Hesitating On The Border of Dystopia
Straying beyond the (previously) unthinkable
The consensus amongst dictionary compilers considers dystopia as ‘an imagined state or society . . .’ Writers, or maybe just their readers, imagine the locations to be strange and distant lands far removed from their comfortable normality; intolerable worlds where you’d surely dare not venture.
Writing can transport you to unfamiliar places — places where dragons seem very real and extreme caution inhibits further progress. Sometimes the border is not so obvious: accidental crossings only become apparent when trying to retreat. Further writing builds on earlier explorations. Risks remain, waiting to be probed. But, as Bilbo said, ‘Never poke fun at live dragons — you’re not halfway through this adventure, yet’.
Authors are rarely regarded as explorers, brave battlefield heroes, mountaineers, or single-handed sailors, but the adventures of the mind demand determination and dedication as much as physical warriors. They too must confront their own limitations, must stretch their imaginations in pursuit of what may previously been thought impossible. Confrontation can sometimes be eased with humour — as stand-up comedians well understand, and, of course, social commentators can easily take out of context to unleash a hyper-critical backlash.
But today, the dystopian terrors are not on the far side of some border. The imagined border has disappeared, vanished, evaporated; our dream state has become the nightmare. Factual documentaries are truly dystopian unless the reader is a head-in-sand reality-denying taboo artist.
Please do not under-rate or disregard the mental anguish of creative writers or serious academic minds probing for truths rarely acknowledged. For once stretched, our imaginations can rarely return to their original shape. My own efforts tend towards the ‘unhinged’ — a self-elected defence perhaps to excuse the offence of truth. ‘I was only joking but . . .’ is a sort of dishonest cop-out because I never wrote anything so unconsidered. ‘. . . and having writ, moves on, nor all thy piety and wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line, nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.’
When I wrote Chaos Creation it was just a light-hearted take on current incompetence, but two further weeks have now passed with more than enough calamitous distractions to justify a second edition.
The resignation of the ‘independent’ advisor on the Ministerial Code, and an apparent decision to dispense with any Ethics-Checking replacement, was perhaps not as confusing to Johnson’s friends in the North when he avoided an appearance at a Levelling-Up event by skipping off to Kyiv to gift the Ukrainian President a book about our Queen. Supposedly sacrosanct manifesto commitments can easily be forgotten when the pound takes a nosedive on account of diminished growth data, inflation reaches for double digits, Rail Unions vote to strike, and airlines cancel flights to align with post-Brexit labour availability. The principle of collective Cabinet responsibility was exercised with coordinated complaints of victimisation by almost everyone — The Times, The EU, the European Courts of Human Rights, The BBC, ‘Lefty Lawyers’ The Labour Party (who surprisingly didn’t condemn protests against the Cost of Leaving/Living burden) and a reporter who wrote about Johnson offering a job for his beloved at the Foreign Office. The crisis about electronic tagging of asylum seekers was, of course, entirely self-inflicted, so perhaps that shouldn’t count as much as the determination to break international law by reneging on the Northern Ireland Protocol. The accolade of ‘Rogue Nation’ by some of our American cousins is probably counted as a boost to Tory credentials or needed to inject a chuckle or two on what would otherwise be a desperately depressing adventure.
The latest litany simply demonstrates the government’s distractive capacity for continual crisis creation. The impact of the original story was to trigger another writing — WMD — where the terrorist label is relocated to the prevailing establishment. That in turn may need further exploration and, without realising that the border was shifted, we are now well outside the previously imagined comfort zone and trying to survive in an increasingly dystopian nightmare. The reference (in WMD) to the National Rifle Association will probably need further explanation for those who didn’t arrive on the same page on the same day — the NRA’s call for yet more guns to defend the indefensible, parallels the ever-growing monetary madness. .
More than that I will need to borrow from Jason Hickel — quite possibly the UK’s most articulate academic with a comprehensive grasp of the climate/economic axis — or recommend, again, a thorough reading of his book ‘Less is More’.
The further this writer ventures, any return journey becomes increasingly difficult to envisage. Perhaps I should study other dystopian writing to detect escape routes, but nothing yet appeals as much as a curious miracle — the hope for collective common sense or a rapid change of government to shock us back from the brink of insanity before democracy (or the Ethics Regulator) is contracted out to the highest bidder.
This article is listed in the Groupe Intellex ‘governance’ series for discussion by students of climate sustainability, politics and economics.