Examples of fictional dystopian communities include Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and the Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale based on Margaret Atwood’s novel. The term dystopia, first used around 1950, refers to an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives. Only an American in deep denial would fail to recognize an accurate description of our 21st century community.
Artists, often intuitive and prescient, not only “feel” what’s going to happen but what is already happening. In his essay The Devil Finds His Work (1976) James Baldwin refused to be in denial; he had personally experienced the dark and dystopian dimension of his community. “The civilized have created the wretched, quite coldly and deliberately, and do not intend to change the status quo; are responsible for their slaughter and enslavement; rain down bombs on defenseless children whenever and wherever they decide that their ‘vital interests’ are menaced, and think nothing of torturing a man to death: these people are not to be taken seriously when they speak of the ‘sanctity’ of human life, or the ‘conscience’ of the civilized world.” (1) Yep. That’s us!
We should only read those books that bite and sting us.
We have all witnessed some or maybe even all of what Baldwin describes somewhere in the world this past week or month. However, the reality of today’s American Dystopia is actually worse than even Baldwin could have imagined. There are a thousand targets upon which to cast the blame for our dilemma including a technology nonexistent in Baldwin’s day. “But now you just need to sign onto Facebook to find yourself in a behavior modification loop which is the con. And this may destroy our civilization and even our species.” (2)
Even Henrik Ibsen’s political drama “An Enemy of the People” (1882) foreshadowed America’s implosion. “The political drama—about a scientist who tries to save his town from water pollution [think Flint Michigan], only to wind up as a scapegoat—is being revived in several new productions across the United States.” (3)
In Ibsen’s play, the voice of the scientist/hero, the voice of reason, falls on deaf ears much as those scientists warning of global warming are being ignored today. The frustrated protagonist yells: “The most dangerous enemies of truth and freedom are the majority! The common people are nothing more than the raw material of which a People is made!” (3)
Robert Falls, the artistic director of the Goodman Theater in Chicago says that the hero, Stockman, was not pessimistic about the future of the human community. “He believes people could be transformed, be made better.” (3) So do we! Follow the link below to see how.
Insight # 33: Before we can choose to take our community in a different direction we will have to admit that we are currently making bad choices.
- See World View on this blog and in The ABC’s of Simple Reality, by Roy Charles Henry, May 2018.
- Baldwin, James. The Devil Finds Work. New York: Bantam, 1976, page 19.
- Dowd, Maureen. “Grifters Gone Wild.” The New York Times. May 27, 2018, page 9.
- Shteir, Rachel. “In the Trump Era, One ‘Enemy’ Isn’t Enough.” The New York Times. March 11, 2018, page 5.