“Dystopia” has become a popular buzzword these days. Perhaps it’s because real-world technology is finally catching up with the fictional inventions of books like Neuromancer and 1984. Perhaps it’s due to the literary and cinematic popularity of franchises like The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner and Divergent. Or perhaps we are really living in a modern dystopia on the brink of collapse, beset on all sides by terrorism, counterterrorism, information overload, surveillance and a crumbling ecosystem.
In the midst of a heated and vitriolic American presidential election, it’s not uncommon to read reactions like “If [insert candidate’s name here] gets elected, welcome to the United States of Dystopia!” or “1984 was a warning, not an instruction manual!” Not to mention everyday complaints like “Who neglected to clean out the workplace coffeepot? What kind of dystopian hell am I living in?” And for Chicago Cubs fans, the team’s first World Series appearance in seventy-one years and a chance to end a 108-year title drought may seem like the first sign of the rapture or an imminent apocalypse.
So if you fear your world is really headed toward Hell in a handbasket, here’s a three-step guide to surviving your modern dystopia.
The first thing you need to do is decide how seriously you take your dystopian fears. Are you just looking to vent on social media, or do you truly harbor deep-seated misgivings about the future of your world? If you just need to blow off some steam, there’s nothing wrong with that. Badmouth your frenemies behind their backs. Fire off angry tweets at your most hated politician. Just don’t expect to accomplish anything besides giving your temper a much-needed temporary outlet. But if your concerns exceed the capacities of a figurative punching bag, proceed to step two.
2. Take action
Even as we move closer to a world where The Matrix no longer seems like an imaginative fiction, our actions still have consequences. Our thoughts, words and behaviors can sway minds and influence decisions. Most of us will never have the power to shift nations, but if we can affect even one person, we have accomplished meaningful change.
The human spirit thrives on creativity, innovation, effort and reason, especially in the face of adversity. If there is one characteristic of most dystopian fiction, it is one hero or group of heroes breaking out of the downtrodden masses to fight for some cause. If you do not think when called to obey, if you do not act when called to be humble, if you do not strive when called to resign, you risk falling prey to a modern dystopia of apathy, in which people rage meekly in private and cower in plain sight until little by little they become accustomed to their grey, ignorant, blissful world and speak and think no more.
So join a political party, or start your own, if you fear electoral subordination. Engage in respectful but critical discussion. Protest. Empathize with both your allies and your opponents. Understand what motivates them and how you can help them share your truth. Talk to your co-workers if office life looks too much like Lord of the Flies. Do your part and ask them to do theirs. Recognize your equal claims and learn how to maintain that just harmony.
3. Feed the revolution
Most rebellions don’t win the first time around. There’s a decent chance you won’t achieve the immediate change you anticipated. But stasis is not defeat. Whether you struggle against a feared or actualized state of affairs, the struggle continues. If nothing else, you’ll have learned a few lessons along the way, lessons that will allow you to act with greater focus. You’ll have made new connections and established new alliances, all of which will benefit your ongoing revolution. In the famous words of Edmund Burke, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Don’t forget that the greatest danger is not is in losing the initial battle, but in ignoring the stakes of the fight.