A dystopia is, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives”. It is the opposite of a utopia, which is a sort of perfect world. Dystopias have been made famous by works such as 1984, Animal Farm, and Brave New World. More modernly, series like Hunger Games and Divergent have come out featuring dystopias. While all these books show very different types of dystopias, all of them feature certain common elements.
An Us vs. Them Mentality
Many dystopias start with an Us vs. Them Mentality. In many dystopias, this is a hatred of people based on political views. However, this mentality can be fostered in many different factors, including, but not limited to: race, sex, gender identity, religion, nationality, social class, and species (in sci-fi or fantasy). Essentially, to get into and stay in power, the dystopian leader(s) spew hatred for other groups. They make it out to be “Us vs. Them” to create hatred for another group, often a minority. Using this hatred, they make themselves out to be saviors and protectors and continue to vilify this group to stay in power. For instance, Hitler made a point of blaming Germany’s post-World War I problems on minority groups in the country, specifically on Jewish people. By making the Jewish people seem like villains, he was able to get power and stay in it. However, the side effect of creating and using this fear and hatred was genocide. Us vs. Them Mentalities are very, very dangerous and inspire people to do awful things. It makes the vilified group seem subhuman to the oppressing group and basically equates them to vermin. And, in doing this, these groups spark a vast and dangerous array of hate crimes that threaten the integrity of the society. Dystopian governments also do this to have a group to use as a scapegoat. Essentially: if things go wrong, it’s not their fault. It’s the fault of the vilified groups. For instance, according to Hitler, the state of the German economy wasn’t the fault of the government. It was the fault of the Jewish people, and so it was perfectly alright to find ways to deal with this drain on Germany’s resources. However, this led to nothing but genocide, the loss of six to eleven million human lives. And for what? For nothing more than to give a terrible man the stairway to gain power and the footing to keep it.
Silencing of Dissenters
Dystopias also tend to silence the dissenters. One of the top ways they do this is by vilifying the group of people speaking out or by saying they belong to a group that’s already vilified. For instance, if someone lived in the period of Protestant Reformation in Europe and spoke out about the murdering of early Protestants, they were often called a Protestant themselves. Another example of this would be a government trying to jail journalists for covering something in a manner that they didn’t like, for instance. Essentially, this goes back to the Us vs. Them Mentality of if you’re not with us, you must be against us, which means you’re one of them. And by equating anyone who goes against them to the hated group, they make them lose all credibility to much of the population being controlled. They also use this technique to make it okay to imprison or kill those who are doing nothing more than speaking out about real injustices in their society.
Another habit that dystopian societies have is feeding blatant lies and incorrect figures to their public. Essentially, the government begins to censor what is being told to people in the society and gets rid of anything that opposes their “alternative facts”, or what they tell the public to keep them under control. An example of this would be, for instance, if a government tried to deny a fact that had proven time and time again by the scientific community. Like climate change, for example. However, even worse would be if the government tried to censor these findings and keep the public from knowing about them. Some of the ways it could potentially do this would be through taking over the government organizations and forcing them to stay silent so that they could be censored. However, such censorship is one of the first signs of a dictatorship and dystopia. When you take away your people’s voices and their right to the truth, they’re no longer people. They’re tools to be controlled and manipulated through fear and hatred of other groups. People should have free access to information and science that does not threaten peace or national security, and when a government starts removing these things, it’s nothing more than the government abusing its power to control its citizenry.