Utopia V

Dystopia is the word often used for literary depictions of utopias gone wrong. It is no coincidence that these depictions are classed as science fiction, though they are essentially political novels: for example, Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 or even Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed. For what has gone wrong in these fictional scenarios is not only the authoritarian powers but technology (hence the “science”). Indeed, technology is what enables authority to consolidate and extend its power to a precise and scientific level of cultural control. Technology has long failed the sense of culture that nourishes individual potential. Technology reduces economics to materialism, consumption to greed, and labor to dependence. The ancient Chinese recluses and the desert fathers of the Roman Empire successfully escaped authoritarian power but, as importantly, they escaped technology itself, and that is what allowed them to function freely. They functioned freely not because technology did not yet exist to a sophisticated degree but rather because technology was not so sophisticated as to abet the extension of political power. The silence and simplicity of their era and their natural settings fostered their successful life of solitude and autonomy. The destruction of nature and of the values of the spirit today remind us that the benefits of modern technology are the irrelevant byproducts of dystopia.