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Dystopia: 02

February 10, 2010 1 comment

I am going to use extracts from the Wikipedia article on Dystopia to highlight something that most of you might have thought but probably never said out loud.  Detailed comments will be in another post of this series, so pay attention to the italicized parts of the excerpt.

So here it goes:

A Dystopia is often characterized by a authoritarian or totalitarian form of government. It often features different kinds of repressive social control systems, a lack or total absence of individual freedoms and expressions and a state of constant warfare or violence.

Don’t you think that sounds a bit like what we are living in today?

A dystopia starts with the desire to create a utopia.

Many dystopias found in fictional and artistic works can be described as a utopian society with at least one fatal flaw, whereas a utopian society is founded on the good life, a dystopian society’s dreams of improvement are overshadowed by stimulating fears of the “ugly consequences of present-day behavior.” People are alienated and mostly the individualism is restricted by the government.

Remember that a government-business tyranny (fascism) is not functionally different from a purely government tyranny.

Fictional dystopias may impose severe social restrictions on the characters’ lives, involving social stratification, whereby social class is strictly defined and enforced, and social mobility is non-existent. In the novel Brave New World’, by Aldous Huxley, the class system is prenatally designated in terms of Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons. In We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin, people are permitted to live out of public view for only an hour a day. They are not only referred to by numbers instead of names, but are neither “citizens” nor “people”, but “ciphers.”

Did you go to an ivy league or well known state university? What is your FICO score? Where is your biometric ID? Note that none of these embellishments have anything to do with reality, and their only purpose is to keep people in their place.

Some dystopian works emphasize the pressure to conform in terms of the requirement to not excel. In these works, the society is ruthlessly egalitarian, in which ability and accomplishment, or even competence, are suppressed or stigmatized as forms of inequality, as in Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron. Similarly, in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, the dystopia represses the intellectuals with particular force, because most people are willing to accept it, and the resistance to it consists mostly of intellectuals.

If you show innovativeness in school, you are a trouble maker. Intelligence and critical thinking bad, varsity sports and cleverness good.

Even more than freedom of religion, the concept of the family is under attack in fictional dystopian societies. In some of them, the family has been eradicated and continuing efforts are deployed to keep it from reestablishing itself as a social institution. In Brave New World, where children are reproduced artificially, the concepts “mother” and “father” are considered obscene. In other fictional dystopias, the institution of the family exists, but the State deploys great efforts to keep the family in its service. In some novels, the State is hostile to motherhood: for example, in Nineteen Eighty-Four, children are organized to spy on their parents; and in We, the escape of a pregnant woman from OneState is a revolt.

All dystopias work by depersonalizing, isolating and dehumanizing people. You are not a person or human being, just a employee or customer or case file number.

Fictional dystopias are commonly urban and frequently isolate their characters from all contact with the natural world. Sometimes they require their characters to avoid nature, as when walks are regarded as dangerously anti-social in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. In Brave New World, the lower classes of society are conditioned to be afraid of nature, but also to visit the countryside and consume transportation and games to stabilize society. A few “green” fictional dystopias do exist, such as in Michael Carson’s short story “The Punishment of Luxury”.

The illusion of control must be maintained.

The fictional dystopian governments and political systems can be of different forms, but commonly assert great power over the citizens, as depicted in Nineteen Eighty-Four as the authority to decree that Two + two = five; in the absence of such a clearly-defined political system controlling the world, chaos may occur.
In When the Sleeper Wakes, H. G. Wells depicted the governing class as hedonistic and shallow. George Orwell contrasted Wells’s world to that depicted in Jack London’s The Iron Heel, where the dystopian rulers are brutal and dedicated to the point of fanaticism, which Orwell considered more plausible.
Whereas the political principles on which fictional utopias (or “perfect worlds”) are based are idealistic in principle, intending positive consequences for their inhabitants,the political principles on which of fictional dystopias are based are flawed and result in negative consequences for the inhabitants of the dystopian world, which is portrayed as oppressive.

You will tow the official line, keep quiet and work yourself to death.

The economic structures of dystopian societies in literature and other media have many variations, as the economy often relates directly to the elements that the writer is depicting as the source of the oppression. However, there are several archetypes that such societies tend to follow. A commonly occurring theme is that the state is in control of the economy, as shown in such works as Ayn Rand’s Anthem, Lois Lowry’s The Giver, and Henry Kuttner’s short story The Iron Standard. .. .. In this context, big businesses often have far more control over the populace than any kind of government and thus act as governments themselves instead of businesses, as can be seen in the novel Jennifer Government and the movie Rollerball. This is common in the genre of cyberpunk, such as in Blade Runner and Snow Crash, which often features corrupt and all-powerful corporations, often a megacorporation.

In the end, it does not matter if you live in a bureaucrat controlled economy or rent seeking megacorporation run system.

More in another post on this topic.

Minimal Consumption Entitlement: 06

February 10, 2010 4 comments

One of the most popular reasons for opposing MCE is the illusion that certain jobs are intrinsically “productive”, and therefore the “productive” should not have to support the “unproductive””.

My counterpoint is:

Productivity is useless without consumption.

While certain jobs are doubtlessly more important than others for the continuation of civilization, the question that we have seldom asked ourselves is:

How will the “productive” earn anything for their productivity, if someone does not buy their “useful” product or service?

While previous generations had a demographic profile that increased the number of consumers with each generation, we can no longer do that. Waiting for markets like China and India to start consuming is futile as currency exchange rates and a savings oriented mentality (combined with investing in useless assets like real estate) ensure that they might not be big consumers anytime soon. Sure, the recent wave of lending in china has propped up the real estate and stock market there, but for how long?

Combine this situation with the rapid aging of the west and japan, loss of family formation, increased automation of unskilled (blue collar) and now white collar jobs (programing, medical services, chemical and electronic manufacture). Even services like medical diagnostics and translation are being affected and will ultimately be decimated by machines, especially when people cannot pay for overpaid doctors and translators.

Every productive job in this world can be automated, outsourced or underbid. So tell me:

What makes your job so special?

The simple answer to that question is: delusion. It is a lack of objectivity that makes people think that their jobs are special or secure. It is also delusion that makes people believe that their savings will grow faster than the real economy forever. Newsflash: It does not work that way!

The last 150 odd years did see a massive change in occupations, but there was always something else to move to. The population was much younger and growing. Technology created jobs almost as quickly as they disappeared. It seems that technology has reached a level where it can kill jobs faster than it can create them, at least with the current paradigm.

The current paradigm:

All jobs should create something useful immediately or within 2 years.

The reality is that a highly automated society requires more consumption rather than productivity. The ability of machines and technology to produce better and cheaper products or services is far larger than our ability to consume it by spending money earned through disappearing productive jobs.

We have to either create unproductive jobs that do not impede progress, or pay people to consume.

Most current government type jobs are both unproductive and bad for progress, as we are all well aware. But so are most private sector jobs.

It may be just easier to pay most people enough to live a decent life and do what they feel like doing.

Sure, some may decide to make the rest of their life a giant party, but others might follow vocations that interest them. Maybe they will create the next innovations in art, science, thought.. who knows? In any case, people who live mediocre but secure lives are not as criminally minded as those who have to struggle to have a basic human existence.

It cannot be any worser than what we are living in, or going to fall into, based on our current course.

I will post some more thoughts on MCE in an upcoming post.