The Western world has gone unglued in my lifetime. We all have read dystopian novels years earlier, and we are now living in one. An excerpt from Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán’s speech on March 15, 2016 defines the tyranny of our time:
This time the danger is not attacking us the way wars and natural disasters do, suddenly pulling the rug from under our feet. Mass migration is a slow stream of water persistently eroding the shores. It is masquerading as a humanitarian cause, but its true nature is the occupation of territory. And what is gaining territory for them is losing territory for us.
Let’s make a distinction between struggle and dystopia. We thrive in struggle — under a touch of chaos and when free to deal with it. But not in captivity, especially with rats in that same cage and Dobermans trained to destroy us if we stomp at any of the rats.
In this post, I am relating to a future-year reader what our time feels like. It seems fitting to start describing our dystopia with Suburban_elk’s musing because his earlier comment inspired me to finalize this post:
Interesting times is the cliché that has become overdrawn, but i like to think how much it is an opportunity for anyone to make his mark, and to become known for a contribution in describing things.
I myself am certainly interested in hearing someone describe my experience, or their experience and what we have in common; and find it VERY MUCH LACKING. No offense to my fellow readers and participants, but if there were someplace else i would be there now.
So i call on you to draw your sword and mark these days our times.
I’ll answer the call and describe our experience thusly:
It Feels Normal. It’s the end of the word as we know it and I feel fine. The sun shines, it’s not dark and wet like in a Gothic film scene.
Territorial Insecurity. The dread is real though, and that’s what they mean by war. When people say that they want peace, what they really desire is not placidity or stasis, but a feeling of inviolable public space that is a reflection of who they are. The paradoxical anxieties of diversity and the intrusive state fill us with a sense of being illegal aliens in our own lands.
The following map tracks our shrinking dominion over the past 100 years. Fittingly, the disgrace of England appears in the upper-right:
A Sense of Impermanence. Investing in anything feels futile. Architecture is fake precast columns, faux-brick facades. As reported in July 2014, a survey shows that the majority of White Americans feels pessimistic about the future.
Dear future reader, that survey was taken a year before The Trumpening. You did build a yooooge memorial to President Donald J. Trump on the National Mall, right?
Alienation. The dissident you know from your history books does not feel like a hero. He feels alone. Sometimes dissidents commit suicide. It would be worse without the internet.
Perverse Incentives. Virtue is its own reward and it wouldn’t be admirable if it were always easy. But under a dystopia, there is a systematic structure of perverse incentives. Virtue is punished, vice is rewarded. Imagine a thoughtful teenage boy wondering “why does my country tell me to be a fag-voiced slacker instead of striving for supremacy?” or a girl wonders “why do they tell me to dress like a stripper?”
The Prevalence of Antisocial Behavior. Oppression brings out the worst in us — irritability, spite, passive aggression — before it brings out the best in us.
Ugliness. The landscape is one conspicuous suppression of beauty and a reflection of lowest common standards. Somewhere, fearsome majesty unfurls its wings only to have crows descend upon it. You thirst for a pretty face in the crowd.
Arrogant Stupidity. The obedient, the complacent, and the dull strut like divas. The talented get coopted: Bruce Springsteen used to sing about working man’s trials, now he takes a stand on people who piss standing in women’s bathrooms.
Betrayal. One always somehow expects those close to him to see the obvious but they don’t, and they hate you for it.
Hope. History never stops and nationalism is rising fast in Europe. 2016 has been an amazing year, and it’s only April. Prime minister Orbán so ends his speech:
Today it is written in the book of fate that hidden, faceless world powers will eliminate everything that is unique, autonomous, age-old and national. They will blend cultures, religions and populations, until our many-faceted and proud Europe will finally become bloodless and docile. And if we resign ourselves to this outcome, our fate will be sealed, and we will be swallowed up in the enormous belly of the United States of Europe.
The task which awaits the Hungarian people, the nations of Central Europe and the other European nations which have not yet lost all common sense is to defeat, rewrite and transform the fate intended for us.
Dear future reader, you may recall that Orbán was (note to present readers: past tense from their perspective) a moderate in Hungary’s politics and a Soros Foundation scholar. Even today, most people forget that. Should contemporary moderates fail to meet their objectives through working with the system and appeals to classical virtues, tomorrow’s ultra-nationalists await with the promise of a reckoning — which is why there is a future reader.
And this goes out to Suburban_elk, whom I thank for this post: