“Without War of the Worlds there’d be no Lasers”

The above is possibly the stupidest thing I’ve read today. You’ll be shocked to learn that it was written by a teacher.

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The reason I found that is I had googled the question: Are dystopian novels a self-fulfilling prophecy?

It all started when I read today’s post from Tim Newman: A Product of Dumb Luck in which he muses humbly on the extent to which his success and affluence (and that of us all) are a product of good fortune, and accidents of birth.

A commenter offered a link to an article from umpteen years ago: Down with meritocracy in which the author explains that he wrote a book (first published in 1958) called The Rise of Meritocracy. He explains:

The book was a satire meant to be a warning (which needless to say has not been heeded) against what might happen to Britain between 1958 and the imagined final revolt against the meritocracy in 2033.

Much that was predicted has already come about. It is highly unlikely the prime minister has read the book, but he has caught on to the word without realising the dangers of what he is advocating.

And this made me wonder – are satires (particularly ones describing a dystopian future) a self-fulfilling prophecy?

I mean, it’s the sort of question that you’d expect one of the otherwise useless arts graduates to be able to answer. Sadly, the one I found showed herself not to be up to the task (to put it mildly), and she posited a ‘psychology of success’ and ‘positive thinking’ approach in her brief musing.

I’m minded, of course, of 1984 amongst others. Recently I read/heard ‘1984 is already here, and Brave New World is where we are headed*.’ It may have been one of the Greasy Pole podcasts – this one I think – when The Great One and Adam Piggott were talking about vertical farming and cities making themselves independent from the rural world in terms of food production etc.

It’s easy to think of a few dystopian novels where aspects have come true or are soon to come true – 1984, Brave New World, Farenheit 451, Minority Report for example. But then it’s equally trivial to come up with examples such as War of the Worlds, Terminator and Bladerunner (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep) which haven’t.

I think the difference between the former and the latter variety is the latter depend on incredibly far-fetched sci-fi devices such as space travel, time-travel and alien worlds – more allegorical I suppose – whereas the former are much more a contemplation of the human condition.

If you wanted a book that split the difference between the two and illustrates the distinction very well, perhaps it’s That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis.

But there are other areas where satire presages reality – if you’re British and of a certain age, you’ll remember that Harry Enfield’s characters Loadsamoney and Tim Nice but Dim were meant to parody the gauche nouveau riche, and the upper classes, but it wasn’t long at all before some sorts of people adopted aspects of these grotesque characters in earnest. There’s no shortage of these pitiable characters from TV whose traits are assimilated as supposedly positive personal attributes.

I guess – and I’m not digging just now, you can take this away as homework – you could pull an article from The Onion or The Daily Mash 10-15 years ago and find that it’s indistinguishable from a genuine news item today.

So, without vast reading and research, and hence with no value or weight whatsoever, I come to the conclusion that satire and dystopian futures come true when they speak to the timeless predelictions of fallible humans for groupthink, othering, wishful thinking, wilful ignorance, humourlessness and a complete insensitivity to irony.

Any thoughts?

AJ

Disclaimer: This post was written without the considerable financial and opportunity cost of an arts degree.

*To elaborate slightly on Brave New World being the future, think about:

Soma: legalised recreational cannabis, prescriptions of ritalin, xanax, prozac, valium etc

Genetics: selection, modification or categorisation of embryos for inherited intelligence and other factors… which is also related to…

Social stratification: The long term effects of ‘assortive mating’, as described in the link above, and as talked about by e.g. Toby Young.

Walled cities: As per above, vertical farming in cities, social contrast and antipathy in e.g. California between super-woke cities and more traditional and conservative rural areas.

There’s also the noble savage, of course, so beloved of progressives.

4 thoughts on ““Without War of the Worlds there’d be no Lasers”

  1. I don’t think you’re right to exclude films like the Terminator. The only reason they haven’t self fulfilled yet, is they haven’t had time. Technology like space and time travel will only be invented after a few hundred more years, but I know that when it does happen, my descendants will have instructions to send back multiple terminators and blow away some of the idiots that reside on the Earth today

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