A few days ago, citizens here in England were getting heated and angered by a group of young people who were simply playing in the snow.
Well, I say group, but it was several hundred of them, and they outnumbered the police persons who were sent to grab them, about twenty to one.
What had these kids done wrong — apart from defying the Covid rules? Actually, I can’t imagine they were “meeting” outdoors (banned) because (let’s be honest) I don’t think that’s the point of sledding, snow-boarding, or snowball fighting. After all, they were getting outdoor exercise weren’t they? Isn’t that allowed? They thought that it was. Nevertheless, people got very upset with these kids who, as reported in most newspapers, behaved “irresponsibly”. (There’s an argument that they might have been injured in the snow so could require medical attention at a time when ambulance services and emergency rooms were on the edge of collapse.)
I was surprised by the general lack of clemency & tolerance afforded by the most belligerent observers. Lots of folk seemed to object strongly to those kids going out to enjoy a snow-day. What had these youths done so wrong (I pondered) that required such shouty front-page ire?
Here’s my thought: the group on the snowy hill transformed from a bunch nice, easy-going kids into a mob.
And mobs spell the beginnings of dystopia!
There is a fine line between meeting friends to have a laugh and behaving antisocially. Sometimes you can’t see the line. For example, near me (I live by the river bank) there is a pleasant green with a small sandy beach… on sunny days during lockdown last Spring, a large number of young people descended on this green. Each and every one of these teens (I’m sure) are lovely, personable, pleasant, and agreeable young persons. They weren’t there to cause mischief or disturbance. But here’s the truth: they caused a lot of commotion: they brought loud music with them, they played boisterous games, they slapped each other, they screamed and laughed, and they participated in a little partying. They also brought a large amount of snacks & drinks and (like lots of folks) they were inclined to leave their litter behind for someone else to clear up.
And here’s a thought: If you were an elderly woman, perhaps using a walking frame, and you thought you’d trudge slowly around the block, because it was a good day to get some air, I wonder if this group of loud kids would have put you off your walk? I guess you might think you’d walked into a “mob”. It’s true that they could accidentally knock you down, they might accidentally throw a ball into your face, or yell-out a curse word, and the music they played would be loud and offensive, and their scant clothing might be unacceptable. You’d probably decide their antics were disturbing. So, if you were that old woman, you’d choose another route, or you might even turn around altogether, and go home. And here’s the predicament: that wasn’t a mob! No, those kids didn’t congregate on the green for the purpose of mischief! They just wanted a freedom. They just wanted to be with friends and have some fun. They wanted to enjoy liberty. But their exercise of liberty caused another citizen to curtail theirs. Do you see? The imposition of one freedom endangers another. Is dystopia just an imbalance of freedoms?
We had a good example of the imbalance of freedoms on our screens when we witnessed the insurrection at the Capitol building. Without getting into politics, I’m pretty sure the events of January 6 began with disobedience: Those dissident revolutionary and civil libertarian “demonstrators” shouldn’t have gathered in a large group during a deadly pandemic … but they did anyway. Why? Probably because they wanted to assert their free and liberal “right” to do whatever they wanted. Most in the media think these rioters are “far-right” and “neo-fascist” types — but I’d call them liberalistic! Because, like the kids on the snowy hill, I guess all they wanted to do (many of them, anyway) was come together as a group of like-minded, freedom-loving people, to challenge what they thought was an unfairness. So they did. Perhaps, individually, they are all pleasant & agreeable persons… but they became a mob. On this occasion, they became a deadly mob.
So, thinking about these things, it occurred to me that mobs are a feature of dystopia. Dystopia does not require stylized surreal zombies rampaging through streets, nor does it require legions of undead or lethal, cyborg-automata. It just requires ordinary folk, people like you and me, who want to meet-up to assert their freedom.
I guess what I’m saying here is that the first sign of dystopia is the widespread collapse of all those petty little rules and silly systems (no snowball fighting, no picnicking) that we put into place to protect the vulnerable (like the old woman walking by with her frame). Society builds guidelines to keep things from falling apart. But what is happening right now, is those simple little rules are being broken down symbolically, systematically and (almost) submissively. And low-level anarchy will bring frustration, apathy, mistrust and (on the 6th Jan) it brought deadly hatred too.
The rebellious mob on the snow-covered hill is one aspect of the dystopic signs that the rules are unraveling: and it’s why the newspapers got so annoyed after the widely reported snow-fight: it looked as if one part of society had been allowed to live as it wanted, at the expense of another part of society.
If you’re writing a piece of dystopian fiction, don’t bother creating an alternate history, or imagining a Panem-style setting, or inventing fantastic technological advances, or setting your tale after a post-thermonuclear apocalypse. No, put your story here. Set it now. Because we are currently living in dystopia!
If that’s the case (I hear you holler) what are the essential elements of dystopia? Below is a useful list. See how many you can flag-up (advance warning: I think checked them all. Yikes!)
- Citizens cannot live beyond a precarious existence
- Centuries-old religious views collapse, while fallacious views are overemphasized
- A “big” government starts to remove civil liberties while remaining “above & beyond” the remit of the regulations they impose on their subjects
- Technocratic corporations begin to control every facet of daily life
- Big pharma is a major player in events. Citizens can’t survive without a “dose”
- Elites enjoy evermore lavish lifestyles while ‘plebs’ have less
- Vital technology is operated & owned by the wealthiest
- Less economic competition means that only a few global corporations provide “everything” needed for survival
- More promiscuity — proper relationships become damaged by perversions
- Art is valued for sensual pleasure rather than aesthetic enjoyment
- Uncontrollable and wealthy oligarchs wield political power
- The “big brother” state begins continuous monitoring of citizenry
Citizens can’t survive without a “dose”
- The natural world is systematically destroyed, leading to:
— an increase in natural disasters
— an increase in global epidemics
- Centuries-old judicial systems become dysfunctional
- The once reliable political classes become dysfunctional
- There’s a loss or decline of individual distinctiveness: the mob rules
- There’s a change from humanness, to docile, compliant, and easily influenced “sheeple”
- Elites use hunger, poverty and disease to hold onto or gain power
- The value of life is reduced: older persons are deemed “expendable”
- Education is deemed “insignificant” or “unproductive” thus it is undermined & devalued
- The elites never work because work is completed by plebs
- Everyone tries to manipulate and exploit everyone else
- Sustainable living and protecting the environment are secondary to maximizing short-term profits
- Elites blame citizens for catastrophes, recessions, conflicts and panics
- New products are created to maximize profits, not to provide any real value to consumers
- Patriotism and nationalism is considered more important than basic education
- Mistrust between religious & ethnic groups is accommodated because it allows elites to accumulate more power
Views? Agree or disagree? Where, when and how will you set your dystopia?
Words: @neilmach 2021 ©