Dystopia- Are We Living In it, Things You Need To know!
Dystopia is a term that is used for an imaginative state of suffering or injustice. It stands for a condition where people lead dehumanized and fearful lives. Literature has many novels based on the subject, for example, George Orwell’s- “1984”, “Animal Farm,” and Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Dystopian fiction has long been used to entertain users. And, now with changing times, many have started to believe that they are already living in a dystopian era.
However, it before believing anything it is important to ask questions. Questions like: has humanity completely left the ground, are we not having any civil rights, is the freedom of press suppressed by political leaders? To answer these and many more questions, let us look into some reality!
COVID-19 Changing Reality
With Covid-19 in the picture, dystopias featuring diseases, are now talk of the town. Netflix has reportedly seen a higher demand for “Outbreak,” “12 Monkeys,” and other such movies. This popularity might signify that people think they already live in a dystopia. The current reality of empty city squares, miles-long food pantry lines, and wild animals roaming on the streets surely suggests this.
Does this mean dystopia is here? The answer to this lies in the fact that dystopia is a powerful term and is also overused. It is used for any terrible times citizens face, which is technically not what dystopia means.
Political scientists do not deny the fact that things are bad, but they focus on how governments to act. If a government poorly handles a crisis, it is sure maddening and sometimes disastrous, but that does not mean dystopia.
A book named “Survive and Resist: The Definitive Guide to Dystopian Politics” argues that the definition of dystopia is political. It further states that dystopia is not real; it is a warning about something bad the government is doing or something good it is not doing. Actual dystopias are fictional, but real-life governments can be “dystopian,” which means they look a lot like fiction.
It is also true that defining a dystopia often starts with defining what a government should do. It establishes the characteristics of good governance like- protecting its citizens, preparing to guard against any natural and man-made horrors. Good governments use “legitimate coercion,” which is a legal force to which citizens agree to keep order and provide services like schools, national security, and roads. Legitimate coercion is your willingness to stop at a red light; you know it’s better for you and others in the long run.
Can Governments Be Perfect?
In reality, no government is perfect, but there are ways to judge the imperfection. Good governments or the ones least imperfect have a strong core of democratic elements that check the powerful and create accountability. They also include constitutional and judicial measures to check the power of the majority. The setup acknowledges the need for government and healthy skepticism of giving too much power to any one person or body.
Federalism is a division of power between national and subnational governments, and this proves to be a further check. In times like today, when the world is fighting a pandemic, this proves to be a useful and strong political player.
Dystopia Further Explained
Bad governments lack checks and balances, and often rules in the interest of the rulers than citizens. Citizens cannot participate in their governance. But dystopian governments use force, threat, and disappearance of dissidents to stay in power.
Indeed, there are countries that have faced one or the other kind of dystopia. Syria, for example, faced Assad’s murderously repressive regime, and Russia faced the silencing of dissent and journalism. This was the overly powerful government infringing on individual lives and liberties. Thus, it is safe to say that a few countries have or are facing the dystopian government, which is never going to benefit in the long run.
Fiction and Real Life
Political dystopia has often been seen in fiction, as it exaggerates behaviors, patterns, and trends to make it more visible. But the fiction relates to the real world. Orwell, while writing ‘1984’, had Hitler, Stalin, and Franco in mind. Atwood is known as the ‘prophet of dystopia’ defines dystopia as when “warlords and demagogues’ takeover, some forget that other people are humans, enemies are made and dehumanized. Minorities are persecuted; human rights are thrown in the bin.”
Nations like U.S. seem far from a dystopia; it still has a functioning democracy. Many in U.S. fight dehumanization and persecution of minorities and other such ill practices.
Crisis- An Opportunity
However, the world still has the warning that a major crisis can roll back democracy and curtail freedom rights. In Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a medical crisis is used as a pretext to suspend the constitution.
In real life, a crisis tends to do the same. For example, in Hungary, the pandemic has sped democracy’s unraveling. The legislature gave Prime Minister Orban the power to rule by sole decree indefinitely. The lower courts are suspended, and free speech is restricted. Similar dangers exist for any number of democratic countries where the governance is fragile.
But all is not bad yet; this crisis has made people come together in ways that were impossible a few months ago. Social capital is an important factor in any democracy. People are incredibly supportive and kind to each other. All in all, the fictional dystopia warns of preventable futures. It helps us to avert the fall of democracy.