Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 5
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Paying closer attention to dystopia encourages critical political thinking

I’ve always loved books and stories that take place in dystopian societies. I’m a fan of science fiction, generally speaking, because I like seeing portrayals of how people might behave if they were in a different world with access to seemingly impossible technology. Dystopias are interesting because they provide a glimpse of a world even more messed up than the one we actually live in. It’s the ultimate thought experiment that explores what happens when extreme injustices are ingrained in societies and people. However, I wonder why I find those books so compelling and enjoyable when the realities they present are terrifying portrayals of what the future may hold.

I can be very anxious at times, and frequently my fears will manifest themselves in how I interact with the world. For example, I can’t sleep in a room that has large objects over the bed because I know it will fall and squash me in the event of an earthquake. I’ve never given my phone number to a stranger because I legitimately feel that I can’t rule out the possibility that they’re a serial killer. A downside to having an active imagination is that after I finish scary books or movies, I become convinced that everything is out to get me. After the first time I read “1984” in middle school, I made a point of actively avoiding security cameras in public places and stores. The problem I noticed was that, to some degree, I could recognize the problems of Big Brother happening in the world around me. George Orwell worked as a police officer in imperial Burma during the 1920s, and his experiences there helped inspire “1984.” It’s hard to accept the fact that there are really bad things still happening in the world right now.

I’m incredibly uncomfortable knowing about so many things –– drone strikes, mass incarceration, child labor, police brutality and human trafficking –– happening not only in faraway places but also at our own doorsteps. It’s especially sad that so many of these things are supported by our country or our system. It’s also hard to accept that so many people will support or follow these practices. I don’t want to believe that there are people actively working to oppress or subjugate others, but reading the news about racial inequality, religious intolerance, murders of gay or trans people and the emerging anti-feminist movement shows me that they exist. I don’t believe that there are inherently bad people, but I also know that people who are raised and indoctrinated in hate-filled environments can turn out to be pretty bad. That scares me. I think most people know, on some level, that the system is messed up but choose to ignore the realities of it.

Facing the systems of power, truly acknowledging the struggles, can leave people feeling so helpless. From that perspective, trying to do anything about it seems so impossible. It’s so much easier to pretend that they are not happening or pretend that being passive or neutral isn’t helping perpetuate the problems. Dystopian books are so important because they reflect an unacceptably skewed version of society. If people draw parallels between the dystopian world and our own, it encourages critical thought about what’s so wrong and what we should be thinking about or doing. Books like “1984” provide examples of people who rise up in spite of everything to take down the power. Resistance will never be futile.

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