Free Minds & Free Markets

Whose Dystopia Is It Anyway?

Reason writers debate which fictional dystopia best predicted our current moment.

Warner Bros.Warner Bros.With social media platforms seemingly unable to distinguish Russian trolls from red-blooded Americans, the last two years have felt like a Deckardian purgatory. The frequency with which intellectual elites accuse their detractors of laboring on behalf of an always-approaching-never-arriving foreign power, meanwhile, smacks of Orwell. And if the proliferation of opioids in the American heartland doesn't sound like "delicious soma," what does? (Marijuana? Alcohol? Twitter?)

"We live in Philip K. Dick's future, not George Orwell's or Aldous Huxley's," George Washington University's Henry Farrell recently argued in the Boston Review. Despite being a poor prognosticator of what future technologies would look like and do, Dick, Farrell writes, "captured with genius the ontological unease of a world in which the human and the abhuman, the real and the fake, blur together."

But the universe of possibilities is much larger than just Orwell, Huxley, or Dick. Below, Reason's editorial staffers make the case for nearly a dozen other Nostradamii of the right now, ranging from Edgar Allan Poe to Monty Python's Terry Gilliam. As for why we're debating dystopias, and not utopias: Because there is no bad in a utopia, and because no dystopia could persist for long without at least a little good, it's safe to assume that if you're living in an imperfect world—and you very much are—it's a dystopian one.

Dick wasn't wrong, but Edgar Allan Poe got there first, writes Nick Gillespie:

CreateSpaceCreateSpaceAt the core of Philip K. Dick's work is a profound anxiety about whether we are autonomous individuals or being programmed by someone or something else. In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, are the characters human or Nexus-6 androids? In The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and A Scanner Darkly, you're never quite sure what's real and what's the product of too much "Chew-Z" and "Substance D," hallucinogenic, mind-bending drugs that erode the already-thin line between reality and insanity.

Which is to say that Dick's alternately funny and terrifying galaxy is a subset of the universe created by Edgar Allan Poe a century earlier. Poe's protagonists—not really the right word for them, but close enough—are constantly struggling with basic questions of what is real and what is the product of their own demented minds.

This dilemma is front and center in Poe's only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838), which tells the story of a stowaway who ships out on the Grampus and endures mutiny, shipwreck, cannibalism, and worse. It becomes harder and harder for Pym to trust his senses about the most basic facts, such as what side of a piece of paper has writing on it. The conclusion—not really the right word for the book's end, but close enough—dumps Pym's epistemological problem into the reader's lap in violent and hysterical fashion. A friend told me he threw the book across the room in disbelief when he read its final page, which anticipates the frustration so many of us feel while following the news these days. Just when you think reality can't get any stranger or less believable, it does exactly that, in both Poe's fictional world and our real one.

2018's turn toward hamfisted authoritarianism echoes Terry Gilliam's Brazil, says Christian Britschgi:

Embassy International PicturesEmbassy International PicturesNo-knock raids by masked, militarized, police officers. A ludicrously inefficient bureaucracy. Crackdowns on unlicensed repairmen. If all this sounds eerily familiar, you may have seen it coming in 1985's Brazil.

Set in a repressive near-future Britain, the film tells the story of lowly civil servant Samuel Lowry, who wants nothing more than to hide in the comically inefficient bureaucratic machine that employs him, all while doing his level best to quietly resist both a narcissistic culture demanding he rise higher, and a brutish security apparatus looking to punish anyone who steps out of line.

Directed by Monty Python alum Terry Gilliam, Brazil is surreal, ridiculous, and often just plain silly. Yet there is something chilling about the film's depiction of the state as a bumbling, byzantine bureaucracy that can't help but convert every aspect of life into an endless series of permission slips, reinforced by a system of surveillance, disappearance, and torture.

Evil and inefficiency are intimately intertwined in Brazil—with the whole plot set in motion by a literal bug in the system that sends jackbooted thugs to raid the wrong house and arrest the wrong man. While the regime in Brazil lacks a central, dictatorial figure at the top of the pyramid, there is definitely something distinctly current about the world it depicts, with every application of force complemented by an equal element of farce. Trump's first crack at imposing a travel ban, for instance, proved incredibly draconian and cruel precisely because of how rushed, sloppy, and incoherent the actual policy was.

Fortunately, our own world does manage to be far less authoritarian than the one depicted in Brazil and has mercifully better functioning technology as well. The parallels can still give one pause, however, when you consider what direction we might be headed in.

The current moment definitely tilts toward Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, says Eric Boehm:

World History Archive/NewscomWorld History Archive/NewscomWe are not living in a world where government agents raid homes to set books ablaze, but "there is more than one way to burn a book, and the world is full of people running about with lit matches," as Ray Bradbury warned in a coda appended to post-1979 editions of his 1953 classic.

Specifically, Bradbury was warning about the dangers of authoritarian political correctness. In that coda, he relates anecdotes about an undergrad at Vassar College asking if he'd consider revising The Martian Chronicles to include more female characters, and a publishing house asking him to remove references to the Christian god in a short story they sought to reprint.

More generally, though, Bradbury was commenting on the common misunderstanding of Fahrenheit 451 as a story about an authoritarian government burning books. It is that, of course, but it's really about how cultural decay allows authoritarianism to flourish. It was only after people had decided for themselves that books were dangerous that the government stepped in to enforce the consensus, Guy Montag's boss tells him in one of the novel's best scenes. "Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick," Captain Beatty explains. "Politics? One column, two sentences, a headline! Whirl man's mind around so fast...that the centrifuge flings off all unnecessary, time-wasting thought!"

In place of literature and high culture, Bradbury's dystopia has an eerily accurate portrayal of reality television. Montag's wife is obsessed with the "parlor family" who inhabit the wall-sized television screens in the living room, and clearly has a closer attachment to them than to her husband. The ubiquity of those screens—and how the government exploits them—is on full display near the end of the story, when Montag is on the lam for revolting against orders to burn books, and messages are flashed across every parlor screen in the city telling people to look for the dangerous runaway fireman.

We might not live in Montag's specific version of Bradbury's dystopia, but we exist somewhere on the timeline that leads there—which is exactly what Bradbury, and Captain Beatty, are trying to tell us.

Wrong book! We're really living in Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, says Katherine Mangu-Ward:

Bantam BooksBantam BooksIt's 1992. Computers are running Windows 3.1. Mobile phones are rare and must be carried in a suitcase. A few nerds in Illinois are getting pretty close to inventing the first web browser, but they're not quite there yet.

This is the year Neal Stephenson publishes Snow Crash, a novel whose action centers around a global fiber optic network, which can be accessed wirelessly via tiny computers and wearables. On this network, users are identifiable by their avatars, a Sanskrit word that Stephenson's novel popularized; those avatars may or may not be reliable indications of what they are like in real life. Many of the characters work as freelancers, coding, delivering goods, or collecting information piecemeal. They are compensated in frictionless micropayments, some of which take place in encrypted online digital currency. Intellectual property is the most valuable kind of property, but knowledge is stored in vast digital libraries that function as fully searchable encyclopedias and compendia. Plus there's this really cool digital map where you can zoom in and see anywhere on the planet.

Basically what I'm saying here is that every other entry in the feature is baloney. We are living in the world Neal Stephenson hallucinated after spending too much time in the library in the early 1990s. End of story.

Is it a dystopia? Sure, if you want to get technical about it: Our antihero, Hiro Protagonist (!), is beset by all manner of typical Blade Runner–esque future deprivations, including sub-optimal housing, sinister corporate villains, and a runaway virus that threatens to destroy all of humanity.

But in addition to the this-guy-must-have-a-secret-time-machine prescience of the tech, the book offers a gritty/pretty vision of anarcho-capitalism that's supremely compelling—when they're in meatspace, characters pop in and out of interestingly diverse autonomous quasi-state entities, and the remnants of the U.S. government is just one of the governance options.

Stephenson's semi-stateless cyberpunk vision is no utopia, that's for darn sure. But the ways in which it anticipated our technological world is astonishing, and I wouldn't mind if our political reality inched a little closer to Snow Crash's imagined future as well.

Katherine is off by three years. 1989's Back to the Future: Part II is actually the key to understanding 2018, says Robby Soave:

Universal PicturesUniversal PicturesBack to the Future: Part II has always been the least-appreciated entry in the series: It's the most confusing and kid-unfriendly, lacking both the originality of the first film and the emotional beats of the third. But almost 30 years after its release, the middle installment of Robert Zemeckis's timeless time-travel epic is newly relevant: not for accurately depicting the future, but for warning us what life would be like with a buffoonish, bullying billionaire in charge.

2015, the furthest point in the future visited by Marty McFly and "Doc" Emmett Brown has come and gone, and we still don't have flying cars, hover boards, or jackets that dry themselves. But we do have a president who seems ripped from the film's alternate, hellish version of Hill Valley in 1985, where the loathsome Biff Tannen has become a powerful mogul after traveling into the past and using his knowledge of the future to rig a series of events in his favor.

The similarities between Trump and alternate-reality Biff are so numerous that Back to the Future writer Bob Gale has retroactively (and spuriously) claimed the 45th president as inspiration for the character. Biff buys Hill Valley's courthouse and turns it into a casino hotel. Biff is a crony capitalist who weaponizes patriotism for personal enrichment ("I just want to say one thing: God bless America"). Biff is a paunchy playboy with two supermodel ex-wives, a bad temper, and even worse hair. There's no escaping Biff: He's a media figure, a businessman, a civic leader, and even a member of the family.

"Biff is corrupt, and powerful, and married to your mother!" Doc Brown laments to Marty. Millions of Americans no doubt feel the same way about a man who similarly possesses the uncanny ability to commandeer our attention and insert himself into every facet of modern life. Sometimes it's hard to avoid the feeling that we're simply living through the wrong timeline—thanks, McFly.

We may not have hoverboards, but America is teeming with the legal "Orb" from Woody Allen's Sleeper, observes Todd Krainin:

MGMMGMThe world never recovered after Albert Shanker, president of the United Federation of Teachers, acquired a nuclear warhead. Two hundred years later, in the year 2173, the territory once known as the United States is ruled by The Leader, the avuncular figurehead of a police state that brainwashes, surveils, and pacifies every citizen.

Every citizen except for our hero, Miles Monroe. Cryogenically frozen in the late 20th century, Monroe is thawed out in the 22nd. As the only person alive with no biometric record, Monroe is essentially an undocumented immigrant from the past, making him the ideal secret weapon for an underground revolutionary movement.

"What kind of government you guys got here?" asks a bewildered Monroe, after learning the state will restructure his brain. "This is worse than California!"

Monroe's quest to take down the worse-than-Sacramento government takes him through a world that's amazingly prescient for a film that aims for slapstick comedy. He gets high on the orb (space age marijuana), crunches on a 15-foot long stalk of techno-celery produced on an artificial farm (GMOs), impersonates a domestic assistant (Alexa), and joins a crunchy underground (#Resist), in order to defeat The Leader (guess who).

Sleeper's most memorable invention is the Orgasmatron, a computerized safe space that provides instant climaxes for a frigid and frightened populace. It's basically the internet porn and sex robot for today's intimacy-averse millennials.

In the highpoint of the film, Monroe attempts to clone The Leader from his nose. This in a film released 23 years before real doctors cloned Dolly the sheep from the cell of a mammary gland.

By the film's end, Monroe is faced with the prospect of replacing The Leader with a revolutionary band of eco-Marxists. But some things never change.

"Political solutions don't work," he prophesies. "It doesn't matter who's up there. They're all terrible."

For a journalism outlet, we've been embarrassingly slow to recognize that Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game explains the media world we live in, argues Peter Suderman:

TorTorIn a 2004 feature for Time, Lev Grossman explored of a new form of web-based journalism that was then radically reshaping both the political and media landscapes: blogs. Grossman profiled several bloggers, most of whom were young and relatively unknown, with little experience in or connection to mainstream journalism. Yet "blogs showcase some of the smartest, sharpest writing being published," Grossman wrote. In particular, bloggers were influencing some pretty big national conversations about U.S. military actions and politics.

From the vantage of 2018, all this might seem like old news: The mainstream media has adopted and amplified many blogging practices. But even in 2004, the idea of user-produced, semi-anonymous journalism, posted directly to the net with no editorial filter, had been in circulation for years as a sci-fi conceit—perhaps most prominently in Orson Scott Card's 1985 novel, Ender's Game.

In the book, a child genius named Ender Wiggin is sent to an orbiting military academy to prepare for a military invasion. While he's away, his adolescent siblings—themselves unusually gifted—hatch a plan to manipulate world politics by posting psuedononymous political arguments on "the nets." These essays are read by citizens and politicians alike, and both siblings develop powerful followings. Eventually, they help prevent the world from exploding into planetary war, and pave the way for mankind's colonial expansion into space.

Card's narrative was too compact, its assumptions about the influence of online writing too simplistic. But it previewed the ways in which the internet would expand the reach and influence of little-known writers—especially political pundits—who lack conventional journalistic training or credentials. Today's internet-based media landscape is neither a utopia nor a dystopia, but a lively, raucous, fascinating, and occasionally frustrating extrapolation of what Scott Card imagined before any of it existed in the real world.

This year is definitely one of Heinlein's "crazy years," says Brian Doherty:

AceAceRobert Heinlein was one of the first science fiction writers to create a fictional structure that seemed to privilege prediction, with his "Future History" sequence, collected in the volume The Past Through Tomorrow.

Prediction was not Heinlein's purpose—storytelling was. But his "Future History" chart started off with the "Crazy Years": "Considerable technical advance during this period, accompanied by a gradual deterioration of mores, orientation, and social institutions, terminating in mass psychoses in the sixth decade, and the interregnum." Heinlein made this prediction in 1941, so the "sixth decade" meant the 1950s.

Did he really predict the Trump era? Heinlein fans have seen in wild ideological excesses on both left and right a clear sign that we are, collectively, losing our minds. Instapundit's Glenn Reynolds thinks we are certainly in Heinlein's Crazy Years, noting it's become a cliché among Heinlein fans to notice. He sees as evidence totemic but useless responses to policy crisis, and a social networking age that allows for tighter epistemic bubbles for information consumers and producers. Factually, the internet makes it stunningly easier for anyone to have opinions about politics and policy far better informed by accurate facts and trends than in any previous era. That so many might choose not to do so shows why predictions of "crazy years" can seem so eternally prescient: People can just be crazy (colloquially).

A lot of the "crazy" news these days that might lead to the never-witty declaration that it's "not The Onion" come from unusual personal qualities of our president; some come from excesses of the desire to control others' thought and expression. But if "crazy" means dangerous, then recent trends in crime domestically and wealth and health worldwide indicate we are mucking along well enough.

Indeed, as per the title of Heinlein's anthology, the past is tomorrow and probably always will be. That times of technologic advance will be followed by "gradual deterioration" (read: changes) in mores, orientation, and social institutions is the kind of golden prediction of the dystopia we eternally are moving in (and always moving through) with which it's hard to lose.

Loing before the 2016 Flyover Takeover, Walker Percy predicted a frayed nation would disassemble itself, writes Mike Riggs:

Farrar, Straus & GirouxFarrar, Straus & GirouxIt's the 1980s, and liberals have taken "In God We Trust" off the penny, while "knotheads"—conservatives—have mired the U.S. in a 15-year war with Ecuador. Liberals love "dirty movies from Sweden," knotheads gravitate toward "clean" films, like The Sound of Music, Flubber, and Ice Capades of 1981. America's big cities, meanwhile, are shells of themselves. "Wolves have been seen in downtown Cleveland, like Rome during the black plague." Political polarization has even led to a change in international relations: "Some southern states have established diplomatic ties with Rhodesia. Minnesota and Oregon have their own consulates in Sweden."

Our guide through the social hellscape of Love in the Ruins is Thomas More, a descendant of Sir Thomas More (author of 1516's Utopia) and a lecherous Catholic psychiatrist with an albumin allergy who nevertheless chugs egg-white gin fizzes like water. A stand-in for Percy, More is a keen social taxonomist and a neutral party in the culture war. He notes that liberals tend to favor science and secularism; conservatives, business and God. But "though the two make much of their differences, I do not notice a great deal of difference between the two." In the bustling Louisiana town of Paradise, wealthy knotheads and wealthy leftists live side by side, in nice houses, with new cars parked in their driveways, just as they currently do in Manhattan, Georgetown, and Palm Beach. One group may go to church on Sundays, the other bird watching, but they are more like each other than they are the "dropouts from, castoffs of, and rebels against our society" who live in the swamp on the edge of town.

Yet even the wealthy must bear the brunt of social frisson. A local golf course magnate alternates between depression and indignation as the poor of Paradise challenge his decision to automate the jobs at his country club.

Love in the Ruins is the most radical timeline extending from the King assassination, Kent State, and the Tate Murders, three historical moments that helped undo the World War II–era fantasy—ever more childish in hindsight—of America as a cohesive unit. We were not one then, and are not now. Percy saw 2018 coming from a four-decade mile.

You are all wrong, says Jesse Walker:

USA FilmsUSA FilmsIdentity has never been as fluid, fungible, and multiple as it is today. That guy you're arguing with on Twitter might actually be a crowd of people. That crowd of people you're arguing with might actually be just one guy. Trolls try on a persona for an hour, then discard it for something new. Bots adopt a persona and stick with it, but without an actual mind in command. Your identity might be stolen altogether, leaving you to learn that an entity that looks like you has been spending money, sending messages, or otherwise borrowing your life. You might even wake one day to discover that someone has inserted your head onto someone else's body, all so a stranger can live out a fantasy.

You can decide for yourself how much of that is a utopia and how much is a dystopia. All I know is that at some point we started living in Being John Malkovich.

Photo Credit: Blade Runner 2049

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    You're all wrong. The correct answer is Demolition Man.

  • some guy||

    I was going to go with Running Man, but this works too.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    That's my #1 pick. The society portrayed in that movie is exactly what many statists consider an ideal.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    And we're well on the way to getting there.

  • phillhamian||

    sea shells?

  • Nardz||

    I'm fairly certain that crime rates and mass shootings would drop if we just started using 'murder-death-kill' to reference all homicides. It would definitely make for a more happy happy joy joy world.

  • Mark22||

    You've got it all wrong!

    The dystopia we're living in is clearly Star Trek.

  • vek||

    So true! Communist monetary system, and egalitarianism up to your eyeballs! If you really look at it all the people that are important are also military officers and politicians, with no mind ever paid to the common folk. It all sounds about right!

  • Jerryskids||

    Odd that several of these dystopian worlds immediately bring to mind the term "Kafkaesque" and yet nobody's giving a nod to the man? "The Trial" might not have the setting right, but the plot's right there.

  • OpenBordersLiberal-tarian||

    I can't believe Reason would give any publicity to something written by that terrible bigot Orson Scott Card. He opposes marriage equality! If you have to show a picture of his book cover, the least you could do is include a trigger warning.

  • Shirley Knott||

    No, the correct answer is, or will shortly be, Neal Asher's Owner trilogy. Without the optimism and 'brave new physics'.

  • Mike Riggs||

    You should go longer on this argument!

  • Citizen X - #6||

    -12,000,000,000 zero asset citizens

    As much as i liked the Owner series, the quality of Asher's writing is somehow orders of magnitude better in the Polity novels.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    But yeah - you are, depressingly, onto something.

  • DJF||

    Atlas Shrugged?

  • Citizen X - #6||

    An awful lot of politicians do seem to think Atlas Shrugged was an instruction manual rather than badly written philosophical science fiction, don't they.

  • some guy||

    That's what the past should have been, but wasn't. The Wesley Mooches of the world have gotten very good at extracting as much as possible without extracting so much that everything collapses.

  • Rhywun||

    Like an amoral surgeon.

  • IceTrey||

    The collapse only happens because the producers withdraw.

  • Jujucat||

    My mind keeps coming back to that too and feeling the urge to shrug.

  • Rhywun||

    Sleeper also got right the ongoing recognition that everything we thought about "healthy food" is wrong.

    Dr. Melik: You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies? Or hot fudge?
    Dr. Agon: Those were thought to be unhealthy, precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true.
    Dr. Melik: Incredible.
  • Eric Bana||

    I remember learning that you should eat 6-12 servings of carbohydrates a day as per the food pyramid. That's right, I was taught 12 servings of carbs a day was A-OK.

  • Widhalm19||

    Reality is not like any science fiction story. This essay is a fairly good reminder that highly-urbanized people are often severely deluded as to what actually goes on in the outside world that produces all the food, fuel, energy and various products they need to survive inside the concrete maze. Perhaps, get out of the city and work on a farm or ranch or lumber mill or on a drilling rig or at least camp in a wilderness area and experience a little reality.

  • Rhywun||

    That's why we have money to exchange for goods and services.

  • Widhalm19||

    You do realize that money is a symbol of value with no intrinsic value in-and-of-itself? Right? Urbanites would begin eating each other in less than a month if the endless supply of goods stopped flowing to the cities for any reason.

  • BYODB||

    I would assume that much like our Island state Hawaii, it would be less than a week before all resources in an urban center were exhausted. A month is being incredibly generous.

  • Agammamon||

    Nothing has an intrinsic value. And the people in the countryside would eat each other in a month if the endless supply of dollars stopped flowing from the cities for any reason.

    Its *trade* - voluntary trade- by definition its to the benefit of both sides.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Thank you. There is no such thing as intrinsic value. Yeah. You think farmers could keep farming without gas and electricity? And good luck living in the wilderness. If the economy were ever to collapse to the point of starvation, all the deer and other game would be shot and killed in a month.

  • Chumby||

    And that is when the whores come out.

  • vek||

    That's actually not really true at all... Their productivity and standard of living would collapse without inputs from elsewhere, but most rural farmers could quite easily survive if they weren't swamped by city folk streaming into the country looking for food. Or if they shot all those city folk as they arrived...

    They'd have to but them horses back to doing real world, and perhaps rejigger how they got the water to the crops, but they'd survive. Urbanites absolutely could not.

    Lots of things have intrinsic value. The value might vary widely by time and place, but food has a value in the absence of zeros and ones representing dollars in a bank computer. Even paper money has intrinsic value as wallpaper (see Wiemar Germany for the reference), but it's not very valuable.

  • gormadoc||

    Get those farmers or ranchers into a job dealing with tractor firmware and design to experience a little reality.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    It's kind of interesting that the urbanites are the vanguard of all environmental alarmism as well.

  • vek||

    My theory has always been since they never see the vast wide open untarnished spaces outside the city, they assume the whole world is paved over, filled with crack heads, filth, pollution, etc just like their city is. Little do they know we could cram the entire population of the world into Texas and each person would have more floorspace per capita than your average resident in Tokyo or NYC, and that's if no 2 story buildings existed!

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    I think your theory is spot on.

  • Rhywun||

    the remnants of the U.S. government is just one of the governance options

    His depiction of the Fedgov being all appearances and no substance - and bring-your-own-toilet-paper - is sure spot-on.

  • Procyon Rotor||

    Soave, your TDS isn't getting any less embarrassing. There are other things happening in the world besides Donald Trump.

  • Nardz||

    "Biff Tannen = Trump because... reasons."
    No, wait. There were no reasons given.
    "Biff Tannen = Trump because... I don't like Trump and nobody likes Biff! Waaaaah!"

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    I thought Robby's pick was hilariously awesome.

  • DajjaI||

    Idiocracy? I never saw it but everyone kept mentioning it for a while.

  • Jujucat||

    Very much so, yeah. You should see it.

  • mpercy||

    I come here to vote for Idiocracy myself.

    A generation of kids who will eat Tide Pods...yep...

  • MudCamper||

    Yes clearly Idiocracy should be number one.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Yep. That movie gets it right.

  • Weigel's Cock Ring||

    Gee whiz, I thought we were living in our "libertarian moment"!

    Oh right, that was under the Obamessiah. Who could have predicted such a dramatic shift in the outlook of the good folks at Reason? I mean, besides anyone with a brain.

  • DajjaI||

    Actually we are, and this will become more obvious as the rest of the world descends into a police state conflagration. The reason we escaped these fates is because we heeded all these prescient warnings. Amazing!

  • DajjaI||

    If Jordan Peterson gets his way - The Handmaid's Tale. (Note how he always slips in 'danger' and 'play' into all his appearances.)

  • colorblindkid||

    How did nobody bring up Atlas Shrugged? What kind of libertarian magazine is this?

    She may have been an awful writer, and I don't consider myself a Randian Objectivist, but the worlds she created were just as prophetic as any of the other classic dystopian novels.

  • Jujucat||

    Yep yep.

  • Weigel's Cock Ring||

    And just in case anyone doesn't believe me: click here and compare and contrast the tone for yourself.

    Gillespie after his hero got elected nearly ten years ago: "We are in fact living at the cusp of what should be called the Libertarian Moment, the dawning not of some fabled, clichéd, and loosey-goosey Age of Aquarius but a time of increasingly hyper-individualized, hyper-expanded choice over every aspect of our lives, from 401(k)s to hot and cold running coffee drinks, from life-saving pharmaceuticals to online dating services. This is now a world where it's more possible than ever to live your life on your own terms; it's an early rough draft version of the libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick's glimmering 'utopia of utopias.':

    This same exact douchebag now: we're living in one of Edgar Allen Poe's nightmares, "which anticipates the frustration so many of us feel while following the news these days. Just when you think reality can't get any stranger or less believable, it does exactly that, in both Poe's fictional world and our real one."

    How anyone could ever take assclowns like these seriously is beyond me.

  • SKR||

    Right because the social landscape looks exactly the same the world over as it did a decade ago.

  • Weigel's Cock Ring||

    You're another Obama-worshipping leftard just like these dopes.

  • SKR||

    It astonishes me every time I read one of your posts that someone with only half of their prefrontal cortex still has the motor control to actually use a keyboard.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Simple Mikey is a semisentient teratoma. It is known.

  • Inigo Montoya||

    Your sarcasm meter needs fresh batteries.

    He was saying that things have gotten worse over the last decade. I'm not sure how that qualifies as praise for Obama.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Look, Inigo, if you don't agree with Mikey on every particular, then you're a sock puppet of Crusty and/or Dave Weigel and you want to perform sexual favors on Barack Obama. There are no other possibilities.

  • Red Tony||

    Hey, you can want to perform sexual favors on Barack Obama without being a sock puppet of Crusty or Weigel. The Cock Ring is working from flawed premises.

  • gormadoc||

    He's never done that before!

  • vek||

    What it boils down to mostly is that most of the writers here are really just leftists who understand economics a bit. They want chaos and anarchy, a total breakdown of all rules/norms just for the sake of doing it... Even though many of those norms are what make society function well in the real world. I'm talking values, family, culture, etc. They want to see it all burn it seems to me.

    There's a big difference between letting people be free to do what they want, as in making it not illegal to do something, and pushing for degenerate stuff/things that cause problems in the real world. Most of the people here push bad ideas as if they were virtues. I'm libertarian on 99% of issues, but there are a few biggies where the real world outcomes would be horrendous for quality of life, so I say fuck strict morals on those arguments. I think most bad behaviors should be legal, but they shouldn't be encouraged in society either.

  • Curt||


  • Echospinner||

    You got my vote.

  • SKR||

    IDK, Everytime I drive by this one little stretch of the 110 by Dodger stadium I see a ribbon of shanties practically hanging off the freeway on a incredibly steep hillside. I can't help but think about Gibson's Bridge Trilogy.

  • Inigo Montoya||

    I'm surprised nothing by William Gibson made the list.

    He's certainly been more on-target than most regarding future technology and its implications, even though reading Neuromancer now, his vision of cyberspace is pretty dated, although the depiction of AIs might still be quite prophetic.

    And his later stuff, which has moved progressively closer to our time, is definitely on-track.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Spook Country totally predicted Pokemon Go.

  • Iheartskeet||

    Honestly, the movie "Idiocracy" seems to have all of the above beat by a mile in terms of predictions. The only thing from that movie that doesn't seem to be on track is vast environmental degradation.

  • JoeBlow123||

    Brawndo's got what plants crave!

  • Iheartskeet||

    Go away ! 'Batin !

  • BYODB||

    Except that Idiocracy assumed that intelligence of the general population is reduced by 'stupid people breeding'.

  • Iheartskeet||

    I rest my case.

  • vek||

    Well it is true for now in the developed world, whereas the reverse was true in the past. The intelligent/successful used to have more children that survived into adulthood and bred themselves. The Flynn effect, probably mostly driven by better nutrition and lack of diseases, has probably hidden much of the effect from dysgeneics. But the Flynn effect seems to have topped out in 1st world countries (IQs seem to no longer be rising), so we may soon start seeing the degradation of the average genetic intelligence of the population in the coming generations.

    Eugenics is not pseudoscience, it is real science. The Nazis were just dicks about it all and gave it a bad name. But it is 110% correct that breeding patterns will cause increases or decreases in the fitness and intelligence of the population. If Hitler had won the war the SS elite that was participating in breeding programs would probably have already gained a few inches in height, and a lot of IQ points over the randomly breeding population by now in just a few generations since their policy was so intense.

    I wonder if the vastly higher rates of certain health problems nowadays isn't because of allowing the weak to survive long enough to breed. Some of them probably are caused by that, others by our unhealthy lifestyle. But unless trends reverse, we are in fact breeding a stupider population, it will most likely just take a while before the effects because big enough to matter.

  • StackOfCoins||

    reddit, that improbably popular board of sycophants, has banned deepfake pornography and two boards purposed for the creation of deepfakes as "involuntary pornography." Facebook provides even less freedom. These boards demonstrate the utter incompetence of government at suppressing speech: social media is the new censor, unfettered by First Amendment restrictions on the ability to police speech.

  • Chumby||

    YouTube has been flagging and shutting down (sometimes only temporarily) firearms channels.

  • vek||

    And shit tons of political channels that are right of center. Tons of alt-right people have been shit canned, but even tons of pretty wimpy mainline conservative channels have been booted off.

    It's pretty terrifying how all out the war on free speech has gotten all of a sudden. I think the left finally realizes they not only lost the arguments (which happened long ago), but that since their control of the media is irrelevant now they have to actively censor things or else they'll lose too many of their sheep to the "evil" libertarians or conservatives.

  • Azathoth!!||

    The problem, of course, is that we're not in a dystopia.

    Sorry, pessimists--that glass is half full and refills are already on the way.

    With luck, we may be getting closer to RAH's 'The Happy Days Ahead' than to worrying about Nehemiah Scudder.

    And we are!

    Because that's the direction man always goes--oh, there might be hiccups along the way, but the push is towards something amazing. You have to take the long view.

    As I've stated before, we're in the Singularity right now--and there's a good chance that most of us will make it to the other side and we'll all be sitting around, a few hundred millennia from now (the VERY long view) thinking 'how could we have lived like that?'

    And no--it won't be as 'machine intelligences'(though there'll be plenty of those).

  • StackOfCoins||

    As I've stated before, we're in the Singularity right now--and there's a good chance that most of us will make it to the other side and we'll all be sitting around, a few hundred millennia from now (the VERY long view) thinking 'how could we have lived like that?'
    We might be standing on the cusp of the Singularity, but it's probably a hundred years off if not more - and every mortal on the planet right now is certainly doomed. Sure, eventually we'll get there. Life can be extended, perhaps indefinitely. But it won't be us... it might not even be humans. Whatever comes after, when we take the reigns of our evolution firmly in hand.

  • Azathoth!!||

    " Whatever comes after"

    Nothing comes after. You hit 'sentience'. That's it. Evolution will continue, but it's all icing now. Once you know it's happening the game changes completely.

    And the singularity has started. It's just really hard to see if you're inside it.

    Long View get it?

    It helps to try to see it from the other side.

  • StackOfCoins||

    If we're going to conquer death, it means leaving our mortal trappings behind. Humans cannot be immortal. Post-humans, perhaps.

    As for AI, I'll believe it when it moves beyond playing board games and drawing pictures of cats. Until then we're just making computers perform some neat tricks.

  • Azathoth!!||

    'Humanity' is going to 'conquer death' several times.

    And here's a secret--there's no such thing as 'AI'. But humanity will figure that out in good time.

  • CE||

    More like 30 or 40 years away.... still too late for us geezers, unfortunately.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    "nd every mortal on the planet right now is certainly doomed."

    Well yeah, but that's just the basic nature of life and mortality. Everything that lives, dies.

    It was true 1000 years ago, as it is true today and will still be true 1000 years from now.

  • Iheartskeet||

    Have to say, data leads to your conclusion.

  • Agammamon||

    We've gone through multiple singularities throughout human history - fire, tool use, writing, agriculture, printing, phones, computers are just a few.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    Azathoth!! - I agree with all your points, and I think the people who are arguing that the singularity is just a little bit out of reach aren't factoring in lifespan improvements over time due to a variety of things.

    Environmentally, I think we are living in the best times the human race has ever seen. Clean water, clean air, clean living conditions, clean skin, clean orifices. It's only going to get better.

    The same goes for our eating practices. We've got enough people reporting on what works for them that we can really start getting some diversity in diets to see what is working for who. Most foods are available to anyone who makes a little effort.

    When I was a little kid, people my age now were mostly seriously debilitated. That's certainly not the case now, at least for me and the peers I hang out with. My most likely death scenario is taking a drunken header off a cliff...

  • vek||

    I kind of agree... But for one big problem: Politics.

    If we had sane politics running the world right now, I would be VERY optimistic. But the only difference between a utopia and a dystopia is who is running "the system" so to speak. I think many global politicians really do have 1984/Brave New World/etc etc etc in their minds as a blueprint. If they pull off half of the twisted shit they're trying to do, we will be living in hell, not heaven.

    Which is why we HAVE TO win some of these political battles, because we're on the edge of forever here. If a totalitarian state comes to power in this day and age, especially if it is global in nature, there will be nearly no way to topple it. It will be Orwell's boot stomping on a human face for 1000 years.

    If good people and good idea win out things could be pretty damn nice though. Sorry for pissing in the punch, but that's the elephant in the room that tech-optimists often like to ignore...

  • Azathoth!!||

    You'll note that I said that you've GOT to take the long view, right?

    Well, with a long enough view, absent Armageddon, politics will trend in the right direction. Humans are like that.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    Azathoth!! - I've come to realize I'm a short term pessimist and a long term optimist. It makes for a confusing world view for my friends.

    I've also come to believe technology (in the broad sense) is why I feel that way. Technology always overpromises and undelivers in the short term, but in the long term, some of it delivers bigly.

    Politicians, if they deliver at all, deliver only in the short term. Luckily politician's effective life span is somewhat short term as well...

  • CE||

    It's not a dystopia at all.

    Life is better than ever. People are wealthier than ever before. Crime is down. The environment has been recovering since the mid 1970s. Heck, even global temperatures will grow slightly more pleasant if the climate scaremongers are right.

  • CE||

    Entertainment is cheaper and better and more readily accessible than ever before. Even lower middle class people have large flatscreen high definition TVs and supercomputer equipped phones connected to a global information database. It's easier than ever to meet people, to travel anywhere, and to start new businesses to grow unbelievably wealthy in less time than ever before.

  • vek||

    See my post above yours.

    And also, bobbles does not equal happiness. There are a lot of things about the modern world that make it more unnerving, stressful, and harder to find true fulfillment than in the past. We CAN solve those issues, but it will require changes. Then we can have all the nice stuff from the past AND bobbles!

  • Agammamon||

    You talk about being in Dick's future yet you illustrate it with a picture of that shitty Blade Runner sequel? *C'MON!*

  • StackOfCoins||

    I liked it. The original movie by Ridley Scott is, in a word, boring. This was an improvement on that.

  • Chumby||

    Film noir =/ action movie.

  • MudCamper||


  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    JFC. Rainbows End, dumbasses.

  • Dubber308||

    I remember my son making a comment about 8 years ago. "We're living in a mashup of Rand, Orwell, Huxley, Bradbury and a couple of crappy Stallone movies." Good observation from a then high school sophomore.

  • Episteme||

    The problem with Walker's BEING JOHN MALKOVICH comparison is that Twitter and such is nothing new. Places like this comment thread are just technologically advanced (and far quicker) versions of old pseudonymous pamphlets. Flame wars are just pamphleteering wars on a different platform. Look at the documents written and sent around under assumed names (including multiple folks using the same name, either concurrently or later on) during the Stamp Act crisis, the lead up to the American Revolution, or the debate over the Constitution. Hell, the Federalist Papers (as well as the less fondly-remembered Antifederalist Papers) wasn't a book with Hamilton's, Madison's, and Wilson's names on it — it was a collection of arguments printed back and forth under assumed Romanesque titles against other anonymous writers' pamphlets.

  • Jesse Walker||

    This is all true; trolls and sockpuppets are a lot older than the internet. But the greater speed and ease of publishing today has made identity even more liquid.

  • gormadoc||

    The Scarlet Letter, but with SJWs instead of Puritans.

  • Chumby||

    Do Transdroids Dream of Electric Sheepmales?

  • vek||


  • vek||

    And also titillating! LOL

  • DrZ||

    Actually I was thinking Bambi meets Godzilla.

  • Nuwanda||

    Things don't quickly devolve in the interesting little dystopias found in fiction. There's a long, slow rotten slide into a lower level of existence. OK, if you want to call the middle ages a dystopia, we can agree on the semantics, but to the Greco-Roman mind, it was a tragic waste. Thus goes the West.


Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online