posted on Mar, 10 2010 @ 02:01 PM
I watched Clockwork Orange a few months ago. More recently I've been reading some economic history, as well as the utopian visions of early 19th
century reformers. From these two vantage points I've come to the conclusion that the whole genre of "dystopia" is really about lowered
expectations. Modern Western man after the Great Divergence actually lives in what would be a utopia to anyone in the 19th century; after all obesity
related illnesses are a major problem for the underclasses in Western societies! Future dystopias in reality simply resemble the social structure and
quality of life expectations which were the norm throughout human history, and are the norm across broad swaths of the contemporary world.
I think this applies far beyond dystopian fiction - the same thing is true of many visions and predictions of doom, whether fears that the European
Union is creating a Brezhnevian (if not Stalinist) authoritarian government, or prophecies of collapse into violent anarchy. A lot of these terrible
things being predicted are nothing more than a return to the past. Even environmental devastation is often nothing more than a fear of returning to
the dirtier past - Eastern Europe is a hell of a lot cleaner than it used to be several decades ago when we had more progressive governments.
There are two possible explanations here - one is that we prophesy a return to an unpleasant past because we're not that good at imagining new and
different disasters. I'm not sure about that one, as many prophecies of unfamiliar doom from ozone holes to nuclear war have been very popular. I
don't think we fear returning to the specific ways in which the past was crappy, but to the crappiness of the past in a very generic sense.
I think there's reason why we fear it - prior to the Great Divergence we were all living in the Malthusian trap, where any improvement in living
conditions was temporary as it would allow population growth which would quickly and inevitably catch up with the improved availability of resources,
bringing living conditions back to subsistence levels. When times were good and people well-fed and happy, no matter whether because of improved
methods of agriculture or because a large chunk of the previous generation died in a plague, they couldn't remain good for long.
We spent thousands of years evolving in a setting where those good times were temporary and doomed. It makes sense that we evolved the instinct to
prepare ourselves and our offspring for the inevitable return to crappiness. It's really only been for few generations, even in the most developed
countries, that we've been able to live at above-subsistence levels for a significant amount of time. No wonder that our instincts lead us to expect
it cannot last, and why the idea of a doomed future is so emotionally appealing.