Dystopia heaven

August 20, 2020

Listen to “Dystopia Heaven” on Spreaker.

Our governor here in California has declared a state of emergency over the recent outbreak of 23 major wildfires. Homes have been destroyed; air quality has deteriorated. Yesterday, the temperature hit 102, and our local utility has warned of rolling blackouts. And, of course, the pandemic continues to surge on, with schools that have tried to open having to close again. End of Times fanatics are probably experiencing a rise in membership. Writers of dystopian novels are tearing up their manuscripts and just turning on the news. Miracle cures and Saviors are coming out of the woodwork.

One of the benefits of being the most adaptive species ever to inhabit the planet is that species-threatening crises are treated as just the latest challenge to face and overcome. We’re optimistic beings, resilient, inventive and resourceful. Tom Hanks in Cast Away. Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind. Zsu Zsu in It’s a Wonderful Life. Del Griffith in Planes, Trains…well, you get the idea.

Carol and I are currently watching The Handmaid’s Tale. Our Saturday matinee last weekend was the John Hurt version of George Orwell’s 1984. It’s tempting, but we’re resisting the trap to see reality imitating art toward any kind of Dystopian nightmare. Truthfully, it’s just Carol doing the resisting. She’s the optimist. I’m full-on seeing Thought Police, Guardians, Commanders and Big Brother around every corner. Between her glass-is-half-full and my glass-is-half-empty outlook, we have a glass that could use more ice. And a paper umbrella.

An American passport suddenly has no value. The rest of the world is waking up to the truth of two separate Americas that Americans have always known. (You can tell us apart from the masks we’re either wearing or not wearing.) And it’s now “Take Me Out Of The Ball Game.”

“Between her glass-is-half-full and my glass-is-half-empty outlook, we have a glass that could use more ice. And a paper umbrella.”

There’s two ways of watching professional sports being played to empty stadiums (let’s set aside the cardboard cutouts and fake crowd noise that make it seem like we’re watching a video game). The optimist sees us as adapting to the realities of the pandemic, and finding a way to inject as much normalcy as possible into the new reality. The pessimist sees a dark world in which the planet’s population has been wiped out, leaving only professional athletes whose use of PEDs immunized them from the poison that killed off humanity. I’m calling it A League On Their Own.

It’s hard to imagine what the world will look like when all this inevitably passes, one way or the other. Human nature is very resilient, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. It would help if concepts like fragility, community and stewardship really took hold in our collective psyches. That’s something worth looking forward to, and we should hold that thought.

Putting dystopian novel writers out of business wouldn’t be a bad outcome either. The Handmaid’s Tale would become Ladies in Red Hit the Buffet. In 2084, Big Brother would be a cross between reality TV and a game show. And John Candy and Steve Martin would star in Curbsides, Deliveries and Instacarts.

Turns out, I’m an optimist after all.

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