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Dystopia Now

One feels almost speechless, as one watches a dystopian world take form around us. One thinks back to all those old stories we used to hear, books we used to read, movies we used to watch, the ones that we reassured ourselves were only fantasy, from 1984, to Videodrome, to They Live, to Brazil, to The Matrix …

For a long time now, dystopia has been a growing theme in entertainment. Those who have appreciated the genre have touted it as a way of critiquing aspects of our society. Only silly people suggested that it was perhaps more than that, that it could be a warning (or perhaps subliminal planting of the idea, as in ‘predictive programming’) .

Now, I guess, such ‘silly’ people should just shut up. After all, at this point, what can one say? One can only point, half in horror, half in wonderment. It’s like watching an accident happen in slow motion, but one that no one else seems to see.

Hyper-militarized society, addicted to endless war? Check.

Pervasive, suffocating, hyper-technologized surveillance? Check.

A massive penal archipelago, ensnaring much of the population, terrifying the rest? Check.

Extreme societal stratification, with distant elites ruling over masses propagandized and drugged into believing that their deteriorating living conditions represent evolutionary progress, and even ‘the best of all possible worlds’? Check.

Most people dependent on ‘the system’, and plugged into its mind chatter much of the time? Check.

Blurring of reality, with no reliable touchstones for truth? Check.

Most sources of information controlled, and the rest under attack? Check.

and so on…

As the darkness falls, and a gigantic Jackboot commences to grind into the human face forever, can we at least agree that the partisan politics we have been practicing so eagerly for so long is missing the point, thus destroying our ability to resist? Or must we continue to pretend that nothing is really wrong, and that only ‘silly’ people think the sky is falling?

Just the other day we saw Obama sign an executive order that essentially confiscated the US economy, at least in principle. Virtually the same day, CIA head Petraeus boasted that surveillance technology is now, or can be, routinely incorporated into household consumer items. These were just two signs of the times, amongst many, and each sparked a bit of an internet flap, and each was, rightly, defended as ‘just ordinary business’, really no big deal. Quite right. It’s all business as usual, and that’s the point. Obama isn’t Hitler, and he isn’t Big Brother, though he may resemble them in important ways. He’s something more modern than that. Our computers don’t bark customized orders at us today. But one might not be surprised if they did tomorrow, and they certainly do record our activities and customize what they present to us. Troops don’t march down our streets, but militarized police do when there are demonstrations, or when they invade homes to roust activists, and troops certainly are on the ready to march down our streets.

It’s all just another day in what increasingly feels like a movie that just won’t end… until we wake up. But what will it take to wake us up?

The German ‘New Realism’ painter, George Grosz tells a story about a dinner party he attended in New York City in the mid-thirties. The people there were German expatriates, like himself, who had fled from Hitler’s Germany, yet they felt very uncomfortable when Grosz wanted to talk about the horror and concern he felt for Germany’s future. Of course they didn’t like Hitler any more than Grosz did, but there was no reason to exaggerate things…

I fear that progressive America is much that dinner party today.

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