A short while ago I saw a picture, a bookshop joke, a sign that said Dystopian fiction had been moved to the contemporary section. It's librarian humour but it got me thinking.
Dystopian fiction comes in many forms but they all have two defining characteristics, much as most post apocalypse fiction has two defining characteristics. Both are Science Fiction, a future where science has advanced beyond our own or failed in some way. But the other defining feature is what makes the two separate.
Post apocalypse is a tale of the Have Not's, surviving in the ruins, scavenging for useable remnants of the previous world. There are some who have gained power, gained control of some relic left over from before, or of survivors who struggle to maintain a semblance of the old way of life but it is no more than a fragile echo of what was.
Dystopia is a tale of the Haves and the Have Not's, the clear divide between those who have power, wealth and luxury, and the rest. Often it is the starkness of this divide that makes clear that it is Dystopian fiction.
Think Solent green with Charlton Heston as the cop investigating a murder in the wealthy tower block, running hot and cold water, air conditioning, things that are dreams to people like him.
Which led me to think.
Post apocalypse is generally easy, something happens, a war, an asteroid hits, a virus is released, the end of the world as we know it, your average everyday apocalypse. Then after that, it's post apocalypse, easy.
But with a Dystopia, where is the point when you go from living in a normal world to living in a Dystopian one, it's often a gradual change, the economy collapsing, society changing, so it's much harder to point at a single time and say, that's it, that's when it happened.
Hence my thinking.
Would we recognise that point when we reached it, or when we get close to it, or is it something that we would only see in hindsight, looking bad and saying well, that's it. we're living in a Dystopia. It's easy to look at a society from the outside and see it to be a Dystopia but from the inside, how much harder is it.
Would we even know that we were living in a Dystopia until it was too late?
Interesting question I thought.
So what is a Dystopia and how do we end up living in one?
Hallmarks of a Dystopia:
1. A significant and all but unassailable divide between those at the top and the rest.
2. The use of propaganda and information manipulation as a tool of state control either directly by the stat or by state aligned media.
3. Citizens either believe they are, or in fact are, under constant surveillance, and are forced to moderate or modify their behaviour as a result.
4. Routine dehumanisation of 'Enemies of the State' or those who are perceived to be 'bad' such as minority groups or people who are reputed to not contribute to the state.
5. Fear and hatred of the outsider used to isolate the population and justify control and security measures or political agendas.
6. Information, knowledge and free thought are restricted or opposed, education is manipulated to deny the population data that could oppose the rule of the state.
7. An unassailable figurehead or political group, the glorious leader or ruling party that may not be challenged. Obedience to this figure or group indoctrinated into society.
8. Conformity to a clearly defined or vague normal defined by the state, failure to conform seen as a crime or offense against society requiring punishment or demonisation.
9. Use of government and private media to constantly exalt the values of the state as ever improving and growing, of achieving great things and of denying failures.
10. The state is all important, nothing can be allowed to interfere with the state and all decisions are made on the basis of immediate benefit for the state, regardless of long term consequences which are then denied.
So. How many of these apply to our society, how many need to apply before we are living in a Dystopia?
1. We already have a clear and very wide divide between the Haves and the Have Not's.
2. Big yes on this one as well.
3. Given the recent law and the monitoring that seems to have been going on anyway, big tick in this box as well.
4. Unemployed, poor, benefit parasites, scroungers, foreigners, Immigrants. Big yep here.
5. Immigrants taking your jobs, the ever present terrorist threat, oh and paedophiles are after your children so the internet must be censored and monitored.
6. Not yet but getting that way as lack of government transparency prevents us knowing what is going on and as Google and Wikipedia replace actual history or knowledge.
7. Again not there. Yet. But it's coming, after all we just watched the coronation of Glorious Leader May and our MPs and by extension our government has all those immunities to the surveillance laws. How about electoral boundary changes that will make the Tories unassailable for a generation, that's the same as a single party system isn't it? Once we aren't allowed to know what they are doing this is just a small step.
8. Here we had the governments drive for Britishness, migrants must adopt British values, everyone should be filed with Britishness. Though ask five people what Britishness is and you will get six answers. So it's out there, it's not a tick yet but give it time and with the current drive for people to swear an oath of British citizenship maybe not that long.
9. Every day, every political message, PMQs, just about every statement from any cabinet minister. This one is a constant.
10. This one is also, in my opinion, a very big tick. After all the state is the government, the government is the Tories, the Tories are the state. Anyone seen anything over the last 6 years that wasn't to the immediate or short term benefit of the Tories, to be fair it does happen, a little, but not often.
So how many boxes do we need to tick, are we there yet or still cruising towards Dystopia on autopilot while looking out the window at whatever the media is distracting us with today? Will we even realise the point when we arrive, will there be an announcement, or will it just be business as usual, another day in UKplc.
Welcome to your Dystopian future, it looks like yesterday.