Dystopias: Couldn’t We Have Just *One*?

Many years ago, at a family get together, one of my older brothers was leafing through a magazine.

“Says here that the three biggest male turn-offs for women are smoking, sweating, and being fat.”

He closes the magazine and puts it down.

“I could have lived with 2 out of 3.”

The two great 20th century dystopias – Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World – paint what seem to be very different pictures: In 1984, all but a very few live in a state of constant fear of a conscience-free elite. The rules are arbitrary yet must be enthusiastically embraced if you want to get along or even survive. This includes as a primary feature using language – Newspeak – that prevents all attempts to honestly address reality. Mere failure to use Newspeak is a Thoughtcrime in and of itself, subject to unlimited punishment.

Huxley’s future looks to be a paradise: everyone is healthy, attractive, gainfully employed – and can get all the sex they want whenever they want. Sure, some people have to do the dirty work, but they have been prepared from the mechanical womb to do their jobs without complaint. Nobody has to bother with raising children, and no one gets old – a result achieved by the expedient of simply dropping dead once they turn 60. Hey, small price to pay. No time alone, a place for everything and everything in its place. And all the sex you want. Marriage, natural birth, parenthood, and pregnancy are considered too obscene to be mentioned in casual conversation.

Those few who for whatever perverse reasons prefer family and independence – well, they are savages living out on the reservation. You can even visit them to gawk, if you want.

Did I mention all the recreational sex you could ever want?

I could have lived with 1 out of 2.

Per Orwell, we have an ever growing and essentially arbitrary list of approved and condemned words and phrases. People of color is in; colored people is out. Calling someone a man or a woman is fraught with risks – you could trigger some poor special butterfly’s carefully inculcated Pavlovian ‘take offense’ reaction. Personal responsibility is a shibboleth in polite company, worthy of air quotes and condemning the unwary user to be cast into the outer darkness with other double-plus-ungood-ists, while talking about the power dynamic is a signal that all is well and we need not fear the intrusion of reality into the conversation.

Sex is about the only sacred good left. To so much as suggest that anyone’s sexual desires are anything other than holy is to invite the most violent personal condemnations. And now that the ‘right to die’ has breached the social suicide barriers, all that is left to ensuring universal health and beauty and goodness is to make clear that there are many people who, due to age or other infirmities (such as not seeing the glorious goodness of euthanasia) may not recognize that they want to die – they are clearly incapable of the choice – so we’ll make it for them, for their own good.

The only 20th century dystopia we seemed to have dodged is the post-nuclear war scenario. I’m grateful for that, at least.


Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

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