Early Dystopian Writing

In Entertainment, Philosophy, Politics by J Michel MetzLeave a Comment

Recently I have come to the conclusion/realization that I need to go through my files and eliminate anything that simply isn’t worth holding on to. I mean, I have pay stubs from 1996, for crying out loud. So, I happened to start going through the filing cabinets of the documents and came across a huge pile of creative writing attempts back when I was around 21 or so. One of those short stories fell out onto the floor, and I started reading it. I was stunned at how some of the ideas that I thought were so ridiculous as to be satire, have actually come to pass in the maniacal drive for the fight against “offensive language” and “social justice.”

In 1993, I started writing a dystopian science fiction short story, but never really got anywhere with it. I had recently learned about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis in my Communication studies, which espoused the idea that reality is created from the words we choose to describe it. In other words, change the words, change the reality. This struck home with me, and as I had fantasies of being a Hugo-award winning sci-fi author, I figured I’d try my hand at it.

I saw parallels between this notion of words-creating-reality in the Political Correctness craze and the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, and tried to do the mental exercise of what would happen if we took it to its logical extreme.

At the time, I had, of course, heard of 1984 and A Brave New World, but hadn’t at that point read the books. I hadn’t even heard of Ayn Rand’s Anthem which, as it turns out, is frighteningly similar to what I wrote in this short story.

I transcribed from my handwritten manuscript, leaving in the grammatical errors, awkward sentence construction, and (somewhat) poor word choice. Unfortunately my protagonist child of 17 “orbits” (years) is written closer to 12 to 14, which should probably be a better age for the story after all. I made no corrections to the 1993 manuscript, and would have done many, many things differently now that I have more experience under my belt.

One of the things that struck me, though, was that in many cases, I didn’t go far enough. 

2069, fourthmonth, sixthday

I’m not sure how to begin. I mean, I’ve never tried to write my ideas or fears down before, so maybe it is appropriate that I start by saying I don’t know where to start.

Perhaps I should begin with my code. I am HV4-372-C. I am seventeenorbits, just a month away from my Directive. It’s because of the Directive that I’m writing at all. One of the counselors at the E.C. Told me that it might help accept the rite of passage.

Oh, I suppose I shouldn’t abbreviate, in case the Directive affects my mind so much I don’t remember what ‘E.C.’ Stands for. The Counsellor says that the Directive doesn’t work that way, because it doesn’t change your memories. I’m still scared, though.

“E.C.,” or Educoll, stands for educational collective. It’s mandatory for every person who has not yet reached eighteenthorbit, where they graduate to the Directive.

That’s all I can think of today. I’ll write more tomorrow.

2069, fourthmonth, ninthday.

It’s been three days since I’ve written. I really had every intention of writing on seventhday but I completely forgot. I guess this is going to take some getting used to. I read over my last entry and I realize I never explained what the Directive is, and why I’m scared of it.

The Directive is an operation required by law. Everyone who reaches eighteenthorbit must have First Directive. The Second Directive happens two orbits after that, and third directive is two orbits after that, etc. The Directive is supposed to make everyone more aware. I have always been confused by what that means, because I always thought you were supposed to be aware “of” something.

The Counselors say the Directive helps everyone to be more sensitive to everyone else. Without the Directive no one would accept the differences between persons. The Counselors said that before the Directive, people used to be insensitive and unaware. Before the Directive, some people isolated other people because they were different and offended them.

I can’t imagine how anyone could have let that happen. The Newlaws were designed specifically to prevent that from happening.

Today, if anyone gets offended, all they have to do is report the crime to the Counselors (or if the work, their superiors) and the criminal is put on public display.

I read the informational pamphlet sent to me by the E.C. Network and it describes what happens. The idea is pretty simple. They implant multigenetic and multicultural coding sequences into the cerebral cortex and endocrine system. That way every person shares the same ethnic and cultural background. As far as I can tell the genetic engineering does not transfer to the reproductive system for some reason. Since they don’t talk about that part of the body in the E.C. (By law), I don’t know why. I think they have to wait until eighteenthorbit for the body to completely mature.

The problem is, I’m not sure I want to be the same as everybody else. I like who I am. Well, almost.

For example, I once heard that people didn’t always have codes. They used to have nomes, or nimes, or names, or something like that. But once they found out that these things offended people, because it showed preference of one culture over another, the Newlaws prohibited them. I wish I knew what those were. It would be nice to know what things were like before the Newlaws.

I think I remember something in E.C. In my Newhistory class about this. Someone asked the question, “But what happened before Newhistory? Was there nothing at all?”

I remember that the Counselor smiled, and said, “Before Newhistory there was Oldhistory. But there was no Truth in Oldhistory. Persons would write from one cultural background, preferring it to all others. It ignored the Truth of other cultures. It wasn’t until the Directives that Newhistory could be revealed as Truth.”

Sometimes, though, I wonder what that must have been like. I wish I could have read all those books that were banned for being offensive and I wish I could understand why they were offensive. But there are no more books. Everything is on an optical chip now. Maybe one day I’ll find out.

2069, fourthmonth, tenthday

I can’t believe it. Someday has happened sooner than I thought. My father’s father came to visit this morning. The questions I wrote down last night were running through my head, so I asked him if he knew what it was like before the Newlaws.

He smiled and told me that before there were codes, persons had “names.” Oh well, I was close. I asked him if he had a name and all of a sudden he looked very angry. For a moment, I thought I had offended him and he would report me. But he let out a long breath and said that it was too long ago and that he was just a young boy when they took away his name.

He said that not every person accepted the Newlaws easily. He said there was a great deal of resistence. The Newlaws banned books, and something called “art,” and made drastic changes to the language.

“My boy, it was a time of much confusion. It was a time of oppression and revenge and of guilt. We didn’t have E.C’s. We had ‘schools,’ but schools had a negative connotation so they changed the name. They changed a lot of things.

“Like what?” I said.

“Like the fact that we used to call our father’s father, ‘grandfather’ and our father’s mother ‘grandmother.’”

“But what did you call your mother’s mother?”

He smiled. “Grandmother,” he said.

I was confused. “But,” I sputtered. “But how could you tell them apart?”

My father’s father, er, grandfather, laughed. “We managed,” he said.

I thought for a moment. I turned the phrase over and over in my mind but couldn’t figure out why they would change ‘grandfather.’ I didn’t understand the relation between ‘grand’ and ‘father,” in fact it didn’t really make much sense. In any case, I couldn’t figure out who would be offended by such a word. In fact, It seemed to me that anyone who was called ‘grand’ would take it as a distinct honor.

When I told him this he laughed. “I’m sure that at one time that’s exactly what it meant. But there was a time when persons of several orbits were treated with disrespect. They were called ‘old’ or ‘aged’ and many got offended. As a result, persons began changing the way they spoke, cutting out those words and other adjectives which had negative connotations. ‘Grandfather’ and ‘Grandmother’ were considered to be just as offensive.”

This made sense to me. After all, offending people was one of the greatest crimes of the Newlaws. It seemed reasonable to prohibit words that would offend. I told him so.

He shook his head. “You see, that was the problem. Not everyone was offended by those terms. In fact, there were a lot of people -”

“People?” I interrupted.

My father’s father checked himself. He paused briefly, lost in thought. “Interesting,” he said, “I don’t remember the last time I used that word. People means the exact same thing as ‘persons.’ ‘People’ was prohibited when some persons thought that was offensive to non-humans.”

I cocked my head, quizzically. “You mean like domesticated canines?”

“Exactly. When I was a boy they were called dogs.”

“But I didn’t think you could offend them,” I said.

He shrugged. “That’s what a lot of people thought,” he said. “Which is exactly my point. Many people did not think these words were offensive. Actually they thought that much of the name changing was…”

He pause. He looked as if he was trying to search for a word that didn’t exist. He rubbed the bridge of his nose and let out another low breath. “You know,” he started again, “When they created the Newlaws the first thing they changed was the language. The language we speak is not the same one spoken a hundred orbits ago. It’s not even close to what it was fifty orbits ago. They changed the language to include all creatures and all languages.”

“You mean there was more than one?” I asked incredulously

He smiled. “There were more than a hundred.”

I found this hard to believe. How could there be so many languages? I began to wonder if my father’s father was simply making up stories.

He must have seen the doubt on my face. “I’m serious,” he said. “There were many different languages fro many different cultures. There were languages not based on mathematics. These were languages developed over centuries based on feelings and experiences and individual meaning. Now it is impossible to say that you do not like something and explain why because the words used to describe them have all been removed from the language. For instance, there used to be words which described how people felt about the changes, but those words offended people.”

“Do you remember them?”

“No.” He sounded very, very sad. “I wish I could, but I can’t.”

I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. “Do you think,” I said slowly, not wanting to offend him, “The Directive made you forget?”

He sat back in the chair and looked me straight in the eye. “It’s possible,” he said softly.

The rest of our conversation went by in a blur. He told me stories of the Oldhistory and how certain persons did not want the changes. In E.C. We had learned about these persons and how it was a good thing that they did not get their way because of all the unfairness they were advocating. But now I was getting a different story about people who fought for individuality and identity rather than social and political goals.

Everything we talked about, everything he told me, went against everything I had ever learned about in E.C. And yet it all made sense. The concepts of being who you are as a person (and I don’t mean persons like ‘people’ in the plural sense, like society).  Sort of puts words to the thoughts I’ve been thinking. I wanted to ask him more questions, but then my father walked in the room and my father’s father changed the subject abruptly.

2069 fourthmonth, elevethday

I got home from E.C. Today, completely disappointed. I wanted to find out about what happened before. I asked the Counselors the way things were before the Newlaws but they only told me how much better things were today. They told me that the only things that were important were the Newlaws because the Newlaws contained Truth. All of a sudden I realized that Grandfather (that’s what he wants me to call him now when we’re together, in private) was right. The Counselors couldn’t even say negative things about what it was like before because they had no words to describe it. I was afraid that I would offend the counselors if I kept asking questions, so I kept quiet until I got home to talk to Grandfather.

It was a good thing that I did. When I got home he had a surprise waiting for me. Two surprises, actually. He pulled me aside and looked around to make sure that no one was near.

“Listen,” he hissed, “are you serious about wanting to know more about the way things were?”

I nodded emphatically. “Good,” he said. “I’ve got something to show you.”

He brought me into the guest bedroom where he was staying during his visit. In his clothes carrier he pulled out several items of clothing and pushed a small button somewhere out of view. I heard a small “pop” and saw a panel spring open. He tilted up the carrier so that something slid into his hand as he reached into the compartment.

It was a book. It was not a big book, but it was the first book that I had ever seen in my life. As far back as I can remember, my reading materials were viewscreens and computer terminals. He shifted the book to his other hand and shook the carrier. Another object slide into his hand. It was another book, not as big as the first.

Grandfather held the first book up so that I could see it clearer. When he spoke, his voice was leaden with seriousness. “First, you must never, ever tell anyone of the existence of these books. Simply knowing they exist is a capital offense and I don’t want to spend my last orbits in a re-education center, and you’re far too young to have your life wasted away.”

I swallowed hard but waited for him to continue. “I hope you understand my meaning. You can’t tell anyone, especially your father or mother. This is to be between you and me and no one else.

“Second, I’m going to give you something that no one you will ever meet will ever give you. I’m going to give you an opportunity to make your own decision.”

I was confused. “Decision to do what?” I asked.

“A decision to choose your own future. Are you interested?”

Was I interested? Of course I was interested! Here was a chance to finally answer all the questions that had plagued me for so long. I told Grandfather that I was very interested. He looked at me long and hard, trying to decide whether I understood the risks. I suppose he figured that it was too late to turn back and told me that he would tell me what he knew about the way things were.

The first thing he did was describe the books. The bigger of the books, he told me, was the very first one that was banned by the Newlaws. Before any of the others, this type of book was singled out for destruction. He said it was called a “Dictionary.”

He told me a dictionary was a book that catalogued words and their pronunciations and meanings. He said that long ago some fancy dictionaries even described the origins of the words. He told me this one wasn’t hat fancy and didn’t even have detailed meanings for most of the words, but it was still a dictionary.

He handed it to me and I looked at it, but I couldn’t decipher the inscription on the corner. The letters were funny shaped and there were no pictographs. “I can’t read this,” I said.

He chuckled softly to himself. “I know,” he said. “This is written in a language you’ve never heard of called English. English didn’t have any pictographs but I think that once you learn the alphabet you’ll find that most of the words we use every day came from English.”

“Then why is it forbidden?”

Grandfather sighed. “Because many of the words we don’t use are also in here.”

“Like what?” I asked. I was really curious by this time.

He smiled as if I had asked a funny question. “It wouldn’t do either one of us any good to tell you since we have no equivalent for many of the concepts. Words like ‘race,’ ‘fat, ‘handicapped,’ ‘bigot,’ ‘prejudice,’ and the like would have no meaning for you.”

He was right. I had never heard those words before and I had no idea what they meant. But now, more than ever, I wanted to know and felt frustrated because the answers were in my hands, but were written in a language I had never known existed.

Grandfather saw how perplexed I was and said, “Don’t worry, that’s what this book is for.” He held up the second book and the cover showed the picture of a boy and girl, a domesticated canine, and a domesticated feline.

“What we are going to do is teach you how to read English the way I learned how to read English.”

He patted me on the shoulder and grinned a broad grin. “Tomorrow.”

I could not hide my disappointment. I didn’t want to wait. But Grandfather took the books from my hands and placed them back within the secret compartment of his clothes carrier. The matter was obviously settled and it appeared as if I would not only have to learn English, but patience as well.

I can’t wait for tomorrow.

2069, fourthmonth, twelftheday

I’m so excited I can barely stop shaking. I don’t know whether I’m shaking because I’m excited or angry. I’m also confused because nothing seems to make sense any more.

Grandfather and I talked for hours and he read to me from the second book. I found out what a name was. It was so strange to hear that they did not have codes but rather words. The boy looked like his code would be a HV4 series because of his blond hair. I know it sounds strange to say because codes are not chosen that way, but every once in a while you see somebody that looks like a certain code. His name was “Jack” and the girl’s name was “Jill.” Grandfather said that those were two popular names used in telling stories to children a long time ago.

Grandfather said that the domesticated canine was called a dog and the domesticated feline was called a cat. I thought I could hear anger in his voice when he told me that people changed the names so they wouldn’t ‘offend’ the animals. When I asked him what “animals” were, he shook his head and said that “animals” was a generic term for any kind of organic creature regardless of the species.

We sat and discussed animals for a while and he answered all my

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