A Convoluted Definition

Dystopian fiction is _____. I feel like I’m in grade school having to write a test with ‘fill in the blank’ style questions.

Q: What does the word ‘dystopia’ mean to you?

A: Well, Mrs. Hag, it means a lot of things to me, but since you have only given me one line to write on I’m forced to assume that you don’t want an essay answer here.

I can’t tell you when the last, physical copy of a dictionary left my life. Or a thesaurus, for that matter. Now everything is built-in and STILL people don’t don’t spell check! My wife bought me a Grammar Nazi t-shirt. My wife is correct. When I ask the Great Oracle of Google what the word means, this is what I get:

adjective: dystopian

  1. 1. relating to or denoting an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.

That is rather ambiguous, don’t you think? It leaves a lot of room for personal interpretation. My goal here is to make a distinction between the words dystopia and science fiction. Somewhere inside my mind, these two words have merged and, it’s not a viable offspring for me. I get that a future world will probably have different technology, but Sci-fi enthusiasts seem to have decided that the future technology will be better than what we have now? That chances are, it will be, but for the sake of selfish indulgence, let’s humor my thinking here. What if the technological advances are simply the software, and not really the hardware? Software developing has become a major focus in our society. Things are forever being upgraded and reworked, but the hardware that runs it has fallen far behind in terms of stability.

One of the things I notice the most about life in 2018 is that nothing is built to last anymore. Back in the day, companies took pride in stating that their product would outlive you, and that it would still be working when the cemetery workers were shoveling dirt over your coffin. Your children would be stuck with your ‘still functioning watch’, or the washing machine with the elusive and, completely unnecessary repairman on the company’s payroll. Now everything is made to break. Somehow, the idea that you can make a product that was designed to fail became the driving force behind nearly everything. This is why I swear by my cast iron cookware. Go ahead bitches, break that shit! That handle isn’t going to just drop off because the rivets are worn out. There aren’t any rivets!

Where was I? Oh, dystopia. Ha, that sounds like the beginning of a poem, doesn’t it? O Dystopia, how I long for the sound of your gritty voice– Anyway, my thinking here is that a future dystopian society isn’t necessarily a more advanced one. The biggest problems I see in our society today is that we are dumbing ourselves down in the areas that are really important. I’m talking about survival importance. What good is being able to develop brilliant, 3D animation software if you’re just going to starve to death because you don’t know the first thing about growing food or storing it? Life doesn’t really come from a store. Once upon a time, growing, canning, sewing and other basic skills were necessary to just stay alive. Now our society takes them for granted. We buy food from disreputable companies with disreputable employees who we don’t want to pay proper wages to. We focus on the Next Gen of everything, and we go into massive debt to obtain it. Our world now runs on theoretical money as opposed to actual, touchable commerce. We can’t get a job, or rent an apartment without a decent numerical score that indicates our ability to handle imaginary money. Every single person is now tied to a credit system that makes no sense. And the word credit means debt. Don’t kid yourself. Everything is debt. Your credit rating is really a rating about how you manage your debt. It always was, and it always will be.

To me, dystopia isn’t a society where the government controls every citizen through disreputable means (much like our current state of affairs) but rather a society where the government gives us exactly what we want. It gives us the ways to meet our basic needs, and thrive as a species. But once we have that, our time is no longer an empty string of hours that we can fill up however we wish. Go ask a homesteader how much time he/she has to just sit down and read a book, or watch a program on television. At this point, a lot of people are going to be changing the word in question to Utopia. If this is your ideal, then we have a lot in common, but don’t look me up on Facebook just yet. I’m not done.

Now toss in a single, unlooked for element, say… the government wants one thing in return for granting all your ignorant, selfish wishes. This is where the ‘dys’ part of things comes in. The Almighty Government wants to judge your children and remove the ones it doesn’t like. How do you like your utopia now?

Smashing Pumpkins is on Patreon. When you become a Fan you will be supporting my work, and get to read the story for yourself.