Remember Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451? In that story, the government banned books out of a desire to keep people from feeling offended and stupid. It wasn’t so much a government plot. Nobody cared anymore about knowing the history or the stories that shaped Western society. Books became a nuisance to societal order. So why not get rid of them? And they got rid of them by making firemen into book burners. This science fiction is a little too close to present day fact. Ignorance and apathy can lead to censorship of ideas we don’t like. Additionally, we have this notion of political correctness today that, while not outright banning books (yet), still tries to revise the history and stories. Fahrenheit 451 sometimes seems right around the corner. The true humanists today are already hiding out on the fringes just like in the novels.
Another telling dystopian novel, Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley, pictures the world as a mixture of genetic and social programming. People are genetically programmed to be either Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, or Epsilons. Alphas are the leaders, given extra genetic strength in intellect and physique; Epsilons get the reverse and are reserved for manual labor. Also, in Brave New World people are controlled by feel-good psychotropic drugs. People are moreover encouraged to live with complete sexual freedom, since the family is no longer necessary to procreate. The West today also is following some of these trends in its use of psychotropic and other kinds of drugs (I’m not condemning the use of all drugs here by the way) and freedom from traditional sexual mores. The main character in Brave New World rebels from all of this because he realizes his life is artificial and even anti-human. Eliminate risk and intimacy with others, and you eliminate something essential to humanity.
George Orwell’s 1984 is probably the most well-known dystopian novel. In this hellish society the government controls all things through constant surveillance, propaganda, disincentivizing of sex and individuality, constant artificial warfare, and the revision of language. The ultimate goal of the government in 1984 is the elimination of free-thought. The highest version of controlled thought is “double-think,” accepting contradictions without even noticing them. 1984 makes us think of the modern surveillance state as it has extended into the internet. There is also a lot of biased media propaganda today and an educational system that pushes relativism. This rejection of logic today pushes us seriously close to the “double-think” of 1984.
The opposite of dystopia is not really utopia. It is normal and messy freedom. Walker Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos asks us what we would choose, a controlled scenario like one of the above or a freer society like what we have now? In Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, and 1984 we can supposedly get rid of racist people and the “oppressive” Western norms of sex. We can get rid of all the dead, White males who wrote so much of history and literature. We can reprogram society. We can find “better living through science.” In the freedom scenario, we still have to deal with much of the stupidity and ignorance of human nature; we still have differing philosophical and religious views; we still have freedom to live in traditional or nontraditional ways; science has to operate more on the sheer persuasiveness of its ideas.
All these famous dystopias involve social control, the remaking of society via government means into our image instead of what it currently is in all its mess. But perhaps these authors were shock jocks. Perhaps I am too. Perhaps you can have social control and freedom too. I myself heed the warnings of the dystopian novelists. What do you think? The future of the human race depends on you.