This post is part 4 in the series The 5 ‘ Must Haves’ in a Dystopian Novel. If you haven’t read the other 3, they can be found HERE (Part 1), HERE (Part 2), and HERE (Part 3). Next week I’ll tackle the fifth ‘Must Have’ in Dystopian fiction, so stick around!
I mentioned in my previous post on the fourth dystopian must have, Loss of Self-Autonomy, that in order for a dystopian to be a true anti-utopia, the very antithesis of a utopia, one of the prerequisites is that the loss of self-autonomy must be socially normal. That means for the average person, normal is not having the freedom to be self-determinate with regard to the most fundamental properties we generally consider rights.
And in certain dystopians, as one saw among the Hitler Youth in WWII Germany, it could be likened to Stockholm Syndrome on a macro scale. Many of the people are incapable of accepting the fact that this is the new normal and, because the survival mechanisms of the human mind are a thing of wonder, will create any number of rationalizations in order to function within that normal – even when that normal goes against the most commonly accepted beliefs of moral law and right and wrong.
It’s incomprehensible to us that neighbors who lived next door to concentration camps could express disbelief that the atrocities of extermination were being carried out. Understandably so. We would like to think that none of us would be so inclined. We would cry aloud and join the rebels. We would risk having our families torn apart, getting shot by the SS, and getting our children sent to these death camps. Right? Right? Because it’s the right thing to do!
But would we? Many did not do the brave and heroic thing. Many are not heroes. Many just want their children to live and will do whatever it takes to ensure that they do. While humanity constantly surprises me with its extreme sacrifice in times of injustice, I am often as equally astounded by the number of people who are willing to go so far as to deny reality, or create their own, in order to maintain the fiction of stability and rationality.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The macro-Stockholm syndrome – that I am convinced any populace can fall victim too, Germany was no exception – was due to the indisputable police state of Nazi Germany. And like any other antithesis of a utopia, be it Nazi Germany, or Leninist Russia, a police state is a sine qua non.
How is it that it is idealistic fanatics who believe they could impose their utopian dream if only they were given the power to do it, are the ones who gain a cult following and then can inflame a nation to follow like lemmings? What magical conflux of events, talents, and social and economic activity allow for such a thing to occur?
These are questions for another time, but they do serve as an answer as to why it is that a dystopian premise requires a police state. Whomever it is that is the source of the dystopia, be it a single person or a collective governing body with fanatical ideals, requires the power to impose such a system from the top down. (You will recall that the first requirement of a dystopian is that it be an inorganic society The police state is the means by which this inorganic society is established and maintained. )
How that power is achieved need not even be detailed, but that it exists and that it imposes and asserts itself in order to artificially maintain the illusion of self-autonomy and the realization of idealization, is absolutely necessary.
It’s necessary because “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness….” All of which is to say, the freedom to pursue goods (e.g. to determine how we will raise our children, spend our money, what we will work toward, etc) is inalienable. Allow us to do that and acceptable government will naturally and organically arise by necessity.
I might also add that the Catholic Church under Pope Pius IX in 1931, made it very clear that private property was also a right, and it was defined specifically in opposition to communism.
Of course, one might easily craft a dystopian scenario premised on any given infringement of human rights, be it private property, or, in the case of The Ogress’ Son, an infringement of the right to scientific enterprise.
One might ask how or why it’s in any way efficacious to premise a dystopian novel on the infringement of the right to scientific enterprise. Consider, if you will, the frequent presumptions of the academic and scientific world. The world is, quite literally, their playground. While we like to think their innate sense of humanity would prevent them from doing anything which would pose a risk to humanity as a whole, there are no guarantees. Gone are the days when it would be virtually impossible for a single scientist to change the world within a few days.
Technology has so shortened the rate at which information travels, that we are capable of learning the latest news about what has happened in countries on the other side of the globe, within minutes. And this rate is directly proportionate to globally increased logistics. Necessity is the mother of invention. Poised as we were on the cusp of new technologies that would allow us to communicate faster than ever before, low and behold the car was born (trucking began) and then the airplane (and international flights).
Whereas one might have a hope of quarantining a local populace to prevent the spread of the plague as happened in Wormhill, Derbyshire in the 18th century, if we create a plague in our time, how much time and effort would it take to ensure that everyone was accounted for? Would we even have the man power and logistics to prevent a pandemic? Both the movies Outbreak, I am Legend, and the TV show, The Last Ship are premised on the disease outbreak scenario. Two of those are dystopic.
In The Ogress’ Son, a monster plague is not the source of everyone’s ills. The source is the response to the nuclear disaster that took more than 97%of the world’s population 200 years before the setting of the novel. To make a long story short, 200 years after this event, technology has gone from being regulated by the state, to being abrogated by the state. In other words, tinkerers and mechanics that start creating machines on their own will be prosecuted without mercy because technological pursuit is the prerogative of the state, in order to ensure that the world will never be devastated in such a way again.
The police state comes into play with the Metal Militia whose sole job it is to police the villages and cities for those who are illegally tinkering (stick) and to remove from the home and send to the capital any children who have an inclination toward mathematics or engineering (via a yearly contest where the family is rewarded – carrot).
I read an article recently that stated an old documentary from the 90s had interviews with the architects of the Berlin wall. Regarding why it was constructed, one of them said something to the effect that they had to construct it in order to make sure people stayed inside Russia to prove how wonderful the communist system was.
Or in the words of Hillary Clinton: “No. We just can’t trust the American people to make those types of choices … Government has to make those choices for people.” -Hillary to Dennis Hastert. I’ve Always Been a Yankee Fan.
In case you are wondering, I no longer believe dystopia is in some far off future. I believe it’s knocking on our back door.
What do you think? Can you think of a dystopian scenario where a police state isn’t present?
Edited to add:
I should mention that I am a bit of a luddite – not because technology is inherently evil, but because man is too frequently to abuse a good, or to create without discrimination for the sake of power or prestige. As examples of what I find to be rather disturbing developments: