kids were kidnaped in a period of months in a major US city, what do you think would happen? There would be a LOT fo people pissed about it even if they were not parents. You could even have riots against the police for not doing their jobs. But not in Rapture.
I hope you’ve detected a theme here. Rapture was unable to control a smart criminal. Rapture was unable to deal with an addictive drug, Rapture was unable to deal with its founder when he went off the rails and became a power mad tyrant. The objectivist philosophy of Rapture was simply incapable of dealing with the real world problems Rapture faced. And that’s why Rapture failed. It was built on an unrealistic philosophy that ignored how different people think and act. The only way any kind of utopia will work is if you change how all of humanity thinks, what they are. And if you do that, you don’t have a utopia, you have a dystopia. And that is one of the lessons BioShock is trying to teach us.
Now that it’s been established that objectivism had “something” to do with Rapture’s fall let’s look at the other ways this philosophy affected the city that led to it's fall. We know before the start of the Civil War that a large portion of the population was dissatisfied with how things had turned out. This is why Atlas was able to build his army so quickly. But why where they dissatisfied? There is no one answer to this as people are different and they wanted different things from Rapture. One of the big problems is expectations that people had coming into Rapture.
Ryan promised a city free of “big government” or organized religion controlling people’s lives. A place where people could be free to succeed on their own merits and no one could tell them what to do or how to live their lives. People believed that this new “free” city would allow them to become highly successful. The problem is that there is only so much room at the top and the people once they get to the top, they want to stay on top and they use the power and money they accumulated to do it. Many people that went to Rapture expecting to hit it big and they didn’t. As a result they felt they had been misled or even cheated. I mentioned this problem earlier, but a more in-depth examination was required.
So you had people unhappy they didn’t make it to the big time, but that certainly didn’t apply to everyone. There would have been people who were just happy for the freedom Rapture gave them. Why would they revolt? Freedom from government, “petty morality” and religion has a down side: the lack of the support systems afforded by these organizations. Even if you weren’t making to make it big you are not going to be overly happy if you buy a drug that doesn’t do what it’s supposed to, food that is spoiled or contaminated and if you break your leg on the job, you are SOL. There is no FDA to protect the supply of drugs and food, no workman’s compensation, no workplace safety inspection, no minimum wage or anything similar. Heck, even the police have been privatized so you can only get the protection you can afford to pay for. If you are poor, that ment you have no protection at all. The “safety net” that modern society has in the west, and many of us take for granted, simply does not exist in Rapture. Even charity, the last merger safety net in a society, is looked down on in Rapture.
So, yeah. Once you are down in Rapture there isn’t a whole lot that will keep you from falling all the way down to the gutter and there is little chance to get back out. And you can bet there were not a lot of people who were happy with that.
And what about Rapture’s well to do? The people that were successful? They certainly would be happy, wouldn’t they? Yeah, I imagine they would be. So the rich in Rapture would be happy with objectivism as it allowed them to be on top. But what happens when people get to the top? Objectivism means looking out for yourself and the best way to do that is to make sure you stay on top. And it’s very easy for people to start to do anything to stay on top, even if it is “immoral”, dishonest or maybe even illegal (Even if Objectivism itself does not encourage such actions). There was a study a few years ago that showed that rich people are on average more likely to lie, cheat, and steal than others. (Not all rich people are this way, but that the average was higher.) So you have the rich with a majority of the money and power and the very strong desire to keep it any way they can. And keeping their power and money included using what little legal system existed in Rapture to do it. In Burial at Sea we learn that a man named Herschel Weiss was suing Ryan for false advertising stating: “you're not gonna out-lawyer me on this one”. This certainly implies that the rich were abusing the legal system to further their own ends. It gets worse for Weiss however as Ryan has him sent to Fontaine’s Department Store as a prisoner. Ryan got rid of a legal problem by sending an innocent mail to jail. And you bet this wasn’t the first time massive abuses of power occurred. In Neptune’s Bounty you can find the body of a man who was tortured to death by Rapture Security trying to get information on Fontaine.
So the rich use the legal system for their own ends, big surprise there I’m sure. But there is another side to this and that is ignoring or even breaking the law. One of the few laws in Rapture was against smuggling. Of course Fontaine broke that law all the time, but who was buying a lot of the smuggled goods? As I said before, the rich. But what is the effect of that? (Other than making Fontaine rich of course.) The average person knows that there is smuggling and they know who’s buying. And then they see that the rich are getting away scot free with their smuggled goods and the smugglers are being hung. Now while the average person may not get overly upset about the hanging of a smuggler, they will notice that the poor are being punished, but the rich are not. This just feeds into the general feeling that things are stacked in favor of the rich and powerful, the very thing that wasn’t supposed to happen in Rapture.
Now this might come as a surprise to a few people (hopefully very few) that this situation has existed in the United States before. This time was called the Gilded Age. The Gilded Age is usually considered to run from the end of the US Civil War until the early Twentieth Century though opinions may vary. During this time the U.S. saw the rise of the robber barons, super rich tycoons and massive corporations. As the power of the rich grew conditions for the average worker in the newly growing cities became worse. Unrestricted child labor, 60 hour (and more) work weeks, low pay, highly dangerous working conditions, company store programs to keep workers financially enslaved to the people they worked for, Social Darwinism, Yellow Journalism and much, much more. With all their money and power, big companies had massive amounts of influence over governments at local state and national levels. This is also the time of Tammany Hall and powerful, as well as, corrupt political machines.
To put it simply, things sucked for a large majority of the people.
You might be asking why things aren’t the still the same miserable state as they were in the Gilded Age and what does this have anything to do Rapture. The Gilded Age slowly came to an end as more honest and progressive people were elected to government, anti-trust/anti-monopoly laws were put in place, the start of what is now the FDA, unions formed and surprisingly, some of the richest magnates became philanthropists. Now compare that to Rapture and its Great Chain. What forces or institutions existed that allowed for change in Rapture? Could you image something like a Food and Drug Admiration being created in Rapture? No, the philosophy of Rapture rejected anything like an FDA and “Big Government” in favor of “market forces”. And this is when people are going blind, insane and dying from Plasmid use. Unions were seen of socialist so they were not allowed. Philanthropy was very much looked down in Rapture and discouraged. (Fontaine only pretended to be a philanthropist to manipulate people and acquire young girls to turn into Little Sisters.) There was no organized religion in Rapture and believers tended to be looked down on. So what about the Rapture Central Council? Good luck with that. Ryan controlled the Council and what’s more, he controlled the mechanism that enforced the Council’s decisions, Rapture Security. The few people on the Council that tried to oppose Ryan either found their protests did no good or if they caused enough trouble, they ended up dead like Anna Culpepper.
So where does this leave the people of Rapture that want to change something? There is no system in place in Rapture to allow the general public to change anything or even to make their feelings known. And frankly even if there had been some kind of system in place Ryan would have ignored it. What options do the people who are on the short end of the stick have left? Not many. Either they shut up and do nothing or continue protesting in some way, which does no good. The only other option they have is to revolt and that’s what the people of Rapture did. All it took was a single bombing and fuse was lit. The City of Rapture descended into a bloody civil war which tore it apart.