The Lesson of Dystopia

One evening during the mid-1970s, I was a young homemaker cleaning the kitchen in my mobile home as the television buzzed along airing Soylent Green (1973). The movie, based on the book Make Room Make! Room! by Harry Harrison, is set in 2022 in New York City. Charlton Heston plays Detective Thorn. Crime and unemployment are rampant.

Apartments come with ‘furniture’ (a woman) if you think she goes with your decor. In this society, women serve no other function but providing pleasure for men. In the 1970s, women were protesting their objectified status as housewives and sexual subservients.

Today, women are the working and sexual equals of men. But do our lives have more purpose and meaning than they once did?

And what is Soylent Green?

Starving masses riot in the streets to get their share of it–a form of food.

That evening, the movie was background noise–a sense of company in the otherwise quiet trailer with my child sleeping and her father at work. Then Thorn began to yell. The volume came up on the background noise. (Spoiler alert.)

“It’s people!  Soylent Green is made of people!”

The moment froze for me. Was human life truly to become commodified?

Since my late-night encounter with cinematic dystopia, I’ve become somewhat of a connoisseur of the written form. Some of my middle-school students will delve into Lois Lowry’s The Giver soon. My high school students are getting ready to read Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World. They’ve already read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.  

I teach the high school course every other year. Each time as I approach back to school in an odd-numbered year, I’m astonished at how much more relevant the course material is than the last time I taught it. How much closer we’ve come to some feature in each of the societies these authors have depicted.

Each writer saw humanity’s future lack of meaning and purpose in a different light.

In 1966, Harrison saw the idleness of unemployment (voluntary or otherwise) and how it can lead to rampant crime.

Most of the people he depicted strive to find food to live, but in another way, they’re just waiting to die. They have survival instincts but no purpose.

In 1993, Lowry saw our disregard for life. Jonas’s father dispatches an infant who doesn’t fit in. This “caregiver” doesn’t even realize he’s committing murder. Life in Jonas’s world is about overcoming individuality, filling a role, doing a job. There is an outwardly imposed purpose, but no intrinsic meaning.

Today, we identify people largely by what they do. And we “send away” the children who don’t fit in via handicap or inconvenience to their deaths.

Writing in 1947, Orwell depicted Winston Smith, an everyman whose job is to revise history. He fills a role and is allowed to remain alive as long as he stays in his life lane. Winston experiences the ultimate in cancel culture by going his own way.

Culture-shapers cancel many today; the truth is hard to determine.

Bradbury wrote in the 1950s, imagining a time when no one reads. People view stories on their walls.

We don’t have rooms with television walls that surround us as Mildred Montag yearned to own. But we have televisions and screens in multiple rooms, separating ourselves from those closest to us.

We no longer talk about how much time children watch TV. We talk about their screen time as various devices engage their minds endlessly.

Huxley, writing in the 1930s, best depicts the role of women in a falsely egalitarian society. Sex is for fun as women work side by side with men. Forming families is outdated, even profane. Children are not born, only hatched in assembly-line factories. They are commodities, specially designed to fulfill a predetermined function. Citizens riot to get more Soma, a drug that deadens their sense of worthlessness.

Huxley’s work is an exaggeration of what occurs today. Surrogates produce children as we discard others in abortion. Production is not on a mass scale. The family unit is fading fast. The opioid crisis plagues our communities.

We live 37 years after 1984, mere months before the setting of Soylent Green, 32 years before Fahrenheit 451, and 429 years before Brave New World. Lowry didn’t specify a time when we would all be the same.

These writers were only off on their timing.

Today’s students will grow to be the citizens of tomorrow–a tomorrow fast approaching.

They will live, understanding their immense value, pursuing their purpose, or disregarding both. Seeing themselves as distinct, unique creations or as commodities, trading their time and bodies for paycheck and pleasure.

Comprehending the uniqueness of the children entrusted to them–or failing to do so.

Pursuing truth, or manipulating it to suit their own ends or the goals of others.

Finding their purpose. Or seeking Soma to deaden their hearts and minds.

Demanding equality of their own pleasure and thereby missing out on life’s meaning altogether.

Perhaps without choosing, they will live in a world of constant surveillance, a world where oppressors observe every act.

In each book, characters decided whether to live lies and fit in or to pursue truth and find their own purpose.

No matter the conditions of the world around us, we all choose how we will live this life.

The lesson of dystopia is to choose wisely and well.

Photo Credit: Unsplash

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. Restoring the Shattered is published through Morgan James Publishing with whom I do share a material connection. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Who Are We, Really?

“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.” George Orwell~

When I was probably six years old, I went to a neighbor’s house to play. It was my first time at her house. I wanted her to like me.

When she told me her favorite color was blue, I told her it was my favorite color too.

Until that moment, my favorite color had been purple. But sitting at her kitchen table a few minutes later, I made it a point to use the blue crayon.

And in order to form what I thought was a truer picture of myself, I told myself and anyone else who asked for years after that blue was the color I most preferred.

It would take a long time until I realized I needed to be my honest self. And even longer to realize I couldn’t know myself on my own.

It seems easy to find women in media today who are being true to themselves. In Disney’s Alice in Wonderland (2010), Alice and Baynard the hound have a conversation about what Alice should do next.

Alice wants to go to the castle of the Red Queen to rescue the Hatter. Baynard says, “That is not foretold.”

Alice replies, “From the moment I fell down that rabbit hole, I’ve been told what I must do and who I must be. . . . This is my dream. I’ll decide where it goes from here. . . . I make the path.”

This Alice is strong and knows her own mind. But perhaps what such movies, such a philosophy, created is a new way to push people onto a path they wouldn’t otherwise choose.

The pressure to choose a certain way remains in childhood, But it has moved far beyond favorite colors to the true essence of who we are.

Unlike the path parents of the 1950s, say, might have chosen for their daughters–marriage to a man of means and staying home to care for the children–the path much of society urges women toward today is to reject marriage.

It’s extra powerful to embrace a career previously limited to men.

And it’s even more powerful yet for a woman to become a man. Or for a man to become a woman.

There can be no constraints about what someone can decide for themselves. To propose constraint is to engage in what some define as evil. A primary form of evil. One worthy of punishment, of cancellation.

Author J.K. Rowling, no Christian apologist, recently got in trouble on Twitter. She explains:

“For people who don’t know: last December I tweeted my support for Maya Forstater, a tax specialist who’d lost her job for what were deemed ‘transphobic’ tweets. She took her case to an employment tribunal, asking the judge to rule on whether a philosophical belief that sex is determined by biology is protected in law. Judge Tayler ruled that it wasn’t.”

Rowling had been researching the issue of sexual identity for a book she was writing when she stepped into the mud puddle of support for Forstater.

But she stepped again, knowing what could, and would, follow.

“Months later, I compounded my . . . crime by following Magdalen Berns on Twitter. Magdalen was an immensely brave young feminist and lesbian who was dying of an aggressive brain tumour. . . . However, as Magdalen was a great believer in the importance of biological sex, and didn’t believe lesbians should be called bigots for not dating trans women . . . the level of social media abuse [against Rowling] increased.”

For her crimes, Rowling is to be canceled. In 1984, Orwell called the same process erasing.

When I chose the blue crayon over the purple one, I had begun the process of erasing myself. According to Rowling (and others), many of today’s young girls are erasing so much more.

“I’m concerned about the huge explosion in young women wishing to transition and also about the increasing numbers who seem to be detransitioning (returning to their original sex), because they regret taking steps that have, in some cases, altered their bodies irrevocably, and taken away their fertility. . . .

“Most people probably aren’t aware – I certainly wasn’t, until I started researching this issue properly – that ten years ago, the majority of people wanting to transition to the opposite sex were male. That ratio has now reversed. The UK has experienced a 4400% increase in girls being referred for transitioning treatment. Autistic girls are hugely overrepresented in their numbers.”

I hope you didn’t skim over that number too quickly. That was a forty-four hundred percent increase in girls wanting to become boys. Many of them are dealing with social challenges far beyond which crayon to choose.

How many of those girls opt to color their lives with a crayon they think will lead them to social acceptance? They tell themselves for years that it was the right color for them, only to realize later on, they colored their lives in a way they cannot erase.

I wish I’d had the social stamina as a child to choose the purple crayon. Choosing the blue one didn’t make that girl my friend. It did plant the seed in my heart that my choices depended on what others, no matter their level of wisdom, thought. It was the opposite of self-determination.

Society preaches–no, shouts–that self-determination and self-actualization are the be-all and end-all of human existence. They are far from that. Too many factors pull us in directions we would not choose if left to ourselves. And even when left to ourselves, can we truly trust our choices?

For our choices will always appear through the lens of faulty humanity–our own as well as that of others.

Rachel Jankovic points out that our pursuit of self-actualization has served us poorly. In You Who? Why You Matter and How to Deal with It, she makes a distinction between the Christian view of human life as sacred in its essence and the secular view that we form our own essence by what we do. Too often even Christians have bought into this second view, embracing self-actualization.

When we self-actualize, we neglect–or reject–what God has for us. In so doing, we lose ourselves. We color our lives with the wrong crayon.

Jankovic writes, “When we become more like Christ, we are becoming more truly ourselves. The most obedient you is the most truly you you (Jankovic’s emphasis). Complete submission to God is complete fulfillment.”

For God knows who we really are.

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

Photo Credit: Unsplash

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”