The Sunday Salon: How will we fare in a dystopian world?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Sunday 
Salon.com

Yesterday morning, I finished reading Blindness by José Saramago and since then, I've been wondering what it would be like if an apocalyptic event truly happened. Maybe it's a plague as it is in Blindness, or an uprising that collapses the capital (The Hunger Games), or an invasion by extra-terrestrial beings (Mars Attacks!), or a pending asteroid strike (The Last Policeman), or maybe it's the weather finally punishing us for our don't-care attitude around it, or a Third World War begins and never ends. Whichever it is, which of these dystopian worlds we are too familiar with, will get it right?


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Some of these dystopian books, like The Hunger Games, are pure fun. Others are horrific to read; fun isn't a word used in the same line as the book. That's what reading Blindness was like. Some - The Walking Dead - toe the thin line between the two. There is enough seriousness in this show that we are horrified by a lot of what we see, but there is also a levity around it (zombies? Ha, no way!) that makes the show a lot of fun to watch. Still, any book or show that even half-seriously addresses the issue of a disorganized world pokes at the same themes - rise in criminal activity, every man for himself, deaths everywhere, lack of morals and ethics.

Blindness was horrific to read because
  1. The people supposed to keep the order were too afraid of the people they had quarantined. There is a lot of shooting and innocent deaths, as a result. Some leave you agape - you get the "I was just talking to this guy minutes ago" feeling.
  2. A number of criminals kept 200 people in fear and demanded that they send women to them every day for them to "have fun with". Women are sent. Nobody is able to do anything else except talk in circles. That "fun" leaves you feeling sick and nauseated.
  3. Dogs, not having owners anymore, have started hunting for their own food. Sometimes, that food is a human.
  4. How do you do anything at all when you are blind? You can't even be sure if a certain can contains food or poison.
    1. You can't even take care of your personal hygiene anymore or cook anything at all.
    2. You won't even know if you are about to fall off the edge of a bridge or walk into a carpet of hot coals.
    3. You won't be able to tell if you are walking straight or going in circles.
    4. Nobody returns back to the place they left in the morning to hunt for food. They don't even know how to find a place they cannot see.
  5. Every man for himself. Which means, murders are far too common. People just drop dead like hot potatoes.



It may be a sign of how much dystopian lit is all around us, but there is a part of me that feels that we may live in a dystopian world someday. There are many countries that are already being subject to varying degrees of dystopia - war-ravaged places that are always being abused by people who don't know how to handle power, countries that are completely or partially cut-off from the rest of the world, and countries where the people are always rebelling against the government. If we did get into one such world, will whatever we learned from all these amazing dystopian reads, movies, and TV shows be put to use? Or will we prove them all right - that deep within, all humans are capable of evil, it is just an organized world that keeps us all human?

Whenever I think that, I realize that we did just fine centuries ago, when there was no government to rule the masses. But we also didn't have masses then, we only had pockets of people scattered all across the world. Today, we are too many people and not enough resources. How will we fare in a dystopian world?

While I'm still thinking about Blindness, I'm also reading The Fever, which is appearing to be woefully inadequate in comparison. I'm not even comparing the two books; heck, they are not even in the same domain. But that's what beautiful literature does to you - everything after it pales in comparison. I also have a grand plan to finish about 12 books between now and the end of September (mostly review books that I let accumulate over the past few months).

16 comments:

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I don't think most of us will have learned anything. We don't learn from "history" after all! However, I personally have learned that at the first sign of trouble, I would go buy all the chocolate I could!

Megan said...

I have a feeling we won't fare all that well at all. I mean, do you ever worry that the generations that are growing up now maybe don't actually know how to do anything practical? Like, if our apocalyptic event disrupted technology and you couldn't consult YouTube/Google/Pinterest/etc to have some stranger via the internet teach you something like how to grow an edible tomato or how to change the oil in your car or how to sew a shirt, how many people could? Even at my age, I kind of have this lazy, dependent mentality that if I don't know how to do something, Google can teach me, so I can't imagine future generations who have always lived in a highly organized society and *always* had an iPhone or something of the like in their hands won't be even *less* prepared. It's gonna be no sweat for somebody with some practical skills that can keep us helpless, wandering masses fed and clothed to have all the power if they want it, and then it's, "Hello, dystopia!"

Athira / Aths said...

You're right - we don't really learn from history. And the other problem is that when there's a question of power battles, we may still have government folks trying to assert their rule on us, dystopian or not.

As for chocolate, I'll also probably be right with you. You can never have too many chocolates! I also have to get some baggy trousers with lots of pockets!

Athira / Aths said...

That's really good point you make and I agree. Our sustenance skills are very poor. I am the same - there's the internet to help us so why worry if I don't know something now. If I want to get more cunning (or more smart, whichever way you look at it) - if I cannot learn everything there is to learn about the world, I should at least surround myself with people who know stuff.

Delia (Postcards from Asia) said...

This sounds very similar to "The Day of the Triffids" but more bleak I think. I like dystopian books but living in a dystopian world....I hope we won't come to that.

Vasilly said...

Blindness is that type of book that leaves readers horrified but makes you really think. Sometimes I think the reason why I avoid dystopian (but my boyfriend loves the genre,) is because it can be so realistic. It makes you think of all the possible what ifs. Sometimes, I think society focus on the wrong things. I had an anthropology professor who once told my class that we should learn to grow food and purify our water. I kind of agree. Things that everyone in our grandparents' generation knew how to do like sew or grow food or other crops, is almost lost on most of us.

Jenny @ Reading the End said...

Oh, I think ALL THE TIME about how we would fare in dystopias in real life. I seriously think about that constantly. I have no useful skills for a dystopian future. I can sew buttons, and I can read Tarot cards. I can make candles, but I can't render the beeswax into usable candle-making material, so that's no use. I think in a dystopian world, I'd get culled early. Someone would have to mercy-kill me. I'm resigned.

Kate Towery said...

I read a book where the US was pretty much devastated by an EMP bomb, so basically all the modern conveniences (especially medicine) was no longer working. The book wasn't particularly well written, but it's a dystopian world that I know right away I couldn't survive. I'm definitely intrigued by Blindness!

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My Home of Books said...

Hmmm...don't know what I would do, because until something bad happens, our society tends to ignore the signs and warnings & just keep texting and drinking coffee.

I wouldn't fare well as I have medical issues that require daily medication, so I would be one of those inferior folks at the bottom of the newly formed caste system, who would be annihilated first. Wow, I sure hope that the zombie apolcalypse never comes or I'm in big trouble :O

Nishita said...

Funny, I was thinking the exact same thing. I just finished Oryx and Crake which is a kind of environmental dystopia and thinking the main guy was just so useless, and then I thought about it and realized in that situation, I would be pretty much useless too!

Ti Reed said...

In answer to your question, only the ruthless would survive. People become desperate and if you have any kind of morals you are fair game. Sad, huh? Not everyone can be Rick Grimes. LOL.

literaryfeline said...

What a great post! It is something I've thought about it to a small extent. I don't think I would last long, unfortunately, but I would sure try, for my sake, yes, but mostly for my family's.

Diane said...

I've read Blindness twice and also enjoyed the movie. I try to avoid thoughts about what could happen....blissfully ignorant...LOL

Kim Ukura said...

I'd be useless in a dystopian world. I have no survival skills. Although maybe being able to write well will come in handy trying to communicate with people? That's a stretch :)

Lisa Sheppard said...

Wow. did this one get you thinking! I'm afraid that if the worst ever happens, we will find that the "every man for himself" scenario will play out. We already have people preparing for just that, with their bunkers and arms stockpiles.