(Melissa's essay below combines a rewrite of her midterm Essay 2 with an extension for the final.)
Saving Society Continued
In nearly each vision, or scenario, I have read about in this course concerning the future, I have noticed a common theme; whether the work is considered high-tech, low-tech, cyberpunk, or one of the “topia’s,” the commonality of social strife is relevant in majority of the reading. Coming into this course I expected to gain experience and knowledge of literature in a genre that I did not have much previous interaction with, and the message I keep receiving through my analysis is that we need to make certain changes concerning our society, before societal divisions turn into the cause of the downfall of the human race.
The Bible shows a separation in our society, but it is between the religious and the non-religious. Thanks to laws like Separation of Church and State, we are (thankfully) allowed to practice whichever religion we feel suits our needs, and we are not a nation controlled by any one religion in particular. I do not think this is a gap that needs to be bridged, for it infringes upon personal beliefs and freedoms, but further into the works we have encountered, readers are addressed with gaps among wealth and availability of resources. Lauren, in Parable of the Sower, makes a comment on how those who have little look rich, and worth robbing, to those who have nothing. Another example of this can be seen in the short film Elegy that Victoria Webb presented during her future vision presentation. In Elegy, the viewer is presented the concepts of thieving and bartering during the end of times, as in Parable, and we see how the man and woman are not satisfied with just getting some clean water, but they also want a small pack that the protagonist is carrying. Greed is prominent in society, even now in the year 2015. Like in the film Elegy, greed can get you killed. Has that not been seen in our current times? There have been countless news stories, across the ages, that model how having your cake and eating it too has gotten people, rich or poor, in tight, not so delightful, situations. Adaptations of the future like these go to show that most assume the nature of people will not change, but eliminating greed could be a change that is vital for our survival; therefore, society needs to make efforts to bridge the gap between being greedy and being humble.
Class divisions are another aspect of society that future narratives bring to the forefront of my attention. In H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, the Traveler theorizes that humans split into two separate species that branch from the wealthy capitalists and the underappreciated laborers. Capitalists have mutated into a small, weak, undisciplined, and uneducated species known as the Eloi, which sounds similar to “elite,” and the laborers have mutated into a stronger, slightly more intelligent, nocturnal, ape-like species, known has the Morlocks, who have been forced to live and work underground. The Morlocks provide the Eloi with all they need to sustain life, but the Eloi have also become the primary food source, or prey, for the working creatures. The Traveler recognizes that if society keeps running the way it does in his time that it will eventually result in this, and he is outraged at the decline humanity has made, instead of all the amazing progress he had originally dreamt about. A similar example of class divisions in exhibited in the short story, “Stone Lives.” There are the wealthy capitalists that live in protected skyscrapers, like Alice and June, which reside in territories bought out by big businesses. On the other hand, there are unclaimed sections of land and cities that have fallen into crime and poverty, such as the Bungle, where Stone lives. Stone is hired by Alice and gets to study a world which he never knew existed, and he was able to use his experiences from the Bungle to compare it to; Stone realizes by the end that this world of division needed saving, and that it was now his job to “clean up this whole goddamn mess” (201).
In cyberpunk literature, a societal partition I identified is how humans keep trying to improve themselves through the use, or physiological implantation, of technology – where is the division between human and machine? In “Stone Lives,” Stone’s eyes were gouged during his time in the Bungle, but in order to work for Alice, he is given new, electronic eyes that can do a number of features (like recording, taking video, and storing). There have been a number of technological advances in the world of medicine, such as Lasik surgery to give people 20/20 eyesight, cochlear implants to help the deaf hear, and prosthetics to give limbs to the limbless. But how far is too far? June, a woman who guides Stone in “Stone Lives”, has implants under her skin that can make her glow like a firefly. While Stone’s implants are useful, as humans view sight as a necessity, June, on the other hand, just seems petty and frivolous. Another example of human alteration into machine can be found in “Johnny Mnemonic,” where Johnny has a storage implant in his brain and makes a living by allowing clients to download important, confidential information there for storage, as well as in “Burning Chrome,” where Rikki and her friends get eye enhancement implants and she strives to get more procedures done to look like famous stars in magazines. There is a division in society today between pretty and ugly, or fit and unfit, and with advancements in technology, more and more people are able to look how society says is pleasing, or they are more capable in a world where anything less than perfection is not good enough. Humans need to discover where to draw a line before there is no more humanity left, just identical robots with skin for shells.
Octavia Butler’s short story “Speech Sounds,” draws attention to a new kind of societal division, and perhaps in an unconventional way. In the dystopic story, a disease epidemic plagued the world, killing probably hundreds of thousands, but leaving even more without the ability to memorize, write, read, or speak. People “communicate” via grunts and groans, even body language, but it is highly ineffective. I think this story speaks, pardon the pun, measures concerning education and communication. The population of illiterates is lower than what it used to be, but still remains extraordinarily high considering all the resources the world has to offer. We need to bridge the gap between countries such as the U.S. and China to those less fortunate, third-world countries, not only when it comes to basic resources, such as clean water, but with setting up schools and educational resources. Language is still a firm barrier that is hard to overcome, and efforts need to be made across borders around the world in order to become more effective at working and speaking alongside one another. I think attention is also drawn to how technology is crippling humanity when it comes to direct communication. Because of tablets, cell phones, and Facebook, nobody has to literally talk to anyone anymore, they can just “plug in.” Writing is a dying art form; I heard on the radio that 27% of people have never hand-written a letter before, and that is astounding. If humans do not disengage from technology and bridge the gap that has been placed between them and the physicality of other human beings, we could wind up in a communicatively ineffective dystopia like that found in “Speech Sounds.”
While majority of the literature of the future we have encountered addresses how divided the world has become, I think one vision of the future genre brings everything and everyone back together: alien invasions. Think of it - in films such as Independence Day, the nation comes together and we fight back for our freedom from the aliens, led by the ever charming and heroic Will Smith. In the short story “The Poplar Street Study,” the reader is first presented with neighbors who all live on the same street, but live very different and conflicting lives, such as the Simpsons and Martins having issues over a dog (140). Suddenly, when they are invaded and entrapped by an alien race, these neighbors slowly come together and start to work together, such as finding and dividing the food resources they are provided. While alien invasion is not a concern in the “Hinterlands,” there are teams of psychologists and mediators coming together to try to save returning space highway victims from psychological illness, scars, and suicide. These characters know there is something alien out there that keeps inflicting pain and mental horror on the people that travel into space, but it remains unknown as to what or why it keeps happening. Either way, when something alien or unknown threatens us, humans, as a species, we tend to band together to fight back and get through it. Easy to recall examples are true events such as 9-11 or Hurricane Katrina, both of which destroyed thousands of lives, but the country banded together to support and help those affected by the tragedy. If humanity could learn to act like this all the time, and bridge the gap among social divisions, then perhaps there would be a better ending in store for humanity.