A concept that has proved very popularity within science fiction is that of the dystopian world. They're anti-utopias, dark visions of society. And the more I read about them, the more I think about their opposite. Utopia. How would they function? What would they resemble? How people would act? But I’ve recently come to a very important and revolutionary conclusion. Utopias do not – and more importantly cannot – exist.
A utopia is defined as a visionary system or state of political and/or social perfection. On the surface, it sounds ideal; who wouldn’t want to live in a perfect world? Except humanity isn’t perfect. We are an imperfect race. It isn’t within our capacity to live together in harmony. The differences that define us, that make us who were are, are at the root of our every conflict with one another. Religion, politics, race, ideology – we’re all different in some way. And these differences make us unique individuals. But our differences also tear us apart. It not pretty, but it’s human nature.
In order to create the perfect conditions necessary for a utopian world, one without conflict or strife, we’d need to eradicate difference. This is the point where science fiction comes in, giving us an idea of what that would look like – only when difference is ultimately stamped out, the world becomes decidedly dystopian.
To start off with, in utopian societies everyone would ideally be equal to one another. But how do we accomplish equality when some people will always be smarter, or more athletic, or artistic, or beautiful? In Kurt Vonnegut’s famous short story “Harrison Bergeron”, citizens above average in any way are given handicaps – doled out and enforced by the Handicapper General – as an equalizer. People with exceptional intelligence wear radios that broadcast sharp noises to break up their thoughts, citizens with outstanding good looks wear masks, those that are strong must carry heavily weighted bags, etc. The result is a society of “equal” citizens, or so the government says. But what’s equal about maiming and punishing people for their innate extraordinary qualities? And really, at the heart of it, is there any way to ensure equality without causing harm? Equal opportunity, yes, but equality of intelligence or strength? Absolutely not.
Utopias are just illusions. They’re dreams that can never be realized. Dystopias, though. They’re very possible. Even probable in a way.
Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s comic book series V for Vendetta shows a more straightforward dystopian vision, reaching its objective in a fashion congruent with Vonnegut’s vision. Following a nuclear war that ends in social and political catastrophe, a fascist state has taken over, promising to restore stability and peace. But it’s not really a shelter they offer . . . it’s a cage. Because in order to maintain their control, to maintain tranquility throughout Britain, the hegemonic government “purifies” the country of anyone different. Anyone whose differences might cause them to rebel against the party – including black people, Jews, lesbians, and potential political activists. It’s forced samenesss to ensure passivity and acceptance.
Again society is faced with the total annihilation of difference in order to maintain a peaceful society. Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World, Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Lowry’s The Giver . . . these stories all tell us one thing. Utopias do not exist. The only recognizable vision is a dystopian one. Beware sameness disguised as equality. Beware the utopia.
This post is part of the Blogging A through Z Challenge 2012. My theme is (in case you didn’t already guess) science fiction. Stay tuned for the rest of the alphabet, and if you’d like to check in on the rest of the participants, simply click here.