Below is a piece that I began working on back in January (2017). I never really had an outline for it, though I did go back and edit it every couple months for a while. At this point I’m done with it, and I figure, why not just put it out there and let whoever make of it what they will. So here you go:
Fear can be a most powerful tool, and effectively used, it can manipulate the opinions of a population.
Probably it’s the reason writers and filmmakers often utilize it in the form of dystopian texts. Everyone can name at least a couple: 1984, Children of Men, Brazil (arguably the same as 1984), Fahrenheit 451, The Handmaid’s Tale.
The fear here is relevant, showing parallels between the society depicted and the one we’re currently living in, and further the way our society could turn towards that being depicted. Centering on how authorities use fear to control, the texts demonstrate similarities between the real world and the fiction*; read in posterity these texts go beyond that and in fact directly refer to actual events**.
These dystopias stick with people, not just because of their powerful and affective execution, but because they contain ideas to grapple with, consider and reflect upon, see for what they are and where they may lead.
“War is Peace” is effectively the same as “Freedom Isn’t Free.”
Anyone who’s read Orwell’s 1984 will recognize the first slogan, and most people, at least Americans, will recognize the latter, as it’s become catch phrase used to justify war. Both use the idea of something the public wants to coerce them into thinking that the extreme cost is not only necessary, but is the only means of achieving it.
The irony of “Freedom isn’t Free,” is that the American people haven’t had their freedom challenged by an external force in a great many years, and that the cost of the wars waged, even just the wars America has been involved with since 1950, in all respect of human lives–life, physical and mental health, re-adjusting to societal life–has been excessive for all involved; from soldiers, to their friends and families alone. This is all before we consider the effects of all this on the local communities directly impacted, typically in countries with higher rates of poverty.
The opposite side of this brand of fiction, simply put, doesn’t give the reader any of these things. Instead it relies on the reader’s ability to imagine the possibilities, to have hope, to believe in a better way, to think in ideal terms. While this is something that can affect people, it doesn’t do so as effectively.
If it did, we probably wouldn’t need the fictions to see the positive results of restructuring systems in order to create a greater more unanimous happiness among the citizens of the world. Currently, we can point to many other nations that have stronger systems and their correlation to the quality of life their citizens lead. Nations that provide free health care and college tuition, housing for the homeless, de-criminalization of drug-related offenses, removal of capitol punishment, better care for those on maternity/paternity leave, safe spaces for those with mental health issues, to name a few. Empirical evidence exists that the programs and systems result in the improved overall happiness of citizens; but the places that have social safety nets like these and programs of support for people, are uncommon.
Somehow, many governments have managed to convince people that these things would be bad for them, on an individual level. People are lead to believe that they will one day become one of the wealthy and when they do, they’ll regret ever supporting something that allows for the “lower classes,” repurpose the money they earned, worked their whole lives to achieve.
Most people likely couldn’t name a utopian text. For the reasons outlined above, they often don’t stick with people or gain the traction that dystopias do. The only ones I can think of are a book called Herland and another called The Dispossessed. The latter I haven’t read yet.
At the center of utopian societies, as depicted in fiction, is often an egalitarian philosophy, the idea that all are equal and whatever is best for everyone ought to be the practices followed by all. Somewhat problematically, readers don’t often connect with this mode of thought, because most people don’t inherently believe that all people are equal. At least, this is not a baseline that I believe most people believe start from, though this isn’t something that I believe people are born with; it is learned. Given the structure of our current society, one with systems and hierarchies cemented in place, and that people are born and raised in certain sectors of these systems, a person’s ability to develop beliefs that contradict those of the system in which they were raised is nearly impossible. It requires a strenuous effort to come to conclusions that stand outside of what you experience every day.
When I was in high school, I had a guidance counselor who told me a story about her take on racism (in America) and how her understand evolved. When she was in college she was wearing a shirt that said “Color Blind.” At some point she was approached by a friend of hers who was black, who had pointed out that she shouldn’t feel that way. The way she should feel, were it to be expressed on a t-shirt, is “Color Recognition and Acceptance.”
I don’t know how either of those reductive sentiments would sound to people who aren’t white, and the last thing I want to do is write about racism from the victim’s point of view; what I would like to note is that all white people are racist, by means of social conditioning. So, as this relates to the shirt anecdote, what’s important is recognizing your own conditioning and actively working against it. Almost everyone I’ve met has stories about their racist uncle, cousin, grandparent, etc.
As this relates to the conditioning of the masses to stand for or against a particular plan, law, bill, movement, cultivating this fear and/or hatred of other people, is part of the plan; not dissimilar to George Carlin’s take that could be extrapolated to this end: “The rich have all the money, pay none of the taxes; the middle class have none of the money, pay all of the taxes; and the poor are just there to scare the shit out of the middle class.”
This is beginning to turn into a sort of conspiracy theory. What’s the point? The rich run the country, and they do this by convincing the masses that they’re either better or worse than another group of people, who are constantly striving to become one of the elites who make decisions. In addition to the hatred and fear that is spread, there’s this idea that someone with the right amount of elbow grease can work their way up to the top.
It’s easier to govern a largely homogenous population, and even easier when the population is a relatively small number of people overall. It’s pretty easy to see even on a smaller scale, really–bring a gathering of four friends together and determine where to spend the evening. Normally a consensus will be made relatively quickly. But, bring a gathering of 20 friends together, and it will probably be harder. There will be branch-offs, people who just go home, some want to go see a movie, others to a bar, some people don’t drink alcohol so want to go to a cafe, diner or someone’s house…It’s much harder, the larger the group of people your dealing with is.
**see the drugs in Brave New World, the government spying on citizens in A Scanner Darkly, and the mind-surveillance in 1984.