Dystopia

I have to admit that I often write from a worried point of view – about our future in the post-everything western world. I was particularly marked by studying Orwell’s 1984 for English literature at school – like most kids of my generation. In the film, Richard Burton exquisitely played the role of the inquisitor in Room 101 with the chair and the cage of rats. Since the end of World War II, the defeat of Nazism and the fall of the Soviet Communist empire in 1989, science fiction has continued to portray the dystopia as an archetype of the man-made hell of earth. There always have been tyrannical regimes and there will be in the future. In the ancient world, the best-known of such regimes were the Aztecs in what is now South America and Mexico and the Pharaohs in Egypt. Typically, society was formed of the ruler and his court, the priesthood of the society’s religion and a sub-class of slaves and serfs. Then came the Roman Empire and the succession of emperors who oscillated between the most sadistic and brutal to something like Plato’s vision of the Philosopher King. So it was when the Church became the priestly caste under Constantine and proved useful for controlling the population, so it was throughout the middle ages with the Two Swords.

With the Renaissance came the notion of the intrinsic value of the human person, at least to a point, the ideology of humanism and a notion of progress in freedom. The Industrial Revolution brought a new notion of progress and growth, eventually leading to a contestation of the class or “caste” structure of society and dependence on technology. From then, things would oscillate between the interests of the State and oligarchy or plutocracy. Eventually all these opposing ideas and tendencies would be increasingly radicalised in various types of socialism and nationalism. The extremes of all these ideologies would emerge in the wake of World War I in the regimes of Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin and Franco.

History seems to be marked by these oscillations between progressive liberalism and nationalist authoritarianism. For seventy-five years, the old photos of the concentration camps and the piles of emaciated corpses put us off the nationalist “reaction”. There are still a few old-style totalitarian states in the world, like North Korea and its “charming” leader Kim Jong Un who invents new and ever more sadistic ways to get rid of his opponents. What is terrifying now is that such ideologies are returning via democratic electoral processes – people voting according to how well they have been influenced by television and other forms of mass media.

I am now ready to believe that the majority of British people want Brexit, the triumph of men like Boris Johnson and the dismantling of Parliament and other regulating obstacles. “Get on with it!” they clamour without a thought to what, according to the evidence, is coming. Light the blue touch paper and stand well back!

I have tried to understand things for which I have never been trained. I know too little of political philosophy and sociology, so I can only read books and articles written by others and decide whether the message seems plausible. I am inclined to seek an evidence-based and rational approach to avoid the wildest of the conspiracy theories. It is not easy. We tend to think of history (modern) as a natural oscillation between action, reaction and synthesis, as Hegel expressed. We generally label authoritarian tendencies as “reactionary”, essentially conservative and wanting to turn back the clock on inevitable progress and growth. They mark the equally inevitable death of liberal democracy and its advocacy for causes like feminism, other races and cultures, homosexuality and “gender fluidity”. Those of us who find such liberalism to be exaggerated or morally wrong will find solace in the new authoritarianism.

For one “camp”, the game is over. It has gone to its limit, and now – back to the 1930’s we go! Conventional wisdom would see the “new right” as just a temporary inconvenience in the way of progress towards liberal utopia. It doesn’t seem to explain things well enough, and seems to be too comforting to be realistic. What I will say now is not an apologia for fascism or the “new right”, but what seems to be happening. Nationalism, authoritarianism and a modern form of “fascism” are becoming the new “normal”.

Like in the 1930’s, something more basic will model our world view – our material condition, wealth, affordable housing, availability of food and other fundamental resources. There isn’t enough to go round! The “wogs” are getting free “hand-outs” and we have to work our backsides off for a pittance of a wage! The thing is that immigrants don’t get “free hand-outs” but have to go through the same application process and stand in the same queue as everyone else fulfilling the required criteria. In the 1930’s in Germany, a wheelbarrow full of money wasn’t enough for a loaf of bread – it was “all the fault of the Jews”, as people heard from Hitler. Is it surprising? Yesterday’s “Jews” are today’s Muslim immigrants.

According to a longer view of history, this “not enough to go round” crisis is a slow creeping one. Wealth is concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer billionaires, whilst ordinary people work longer hours for less, get themselves into debt, live in cities. The Trente Glorieuses are over, and have been for a very long time, something like the mid 1970’s.

Something most of us are noticing is an increase of security and surveillance in public life, and as much comes in with “socialist” governments like those of François Hollande, Tony Blair and Obama in America. The police in most western countries is being given powers it usually only gets in an authoritarian regime. What we seem to be getting is not a regression from progress, but rather progress itself to a new period of history. The general movement is the curtailing of freedom and increased control. It also describes the concentration of wealth for the rich and increased debt and poverty for increasing numbers of disadvantaged people.

The real issue seems to be climate change due to human industry and cosmic cycles. There are fewer resources for increasing numbers of people. Such is the basis of an ideology of Nazism. What do you do to reduce the number of people in this world who compete against our way of life? You kill them. It is the solution that no one dares to express since the Nuremberg Trials. The totalitarianism of the future is a response to an emergency. In emergencies, people have to be managed and controlled. Whether the label is right-wing or left-wing the direction everything is going is the same. That is why the UK run by Labour and Corbyn would leave the average person no better off than under the Tories and their billionaires.

The real issue is our dependence on technology and industry, myself just as much as anyone else. With the exploitation of coal and oil came massive deforestation and desertification. Up went the exponential increase in carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere. One lot of scientific data seems to contradict another! Follow the money and the ulterior motives… There is a lot of hype, but we seem still be be in big environmental trouble with the potential of leading to Byron’s Darkness.

The coming repression goes hand in hand with our environmental crisis. Alternatives to fossil fuels lack efficiency and all that is in the interest of the richest billionaires. The alternative to solving the environment crisis, unfortunately, is genocide! Many methods are possible to avoid humans being blamed: war, famine, drought, flooding, disease, anything. For the time being, total control is enough. In China, there is the “social credit” system. If you conform, you get the perks of being allowed to travel and having somewhere nice to live. Otherwise, you get banned from just about everything. This system manages the availability of resources. I could see it easily coming to the UK, America and Europe.

Macron here in France was responding to the same crisis through trying to introduce a fuel tax to discourage us from driving, even if there is no alternative way to commute to work. Fuel shortages and prices determined by offer and demand are only the tip of the tentacle. Had the Gilet Jaune protest continued, it would have ended up with people being shot dead by the police. The same mechanism of control becomes necessary for any political government. I imagine that Trump’s wall isn’t for the small groups of South Americans trying to get into the USA illegally – but the millions in the future when the nasty stuff really hits the fan. What happens in a “post-apocalyptic” scenario when we live somewhere with a garden where we can grow a little food. When the starving people from the nearby city see what I’ve got and they haven’t, what do they do? They’ll shoot me and steal my food, or I can defend myself. I know this is the very argument of the gun lobby in America, but there is some truth in it – even though I have have never owned a gun (though I have learned to handle a Lee Enfield .303 rifle and a Browning 9mm).

Please remember that I am not promoting fascism or analogical ideologies. I am rather seeking to analyse reality and try to understand something. We need to read authors like Thomas Mann and all those who lived through fascism and Nazism in the 1930’s and 40’s. There is the issue of nobility or otherwise of the soul, morals, ethics, principles, values – but also the realisation that something has to be done about the environmental crisis. As things are, totalitarianism is viewed as the inevitable future, progress towards “making America (or name another country) great”. Bring in enough jingoism and visions of the Allied victory in 1945, and people will follow anything.

As things appear presently, nationalist authoritarianism seems to be the inevitable future, the way to utopia and what cynics in England call the “Uplands of Blue Unicorns”, a fairy-tale scenario where everyone will live happily for evermore. Fascism is the inevitable future of civilisation built on capitalist exploitation of people and the earth, the “end of history” and the final point of “progress” for industrial society.

The solution is what most of us cannot contemplate. We will give up technology and return to the early to mid eighteenth century. We will die of small infections (and big ones like TB) and will not have the medicine we now take for granted. We will get used to high proportions of child mortality. We will go off grid. Some people have managed it and are very happy. The only way you would read anything written by me would be by buying a book printed on an old-fashioned letterset press. There would be better authors to me by far to merit the attention of a publisher and printer. We can dig our toilets into the earth and dig our own wells. We can hunt and gather, or run a small farm to feed ourselves and our families. No more holidays away from home! No more boat unless I am living near a fishing port and am going fishing! Could we make such sacrifices?

Even if we did that, we would be victims of official regulation and being ravaged by the “have-nots” still depending on social security and the vanishing welfare state. Perhaps such a scenario might come about like in the post-apocalyptic and science fiction films like Mad Max, Matrix and others featuring glass dome cities with the outcasts living in a desolate blackened world. There are other futures possible, because our forefathers lived without oil and coal, without industrial destruction of the forests and the environment. Mankind once lived without international finance and debt. Such a future would only be possible for the most resilient and adaptable, those who can learn new skills and going back to the old ways. Perhaps this would be the true Benedict Option!

Maybe it’s possible… Otherwise, it’s Goodnight as the world moves once again into darkness and evil.

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1 Response to Dystopia

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Tangential to one point – “The general movement is the curtailing of freedom and increased control” – I am struck by how characteristic this was of so many later-18th-c. ostensibly, loudly ‘Christian’ emphatically centralizing monarchies, France, Spain, Portugal, the Holy Roman/Austro-Hungarian Empire, Prussia, Russia – and of the all-to-quickly totalitarian imperialistic French ‘republic’ and its Napoleonic successor. And an effectively substantial number of their North American ‘colonists’ thought it all-too-characteristic of His Majesty’s Government as well. (I wonder how many of them were also commonsensically or learnedly critical of the works of the Rev. Mr. Malthus when he came along?)

    To another, it’s taken me a long time finally to add Zamyatin’s We to those other dystopian classics, Brave New World and 1984 (and, for that matter Animal Farm), long after having read Anthony Burgess’s The Wanting Seed and his ultimately less dystopian Clockwork Orange. Now, I am in the midst of a fascinating imagination of the aspiration of a partial avoidance of annihilation by inevitable asteroids by the civilization of another planet thousands of years in our past, in Buzz Aldrin and John Barnes’s Encounter with Tiber.

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