How does our reality threaten and incite radicalism? – Illuminations




Chest of drawers Sam

Humans are beings who tell stories. The stories we tell have profound implications for how we perceive our role in the world, and today the popularity of dystopia continues to grow. According to Goodreads, an online community with over 90 million readers. The share of books classified as “dystopian” increased in 2012 to the highest level in more than 50 years.

It seems that this boom started after the terrorist attacks in the United States of America on September 11, 2001. The number of dystopian stories increased in 2010 and publishers flocked to take advantage of the success of the three-part novel series. Hunger Games by Susan Collins, centered on a totalitarian society. , located in the Ruins of Somewhere, formerly known as North America.

So what should we take away from the fact that dystopian fiction is so popular?

dystopian fantasy

Much has been written to find out why these novels are so appealing. But the other important question is: How important is it? Is dystopian fiction likely to influence anyone’s political attitudes in the real world? And if it’s real, how? And how much should we care about its impact?

In our research, we sought to answer these questions using a series of experiments.

Before we start, we know that many political scientists are likely to be skeptical of this idea. After all, it seems unlikely that imagination, something known to be “invented”, can influence people’s view in the real world. However, a growing body of research confirms that there is no “strong switch” in the brain that differentiates fantasy from reality. People often incorporate the lessons of fairy tales into their beliefs, attitudes and judgments without even realizing it.

Moreover, it is likely that dystopian literature is so powerful because it is political in nature. Here, we focus on the authoritarian dystopian genre, which depicts a dark and disturbing alternate world in which powerful entities oppress and control citizens, violating natural core values.

Although apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic narratives can also be considered “dystopian” – even those about zombies – their standard setting is politically very different, focusing on chaos and the breakdown of social order, and therefore affects potentially people in different ways.

The individual plots under the dystopian narrative differ from novel to novel. Here are some of the most famous examples:

  • The idea of ​​torture and surveillance in George Orwell’s famous novel “1984”.
  • Organ harvesting idea for Neil Shusterman’s Unwind series.
  • The idea of ​​compulsory plastic surgery in Scott Westerfield’s Uglies series.
  • The idea of ​​mind control in Louis Lowrey’s 1993 novel The Giver.
  • The idea of ​​gender inequality in Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale.
  • The idea of ​​government-arranged marriage in Ally Condé’s matching trilogy.
  • The idea of ​​environmental disaster in James Dashner’s Maze Runner series.

All of these earlier novels follow the traditions of the genres in terms of characters, settings, and plots. As Carrie Hintz and Eileen Ostry, editors of Utopian and Dystopian Writing for Young Children and Adults, noted in 2003, in these societies “ideals rush into a tragically senseless frenzy.” Although there are minor exceptions, dystopian novels generally elevate the value of dramatic and violent rebellion by a brave few.

The effect of dystopia on human values

To test the effect of dystopian fiction on political attitudes, we assigned random subjects from a sample of American adults to one of three groups. The first group read an excerpt from The Hunger Games, then watched scenes from the 2012 film adaptation. The second group did the same, except they were exposed to another dystopian series Divergent by Veronica Roth. This series depicts a futuristic America in which society is divided into factions dedicated to distinct values, and those whose abilities exceed their limits are considered a threat. In the third group, a control group with no media exposure, the subjects were not exposed to any dystopian fantasy before answering questions about their social and political attitudes.

What we found was amazing. The literature of dystopias, while entirely fictional, deeply affected the subject, resetting their moral compass. Compared to the control group, narrators were 8% more likely to view extremist actions such as violent protests and armed rebellion as justified. They also more readily agreed that violence is sometimes necessary to achieve justice, with a similar increase of 8%.

The question now is, why could dystopian fiction have such stunning effects? Maybe it was running a simple init mechanism at the time. It is possible that seeing violent scenes in the subjects excited them so easily that it made them more willing to justify political violence. For example, violent video games can heighten aggressive cognition, and dystopian fiction often contains violent imagery of rebels fighting against existing power.

To test this hypothesis, we conducted a second experiment, again with three groups, this time with a sample of college students across the United States. The first set was exposed to scenes from The Hunger Games series, and as before, we included a second control group without media. The third group was exposed to violent scenes from the Fast and Furious series of a duration and type of violence similar to scenes from the Hunger Games films.

Again, the dystopian imagination shaped people’s moral judgments and increased their willingness to justify radical political action compared to the no-media control group, and the increases were similar in proportion to what we found in the first experience. But the violent, action-packed scenes of Fast and Furious had no such effect, leading us to conclude that the violent scenes alone cannot explain our findings.

The third experiment was tasked with exploring whether the main influencing factor was how the narrative itself, i.e. the story of brave citizens struggling with an unjust government, whether it was fictional or not. So this time around, the third group was exposed to media clips of actual protests against the Thai government’s corrupt practices. They have seen clips from CNN, the BBC and other news sources, in which government forces in riot gear use violent methods to suppress citizens protesting injustice, such as tear gas and water cannons.

Although all information and scenes are real, these images had little effect on the subjects. Individuals in the third group were no more willing to justify political violence than the control group with no media. But those exposed to the dystopian fantasy of The Hunger Games novels were more willing to accept violent and extremist political actions as legitimate than those exposed to real-world news. The difference was about 7-8%, compared to the previous two experiments.

Power politics and ethics

In general, it seems that people would be more likely to learn “political life lessons” from a story about a fictional political world than from reporting based on the real world.

Does this mean that dystopian fiction is a threat to democracy and political stability? Not necessarily, even if some political leaders think in this direction and censor this type of narrative. For example, George Orwell’s Animal Farm is still banned in North Korea. Even in the United States, The Hunger Games series and Aldous Huxley’s 1931 novel Brave New World were among the ten most targeted books to be removed from school libraries over the past decade.

Dystopian narratives offer a lesson that radical political action can be a legitimate response to perceived injustice. However, the lessons people learn from media, whether fictional or real, don’t always stick in the mind, and even when they do, people don’t necessarily act on them.

Dystopian fiction continues to provide a powerful perspective through which people see the ethics of politics and power. Such narratives can have the positive effect of keeping citizens alert to the potential for injustice in a variety of contexts, from climate change and artificial intelligence to the emergence of an authoritarian boom around the world.

But the spread of dystopian literature can also encourage radical Manichaean views that oversimplify the real and complex sources of political disagreement. [المانوية هي معتقد ديني ترجع أصوله إلى بلاد فارس في القرن الثالث
الميلادي، ويعتمد على فكرة الصراع البدائي المفترض بين الخير والشر – المُترجم].

So while the miserable frenzy of authoritarianism can fuel society’s “watchdog” role in challenging power, it can also cause some to take a fast lane and head straight for rhetoric. violent politics – and even violent actions – as opposed to fact-based civil politics. the debate and compromise necessary for democracy to flourish.

Opinion articles and blog posts do not necessarily express the opinion of the editorial board.

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