The topic is a tired one. And this post is not meant to wipe the sleep from its eyes. I often find myself writing stories in this genre therefore, I’d like to put all this here so as to keep track of it.
Note, I tend to focus on “apocalyptic” dystopians. Those other story lines that come about through gradual oppression, I don’t much care for. (Hell, we live in one now.)
I’ll be updating this post from time to time, and commenting with links and data.
Reasons why dystopian stories are alluring:
- A return to survival mode.
- Simpler cause and effect living.
- The elimination of wealth inequality.
- Imagining and preparing for the worst.
- Societal “clean slate” thinking.
A return to survival mode
Let’s face it, the act of survival (in the Western world) is less than challenging. On average, most people do not have to worry about surviving from day to day. (Many caveats to this I know, but that’s not the point now.) As animals, humans, when threatened, have a fierce will to live. In fact, we evolved during such times when our ferocity undoubtedly determined the survival of our genes. We’ve lost that edge.
“Attack that sales meeting!” “Tear into that engine overhaul!” “Shred that software bug!” Nope, sorry. Our million year old survival instincts are just not triggered these days.
I think a return to a time (or reading about one) when every decision you make, throughout the day, influences your personal and family’s survival gives us a momentary boost of Darwin’s and London’s “Survival of the fittest,” and “Eat or be eaten,” sense of immediacy. Choices would mean something again.
Simpler cause and effect living
Similar to a return to survival mode, a jump into a post-apocalyptic world simplifies one’s life. Would you have to manage your IRA? Worry about interest rates? Think about saving for yours or your child’s college education? Second guess that office photo you posted on fadebook? Hell no! That shit would be history, a quaint recollection as you lie beneath a glowing sky lit by strange aurora, listening to the wild dogs circle your camp.
When you buy a new cellphone, how much impact does that really have on your life? Diddly squat! That’s how much.
If you fail to step quietly through the broken, rubble-strewn town, what effect then when you neglectfully kick that empty jerry-can waking the denizens that lurk there in the shadows? One hell-of-a-lot!
We have no agency in our lives today. (Of course we do. But not the kind that will get you killed within seconds or minutes after your mistake — unless we’re talking about stepping in front of a bus or texting while driving.) Meaningful agency is lost to us. A return to learning to survive, where every action and choice matters, would be a refreshing reemergence of “feeling alive!”
Return to equality
Take the world and turn off the internet. Turn off the lights. Turn off the electricity. Turn off the water and food delivery and medicine production and police protection, fire protection, military protection. Turn everything off that makes our technological society what it is today.
Now tell me, what’s your net worth now? Yeah, exactly! You are worth whatever you have in your backpack — and that’s it! Those of you in your razor-wire shrouded compounds? Your food will run out eventually. Do you have private generators? Fuel production has ceased. This is a drastic simplification of course, but the vast differences in “wealth” we have today? Those would vanish overnight in a post-apocalyptic scenario.
Just to see a time when your own wits and skills of survival lend you a modicum of superiority would be worth watching the end of technological society. Or so many dystopian novels would have us believe (including mine).
Preparation for the worst case
Imagine the end of all convenience. The end of easy calories, of secure sleep, of clean water. Dwell on this imagined world; examine it in your mind, angle by angle. Now, pull back from this catastrophe and look around you. We have it pretty damn good today, don’t we? But it could be worse, much worse. By considering such End-of-Times scenarios you’ve both prepared yourself for the possibility, and you’ve reestablished your sense of what is important to you today.
Prepare for the worst, but live and survive today. Know that you have evaluated the ramifications of Armageddon but also know that, were it to arrive, you’re prepared. Your task would then be a constantly adjusting triage: evaluate, act, move on. Your future, cataclysm or not, will unfold (or not), and all you can truly do is handle the “now”.
Take the U.S. Constitution, patch the holes (corporations are not people!), add some equality of citizen amendments, and maybe some term limits, now, wipe the slate of human government clean and then apply your new World Constitution to civilization.
There! All better.
Well, not quite. While you were struggling to survive, a bunch of bad actors sprung up with their massive caches of ammunition and alt-right supremacy notions and bloomed, like a red tide, beneath your clean slate.
But at least your thoughts and intentions were true. They must count for something. Right?
An apocalypse and the dystopia that would follow “could” evolve into a new and beautiful utopia. This is one of the appeals of dystopian stories — the possibility that from the ashes a new, equitable and loving society could emerge. (Cough, cough!)
A list of dystopian novels I’ve read:
- The Road
- Alas Babylon
- On the Beach
- The Girl with all the Gifts
- Far North
- Earth Abides
- Terraforming Earth
- Hunger Games
- Maze Runner
- The Dead Lands
- The Giver
- Battle Royale
- World Made by Hand
- Night Work
- The Last Man
- Oryx and Crake
- World War Z
- Year One
- One Second After
- Blue Across the Sea (my own)
- The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch
- (Numerous others to be listed soon, before, you know, The End.)