Lessons from Dystopian Novels
As Latter-Day Saints, and disciples of Christ, we talk a lot about building or becoming Zion. As a society, I think this idea of Zion has captivated us for centuries. The idea of a perfect society, where there is no crime, no dischord, and a reigning sense of peace. No matter our political affiliation, there is this desire to create a better world. The idea of this Utopian society has teased men however, because without the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it’s not truly possible to achieve.
The dream of a Zionist Utopia gives way to this idea of ‘What if?’ that many authors and storytellers have played with. But in most of these stories, these civilizations fall into a dystopian climate, falling short of the goal.
I have always loved dystopian novels and films. It’s a weird quirk of mine, but something about the end of the world scenarios have always fascinated me. But one thing I’ve always noticed is that there are some clear correlations between dystopian novels, and Second Coming prophecies. Maybe you’ve seen those ‘Make 1984 Fiction Again’ t-shirts floating around, but in recent years especially I’ve been thinking a lot about those dystopian novels and the parallels I noticed in the world around us. Since Halloween is around the corner, and it’s a good time to think about some creepy things, I thought it may be fun to talk about some of those lessons that maybe we should have pulled from those stories from our school days, and take a reflective look at what we are seeing around us.
These stories often start out very similarly, usually taking place in places where once there was a form of democracy such as London, the United States, or North America (a combination of the US and Canada). Due to some sort of great calamity, or war, the people who remain are split into factions and create a ‘utopian’ society in which the government has complete and total control. Obviously the reader can see the flaws in the society, and what has been lost in order to achieve the Utopia the people have chosen, where the author seeks to encourage the reader to avoid these same mistakes, and prepare ourselves for circumstances that may be ahead.
Loss of Individual Agency
We know that agency is key to our Father’s Plan of Salvation. Yet, in almost every dystopian novel is the loss of individual agency the people have. Some societies use military force and physical punishment. Others use indoctrination tactics to lull the masses into ignorance. We can see both of these methods playing out in our world, where some leaders threaten police force or military action against those who try to exercise their own will, while in others, people are lulled into a sleepy security that ‘This is just how it is.’
The Giver explores this idea quite thoroughly with their society, who wish to reach complete ‘sameness’ by eliminating anything that would be particularly unique about an individual. This society uses medical interventions to remove things like the ability to see color, or feel strong emotions. When puberty arises, medication is adjusted to remove those feelings as well. People are assigned to jobs, homes, and families based on need. Those who are not seen as useful to society anymore are released into ‘Elsewhere’. Society knows no pain, but they also miss out on love, hope, or joy. They dilute the power of language by using ‘precise language’, where apologies now are symbols of politeness, rather than having actual meaning. Books and music are removed. As the main character, Jonas begins to become acquainted with these changes from the past, he exclaims, “If everything’s the same, then there aren’t any choices! I want to wake up in the morning and decide things!”
Elder Robert D. Hales said, “Our agency—our ability to choose and act for ourselves—was an essential element of this plan. Without agency we would be unable to make right choices and progress.” A Zion society cannot exist without agency. Satan threatened to suspend our agency in order for him to overthrow the Father in the Preexistence, and we can anticipate that he would do the same here the closer we get to Christ’s return. Nephi foretells when he writes, “For behold, at that day shall he rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good. And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell. And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance.” (2 Nephi 28:20-22)
Are there ways that we are sacrificing our individual agency? As Latter-Day Disciples, our focus is to prepare ourselves and those around us for the return of the Savior, and to be aware of these patterns. Are we being stirred up to anger about things that may be distracting us from our mission as disciples of Christ? Are we being pacified or flattered by the world around us into believing that ‘all is well’ and becoming slothful servants who are ‘merely acted upon?’ (2 Nephi 2:26)
Prevalence of Poverty
One major characteristic of a true Zionistic civilization is that the people are of “one heart and one mind… and there [are] no poor among them.” (Moses 7:18) This is strikingly different to most of our dystopian stories, where the elites of society are above, and most of the citizens live in mediocre or destitute circumstances.
This is particularly clear in stories like the Hunger Games, where the citizens of the Capitol live outrageously exorbitant lives, with wild fashion statements, access to the newest and latest technologies, and a plethora of foods, (to the extent that they even promote recreational bulimia in order to indulge further) and easy access to other necessities. Contrast this to the circumstances of the citizens of the districts who are barely able to feed and clothe themselves.
On a much smaller scale, I believe we already see this in our world today. Homelessness has become a major problem in many cities over the past several years. There are currently 59 million people enrolled in our welfare programs, and an estimated 10 million more people below the poverty line who don’t qualify. As one of the wealthiest nations in the world, how is that possible? And how do we as Latter-Day Disciples help with this problem in a way that would exemplify Christ’s love and service?
The People Awaken
I think the most important part of dystopian stories, though, is the end. This is where I think the people realize what has happened, and the horrible situation that they have gotten themselves into. Usually this escalates to some sort of war, or battle scene, where the symbolic David again goes up against Goliath.
This is where I think we can relate, even if we aren’t currently living in a dystopian novel. We know that these are the wrapping up scenes before the return of our Savior. We know that as we draw closer to the end, the darker the world will feel, and become. Satan is pulling out all the stops to take as many as he can, before he loses forever. Moroni exhorts, “Wherefore, O ye Gentiles, it is wisdom in God that these things should be shown unto you, that thereby ye may repent of your sins… Wherefore, the Lord commandeth you, when ye shall see these things come among you that ye shall awake to a sense of your awful situation, because of this secret combination which shall be among you; or wo be unto it, because of the blood of them who have been slain; for they cry from the dust for vengeance upon it, and also upon those who built it up. For it cometh to pass that whoso buildeth it up seeketh to overthrow the freedom of all lands, nations, and countries; and it bringeth to pass the destruction of all people, for it is built up by the devil, who is the father of all lies; even that same liar who beguiled our first parents, yea, even that same liar who hath caused man to commit murder from the beginning; who hath hardened the hearts of men that they have murdered the prophets, and stoned them, and cast them out from the beginning. Wherefore, I, Moroni, am commanded to write these things that evil may be done away, and that the time may come that Satan may have no power upon the hearts of the children of men, but that they may be persuaded to do good continually, that they may come unto the fountain of all righteousness and be saved.” (Ether 8:23-26)
Are we preparing to fight for the Lord? Are we the ones who will continue to live the lie, or will we be the ones who wake up?Are we ready to sacrifice and follow Him in our own dystopian novels in order to build Zion? Will we be the ones who see the evil for what it is and stand up to it, or be placated back to sleep? I hope that as we are preparing physically and temporally for struggles ahead, we are also preparing mentally and spiritually to become the Saints and disciples the Lord needs for His return.