Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Visions of the Things To Be

"It is in men that we must place our hope," said Gandalf.

"Men. Men are weak. The race of men is failing. The blood of Numenor is all but spent, its pride and dignity forgotten.," replied Elrond.  - From The Fellowship of the Ring (movie)


I have long been enamored of dystopian literature. This began, I think, when my 11th grade teacher gave me her copy of Alas Babylon, by Pat Frank. Written in 1959, the book is considered one of the top 100 science fiction books. The story is about the effects of a full-blown nuclear war on a small town in Florida, widening out to encompass bits about the loss of the U.S. government (the office of president falls to the Secretary of Health, so many of the top officials are wiped out) and the total breakdown of societal mores.

The human race survives, of course, but the banks close, the prisoners break free, small vigilante groups pop up - and only communities that come together, like the one in the book, manage to survive with any semblance of ethics and humanity.
The book particularly impacted me with the need for certain dietary items, such as salt. Even today I keep far too many boxes of salt in the pantry. I also tend to hoard toilet paper. Not that I think it will do me any good, mind you. It just brings me some small solace.

In this book, the Soviet Union, which no longer exists, of course, sends the bombs to the U.S., but the war is a result of an incident in the Middle East started by an American fighter pilot who accidentally bombs an ammunitions hold in Syria.

I read this around the time we were negotiating hostages with the Middle East. This was, I think, the first time I'd managed to merge literature and world events and see, with scared eyes, that we have the ability to annihilate ourselves.

Later, when I was around 23, I read A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter Miller. It was written in 1960 (those years were Cold War years), and it was actually a post-nuclear war novel, showing how humanity might fall and then rise again to its peak, only to destroy itself all over again.

Dystopian movies abound. From Batman to Blade Runner to The Hunger Games to Mad Max and The Matrix movies, the destruction of society has been ingrained in our psyche for a very long time, both in word and on screen.

Now we all watch to see if the books are right. Will we plunge ourselves into war, whimpering as psychotic men in power tweet their way into death and destruction? Because they likely will live, those whose hands might pull the trigger or push the button. The rest of us are expendable. Never mind that they stand upon our backs, and once we fall, they eventually will, as well. They are incapable of thinking beyond their next trip to the golf course.

I tried for a very long time to believe the best of people. Nobody really wanted to hurt someone. Men didn't really hate women. Color really didn't matter to most people. Gender wasn't an issue. Ignore, ignore. Reality constantly slapped me in the face and knocked me to the ground, but, even though I can't think of a single utopian novel or movie at the moment that actually ends with a wonderful society for all, I still believed in the best of people.

My visions for tomorrow are not carefree. I do not believe that things will get better - only worse - as time moves forward. I am watching the rise of white supremacy - something that three years ago I would not have considered - and the decline of women's rights. I'm watching an increasingly wealthy upper class turn its backs on those who labor day in and day out simply to feed a family or keep a roof over a head. I see a lot of talk and media ops, but no action that honestly puts work in the hands of the many who want it, desire it, and would like to have it.

I see dystopia. I see, not Waterworld, but The Postman, as the U.S. breaks down as a cohesive society and becomes a divided militant bone-headed giant, one with military clout but third-world living conditions for the majority of its people. We already have many third-world places here, particularly in the southern states, which for reasons that elude me totally, continue to harbor people who vote against their own self-interest at every single election.

The world to come is not a world I will be able to share in. I will be dead - I won't be able to breathe the poisoned air, created by loss of regulations on industry, or I will have a disease that I won't be able to afford to cure because we worship money here. We surely do not abide by the words of the one many call Savior.

Even the Bible is dystopian - it ends with Revelations, a thousand years of evil before becoming some heaven on earth through some mythic magic by our mythical god.

To be honest, I think the total decline of real Christianity in this country is one of the saddest things I've seen. Jesus offered us so much, and it has become so twisted as to be unrecognizable. What I hear and see preached today I do not call Christianity, because it is all about money, greed, and power - the very opposite of the things the New Testament stands for. I fear that when, as in Revelations, the great devil comes, its name will be America. We are an angry, frustrated and scared people, and people with that kind of mind are not able to make good decisions. Nor are they able to offer empathy, or care for others, or, I'm afraid, stop their own inevitable destruction.

The rest of the world fears our downfall, though some are eagerly awaiting it. When we go down, we will take many down with us. Whether that downfall ends in weapons play that annihilates millions, or simply the freefall of society that capitalism and the free market is determined to bring about, remains to be seen.

Either way, we lose.

We have reached our peak, I fear. The fall backwards will not be kind.

1 comment:

  1. On the other hand, there is the way the villagers of Eyam reacted to the ending of their world. No outbreak of violent panic. No rampage through the surrounding countryside. No putting of individual survival before the general good. Humanity is capable of better than the vicious self destruction portrayed in so many dystopian visions of the apocalypse.


    I think "end of the world" stories like Walking Dead would run a different course if we assumed people behaved with the nobility and self sacrifice of the people of Eyam.


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