Which Sci-Fi Dystopia Are You Living In?

Which Sci-Fi Dystopia Are You Living In? November 10, 2016

To help with processing the election results, we connected them to a discussion (in my class on religion and science fiction) of dystopias.

First, I should probably highlight the fact that people around Indianapolis today were depressed and disheartened, with some even weeping. How can this be, you might ask, when Indiana voted for Trump and Pence? The urban centers are often very different from the rural surroundings. If you drive south from Indianapolis, you see Confederate flags flying from home after home. That is the constituency that has given you your new vice president, America. Consider that.

But back to the topic at hand. We actually found some things to be encouraged about. There are some sci-fi dystopias that we clearly do not live in. One is George Orwell’s 1984We kept hearing things about both candidates, and fact checking thereof, if we wanted to. We could go to other outlets, whether CNN or Fox News, Al Jazeera or the BBC, and hear a different perspective, if we wanted to. No authority or power is controlling the flow of information in a global conspiracy. 

But ironically, in what seems like it should be a less realistic scenario, people actually choose to believe deceitful sources of information, placing themselves in an echo chamber of ideologically-motivated misinformation. Yet if they were outside that echo chamber and some powerful force like Big Brother sought to place them in it, against their will, presumably they would resist and rebel. And so there is something even more dystopian about our reality than Orwell’s novel. We are not forced to hear only misinformation, and yet some choose to.

I did find myself thinking about the president in the movie Harrison Bergeron. But unlike in that dystopia, I do not think there is a secret organization actually running things from behind the scenes. We could easily imagine that (as in The Matrix, or in a different way, The Hunger Games), powerful forces at work collude to give people the sense that they are rebelling against the system, when in fact the “rebellion” is merely a way of providing an outlet for frustration that in fact serves to maintain the status quo. That in fact is very much how our society works, holding out a vision of the “American Dream” that it is simply impossible for everyone to realize, but which keeps people working; holding out the prospect that if we just vote for the other party this time, things will improve. 

In our democracy, people are free to vote, and while we can impose education for the young, we cannot impose on adult voters that they inform themselves about candidates and parties, using reliable sources of information. But if we do things well in K-12 education, adult voters will be well-prepared. Here too, we find that people do not need some authority to prohibit them from accessing information or pursuing the kind of broad education about history, politics, and economics that makes for engaged citizenship. They happily skip those things, and resent them and tune them out if they are required courses at their college or university.

And so I am not sure that we closely resemble any sci-fi dystopia, and that is encouraging. But what is disheartening is that the dystopian elements of our society are freely embraced by a significant subset of the population, without anyone needing to impose or mandate them.

Which sci-fi dystopia(s) would you say you live in, or which do you see as a real possibility in the future of your society, and why?

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  • Chris Crawford

    Idiocracy. President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho Trump…

    • jh

      I think we are approaching Idiocracy and Atwood’s Handmaid’s tale.

      Or, Empire Strikes Back where the good guys are hanging on a pole with one hand chopped off and the empire has dealt a crushing blow. Unfortunately – i don’t believe that the Trump voters can be saved. Therefore, there will be no “return of the jedi”. The red state Trump voters live in a state where they cannot connect the dots and know only how to blame other people. It’s like the woman who complains about how she can’t lose weight while munching on a gallon of ice cream.

    • Phil Ledgerwood

      I found Idiocracy a difficult movie to watch because, even though it’s clearly meant to be an absurd comedy, its basic thesis was completely viable. It’s almost a horror movie, really.

      • Alan Christensen

        Where Idiocracy especially rang true for me is that the future USA is a culture that celebrates ignorance and penalizes people for sounding intelligent.

      • Ian

        I’ve said this before, and been derided before by other educated folks. I’m not a flippant person into silly or crass comedy. But I think Idiocracy is one of the most politically significant movies I’ve seen.

        As James says, different dystopias lie along many paths. The world of Idiocracy is much more realistic, from where we are now, than 1984.

  • Chris Crawford

    …but in all seriousness, I see the U.S. becoming more and more authoritarian. This was inevitable no matter the result, but my feeling is it will be accelerated by Trump.

    I think we’re a long way from being a classic dystopia, and there’s plenty of opportunity to turn things around.

  • Phil Ledgerwood

    I think there’s a distinction to be made between the dystopia we’re in -now- versus the dystopia we are -becoming-. The Thunderdomization of Kansas has been going on for a few years, now, and I’m thinking the rest of the country will catch up pretty rapidly.

    • Ian


      Can you explain?

      • Phil Ledgerwood

        The process through which a community becomes more like the Thunderdome from the Mad Max movies.

  • Randy Morton

    Why was Trump elected? Folks are tired of being accused of hating
    various assorted groups of people, when in reality they only hate the
    Washington Establishment on BOTH sides of the aisle. They didn’t vote
    against blacks, mexicans, muslims, gays, or anyone else, they voted
    against the corrupt establishment. In their eyes, right or wrong,
    Hillary personally represented that establishment and that corruption
    in this election. There was also a strong vote against “Political
    Correctness”. Many people are tired of being told that an
    opinion must be silenced because someone, somewhere, somehow, might
    whine about it. One of the founding principles of this nation was
    freedom of expression. Silencing an opponent with cries of “I’m
    offended” should be abhorrent to any who love this country.
    Voting for a corrupt, or even someone under such heavy suspicion of
    being corrupt, should also be abhorrent. The two major political
    parties gave the nation a choice of two bad candidates. One of those
    candidates spoke out, loudly and at length, against the things that
    people were ready to rally against. The people didn’t vote for Trump,
    they voted against a system. Currently, we have people openly calling
    for the assassination of the President Elect. Is it because he’s done
    something wrong, or is it because they want his opinion silenced?
    Yes, gentlemen, the idiocracy is out there, but it isn’t just the
    people you’re crying against. It’s far more pervasive than you’re
    willing to admit. If this nation falls into dystopia, it won’t be
    because “one of them” was elected. It will be because all
    of us have failed ourselves. If the Democratic party had nominated
    anyone besides Hillary, they’d have won in a landslide. She had too
    much baggage to be electable. If the Republicans had nominated anyone
    beside Trump, and especially if they had nominated a qualified woman,
    they would also have won in a landslide. If the nation hasn’t learned
    a valuable lesson from this election, then the idiocracy will
    eventually reign supreme, and rightfully so.

    • You are absolutely right that people crying for Trump’s assassination are no better than Trump when he said that the 2nd amendment supporters have ways of dealing with a candidate that doesn’t support their gun rights. But I fail to see how voting for someone whose rhetoric about Mexicans, Muslims, and many others has been xenophobic sends a message about being tired of Washington politics without also sending the message that you support the kinds of things that the candidate you voted for says.

      • Randy Morton

        Selective hearing has always been both a blessing, and a curse. A large number of voters heard one message, but not the other.

  • arcseconds

    One thing that’s struck me about reporting I’ve seen is how much conspiracy theories and similar styles of thinking seem so prevalent. Particularly among Trump supporters, but also Bernie supporters, and it’s not like Clinton supporters are free from it either.

    One article I read about visiting a town in an economic slump that had moved from supporting Obama to Trump mentioned that people were talking about secret paramilitary organisation (or something) and the Illuminati quite casually. Lots of “I heard that…” followed by a conspiracy theory, and nodding.

    When I was reading a blog comment describing this kind of thing it suddenly struck me that, in fact, there are big similarities with this kind of conspiracy theory thinking and thinking that disasters are the act of the gods that are displeased.

    In both cases, it seems to me, what is being sought is a narrative that makes sense of the bad things or undesirable state of the world in terms of powerful agents who are acting deliberately to make you, personally, worse off. And one can take this even further and see enthusiasm for a politician who will make this all better as akin to religious devotion to a patron god: enthusaistic worship will save you.

    We just have enormous difficulty accepting a world which is just arbitrarily, impersonally difficult, where there are no quick fixes or saviours, that requires continual effort and vigilance on our behalf.

    • arcseconds

      I’m also kind of surprised I hadn’t worked this out before…

    • This point actually came up in my class, where a liberal-leaning student complained about the media, disenfranchisement and marginalization in ways that sounded like a mirror image of what one hears from Trump supporters!

      • arcseconds

        One of the difficulties is… I think it’s pretty clear that the media is kind of biased in certain respects, and seeks easy but engrossing narratives, and people are being disenfranchised and marginalized in various ways, so there’s not a simple “no that’s all rot it’s all fine” kind of answer you can give.

        • Indeed! The good news is that, although it takes a conscious decision and a concerted effort, we can consult other media narratives, hear other perspectives, and empathize with rather than demonize those others.