America’s Future is Dystopia

by lizard

Thanks to Netflix, I’ve had a crash course in the dystopian narratives that have dominated the American cultural landscape for the last 5 years. It started with Breaking Bad. From there, I moved on to The Walking Dead, House of Cards, and now Sons of Anarchy.

The popularity of these serial narratives suggests a collective catharsis for the anxiety I think most of us feel about the future. Corruption, violence, and deceit have become the bedrock of our institutions. The hope of 2008 has been obliterated. Where do we go from here?

For too many, we descend into fear and anger, potent emotions that suspend rational thought.

I watched the December 16th City Council meeting again on MCAT, and Dick Haines spoke at length about the fear of his constituents, and his own unsettling emotions when in the proximity of “those people” the council voted 7-3 to keep from sitting/sleeping/lying on the sidewalks of downtown Missoula. Fear seemed to be the dominant theme, something I tried to understand in this post written the day after the council meeting.

We are descending, as a country, into a very dark place. This descent is not unknown. Dr. Lawrence Britt, for example, describes 14 characteristics that are becoming unsettling familiar in America:

1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism

2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights

3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause

4. Supremacy of the Military

5. Rampant Sexism

6. Controlled Mass Media

7. Obsession with National Security

8. Religion and Government are Intertwined

9. Corporate Power is Protected

10. Labor Power is Suppressed

11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts

12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment

13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption

14. Fraudulent Elections

We are not immune in America from repeating the mistakes of countries like Germany, Spain, and Italy. I am intentionally not using the F-word the 14 characteristics describe because I think readers of this blog know what I’m talking about.

Take number 3. Fighting Communism used to be the unifying cause for America. When the Soviet Union collapsed, there was a real risk of losing that potent boogeyman, so terrorism—a tactic, not an ideology—took the place of Communism after the attacks of September 11th.

I think we, as Americans, need to pay closer attention to how a damaged economy and fear can combine to justify targeting specific populations for removal.

A few months ago I linked to this article about how Columbia, South Carolina, tried to address their chronic homeless population:

City council members in Columbia, S.C., recently voted unanimously to criminalize homelessness.

Concerned that Columbia has become a “magnet for homeless people,” and that businesses and the area’s safety are suffering as a result, council members agreed on Aug. 14 to give people on the streets the option to either relocate, or get arrested, according to the city’s “Emergency Homeless Response” report.

Cooperative homeless people will be given the option to go to a remote 240-person bed emergency shelter, which will be open from September to March. The shelter will also be used as a drop-off for people recently released from prison and jail, too.

A hotline will be set up for passersby to “report” a homeless person that needs to be removed, additional police will be dispensed to monitor the streets and vans will escort the homeless to the shelter.

Fear and economic decline can be exploited, and “good” citizens can be brought along to do awful things. If you are offended at my comparison of targeting homeless people for removal with Nazi Germany, good. Fear is opening a door that we are willingly walking through, without stopping and really thinking about the big picture dynamics creating the environment of joblessness and hopelessness where addiction and mental illness fester.

2014 will be more of the same, further descent into a dystopia of cruelty and exploitation. Sorry if that’s bleak and depressing, but that’s where I’m at right now. I don’t think anything can change the path we’re on. I hope I’m wrong.

  1. Big Swede

    You’re not wrong. We’re in the words of Tolkien, “The Long Defeat”.

  2. Greg Strandberg

    People are more powerful than they think. The government is the people’s bitch, and sometimes you’ve got to tighten that leash and be strict. You know how powerful you are and how much you can make that seemingly unwieldy animal to do what you want.

    There’s so much potential right now for sensible people to take the reins of government and make it do what they want. People are so sick of it, but more they’re just sick of not having a voice.

    No one on Capitol Hill making $170,000 a year can in any way identify or speak for any of those people, and that’s why this Senate race in MT is such a joke – just having that job puts you so far above the concerns of the people you represent that there’s no way you can represent them. It’s a sham.

    And the beautiful thing is you know this. You hate political ads and yet that’s all the parties can come up with each cycle. You know this doesn’t work, and you know there’s a better way. They don’t.

    You know that things aren’t getting better and that this recession they keep saying is gone hasn’t gone anywhere. You’re not stupid, so why do they keep acting like you are?

    You know it’s not right that you’re worrying about paying the rent now that you’ve decided to put Christmas presents under the tree while on Wall Street they’re giving out bonuses that your representatives helped make possible with the shifty language and jive talk they’ve employed to work you over.

    You know the system is rigged against you. You know your future will be worse than your parents. You know that you’ll always have that cloud of stress and depression hanging over your head that only an insurmountable and sustained mountain of debt can produce.

    And yet you have hope, because you know that a well placed comment can unravel a carefully and expensively constructed campaign. You know that the limitless bankroll of the corporations can come to a standstill in the face of pure public apathy. And you know that there is no controlling the message today, that anyone can talk, and does, and that sometimes the machine is force to stop as the people tending it stop to listen.

    And you know that this whole wave of scum and filth will just be washed out on the very tide that brought it in. If nothing else they’ll just get too old, decrepit, and incontinent to stop you.

  3. NamelessRange

    I think pessimism is justified, but also inflated. In the last 60 years pessimism has always justified, the fall being only a button push away – still is. Yet, here we are, and despite some terrible societal trends, good things are happening if we allow ourselves to include them in our summation of where the world is heading. I would say that many of the trends from the list above are in fact on the decline(1?,2,7,8,11,14?, or are simply bugs in human psychology that have existed since the dawn of civilization: Nationalism/Cronyism=Tribalism). That’s certainly no excuse for their continued existence.

    Wealth disparity has become ridiculous, yet there is a lower proportion worldwide of people in extreme poverty than ever before.(Its worth noting:
    The difference between Extreme Poverty/Just Poverty = Arbitrary)

    We are also living in the most peaceful time in recorded history. Peaceful being that your chances of dying due to violence have never been so low. (See Steven Pinker’s exhaustive “The Better Angels of Our Nature”.)

    The economist Tyler Cowen predicts a dystopian near-future, followed by a largely utopian far-mode view. And a million other predictions exist. Information exchange, which dictates a significant portion of human behavior, is changing rapidly, and almost exponentially. I actually have some hope. I just think a lot of the old guard needs to die off before significantly good things come to fruition. Here’s to hoping.

  1. 1 Liz’s Poetry Series: American Horror Story | 4&20 blackbirds

    […] wrote this cheery post about dystopian narratives late last year, mentioning specifically The Walking Dead, House of Cards […]

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