Sydney. December, 2019
Posts tagged dystopia
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s manifesto, penned clearly in response to accusations leveled at the social network in the wake of the bitter U.S. election campaign, is a scary, dystopian document. It shows that Facebook – launched, in Zuckerberg’s own words five years ago, to “extend people’s capacity to build and maintain relationships” – is turning into something of an extraterritorial state run by a small, unelected government that relies extensively on privately held algorithms for social engineering.
This question has been on my mind for over a year now. In a time that seems to become more dystopian each day, it might be rather normal to yearn for new positive visions. I’m also not very fond of the utopian visions of Silicon Valley’s libertarians (Musk, Brin & Page, Zuckerberg, Kurzweil, etc.). Furthermore, ten years of Merkel here in Germany might play a role. So I’ve been investigating the topic of utopia, read books (fiction and non-fiction), essays, articles, etc. It has been quite easy because of the 500th anniversary of Thomas More’s Utopia, last year. But I’m still finding it hard to answer the question if utopias are what we need right now, and if yes, what kind of utopias. Because the track record of past utopias is not exactly stellar.
“All bureaucracies are to a certain degree utopian, in the sense that they propose an abstract ideal that real human beings can never live up to.”
–David Graeber in “The Utopia of Rules.”
Shit, this is astonishing. Redrow, a luxury apartment builder, have made this creepy, completely dystopic, half-American Psycho advert for the new London they’re currently metastasizing all over the city. Its protagonist lives in a world of almost continual night, with the hungry eyes and dead affect of an Ayn Rand wet dream: his world is constituted of chrome, glass, a palette of white-to-taupe, a spatter-pattern rug and one book, a single book, on graphic design. ‘Luxury’ is so often a code for this – double-glazed, polished steel, hermetically sealed in the back of a cab. Our man does not have conversations, but stares out at the city from the fifteenth floor (he does a lot of staring). The concept of conversation is alien to him, though he is shown having a screaming argument; as you see from his inventoried shelves, he has a passion for objects and this is how he treats women, as well.
Flat-toned, void affect, social cancer in a suit: a model for London living. Here’s a curious honesty about it all: houses in the suburbs are marketed still for the smiling happy family, all oak tables and smiling coffee mornings (in zone 4, the dog never even barks, let alone bites). In the central zones, having been cleared of many of their inconveniences (families, communities, *life*), now deadboxes are marketed to the single (wannabe singular) sub-Thatcherite dweeb who manages his violence only on a balance sheet, who wants to take life, pin it, and crush it behind plate glass. Let us burn it down.
On the horizon is more technology that will make it even easier for governments to monitor and track everything that citizens do. Yet I’m convinced that, if we’re sufficiently motivated and sufficiently clever, the future can be one of more freedom rather than less. I saw this tweet not so long ago: unless you’re over 60, you weren’t promised flying cars. You were promised an oppressive cyberpunk dystopia. Here you go.
Just as Borges’s system groups animals by seemingly aleatory characteristics entirely divorced from their actual biological attributes, DSM-5 arranges its various strains of madness solely in terms of the behaviors exhibited. This is a recurring theme in the novel, while any consideration of the mind itself is entirely absent. In its place we’re given diagnoses such as “frotteurism,” “oppositional defiant disorder,” and “caffeine intoxication disorder.” That said, these classifications aren’t arranged at random; rather, they follow a stately progression comparable to that of Dante’s Divine Comedy, rising from the infernal pit of the body and its weaknesses (intellectual disabilities, motor tics) through our purgatorial interactions with the outside world (tobacco use, erectile dysfunction, kleptomania) and finally arriving in the limpid-blue heavens of our libidinal selves (delirium, personality disorders, sexual fetishism). It’s unusual, and at times frustrating in its postmodern knowingness, but what is being told is first and foremost a story.
Dystopias make for boring futurism. While it’s certainly true that one can tell a compelling dramatic story about the end of the world, as a mechanism of foresight, apocaphilia is trite at best, counter-productive at worst. Yet world-ending scenarios are easy to find, especially coming from advocates for various social-economic-global changes. As one of those advocates, I’m well aware of the need to avoid taking the easy route of wearing a figurative sign reading The End Is Nigh. We want people to take the risks we describe seriously, so there is an understandable temptation to stretch a challenging forecast to its horrific extremes–but ultimately, it’s a bad idea.