According to the Oxford Dictionary online, dystopia is:
An imagined state or society in which there is great suffering or injustice, typically one that is totalitarian or post-apocalyptic.
I imagine that nearly everyone is familiar with this term, since it seems to be the basis for pop culture’s fascination with all things dark, frightening, and otherwise unpleasant. The fact is, fear, ugliness and horror are extremely popular commodities in our society, as the market clearly shows. I find this fact exceedingly sad, and what’s even sadder is the thought that it will probably only get worse before it gets better.
Thing is, we currently live in a society that is not imagined, in which there exists great suffering and injustice, and is halfway to totalitarian right now. The arguably added dimension to all of this is the utter confusion which swirls around us all like some sort of vortex of doom that no one can fully name or explain. I am currently in a bad habit of reading the New York times online daily (and I admit some days several times), in an effort to understand what actually is happening here on Earth. It feels like we are in a collective reality show that is badly written, badly acted, and has falling ratings. Can’t we just fire these clowns and hire some folks to write us a better collective story, with some humor and nuanced acting?
I read a great essay by Shaun Chamberlin, posted in Resilience.org this week that struck a deep chord within my soul. (https://www.resilience.org/stories/2019-01-29/realists-of-a-larger-reality/)
“What is necessary, that we might have a future? First, let us consider what we face.
An economy so violently contrary to our human instincts and desires that it leaves epidemics of depression, loneliness and suicide everywhere it goes. That uses mass media and financial stress to hollow our souls and seize control of both our days and our hearts, sparking not only economic and environmental devastation, but cultural and spiritual annihilation. Like villagers glancing fearfully up at the castle of some dauntingly powerful vampire, we live our lives under the shadow of the economy of undeath.
We owe this reality no allegiance. But we owe it respect. It is a worthy adversary, no doubt.
Yet its weak point is obvious. People straight up hate it. They hate their jobs and the materialist hollowness imposed on their lives. Nonetheless, as I grew up inside it the corporate media kept us blind to other possibilities, made it seem patently obvious – only common sense – that continuing to participate in this grim reality is the only realistic option.
But it’s a lie. And while a lie may take care of the present, it has no future. The truth is that it takes immense energy (of all kinds) to keep a population suppressed – to fight all our contrary impulses; to quieten our profound inner misgivings, our spark of creativity and rebellion.”
It seems that the times we are living through now have been foretold by science fiction writers of the 20th century, such as those classics some of us had to read in the name of literature back in high school English classes. Which begs the question: Did we create our current dystopian state of affairs because too many of us read those awful novels and the images went so far into our unconscious minds that we ended up creating them in physical reality fifty years later? Or what?
But, alas, it makes no difference how we got to the chaotic mess we are now in. The real question, as Chamberlin points out in his essay, is What can we do about it? The Beast of the apocalypse is alive, and every bit as hideously evil and grotesque as was described in the Book of Revelation. The zombies are here too, and the living dead, all walking around with their headphones or ear buds in, glued to their electronic devices, and hardly any of them dare to speak aloud while moving through the world any longer. The world has simultaneously become deafening and eerily silent. Humans are listening, but no longer to one another live and face-to-face. The hypnotizers have done such an excellent job of hypnotizing the masses that people can hardly function in society anymore. It’s an apocalypse of social structure, of common language, of basic humanity that we are now facing. Too many have taken the wrong pill, and those who haven’t, whose eyes and ears and voices are open, can see what’s happening and yet are helpless to change it. The world grows more confusing, anxiety-ridden and frightening by the day. Joy becomes narrower and more elusive to touch on the daily.
Towards the middle of his essay, Chamberlin advocates for a complete alternative to being in mainstream society. He gives a picture of hippies sitting on green grass, blissed out, probably high on substances of some kind or other, stating
“I am writing this article from my dear compañero Mark Boyle’s small community in Ireland, An Teach Saor (The Free House). It is a home from home for me, and one of many, many places around the world where the residents are making the logic of money and the market obsolete – abandoning it, before it abandons us. For example, the ‘free pub’ and bunkhouse here – The Happy Pig – is a place where anyone can stay, free of charge, and remember what it is to not have to find money simply to have a place to exist.
You may not have heard much about such places, because that suits the corporate media just fine. But awareness of their agenda brings an emboldening thought. Doubtless, for every bastion of hope and joy you hear of or encounter, there are a hundred more that you haven’t. It is a heartening multiplication that I regularly remind myself of; a counterweight to the mainstream media’s narrow, oppressive ‘realism’.”
It sounds lovely, indeed. In fact, lately I’ve also been pondering the merits of finding myself a bubble world to go inhabit for a while (the rest of my life?) where people are joyful, money and greed aren’t present or necessary, and nature is plentiful. Chamberlain assures us that these utopian places actually do exist, and it is possible to live very well within them. Still, I can’t help but wonder if that is really the best choice for helping the collective world to create a more positive future beyond capitalism. Shall the enlightened simply move out of the rat race that are global cities, and go find some hideaway in the mountains where we can simply be free, smoke marijuana, live off the grid, go vegan, have polyamorous relationships, and do our best to forget all the misery of the rest of humanity? It sounds pretty great in theory…but somehow I don’t think it will quite work out in reality.
It’s 2019, and things are crumbling. We know, deep down, that the world will not, literally CANNOT continue the way it’s been. Capitalism has destroyed the world with a continual, never-ending appetite for consumption. We have collectively bought into the model of greed and endless competition for the bottom line: Money is the world’s god now, no matter how nicely the marketing teams choose to phrase it. The world’s scientists told us last autumn that we, the people of Earth, have roughly 12 years to get it together and seriously change the way we operate, or life as we have known it will be over moving into the future.
It doesn’t get any plainer that this. And yet—Who is listening? Who is changing? I don’t mean light bulbs. Which major governments and corporations are actually making the kind of drastic changes needed to turn this apocalyptic submarine carrier around? 2030 is an eye-blink away.
If you would like a taste of Dark Optimism, watch this Youtube. It’s excerpts from a talk given by Jonathon Porritt and Shaun Chamberlin, describing David Fleming’s views on the world economy and its inevitable collapse.