Why We Secretly Live in a Horrifying Dystopia

Hello! So, the week of Halloween saw the release of another video and two new stories by yours truly: the longer Unfinished and the shorter While You Weren’t Looking. This week, in honor of my favourite holiday, and because I was sick through the whole damn thing, I thought I’d bring you, personally, a little of the horror that haunts my nightmares. The truth is that movie-monsters aren’t as frightening as they once were. I’ve simply watched too many movies. Right now, true horror lies in interactive experiences and real-life, which is, in a way, an interactive experience, except it’s unbalanced as butts. I mean, if we’re going to be doing open-world PVP, shouldn’t we balance the zones a bit better? Whatever. I’m sure there’ll be a balance patch any day now.

For me, horror lies in the little truths of life. The things we take for granted and try to forget always apply. Things like: We’re all going to die someday. I’m a bag of flesh-bones. My consciousness is a complicated illusion. I will never again feel as invincible as I did when I was a child. Every moment of my existence is part of the process of degradation that will eventually rob me of mind, mobility and metabolism. BUT, most terrifying of all: I live in a terrifying Dystopic Nightmare.

Oh, you don’t agree? Well, here, I’ll show you Why We Secretly Live in a Horrifying Dystopia. First, it helps to know that we’re all on the same page. A Utopia is a perfect civilization living through benevolence and love. Its attributes include: unending sustainability, a perfect balance of humanity and necessity and a loving, accepting society of equitable opportunity. A Dystopia, on the other hand, is a perversion of the idea. Yes, it’s perfect, but it’s not always benign. The advanced technologies and organizations that might have been used to create a Utopia are instead used to indulge vice and greed. Maybe you get to live a perfect life, but it’s only for 25 years (Logan’s Run). Maybe everything seems perfect, but that’s only because of the powerful hallucinogenic drugs you’re constantly being slipped (Futurological Congress). Maaaaybe it’s all actually amazing, but it lacks a certain je ne sais quoi of personal agency (Brave New World).

Whatever the reasons for a Dystopia, it’s here, it’s bleakly soul-crushing, get used to it. The path to the realization of our personal Dystopia lies in the city. I know people romanticize country living all the time, and I’m right there with you: it’s silly. Living off the land included brutal winters, sweltering summers and the very real threat of starvation or sickness.  Naturally, we must be doing much better than our forebears did on farms, right? In some ways, perhaps we are, but in others…I’m going to be talking about my city in particular, but I’m sure you’ll be able to extrapolate.

First, I rarely interact with nature at all. When I go down town, or to the University, I’m walking on solid pavement or cement 90% of the time. The streets form, basically, a huge concrete island. Just think, for a second, how often you interact with any portion of nature for any amount of time. I’m not saying that we should throw off our clothes and flounce into the wilderness… actually, that’s kind of what we do on vacation. We’re so eager to feel anything natural– to interact with the Earth at all– that we’ll sacrifice time, money and dignity for a brief respite from the solid concrete borders we’ve erected.

Actually, I shouldn’t say solid, because the really creepy part of the city is how honeycombed with shops, rail-lines and maintenance entrances it is. If you stop for a second and look at an office, if you squint reeeeal hard, you can see it as an ant-farm. Glass windows open up onto hundreds of individual workers that scurry about important, personal tasks, running between cubbies and dens. Buildings themselves are like the artificial dens we constructed, because we’re too ashamed to dig in the dirt. Sometimes, when I stop and look, the entire landscape seems like an alien hive, honeycombed with chambers and passages. The hive is alive with us, but each building, each sign, is constructed with the sole purpose of directing our movements. They’re pheromone trails made manifest in print.

That’s not to say that each individual doesn’t direct his or her day-to-day movements, but if you step back, it’s eerie. Also, why would we dig in the dirt to build warrens when houses go up so easily now? No reason, it just sounded dramatic. But, that’s all just the surface layer of perturbing. Yeah, yeah, people live in a city like it’s a hive. We all knew that. To really get a Dystopia going, we need to denigrate the very foundation of our shared humanity: the value of human life. Did you know that there is an actual dollar amount associated with your life? What that value is varies depending on who you’re asking and what condition you’re in.

In America, before Obamacare, if you had a pre-existing condition and didn’t qualify for medicare, then you couldn’t get an affordable rate from an insurance company. In fact, you’d be lucky to get any rate at all. Yet, when reforms were put in place to make it so that anyone could have access to medical insurance, huge waves of people fought back against the idea. Obviously, it wasn’t the majority of people, but some did. Why was that? Well, many reasons, ranging from the ideological to the financial, but, at the end of the day, the real take-away is that human lives aren’t as valuable as money to a lot of people. Usually, it’s those people in control of a lot of people. Like insurance companies (man, they come up a lot), they’ve got to make some pretty tough decisions about what is acceptable in terms of realistic possibility. If they know that the cost of paying off accident victims is lower than the cost of doing a recall, then they won’t alert anyone. It’s a fairly well-known story, but it illustrates my point beautifully.

Of course, money can do many things. Things like feed the poor and educate the people (IF, you know, that’s what it’s used for). Money can build empires and destroy countries. So, it’s easy to see why it might get a privileged spot, if one sum can kill a million and another can save a thousand. Yet, it’s not just the money thing I find perturbing. It’s the commercialization of every aspect of our lives. I mean, as a blogger and part-time YouTuber, I accepted that notion a long time ago. It comes with the territory. But, the social media tools we use everyday– Have to use everyday –are just as invasive. The people who say you can just go without aren’t really considering the implications of not using social media. I got my last three jobs with Facebook posts and my current dorm through a Tweet. At the same time, though, we are being surveyed. And, I don’t just mean with surveys.

Did you hear about the kid who was arrested, thrown in prison and beaten to concussion because of a League of Legends chat post? How about the people that were fired because their Facebook profiles had pictures of them using elicit substances? What about the woman whose on-line soft-core-porn life totalled her teaching career? Yeah, we laugh at them and say they’re stupid, but are they really? If this was anything but our way of life, we’d be thoroughly disgusted by the surveillance and the level of penetration that the internet has into our lives. Between phones keeping track of your location when you post and sophisticated deep-web-trawling technology that can produce and organize a vivid portfolio about you and your buying habits with no prior tracking required, using the internet basically means you’re being watched. Maybe not actively, but this information doesn’t just disappear most of the time. Hell, our search histories alone would be worth their weight in gold to a marketing firm. Our Facebook Likes. Our Tweets. Whatever.

A lot of interaction happens on-line now. In fact, a large portion of our life is lived through social media. It’s a poignant expression of who we are. I’m sure you can see people’s personalities emerging through their profile usage. I know you and I have, at one time or another, posted something just a little too personal in a passive-aggressive Facebook rebuttal or a lonely-night hate-fest. It happens. It’s part of being human. Normally, that would be acceptable, but it’s not, because Facebook removes context. On-line, we’re rarely afforded the emotional states or extenuating circumstances that are the Hallmarks of understanding in personal interactions. That’s the other creepy thing: how well do you know the people you’re spilling your life to?

Personal privacy and the like are all on one hand. On the other hand, how often are we that personal… in person? If you’re anything like me, you’ve got a small cabal of close friends and a larger extended social network. Thinking back, it’s hard to remember spending the time to make the memories I have with them. A lot of the lives I’ve had brush up against mine have been experienced through pictures, videos and posts. My Facebook account does way more socializing and keeping up than I do. If it ever went rogue, it could ruin my life. Honestly. Also, you know, because A.I. My point is that we let machines handle a lot of our personal interactions. Even videos seem, to me, at times, terrified cries from lonely people locked within 1920×1080 collapsible screens.

One of our greatest advancements in medicine and general well-being was antibiotics. Unfooortunately, we really went to town with the stuff. Now, many of the most common diseases are producing antibiotic-resistant strains. Most often in Hospitals. I know, the place you go to get better. Worse than that, though, is that the antibacterial soap we’re washing into our streams in massive quantities is creating strains of similarly resistant bacteria in the wild. Whoops. Fear not, though, because bacteria is not the greatest health risk we have (Yet), Obesity is.

We’re a race of beings that is so successful that we can literally experiment with the fundamental elements of existence and life. We can shape our surroundings to a fine edge. In fact, that’s the only reason we can feed and support the population we have. So, what do we use this incredible power for? Letting our rich countries eat waaaay too much. Of course, over-consumption isn’t the only source of obesity. Inactivity plays a big role. Aaaand, what technology keeps us tapping keys to type in: “plz, can I haz reason not to move for 4 hours?”

Okay, let’s break it down a little faster now. Racial inequality. Sexual inequality. Class inequality. The mad pursuit of profit. People reduced to viewing figures. Rampant unemployment. Access to enough weaponry to destroy all life on Earth. Insane Dictators ruling through fear and power. The constant impingement of technology into every aspect of daily life. A complete lack of silence in most major metropolitan areas. Extreme levels of pollution. Artificially-induced climate changes that could be irreversible with our current level of technology…

Let’s recap: We’ve used our technological might to enslave people through force of arms and subtle, head-throbbing indoctrination. We’re so out of touch with the natural environment that it seems normal to rarely touch the Earth and to communicate the most important moments of our lives through digital renderings on social media sites. Our medical technologies have been over-used to the point of redundancy, and we don’t use them to treat anywhere near the number of people that need it. Homeless people are nearly forgotten, despite their singular humanity, because they don’t have… well, money. Our abuse of fossil-fuel-tech has created spiraling climate changes that could wipe out humanity, and we’re still fighting about whether or not it’s happening. We’ve destroyed our atmosphere. We’re never unimpeded, but we’re usually alone. Our most powerful, earth-shattering weapons are in the hands of the only people who would care to use them. We could end our global food shortage, but beef just tastes amazing.

It loooooks bleak. Well, it LOOKS bleak. I’m not sure it’s actually as bad as it looks, because I’ve got faith in people. Yeah, we can be stupid at times, but we never did wipe out all life on Earth during the Cold War. That’s something. A Dystopia is the nightmarish warping of something perfect. But, that’s just life. Nothing is ever actually perfect. It’s always just to the right of perfect. And, I think that’s fine, because we change with the world. Sure, we may live in a 1984-esque Dystopic digital Penopticon, but that was 1949’s definition of a Dystopia. We live under very different circumstances. Thus, the things we think are insane are a little different. I mean, when I was a human worm-spawn, the idea of an iPad would have blown my Trekkie mind. Yet, today, I’m using one to play videos while I write.

Tablets are just another fact of life, now. It’s easy to sit back and accept the way things are, because that’s usually a pretty sound strategy. However, every now and again, it’s worthwhile to compare our world with unchanging literary exemplars. It gives us perspective on just what our world means in the grand scheme of things. Sometimes, it can make our world look a hell of a lot more terrifying than it actually is. Other times, it shows us exactly how horrifying our lives really are. Either way, sometimes, it’s refreshing to take a step back and make an ant-hill out of an office building. Enjoy your Dystopic ramblings.

Addendum#SaveTheDay

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2 Responses to “Why We Secretly Live in a Horrifying Dystopia”

  1. I’m writing one of my papers for finals over why it could be said that we live in a dystopia, and your post definitely gives me lots to consider. Brilliantly written, also.

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