Monday, February 4, 2013

More Post-Apocalyptic Tyrannies

Lately it seems like every book I pick up (often young adult novels and series) is someone’s imagining of a post-apocalyptic tyrannical society. I read The Hunger Games a couple of years ago, but the movie came out last spring, so I revisited that series (and might again as each movie in the series comes out). Plus, Mr. Spherical Model just got around to reading them—one after another, just like the rest of us did (no one can read just one).
This past year I read the Matched trilogy, by Ally Condie. Since Christmas I’ve picked up The Mazerunner, the first in a series by James Dashner, and Incarceron, the first in a series by Catherine Fisher. And this past weekend I finished Glenn Beck’s latest (with Harriet Parke), Agenda 21.
Here’s what post-apocalyptic tyranny stories seem to have in common: Some historical event changed things—a war, an uprising, maybe a pandemic. Whatever it was (and sometimes the characters don’t know what it was), some scary chaos was “resolved” by the authority, for which everyone is required to be grateful. Allegiance to an entity other than the authority—such as God or family—is discouraged or forbidden (or forced underground).
There is an all-pervasive authority, monitoring all behaviors, and controlling most choices. Reading and writing tools are often missing or strictly controlled. Food is provided, pre-made, regardless of personal taste (or sometimes size and other nutritional need differences). Marriage choices are controlled by the authority—which has eugenic purposes. Personal belongings are discouraged or prevented. Understanding of how to subsist without the help of the government is extinguished. Schooling, if allowed, is scrupulously controlled by the authority to indoctrinate with authority doctrine, and generally weeding out any differences, innovations, or creative thinking. Beauty, art, and open-minded science are absent or strictly controlled.
Everyone is ostensibly equal. But there are always those with more power, who exert authority over the plebeians, and who also enjoy privileges—better food, better technology, better living conditions.
Life is cheap and disposable—particularly for anyone born with imperfections, anyone who has developed an illness that requires significant treatment resources, and anyone who rebels against the authority. Even when these societies appear on the surface to be “civilized,” they are, either visibly or just below the surface, savage and inhuman.
Usually the main characters begin with a lack of understanding or awareness. They’re just busy going day to day, moment to moment, without getting into trouble. Somewhere along the way, the stakes get higher—often with a threat to a loved one. Then they rise to heroism out of necessity of the higher goal of human love, to some combination of thwarting/changing the authoritarian society or escaping from it with the hope of something better outside.
Most of these stories are fictional warnings, someone’s imagination of worst-case scenarios. Glenn Beck’s book is essentially that as well, but with the hint that it is based on real possibilities. In the Afterword, he explains that Agenda 21, the title, comes from an actual UN program. The fictional story is simply a way to illustrate where such a plan could lead if followed to its logical inevitable conclusions. He lists nine basic principles that the real Agenda 21 intends to pursue, some of which we can already see evidence of in current policies:
1.      Move citizens off private land and into high-density urban housing.
2.      Create vast wilderness spaces inhabited by large carnivores.
3.      Reduce traffic congestion and slash fuel use by eliminating cars and creating “walkable” cities.
4.      Support chosen private businesses with public funds to be used for “sustainable development.”
5.      Make policy decisions that favor the greater good over individuals.
6.      Drastically reduce the use of power, water, and anything that creates “carbon pollution.”
7.      Use bureaucracies to make sweeping decisions outside of democratic processes.
8.      Increase taxes, fees, and regulations.
9.      Implement policies meant to incentivize a reduced population (i.e., “one-child” type laws). [p. 281 of Beck's book]
In "Agenda 21: The Earth Summit Strategy to Save Our Planet," Dan Sitarz gives this rather frighteningly frank goal statement:
Effective execution of Agenda 21 will require a profound reorientation of all human society, unlike anything the world has ever experienced—a major shift in the priorities of both governments and individuals and an unprecedented redeployment of human and financial resources. This shift will demand that a concern for the environmental consequences of every human action be integrated into individual and collective decision-making at every level. [quoted on p. 279 of Beck's book]
There was one quote in the Afterword that may merit an economic post of its own in the future from the 1976 Vancouver Declaration:
[Land] cannot be treated as an ordinary asset, controlled by individuals and subject to pressures and inefficiencies of the market. Private land ownership is also a principal instrument of accumulation and concentration of wealth and therefore contributes to social injustice. [quoted on p. 282 of Beck's book]
There is something terribly wrong with the idea that accumulating wealth is evil because it is unequalizing. As I’ve written in the Economic section of the Spherical Model, “Wealth, simply, represents the accumulation of the results of labor.” A person’s wealth is only limited by his personal time, talents, and energy. When you take away the results of a person’s work, you are stealing from him the results of how he spends his life; that is slavery. Helping the poor with free giving can benefit both giver and receiver, but stealing from the producer to give to the non-producer benefits neither and discourages work and innovation. Concerning land, there’s the tragedy of the commons, where commonly owned land is always overused and resources are not guarded or developed (see Thomas E. Woods, 33 Questions about American History, p. 22).
As a review, I thought the Beck/Parke book was enjoyable and well written. As a story in the post-apocalyptic tyranny genre (is there such a genre now?), it stands up well. The possible realities underlying the story give it another layer of interest.
The scariest and most evocative of the tyranny books I’ve read are not fiction; they are the biographies and histories from WWII. I recommend Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas, and Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, about Louis Zamperini, by Laura Hillebrand. We don’t have to rely on imagination to see what could happen in a savage tyranny; we have recorded evidence. We need to be aware, to prevent it from happening among us her in what is left of the free world.

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