Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Can dystopias be beat?


Reading Teresa Jusino article on dystopias and the new brand of dystopia coming out, which prompted some thoughts of my own since I believe the dystopia-genre was created with a certain message in mind, and thus the unhappy endings.

Looking at dystopias from a psychological approach, since they are very much psychological as they are sociological studies, one has to keep in mind that humans evolved to cohere to their group. Why? Because being left out of the group meant death. Humans need other humans, not just for basic needs, but also for emotional support; being around those you care also lowers cortisol levels, a side effect of stress, which prolongs your life.  So what happens when the entire group follows an authoritarian government? Well the individual follows along as well, even if they know it’s not right. Social psychology experiments such as Milgram’s  and Zimbardo’s Stanford prison have shown that people, just like you and me, will follow authority figures even though that means conducting in unethical acts. We don’t want to be left out, simple as that. This also leads to social effects such as diffusion of responsibility, where it’s not our personal problem to confront Big Brother, and that surely someone else will do it. Except everyone else is thinking the same.

And in a world where everything is controlled by the government, it’s easy to imagine the people learn to become helpless. Because what’s the point? All you can do is breath, eat, and sleep.

There are rare cases where an individual will stand up, even at the cost of being ostracized by their group. But such cases like Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi have shown they face hostile reaction from their peers and eventual assassination. And that is the sad truth, sometimes it doesn’t pay to be a hero.

So can dystopias be beat? It’s a possibility, but it’s one that requires a lot of sacrifice from individuals, one that most of us are not willing to give (notice how people still drive around in their SUVs despite the rising gas prices). This is why heroes are so rare and revered, both in fiction and reality, because they did something that most of us can’t.

And I know it sounds very depressing, which is the point of dystopias, not to cheer you up but to kick you into gear. Don’t depend on a hero to come along when you yourself are capable of being active in your own government. Better to be mindful of what your government is becoming and halt its progress (i.e. don’t vote for bad politicians)  than to have to go through a bloody revolution to reverse its effects, which not only means fighting Big Brother, but also fighting people just like yourself who can’t quite see the truth.

Don’t beat a dystopia – prevent it!

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