Christmas movies can be any genre these days. No, that’s not a tired “Die Hard” joke; especially considering this season’s “Violent Night” starring David Harbour as a cross between John McClane and St. Nick.
So why then can’t the feeling of dread be appropriately trimmed in yuletide trappings?
Ed West brings tidings of dystopian cheer in a recent Substack musing, asking if we’re already living under a despot’s thumb without realizing it. His quandary is backed up with a few unnerving examples.
There’s the Canadian case of government-sanctioned assisted suicide—acronymized as “MAID” to lessen its brutal connotations—that has spiked over the past year. Those suffering with chronic illness are being nudged into throwing in life’s towel just to save the Canuck state some maple coin. In a recent commercial promoting euthanasia, an aspiring self-offer with a skin disease describes how she pictures death: “When I imagine my final days I see bubbles, I see the ocean, I see music…” So like Willy Wonka, but with Ever-Fatal Gobstoppers. Here’s the creepy catch: she actually wanted to live, but couldn’t find adequate treatment for her epidermal discomfort. Now she’s gone, and though I’m no theologian, I doubt she rode the Great Glass Elevator through her hallucinogenic dream-trip in the end.
Overall, Canada’s suicide permissiveness is chilling enough, but what makes it truly dark is the government’s attempted sublimation of premature life-ending. Dressing up tragedies as beautiful freedom is a hallmark of dystopia.
West’s next example of quiet authoritarianism: ubiquitous surveillance on mass transit. West lives in North London (take that, nominative determinism!)—the land of a million CCTV cameras. But even on the Tube, Scotland Yard’s all-seeing-eyes are backed up by the directive: “See it. Say it. Sorted.” Yankees will hear an echo of “See Something. Say Something.” The admonishment for collective security contains an insidious reminder that no place is free, and therefore comfortable.
West moves, erm, westward to our shores for his next citation: exploding urban violence. Whatever your take on the U.S.’s carceral state, and whether a new Bastille charge is warranted, there’s no gainsaying the late jump in violent crime. Some major U.S. cities, such as Detroit, are hotbeds of lawlessness. Businesses have given up on municipal police, hiring balaclava’d armed security. Large swaths of major metros have ceded public land over to tent cities where hard drugs are openly ingested. Libertarian disclaimer: You can be a bodily autonomy purist and still be aesthetically offended by fentanyl zombies polluting the urban landscape like “The Walking Dead.”
The last listing on West’s dystopia checklist is the tortuous malleability of language promoted by the academic-political elite. Knotty, generalized terms like “pregnant people” and “gender-affirming treatment” (How do you affirm gender by trying to break biology’s back to reverse it?) scrambles what was our common understanding of human nature until a few years ago. Such language contortions are now turning the internet—that heralded repository of summed knowledge—into an ahistorical place, Memory-holed Wikipedia entries erase how people once were in favor of how they feel now. “We’ve always called him Caitlyn Jenner—never Bruce.” Don’t even bother consulting online dictionaries—the woking of words has rendered them incommensurate with reality. And if words don’t reflect the real, then, to quote Flannery O’Connor, to hell with them.
West rests his depressive case at four. It’s a missed opportunity: someone more seasonally minded may have gone for three times as many, to coincide with the Twelve Days of Christmas. It can’t be that hard to come up with a dozen reasons we’re spinning down the dystopian drain. Ten (thousand) IRS Lords a Leapin’, then bringing their boot down on your face! And forget five golden rings—our Advent gifter can only afford two thanks to inflation. But you can still have three French hens clucking to HR about you purposefully misgendering the GE fridge in the breakroom.
Botched Nöel theming aside, West makes a compelling argument over our current “anarcho-tyranny.” Western authorities are more concerned with policing language than actual violence. But is it dystopian? Are we living in a gray and brutish Orwellscape?
Not quite. Yes, the memory-hole is real, words are being disemvoweled of their inherent meaning, Big Brother is everywhere, and the government would rather you dead than living off the dole. But we haven’t devolved into a full-blown police state yet. As much as the wokescolds want to wipe history, we can still learn from it, including the worst abuses of mankind. Take China’s sixty-million casualties in pursuit of communist perfection. Or the Holodomor. Or consider The Big One™: Germany’s genocidal campaign against its Jewish and non-Aryan residents. I just finished Tom Stoppard’s “Leopoldstadt,” which, in true Stoppardian fashion, interweaves high mathematical concepts with human tribulation. The play also portrays the helplessness a family faces against the dispossessing horrors of the state. At the Third Reich’s capricious whim, an upstanding Viennese family has its luxurious apartment commandeered, its business appropriated, and is, nearly to a man, shipped off to the death camps. Those who don’t die by Zyklon B kill themselves out of anguish.
The systematic slaughter of millions of Jewish people makes our modern-day grievances seem petty, even puerile. Getting banned from Facebook for calling someone a “groomer” isn’t dystopia. Radical ideology masking as routine palliative care is disturbing, but not dystopian. Stationary monitors posted at every orthogonal public space don’t mean much when everyone already walks around with a tiny three-lensed HD camera in his or her pocket. Creeping social credit schemes are unsettling, but they pale to being rounded up and murdered based on jus sanguinis directives.
West is rightly worried about our overly policed civil society: Thought police! Word police! Noticing police! Pronoun police! ESG police! Twitter police! Gender-race-disability-ethnicity-faith police! There are so many little squadrons patrolling around that it feels like we’re in a Tocquevillian-Hobbesian nightmare.
Bad as that is, we haven’t entered dystopia yet. The confluence of Big Tech, Big Government, and Big Media is engendering what Ross Douthat calls a “soft despotism.” The nudging to behave is gentle and insistent. The dark days will only come when the push becomes hard and fatal. Not until then.