Frightening prophecies: 6 ideas from dystopias embodied in reality
The essence of anti-utopia is to show what attempts to build an ideal world with strict rules and restrictions can lead to. These stories sometimes seem absurd and grotesque, and sometimes frighteningly prophetic. Lifehacker tells what has already been embodied.
1. Social rating
In the first episode of the third season of “Black Mirror” (“Dive”) they showed a world in which people give each other ratings not only in social networks, but also in real life. These ratings add up to the rating. Those who have it low turn into a rogue, can not buy a plane ticket or rent a house that they like.
Something similar is also described in the teenage dystopia of the Dutch writer Marlus Morshuis “Shadows of Radovar”. There, the rating is earned by exemplary behavior, hard work, good grades in school, loyalty to the rules. The number of points depends on whether the family lives in a normal apartment on the upper floors of a skyscraper or huddles in a basement cell without windows.
“Dive” was released in 2016, “Shadow of Radovar” - two years later. And then, in 2018, a social rating system was launched in several cities in China. This is a complex mechanism for assessing people that takes into account various parameters: how a citizen pays taxes, how he behaves on the Internet, what he buys, whether he complies with laws, and so on.
China announced the creation of the system even earlier, in 2014, so that writers and screenwriters could spy on the idea from the Chinese government. But then no one could have imagined the consequences would be so absurd. People, of course, are not sent to the basement because of low scores, but there were cases when they could not take a loan, buy real estate and even train tickets. Millions of Chinese have been subjected to various fines and penalties.
2. Reproductive technology and reproductive violence
In Aldous Huxley’s novel “Brave New World”, children are raised for nine months in a bottle - “bottle”, which moves slowly along the conveyor belt and into which at the different stages of the development of the fetus the necessary substances and medicines are introduced. In 1932, when the book was published, in vitro fertilization did not yet exist, and the first child conceived in vitro was born only after 46 years. And even more so then the artificial uterus, which can be considered a full-fledged analogue of a bottle from Huxley’s novel, has not yet been invented.
Now it is already possible to grow a premature lamb to the required term, and it will take about 10 years to develop a similar device for babies. It is not known whether human reproduction will turn into conveyor production, but in general, in his predictions, Huxley was surprisingly accurate.
Dystopias often affect the reproductive sphere and describe either new technologies or attempts by authorities to fully control childbearing. In many stories, in order to have a baby, you first need to get permission, which is given only if the person meets certain criteria. Recall at least “We” by Evgeny Zamyatin (a novel written in 1920) and “1984” by George Orwell (1948), the childish but rather curious dystopia “The Giver” (1993) by Lois Lowry and her film adaptation with Meryl Streep and Katie Holmes , the new series Through the Snow on Netflix.
In other anti-utopias, for example, in the 1986 novel “The Handmaid's Tale” by Margaret Atwood, the emphasis is on the fact that having a baby is not a privilege or a right, but a duty. You can’t avoid it: abortion is prohibited, women give birth by force.
In China, since the end of the 1970s, for 35 years there has been a state policy of "one family - one child." Abortions are prohibited in whole or in part in different countries, even if pregnancy and childbirth threaten the life of a woman or the baby was conceived as a result of violence or incest.
In countries where abortion is permitted, people do not always have the right to fully control their bodies. For example, in Russia under 35 years of age, medical sterilization cannot be done without certain conditions. In addition, abortion laws have recently been trying to tighten - both in Russia and in the United States. Activists who fight for women's rights put on red cloaks and white bonnets for the handmaids from the Atwood novel - and thereby draw quite understandable parallels between the plot of the book and real events.
3. Mood modulators
“Soma grams - and no dramas,” Huxley's heroes repeated, taking soma tablets. This narcotic substance improved mood and made us forget about problems. In Philip Dick’s 1968 novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (true, this is not a complete anti-utopia) and a mood modulator is described at all, in which you can choose the subtlest shades of emotions like “business attitude to work” or “desire to watch any TV show”.
All this resembles antidepressants, which are now available to almost anyone, sometimes even without a prescription. In the United States, back in 2017, they began testing “mood chips” that affect the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, and therefore, emotions. It is believed that such devices will help control mental illness. But who knows if they will one day become a dope that allows you to always remain efficient, sociable and positive.
4. Tracking and control
This is one of the pillars on which any totalitarian state stands, which means that the tracking of characters in one form or another is present in almost every dystopia. The most striking canonical example is the "television screens" from "1984". They not only broadcast propaganda, but also continuously watched every human action.
In reality, such a device does not exist, but there is something similar. These are smartphones, tablets, smart speakers and other gadgets. They store our contacts and personal data, collect information about preferences and purchases, about the sites we visit, and about the places we visit. Who and how uses all this information, we sometimes do not fully know.
On the one hand, data is needed to show ads that will be of interest to us, or to form a smart news feed. On the other hand, social networks have already been convicted of in secret cooperation with intelligence agencies, and laws sometimes directly oblige law enforcement agencies to provide information about users. In this sense, we are not too different from the heroes of Orwell, except that we give information to Big Brother voluntarily.
5. Scheduled walks
In May 2020, when Muscovites walked on schedule due to self-isolation, they ironized a lot on this topic, but something similar was already in the books. In the novel Shadows of Radovar, residents of the metropolis are almost not allowed to leave the skyscrapers, because nature is dirty and dangerous, and walks cause illness. Heroes spend in the park no longer than an hour a week according to a special schedule, which is made taking into account the house number and social status.
Similar stories are in other works. At Zamyatin, the One State is separated from nature by the Green Wall, which is forbidden to go beyond. In the books of Orwell, Huxley and Bradbury, the state does not approve of walking, because a person who walks slowly and spends time alone, clearly has the opportunity to think and analyze the situation.
In the anti-utopia Lois Lowry “Giver”, weak children and older people are excluded from the life of society in order to maintain its level at the same level and so that literally everyone benefits. In the little-known anti-utopia of the 1891th-century American politician Ignatius Donelly “Caesar's Column” (XNUMX) there are special institutions where anyone can voluntarily die.
Often, writers intentionally exaggerate in books, but in reality, something similar is already happening. Iceland may be the first country where children with Down syndrome will not be born. If this pathology is found in the fetus, pregnancy is terminated in most cases. Of course, with the consent of the woman, but not without some pressure from the doctors and the state as a whole. Icelandic geneticist Kari Stefansson believes that there is nothing wrong with “inspiring people to give birth to healthy offspring”, but, in his opinion, doctors give “hard advice” on genetics and thus influence decisions that go beyond medicine.
In several countries - the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and Canada - euthanasia is allowed, or rather, "assisted death" at the request of a person. De jure, he needs to experience unbearable suffering that cannot be dealt with. But the de facto boundaries of the concept of “unbearable suffering” began to erode gradually: it included not only fatal and painful diseases, but also depression.
In the Netherlands in 2016, a discussion arose on the topic of whether it is worthwhile to allow euthanasia to those who consider their life expectancy sufficient, that is, mainly to older people who are simply tired of living.
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