Dystopian Fever

It’s hard to miss a certain dystopian obsession in our culture: The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Walking Dead, The Silo Series, and more. In some of these wildly popular novels (and movies) young heroes live in – and fight against – a totalitarian society. In others they escape into a virtual environment because reality is too depressing (Ready Player One). Why have dystopian genre become so representative of our society? Where does all the doom and gloom come from? Different explanations have been offered but it’s hard to deny that they are a reflection of a certain amount of despair.

These stories feature oppressive governments, hopelessness, hostility towards authority – because no one in the position of power can be trusted. But these are just entertaining stories and when we close the book or leave a movie theater, we give a sigh of “thankfully, it’s totally different for us” relief and return to our divergent (pun intended) reality where we feel quite differently. Or do we?

There are always people that don’t trust the government, the “extremists” as our leaders label them. Well, turns out that according to both Gallup and Pew Research only about 20% of the Americans now trust our government to do the right thing at least “most of the time.” It was not always this way. There was a time, forty to fifty years ago, when it was just the opposite: 70-80% of the Americans have trusted the government to do the right thing. I am not making this up, these are facts, check them for yourself by following the links above. We have lots and lots of “extremists.”

What happened? How did we get from a vast majority of Americans trusting the government to a vast majority distrusting it? Perhaps it’s the sense that the government is now run for the benefit of a ruling elite, that it is no longer serving We The People, that we evolved into a de facto oligarchy? That we robbed our young and sold their future by saddling them with unsustainable debts? Or perhaps it’s the massive government surveillance that creates the distrust? Interestingly, the 18-29 adults were pro-Snowden by almost 2:1 margin while our tone-deaf officials claimed – and some continue to do so – that only “extremists” support Snowden. The point here is not about Snowden but about the trust – or rather lack of it. Trust, once lost, is hard to get back. Especially when those that lost it seem to be rather oblivious to the fact.

So perhaps the “dystopian fever” and hostility towards authority is not just a distraction, perhaps it is a reflection of a real, tangible mistrust in the government institutions on the part of the younger generation. After all, how morally legitimate is the government that is trusted by only 20% of its subjects? I bet King George III was more trusted by his North American subjects in 1775.

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