Tuesday, June 30, 2020

A Return to Cozy Dystopia

I'm back again after a month, but this probably won't last very long. There's always so much to do until there isn't anymore. I last wrote about the concept of the cozy dystopia in art. This is in contrast to the more common dark dystopia, exemplified, I think, in Blade Runner (1982), Brazil (1985), and the less well known Batman: Digital Justice (1990). The cozy dystopia is one in which things are clean, bright, and shiny, yet society and people's lives within it, all creations and outward manifestations of the State, are perfectly awful. In Cozy Dystopia, everyone has what he needs except a chance at happiness.

In my conception of it, the cozy dystopia runs parallel to Brian Aldiss' cosy catastrophe. Examples of the cosy catastrophe are pretty easy to come by. Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank (1959) is one. In thinking about it over the past few weeks, I have come up with a possible cozy dystopia, too. It is described in Player Piano by a fellow Hoosier, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Originally published in 1952, Player Piano has been reprinted many times, in English, Italian, German, French, and even Croatian. I had read a few years back about this book and eagerly sought it out. When I finally found a copy, I dove in and there began a long, long slog through one of the most boring and event-free books I have ever known. I suppose the eventlessness in Player Piano is in keeping with the idea of the dystopian society, which is, after all, one of complete stasis. Or, as D-503, the protagonist in We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin, explains to the rebel and his soon-to-be lover, I-330:
"It is inconceivable! It is absurd! Is it not clear to you that what you are planning is a revolution? Absurd because a revolution is impossible! Because our--I speak for myself and for you--our revolution was the last one. No other revolutions may occur. Everybody knows that."
In other words, there can be no revolution after the one that introduces a completely stable and eventless dystopia into the world. 

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By the way, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932) and Logan's Run (1976) might also be called cozy dystopias. In Logan's Run, as in our world of today, there is even a Tinder-like machine called "the circuit" for choosing sexual partners: in the dystopian future as in the world of today, the individual human being is both objectified and commodified. Reduced in the mind of the user to mere material, the object of his desire is literally materialized within and by "the circuit."

* * *

I wrote before about the bread-and-circuses component of the cozy dystopia. In thinking about these things since then, I remember that the place of origin of the bread (i.e., food) and circuses (i.e., entertainment) that currently arrive in such vast supply on our doorsteps is called a "fulfillment center." Yes, you will be fulfilled by buying more stuff, so keep at it, America. Keep climbing that asymptotic slope towards the mountaintop of your happiness.

* * *

So, I wrote last about dystopia. In the interim we have had instead in the real world a taste of apocalypse. The mob has emerged from all of its dark, fetid places and has fallen upon us like a horde of zombies, bent on our destruction. Dystopia and apocalypse are interrelated--there can be no doubt of that. In much of our popular culture, the latter precedes the former. Anthem by Ayn Rand (1938) is a good example of this. Sometimes dystopia grows out of apocalyptic conditions: the aspiring dystopian ruler simply takes advantage of disaster and disorder to construct his perfectly awful society upon the ruins of the previous, far less awful one. Other times, the tyrant and his minions actually bring about the destruction of the preceding society so as to build their new, dystopian version in its place, complete with a calendar reset to Year Zero. That seems to be the aim of our current breed of aspiring tyrants. Apocalypse first, then Dystopia. We have seen people like them before. We will again. We can gain some comfort in knowing that they have always been and always will be defeated. Nevertheless, we should know this: although reality may be arrayed against them, we can't really count on it to defeat them by itself, not, that is, without the customary heaps of rotting bodies, deep, vast mass graves, and chains of miserable gulags stretching from sea to shining sea. We have to take an active part in their defeat if we are to head these things off.

* * *

You're not supposed to give advice to your enemies, but the zombie hordes running through our streets, universities, and television studios should know two things. One is a lesson from history, and it is this: although you as a revolutionary may be the one pulling the trigger today, tomorrow you will be the one facing the firing squad. That's not just a figure of speech: it will really happen, as it has happened before. (Why do progressives always think they're doing something new?) Just ask the ghosts of Trotsky and Robespierre. In the worlds of art and entertainment, Jimmy Kimmel and J.K Rowling have had the mob turn upon them. Margaret Atwood, too, I think. Yesterday these people were progressives. Today they are dangerous reactionaries and counterrevolutionaries. The mob is unlikely to rest until they are destroyed, or at least rendered non-persons, or persons of little or no consequence. Just past his allotted threescore-and-ten, Stephen King has been cowed and now speaks nonsense so as to conform to the mob's orthodoxy. In the process he has made himself inconsequential as an artist and thinker. He probably imagines that he has saved himself. He should know, though, that his time before the firing squad will come, too. It's just that instead of tomorrow, it will happen the day after tomorrow. In any event, we might feel sorry for Mr. Kimmel, Ms. Rowling, and others like them who have been hoisted with their own petards. Then again, we might not.

The other thing that the zombie hordes and their tyrant-leaders might want to know is that there is a poison pill in each of us, poison, that is, to those who aspire to control us. However hard they might try to impose dystopia upon us, they must always fail because we each have within us the means of their destruction: each one of us alone has greater power than the entire State. Imagine that. Here is the explanation: Because the State is made by man, it is trapped within time and cannot endure. The spirit and nature of the individual, on the other hand, made as they are by something greater than man, exist outside of time and are thus eternal and imperishable. The Progressive believes otherwise of course, that the Perfect State is the end point of History and will thus last forever in its unchanging condition, also that the individual human being is negligible and eradicable, his spirit extinguishable.* The poison pill is of course our freedom, that unalienable, inseparable, and irrepressible condition of our very existence. The tyrant may have his run and murder millions, but in the end human freedom always wins and he is undone.

* * *

Sex, too, is a poison pill, a passion so great that it always undermines the efforts of the State. That's why the State always seeks to control it. See Orwell's 1984 or Anthony Burgess' 1985 for explications of the State's antipathy to sex. One of the problems with sex--from the point of view of the State, I mean--is that it is so completely powerful. It is meant to be that way, I would wager, by the one who planted the seed of sex within us. Another is that sex is inextricably bound to love, marriage, and the formation of families. The State cannot tolerate any of these institutions because they necessarily stand between it and the individual. In other words, if the individual loves and is devoted to another person or persons, then he cannot fully love or devote himself to the State--and he must so love and devote himself. He must prostrate himself before the State. Nothing must intervene between it and him, and there can be no other object for him. That explains the statist/socialist/progressive desire to undermine and ultimately destroy marriage and family. We have had that in rounds of recent supreme court decisions, deposited upon us and our Constitution like stinking piles of manure. Look elsewhere on the Internet for this quote: "We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement . . . ." From there it drones on and on as boring and tiresome socialists inevitably do. As Jahn in the Star Trek episode "Miri" might say, Blah, blah, blah. Anyway, too bad for all of them. The poison pill has been expertly placed and cannot be removed. You, the statist/socialist/progressive, can only choke on it. Excuse me if I don't offer you a glass of water or a pump for your stomach.

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*A pertinent quote from George Orwell's 1984, pertinent not just here but to our current situation:
He [the protagonist Winston Smith] tried to make her [his lover Julia] understand. "This was an exceptional case. It wasn't just a question of somebody being killed. Do you realize that the past, starting from yesterday, has been actually abolished? If it survives anywhere, it's in a few solid objects with no words attached to them, like that lump of glass there. Already we know almost literally nothing about the Revolution and the years before the Revolution. Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book has been rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street and building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And that 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. [Emphasis added.]
Update (June 30, 2020): Here is another quote, from a digital flyer announcing a protest at the home of the multi-bezillionaire who sends us all the stuff we so crave: "Abolish the present. Reconstruct our future." Emphasis added again. Note the recurring use of the word abolish. At the protest itself, modern-day Jacobins set up a guillotine as a not-very veiled threat against him. My comment is this: You can't make this stuff up. My thought: I wonder if the protesters ordered their sign-making materials from the multi-bezillionaire himself and had it delivered to their doorsteps. My disclaimer: I did not pay anyone to do these things just so I might look oh-so-smart and my essay oh-so-prescient. Actually, you don't have to be very smart to see through these people and to understand that when it comes to humanity and its endeavors, there is nothing new under the sun.

Utopia 14 (1954), the Bantam Books edition of Player Piano (1952) by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. The cover art was by Charles Binger (1907-1974), who also, as it turns out, did the cover art for the Bantam edition of Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1953).

Revised during the day and into the evening, June 30, 2020.
Text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

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