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The Maroon Leaf Monkey: photo from Christian ArtusoThe Maroon Leaf Monkey is found on the southeast Asian island of Borneo and the nearby smaller Karimata. They mostly live in forests at altitudes below 2,000 m. They feed on leaves, seeds and fruits and are equipped with a large, chambered stomach like a cow, which allows them to digest their fibrous food. They avoid sweet, ripe fruit because the sugars disrupt the delicate balance of their complex stomachs. They live in bands of 2 to 13 individuals, led by a dominant male, and spend nearly all their time in the trees. They have broad, dark-colored faces with wide, expressive eyes and average between 6.2 to 6.3 kilograms. They are highly territorial and will challenge any intruders within their home range. Males emit a loud call to demarcate their territory and warn rivals. This species is under some pressure from hunting and habitat loss, but they are still quite common throughout their range. They are protected by law throughout Malaysian Borneo.


Dystopia Now: Doublethink in the 21st Century


Andrew Jury

The Oxford dictionary defines “dystopia” as “An imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.” Looking around you, right here and right now, is this a world you recognise? I guess to some extent it depends upon where you live, how safe you feel, and how much money you have – your coordinates on a social scale somewhere between a suppressed minority and Master of the Universe. That’s the dilemma faced by anyone attempting to create a clear, objective definition of this kind of society: one person’s dystopia is more often than not another’s utopia. Just as we are ill-quipped to fully imagine a Utopian Society (unless you've been hawking copies of Socialist Worker on street corners for the past thirty years), our imaginations cannot fully inhabit a dystopian one because we invariably conflate the idea with the post-Apocalyptic visions of popular literature and cinema.

It’s hard to deny that ever since H.G. Wells’ Victorian Martians laid waste to much of the English countryside back in 1897, our intellectual image of a modern dystopia has been shaped by books like Nineteen Eighty Four, Brave New World and, more latterly, The Handmaid’s Tale and The Road. Meanwhile, Hollywood offers us a dystopian vision almost every other week, beginning with the mommy of them all, Metropolis, in the 1920s, through to the 1980’s Golden Age of the Dystopia, where genre-defining films like Brazil, Terminator and Blade Runner created the template for the next thirty years of post-Apocalyptic blockbusters (see The Hunger Games franchise and its many imitators). Often described as “dazzling visions of the future”, these books and movies are steeped in a nightmarish, yet seductive, glamour wherein our basest natures are laid bare under the neon lights of a seedy, oppressive future. Though many of them are thought-provoking and undoubtedly entertaining, they fail to define what I believe to be the true quintessence of a genuine dystopia: the abiding, existential despair of the individual who lives in a state of perpetual misery, without recourse to any kind of hope, or the expectation that the world can be any other way. Nineteen Eighty Four certainly comes close to capturing the soul-destroying minutiae of that kind of existence, but like most dystopian fiction, the rebellion, or attempted flight from totalitarianism, is ultimately the story’s selling point. What this kind of fiction allows us to do is project the faults and flaws of our imperfect societies into a catastrophically dysfunctional one further down the chronological line; to explore those darker aspects of our psyches, both collective and individual, at a post-historical remove. These depictions are exponentially more hostile, and inversely glamorous, than the societies we inhabit now, like hideous distortions in a funhouse mirror. That’s why we keep buying the books and going back to the movies, and how over time we become inured to their surface horrors. Meanwhile, the imperfect societies of the present morph into the prosaically totalitarian worlds of tomorrow – we just don’t notice it happening because of the absence of flying cars.

Back in the real world, the problem of defining what does or doesn’t constitute a dystopia is that it’s always relative. Most of us can still go out into the countryside and enjoy a beautiful day in early spring, but that doesn’t make the problems of global warming any less urgent or real. The fact that I have the freedom to write this article and send it off to any website I choose to in the hope of it being accepted and posted for an audience to agree, or disagree with, would itself suggest that I am clearly not living in a dystopia. Such an undertaking would not be possible in the proscriptive worlds of Nineteen Eighty Four or Fahrenheit 451. It certainly wouldn’t be a recommended option in that dystopia nonpareil of the real world, North Korea, either. However, just because I enjoy certain freedoms that I currently hold to be “inalienable”, does that necessarily imply that I live in a dystopia-free society? Are the U.S. citizens of 2016 more or less free than their counterparts in pre-9/11 America? Has Homeland Security and the Patriot Act protected them from George Bush's "evildoers" or have they curtailed certain modes of expression that would have been considered “inalienable” to many Americans a mere generation ago? Will Britons feel more secure after the Draft Investigative Powers Bill, otherwise referred to as the Snoopers Charter, is fast-tracked through parliament, or will another one of those “inalienable rights” have been eroded by a law that enables a government to hold in storage for a year an individual’s internet history without his or her permission? Should this Bill get passed, it would put into construction a constitutional framework for the United Kingdom’s security services to eavesdrop on any conversation deemed to be a threat to national security, no matter the number of checks and balances the government professes to have in place. A generation ago, this might have been seen as evidence that we are colluding in the creation of an inchoate dystopia.  Today, aside from some noises from civil liberties groups and a few free-thinking politicians, it is a concept that is generally, and frighteningly, unopposed in the political arena.

Earlier this morning, not long after I wrote the preceding paragraph, at least 30 people were killed during apparently Islamic-related attacks at Brussels international airport and a city metro station (the figure may, unfortunately, be higher by the time you read this piece). The United Kingdom’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, immediately chaired an emergency Cobra meeting to determine the UK’s response to the “very real terror threat” facing the country. As I write these words a few hours after the attacks, there have been the predictable knee-jerk responses, as there always are in the aftermath of this kind of atrocity, from both sides of the parliamentary house about the urgent need to sacrifice certain rights and liberties to ensure the protection of our citizens against the persistent “terror threat”. (In the UK, the official threat level has remained at “severe” since August 2014). In Nineteen Eighty Four, George Orwell wrote that “The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness, and for the great bulk of mankind, happiness is better.” Substitute the word “security” for “happiness”, and you have the parameters of the current debate on the “War on Terror, or so-called Islamic State”, as it is reported in the media and enacted in parliament. The dilemma facing free people around the world is when the “predictable knee-jerk response” of a threatened democracy becomes the declared position of its policy-makers. In his 2004 documentary, “The Power of Nightmares”, filmmaker Adam Curtis explored similar ideas about how a government (in this case the United States, pre and post 9/11) used obfuscation and dissemination to foment a climate of fear and uncertainty among its population, manipulating pre-conceived ideas about threats to national security whilst pathologically pursuing its own ideological agenda. Examples of governments pushing the envelope of its electorate’s credulity are manifest throughout history. The “War on Terror” in its current guise as the “War Against Daesh” is as much a subversive war on language and its own people as it is on so-called Islamic State – an example of how language, when deliberately and consistently misapplied, often via a collaborative mass media, creates two conflicting emotional states: conflating the war against extremism with a particular religious group while urging people to be tolerant and to express the freedoms “the terrorists envy us for”, even as many of those freedoms are proscribed in the teeth of an official terror threat level that has been maintained at “severe” for almost two years.

Three days prior to the attacks in Belgium, the UK government was embroiled in an ideological crisis of its own making. On Friday, March 18th, Iain Duncan Smith, the government’s work and pensions secretary, resigned from his post following the 4bn cuts to disability payments proposed in the Chancellor George Osborne’s budget the previous day. According to the man who presided over some of the most savage cuts to the UK’s welfare system since the end of World War Two, this was evidence that the government’s Austerity policies were being driven by ideology rather than in the interest of “economic security”, as the government had always insisted they were. What we had, in essence, was a man of no discernible principle resigning on a point of principle, who was then hastily replaced in the department of pensions and work by the one Tory minister with a working-class passport (Stephen Crabbe, who, it turns out, voted against same-sex marriage and in favour of reducing the employment support allowance for the disabled). A party exposed by its own ministers (other senior Conservatives have since nailed their colours to Duncan Smith’s “principled” mast) as pursuing an ideological project at the expense of the poorest, weakest and most vulnerable members of society surely conforms, at least partly, to George Orwell’s definition of a totalitarian Party as one that “seeks power entirely for its own sake” and is “not interested in the good of others, [but] interested solely in power, pure power.”

Is this evidence that we are already living in a dystopia? Perhaps it is all a matter of degrees. The Big Brother we associate with the totalitarian worlds of Nineteen Eighty Four and its descendants is, of course, the antithesis of Utopia, its beautiful, ethereal sister. Just as no past archetype exists in the real world for a genuinely utopian society, maybe the same is true of any future dystopian one, certainly in the west. There have, of course, been a few contenders over the years. In the United States, many on the left believed that Reagan’s administration represented an all-time political low. Then along came George W. Bush and his folksy war on the world’s evildoers. Surely, went the argument, this was as close as a mature nation could get to a pre-, quasi-, or demi-dystopia. However, a law of diminishing returns, or a kind of political entropy, seems to have been at work in the United States  for the past forty years,  ever since Richard Nixon insisted to the world that he was not a crook. After the false hope of Obama, how else can one explain the spectacular, inexplicable, unthinkable rise of Donald J. Trump -- a man who believes the problems of immigration can be remedied by the construction of a three hundred mile long wall -- as the Republican front-runner for the office of President of the United States? To many commentators, the hyper-reality of Trump as a credible candidate for the most powerful office in the western world is evidence that the world is one injudicious appointment and one major incident away from a full-scale catastrophe, whether political or economical, climatic or militaristic. It’s almost as if the confused global body politic has stumbled into a dangerous neighbourhood and is now only a couple of wrong turns away from a fatal mugging.

And yet, while we often equate the idea of a “dystopia” with corrupt governments, the rise to political prominence of outlandish individuals, and the grand post-Apocalyptic landscapes of cinema and fiction, it is further down the quotidian scale that this particular battle is really won or lost, in the absence of the pyrotechnics that accompany a Michael Bay or James Cameron blockbuster. The modern dystopia will most likely take root on the more humdrum plains of the collective social and political conscience. It is not nuclear meltdown or environmental catastrophe that drives a totalitarian state (there would be little, or no, state to preside over should this be the case), but a paralyzing fear of the threat to the status-quo, whatever form that takes in a particular society, and the day-to-day indifference to, or intolerance of, the inequalities inherent in such a system. In wealthy capitalist countries, this often manifests itself as a failure of the imagination, a disconnection of its more empowered citizens from the reality of other people’s lives, especially those scratching a living at the base of the pyramid. The tipping point occurs when the consensual, pre-conceived ideals of fairness, tolerance and inclusiveness become the scattered voices of marginal groups and localized protest, whether through apathy or a kind of willful indifference. I do not believe we have reached that point yet, even if during weeks like this one it may often appear that way. But then again, I could be wrong. As our old friend Orwell said in his most famous novel, “how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable…?”

Andrew Jury is forty six years old, live in England, and has published work in Postscripts, The Fiction Desk and Cemetery Dance.
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