Living in a Dystopian Present
Wikipedia defines dystopia as “an imaginary community or society that is undesirable or frightening. It is literally translated from Greek as ‘not-good place,’ an antonym of utopia.” For as long as there have been fiction writers, they have been envisioning a dystopian future. We see it today in stories such as Mad Max, Enders Game, Blade Runner, The Walking Dead, Book of Eli, 1984 and many others. The dystopia future allows writers to paint the picture of a bleak future where people run amuck. This allows writers to have the plot freedom that cannot be achieved in the present “normal” world.
There is a twofold reason why people are drawn to this kind of plot. Let’s use the Mad Max franchise as an example. The characters in Mad Max are on the brink of starvation and they drive around in crazy cars attempting to survive. Why do we like this? Because society does not allow this this kind of outlandish behavior. If somebody were to drive a “non-street legal” car around while committing many crimes, it would be big news and the person would be arrested. This is a good thing because bad driving and crime is detrimental to a pleasant society.
When we let our imagination wonder away from our normal society and enjoy the Mad Max story, it’s kind of fun. How cool would it be to drive around in a super charged monster car? Breaking everything in sight and overcoming adversity? That is precisely why we like the Mad Max dystopian future. There are no rules and this helps us cope with the rules we don’t like in our society. The result is essentially an entertaining pressure release.
The second aspect we like about dystopian future is to compare this horrible future world to our own. For example, we might think, Meatloaf again? Well, that is not as bad as when Mad Max was grateful to eat a can of dog food. This terrible future reminds us how good our present lives are.
The only problem with dystopian future stories is that the envisioned dystopian future simply does not come true. Sometimes the readers panic over what they think might happen. For example, The Walking Dead inspired a LOT of people to buy guns.
When writers attempt to predict the future, the results are lofty and creative. If we rewind back to the 1950’s, it was predicted by many writers that in the 1980’s, there would be: flying atomic powered cars, robots walking among us, space travel, oppressive governments and nuclear wars. Obviously, none of these basic predictions came true. Of course, there were more realistic [conservative] writers that did a much better job of predicting the future such as Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. Their stories predicted such ideas as satellite communication and realistic computer usage.
Another aspect of the dystopian future stories from the 1950’s that has not come true is an oppressive society. Let’s take for example the George Orwell book 1984 written in 1949. It predicted a tightly controlled state where all people are closely watched all the time. Any crime is instantly detected and severally punished. May people have said that this dystopian future is here today. The point out that there are millions of security cameras along with millions of computers that automatically monitor our everyday activities. In addition, they point out an effective criminal system that uses technology such as DNA resulting in an unfair trial.
I do not disagree with the abundance of cameras, spying computers and unfair trials. However, our present is not even close to the dystopian future that George Orwell predicted. Few of these cameras are actively monitored. The cameras images are generally only looked at after a crime has occurred. In some public places, the cameras are actively monitored by security people. It is also true that in these places, the security people have abused the public’s trust. Has the abundance of cameras really stopped crime? Arguably, yes. Has it made our world better by stopping crime? Arguably, yes.
As for the computers monitoring our every move? Yes, there are sophisticated computers automatically monitoring us and sophisticated computers are even other computer systems. Are big government organizations monitoring me? Yes, but I am a nobody. The government doesn’t have the resources to prosecute my little crimes that are caught by cameras or computers. What about the computer monitoring? The main aspect of computer monitoring that truly affects me is that companies gain an edge for advertising and better marketing. [Do I really know what I am talking about? Check out patents 09/589,552 and 13/507,371] Is this computer monitoring wrong? Ya, probably. What effect does it have on me personally? I buy more stuff. Some of that stuff makes my life better and some of it is junk. Most of what I buy, I need or at least that is what I convince myself.
Have I lost all kinds of freedoms as the result of all this computer monitoring? Probably. Does this really affect me? Not really. Are computers listening to my phone conversations? Technically yes, actually no. Criminals spend a lot of time on the phone and computers and are generally not caught in this manner. Are my rights being violated by computers? Ya, probably. What is the worst aspect of this dreadful violation? The worst (in my opinion) is identity theft. Do I like it? I have been the victim of identity theft several times and I think the people that perpetrate this crime should be shot without trial. Why? When they took on my identity and in the process, they lost their own identity so technically they don’t exist. Will my punishment ever occur? Absolutely not. What does this have to do with government and society? Not much. Identity theft is just a new way for criminals to operate. People will always look for short cuts and identity theft is the new short cut.
What about AI? Will it destroy us all? It’s very unlikely. Computers are programmed by people and people still want to live peaceful lives. If we rewind back to the 1950’s there was a big scare with robots and computers. Robots first entered the factories and started taking the jobs from welders. What percentage of the factory did they take? Up to 1%. How about today? Now robots may have taken up to 20% of the assembly line jobs. But that’s misleading. Who builds and maintains the robots? People. Robots have just moved the jobs around.
Computers in the 1950’s took away jobs from people that worked with numbers. Today, computers take away jobs like: supermarket cashiers, bank tellers, newspaper printers/paperboys and record/tape/CD manufactures. However, like the factory robots, these jobs just got moved around to places like Facebook and Google. The overall result is that some jobs have been permanently taken away by computers. One could just as easily argue that increased government regulation, taxes, economic changes and worldwide labor shifts [jobs moving to different countries] are far more responsible for job loss than AI, robots or computers.
What about the oppression of the poor and disadvantaged? People will always be taken advantage of and this has been going on since before even writers could put words on a printed page. The good news is that the poor and disadvantaged now have many more options. For example, a person can get an accredited college degree online for nearly free.
Dystopian future writers have envisioned a world where the poor and disadvantaged rise up against “the man” and overthrow society into chaos. I would argue that this is actually occurring, but in a different form. It turns out that the poor and disadvantaged can vote just fine. It also turns out that they can use the internet/media to organize and their votes are now a force to be reckoned with. It also turns out that people can use internet/media in countries that you cannot vote to make effective changes in the government and society. So, in many ways the revolution has been going on for a long time with great results.
The point of this blog article is that the dystopian future predictions that all of these writers made in the 1950’s never really came true and that present dystopian future predictions are not likely to come true. Now let’s look at some things that did happen. There have been horrific events since the 1950’s that have deeply disrupted our lives. This included wars, natural disasters, manmade disasters, terrorist attacks and great social shifts due to technology.
Take for example, the horrific 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. This dreadful natural disaster was so big that it actually changed the maps of Japan. After the horrific incident, the proud people of Japan, mourned their losses, cleaned up, rebuilt, learned some lessons and got on with their lives. The point is that the people of Japan did not turn their country into anarchy like The Walking Dead where everybody killed to survive. Their society naturally dwelled toward getting back to a peaceful existence. Why did their society not turn into anarchy? The people of Japan wanted a peaceful society. They liked having safe streets, clean water and their children going to school. This horrific situation is a great example of how all the makings of a dystopian future were present and yet the people went far out of their way to make sure that they went back to a peaceful boring existence.
Our world is going to have wars [as I write this, North Korea looks like they might even start a nuclear war] and epic world changing natural disasters such as: super volcanos, comet impacts and plagues. Humans are survivors and it is in our core values to get through the bad times. It won’t be easy and there will be significant losses. However, it is in our “human” nature to return to a peaceful boring existence. When the next tragic event occurs, we will tough it out and get back to the way we are now.
My point in writing this blog article is that there is a natural drive within humans to live quiet boring lives and that’s just fine. There will always be writers that write about the dystopian future and that is also just fine. I personally like the Walking Dead and never miss an episode. We like stories that have excitement/drama/conflict and this is why the dystopian future stories were invented.
However, we must keep the concept of the dystopian future in check. These dystopian future stories are farfetched predictions are simply not going to come true. If you watch an episode of the Walking Dead and decide to build an underground survival shelter, you may want to reconsider your motives. History simply does not support that kind of possibility.
I was just about to post this blog and I noticed something. When I was in college at WPI in 1993, there was a student paper and this paper had an anonymous writer who went by the name of Froto. He took this penname from the Lord of The Rings character. Every week, Froto had a new rant that went on and on. Nothing was ever good and he whined about all that was bad while offering no solutions. I was annoyed by all of Froto’s writings and I generally skipped over that entire section of the paper.
It began to dawn on me that this blog post was kind of in the same vain. Here I am complaining about some minor aspect of our wonderful world. This made me think back to Froto’s endless complaints and it gave me time to pause. We are privileged to have the extra resources to employ writers and bring their visions to the wide screens. As proof of this; not a lot of North Korean fiction writers out there. What I have written in this blog is a simple observation. In essence, the dystopian writers envisioned a bleak dystopian future that never materialized. I am hoping that the people who read this blog do not feel that I am whining about dystopian future works. There are plenty of specific examples of fictional dystopian future’s that did indeed come true and I enjoy reading/watching dystopian future stories.
Now for the important part. BUY MY BOOK. PLEASE!!! MY CHECKBOOK IS LONELY! MY BOOK IS ONLY $2.99 ON AMAZON!!! Putting a review online will help me out even more.
You’re the best -Bill
September 24, 2017
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