Aug 6, 2017

Four Kinds of Dystopia

By Darren Allen /
Four Kinds of Dystopia

The twentieth century saw four basic visions of hell on earth, or dystopia. These were:

Orwellian Rule by autocratic totalitarian people, party or elite group, limitation of choice, repression of speech and repression of minorities, belief in order, routine and rational-morality. Control by enclosure, fear and explicit violence. Violent repression of dissent (via ‘the party line’). Erotic physicality and sexual freedom suppressed via control of sexual impulses. Control of thought by explicitly policing language (Orwellian Newspeak).

Huxleyan Rule by democratic totalitarian systems, excess of choice, limitation of access to speech platforms, assimilation of minorities, belief in emotional-morality, ‘imagination’ and flexibility, and control by desire, debt, narcotics and implicit threat of violence. No overt control of dissent (system selects for system-friendly voices). Erotic physicality and sexual freedom suppressed via promotion of pornographic sensuality and dissolution. Control of thought by implicitly enclosing language within professional boundaries (Illichian Newspeak, or Uniquack).

Kafkaesque Rule by bureaucracy. Control of populace via putting them into writing, forcing people to spend free time on bureaucratic tasks, thereby inducing tractable stress and the schizoid, self-regulating self-consciousness (anxiety about low marks, unlikes, official judgements and the like) that bureaucratic surveillance engenders. Generation of a self-justifying system which structurally rewards those who seek an indirect relationship with their fellows or who, through fear of life, seek to control it through the flow of paperwork.

Phildickian Rule by replacing reality with an abstract, ersatz virtual image of it. This technique of social control began with literacy—and the creation of written symbols, which devalued soft conscious sensuous inspiration, fostered a private (reader-text) interaction with society, created the illusion that language is a thing, that meaning can be stored, owned and perfectly duplicated, that elite-language is standard and so on—and ended with virtuality—the conversion of classrooms, offices, prisons, shops and similar social spaces into ‘immersive’ on-line holodecks which control and reward participants through permanent, perfect surveillance, the stimulation of positive and negative emotion, offers of godlike powers, and threats to nonconformists of either narco-withdrawal or banishment to an off-line reality now so degraded by the demands of manufacturing an entire artificial universe, that only hellish production-facilities, shoddy living-units and prisons can materially function there.


Now of course there are other powerful — meaning truthful — visions of Dystopia, but the four dystopias above were the originating trunks from which later branches grew. Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut, for example (Combination of Huxleyan with Kafkaesque elements), or The Handmaid’s Tale (Orwellian with a pronounced patriarchal-religious emphasis), or Anthem (generic Orwellian with a primitivist/preindustrial Luddite version of Phildickian), or Fahrenheit 451 (Orwellian and Huxleyan), or Brazil (Kafkaesque with Orwellian elements).

The more pressing question is what kind of dystopia are we currently struggle to eke out a life worth living? I would like to suggest that all modern societies are both Kafkaesque and Phildickian with either a Huxleyan or Orwellian overarching framework; modern, western, capitalist societies tend to be basically Huxleyan (HKP) and, on the other side of the Overton Window, pre-modern, eastern, communist countries tend to be basically Orwellian (OKP).

The reason why ideological managers (academics, film directors, journalists, etc) prefer to have two (or more) dystopian systems is that it makes us seem like the goodies and them the baddies. Communism is to blame for their foodbanks and breadlines, but capitalism has nothing to do with ours (or vice versa). Sure our masses have the same miserable lives as theirs, reel under the same bureaucratic insanity, stumble around the same shoddy unreal worlds, and witness the same catastrophic destruction of nature and beauty as theirs do, but at least we’ve got democracy! / at least our families stick together! / at least the trains run on time! / at least GTA 9 is coming out soon / at least the Olympics will cheer us up (delete as appropriate).

I call this extremely common mental activity, biastification: To excuse one excess of one’s self or one’s societyby comparing it with its opposame / false antonym. Our basically Huxleyan nightmare is excused by pointing the finger at their basically Orwellian nightmare. The cult of optimism is excused by comparing it with that of pessimism, cold rationality is excused by comparing it with hot emotion, being ‘a responsible adult’ is excused by comparing it to being ‘an irresponsible child’, hedonism is excused by comparing it to boredom, corporatism is excused by comparing it to statism, and the implicit violence of modern uncivilisation is excused by comparing it to the explicit violence of the lawless pre-modern cults which gave rise to and sustain it.

That all these apparent differences are essentially the same only becomes visible during crises. When the Huxleyan world is attacked, it instantly turns into an Orwellian nightmare. When the superficial optimist loses his status he instantly transforms into a suicidal pessimist. When the fun-lover cannot get a fix of excitement she instantly experiences intense, unbearable boredom.

Possibly the most disabling social opposame is the political left and right. We are taught to define Communism, Liberalism and Social Democracy as on the left, and Capitalism, Fascism and Totalitarianism as on the right. Nobody could be further left than Stalin, nobody further right than Hitler. Surely Obama and Trump are a million miles apart? But look at the actual behaviour of the so-called left and right, and the actual outcome of that behaviour, and the essential — unspoken — sameness is exposed. This is why, under the right and the left, nature always suffers, the poor always get poorer, workers always remain enslaved by the market (forced to sell their labour to the owners of capital) and criminal wars, overt and covert, always proliferate. The left and the right has precisely the same foundational attitudes to professionalism, wage-slavery, privege and the exploitation of natural resources; in a word, to ‘civilisation’.

By which I mean to say; ‘civilisation’ is inherently dystopian.


This is an adapted extract from The Apocaypedia ( by Darren Allen

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