Dystopian fiction — the fear of total authority

I have always had a fascination with dystopian fiction. I had to compare 1984 to Brave New World for my English A-level exam and couldn’t have wished for a better topic to talk about. Later at university, I even took a class on dystopian literature. Even though reading dystopian novels brought back my deep-rooted fears of authority (I had attended a strict Catholics boarding school and developed an intense fear and loathing of authority) I devoured books like The Handmaid’s Tale, A Clockwork Orange and The Time Machine. My oldest son started by reading Animal Farm at age 12.

What makes people write and consume dystopian novels? Exactly this inborn fear of authority. However, not all people dislike authority to the same extent. When I was in that boarding school, one thing puzzled me immensely: while I withered away in an authoritarian climate that I found “suffocating” to say the least, there were lots of students who actually didn’t mind or even thrived. If you look around in the world and see which politicians get elected you will find that a lot of people actually long for rules and strong authorities, as they think these guarantee them more stability in their lives. For simplicity’s sake, I call these people “farmer types”. Authority and obedience to authority were absolutely necessary for earlier farmers to preserve the status quo (e.g. irrigation systems) — non-adherence or a lot of in-fighting would have been detrimental to the individuals and the community (natural selection and group selection).

Hunter-gatherers display a variety of different traits:

Mobile hunter-gatherers, who possess extensive (not intensive) kin-based institutions, are field independent. Consistent with this, anthropologists have long argued that, compared to farmers and herders who have more intensive kin-based institutions, hunter-gatherers emphasize values that focus on independence, achievement, and self-reliance while deemphasizing obedience, conformity, and deference to authority.

If we examine the characteristics of dystopian fiction, you will find the number one motivation will always be a fear of total authority. Here are the most common characteristics:

  • Total control by a supreme authority (e.g. Big Brother)
  • Loss of individualism
  • Environmental destruction

Comparing these characteristics with the above hunter-gatherer values you will find considerable overlap. Independence, individualism, sustainability and ultimately self-reliant survival are all threatened in authoritarian novels.

I have argued before that intuitive types (N) in the Myers-Briggs inventory have the most original “hunter-gatherer minds” of all people. Here are the types of famous dystopian writers:

George Orwell: INFP

Aldous Huxley: INFP or ENFP

Margaret Atwood: INFJ

Philip K. Dick: INTJ

Ray Bradbury: INFP

Anthony Burgess: ENTP

Originally published at http://the-big-ger-picture.blogspot.com on December 18, 2020.