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Posts Tagged ‘Dystopia’

I hope John Milton will forgive me for titling my post with a variation on the name of his magnum opus.

What I mean by the phrase is this: When we try to build something lasting and perfect in this world, we are building on what are either the ruins of a toppled paradise or the pieces of an incomplete project (in which case, our construction is premature), with dust and darkness — the “shadows” of part two, if you want — in the in-between spaces.

So it’s obvious why we can’t be successful: We are making our home in a destructive atmosphere with insufficient defenses.

Adam_Eve

Unfortunately, we have been doing it on and off ever since our First Parents.  They thought they could have their freedom and happiness apart from God, which is intrinsically impossible.

Things are as they are because as a species, we tried to build on the wrong foundation to begin with.  Ever subsequent attempt to build the perfect society by our own powers — starting with the Tower of Babel and going all the way up to the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century — ends in disaster.

Such attempts not only echo the Original Sin, they build on an even worse foundation, since death entered into human existence and the world over which we were meant to be stewards became subject to futility and decay.

A.I.Still from “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” (DreamWorks/Warner Brothers, 2001)

The dystopian future as a science fiction sub-genre warns us about our technological dream, our temptation to build a perfect world through technology.  Any “Babel” project will divide, not unite; confuse, not uplift; dehumanize, not perfect humanity.

As much as we may (indeed, should) appreciate the healing, innovation, and other gains afforded by technological progress, we all have a sense that it has to be approached with humility, not hubris.  Otherwise, what happens?

I look forward to finding out in August, when the movie “Elysium” comes out.

Top image from Wikipedia; “A.I.” image obtained through a Google image search.

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Alien_(1979)_-_The_AlienMyths and fairy tales are two separate, though deeply related, genres; but the concerns of both tie in with the concerns of science fiction. For our purposes, these concerns pertain to suffering.

In his book “Making Sense Out of Suffering” (if you haven’t read it, do so — it’s a real gem), Peter Kreeft designates myths as dealing with suffering in terms of “paradise lost” and fairy tales as dealing with the need for shadows against the light to make for an engaging story.

Sci-fi has both of these elements.  In some ways, they feed off of each other.

And by the way, by “shadow” we mean monsters, witches, dragons…and yes, Ridley Scott’s “Alien” creature.  And in dystopic stories like the upcoming film “Elysium,” it comes in the form of totalitarian oppression.

The why of shadows is obvious: Without danger and conflict, the story gets boring.  But we can’t forget that science fiction is the lore of a technological age, the summum bonum of which is the pursuit of convenience, pleasure, ease, and the cure of all ills.

While this might sound good in everyday life, no narrative can sustain itself along such lines.  And so we have “shadows” that are specific to premises based on dreams of technological and scientific progress.

But I don’t think storytelling is the only issue here.  Storytelling, after all, comes from a deep, basic, and primordial understanding of reality.  As much as we might wish for a perfect society in which science and technology solve all of life’s problems and end all its evils, I think somewhere in our souls we get the sense that it can never be quite that simple — not, at any rate, on this plane of existence.

BraveNewWorld_FirstEdition

Even utopian societies such as the one portrayed in Alduous Huxley’s “Brave New World” show us the dark side of our technological dreams.  In the future Huxley envisions, everyone is perfectly content, because they are genetically engineered to like and fit into whatever roles the governing body wants them to fill.

The problem, however, is that mankind has lost one of its chiefest and most valuable treasures: Freedom.  All people are pawns in a great machine that conditions them as it wishes, so that they cannot think, reason, wonder, want, pursue, or hope for themselves.

So there are dark shadows even in utopia.  And in all of its varieties, science fiction is at its most compelling when it pits darkness and light against one another.  And it most speaks to the soul when it acknowledges the ultimate victory of the latter.

That’s the shadows side.  We’ll get to the “paradise lost” side next time.

Images from Wikipedia

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