Distopian futures have always been a popular theme in Science Fiction, particularly in young adult science fiction. But how do we get to these dystopian futures?
In older novels these emerged due to a catastrophe- alien invasion, nuclear war or some other disaster whether natural, man-made or alien in origin. More recently the trend has been for these futures to be created by societal disasters- futures where society has taken our ideals and warped and twisted them into unhealthy, dysfunctional, oppressive and autocratic systems. To me these seem to be the most dangerous of disasters because they can creep up on you, stealing our freedom piece by piece with each step along the road to Hell being simply a logical extension of the one before it.
By and large people are good and have good intentions. They want the best for themselves, their families, their friends and neighbors. So how could such a future emerge?
There are a lot of paths to such a future. One is the ‘Nanny State’ taken to an illogical extreme. in this scenario we allow the government more and more influence over our private lives and freedoms- all for our own good of course. Regulate our speech to the point where it is socially unacceptable to express an opinion contrary to the popular sentiment, and eventually you can make it illegal. Enact laws that restrict our actions in the name of safety; ‘Nope. That car is too fast, too powerful. It’s dangerous and you can’t have it.’ ‘People die all of the time in auto accidents; since cars can now drive themselves we can’t allow people to control them; this will save lives.’ Of course a car that is connected enough to drive itself can take you anywhere you want to go… but it can also take you anywhere the government wants you to go- like a Police station. Or an ambush.
‘That food is bad for you, and you aren’t smart enough not to eat it. We’ll help you out by removing it from the market. In fact, we’ll just decide what you can eat and drink, and when you can eat and drink it- and how much. It’s for your own good, really.” There are good, logical reasons for each additional level of control; reasonable people can agree to them individually but taken as a whole they eventually lead to absolute control over life and society. Sure, it will be a safe prosperous society… as long as people are willing to be cogs in the machine, never questioning, never stepping out of bounds… never thinking for themselves.
Naturally you want to remove the mechanisms for resisting your benevolent and beneficial policies. Control the Net to protect people from seeing offensive material.
The other side of the coin is where ‘freedom’ is used as a weapon against the populace. Social freedom, economic freedom, the freedom to place your religion or beliefs ahead of those or others… The concept of the ‘Free Market’ can lead to this. ‘Market forces will regulate industry in a free market!’ Indeed they might, in theory. But when industry controls the politicians, the government and even the flow of information to the populace you don’t have a free market. With the tail wagging the dog you wind up with government for business, of business and by business. With profit as the only God and the only good things get nasty pretty quick.
‘We don’t need environmental regulations. People will simply not buy from companies that pollute too much.’ Except of course industry will tell you it’s not a problem, not allow reports of issues to get out and use the government to enforce their will. ‘We don’t need to regulate the banks. It’s in their best interest to serve their customers.’ Except when they can steal or recklessly lose their customer’s money and use the government to insulate them from the consequences while they get richer.
You can help this along by demonizing the poor- implant the idea that poor people are poor because they deserve it. Combine this with tax laws and regulations that concentrate wealth in a small segment of the population. Pretty soon it isn’t just people’s own fault that they are poor; they are poor because they are inferior.
You can help this along in a lot of ways- make education prohibitively expensive. Warp primary education into simply memorizing data to fill out test forms instead of teaching people to learn, to think. Encourage failure by penalizing schools that under-perform instead of finding out what is going wrong and supporting them in correcting these things.
Use a two-part divide-and-conquer strategy. Create totalitarian political divisions and promote stereotypes about the ‘other guys.’ This is part of a strategy of fear; make the people fear each other. Oh, and provide scapegoats. Pick out groups to demonize- give the people enemies, someone to hate and fear in addition to each other. It doesn’t really matter who as long as you have someone- and if they can be easily identified by dress, skin color or whatever half your work is done for you.
Establish control of information by allowing huge corporations to obtain monopolies on information outlets. Pretty soon you can capitalize on people’s fears, poor education and mindless belief in your propaganda that the process becomes self-sustaining. People themselves will vote for your agenda because you’ve told them it is in their interest and have taught then to not think for themselves- while convincing them that mindless adherence to your goals is thinking for themselves.
The end result is a de-facto aristocracy with most of the wealth ruling over an under-class of ‘inferior’ workers with the game wholly and completely rigged. In pretty short order the class you are born into will matter more than your individual qualities or capabilities. Once you have rendered the masses politically and economically impotent you can institute any system you please.
These are only a few of the roads to Dystopian futures, and to some extent you can mix-and-match them. Whatever path you chose there are options than can warp your future into virtually any society you can imagine, and you can do it without a catastrophe, natural or otherwise.