Four types of dystopia (and what it means for literacy)

CC0 Rafał Malinowski

In this post, Darren Allen outlines four types of dystopia:

  • Orwellian — autocratic totalitarianism
  • Huxleyan — democratic totalitarianism
  • Kafkaesque — bureaucratic surveillance
  • Phildickean — rule by replacing reality with ersatz reality

He goes on to note:

The reader can decide for herself under which of above we currently struggle to eke out a life worth living. I would like to suggest that all modern societies are both Kafkaesque and Phildickian with either a Huxleyan or Orwellian overarching framework; modern, western, capitalist societies tend to be basically Huxleyan (HKP) and pre-modern, eastern, communist countries tend to be basically Orwellian (OKP).

For me, the interesting one of the four dystopias outlined by Allen is the Phildickean version:

This technique of social control began with literacy—and the creation of written symbols, which devalued soft conscious sensuous inspiration, fostered a private (reader-text) interaction with society, created the illusion that language is a thing, that meaning can be stored, owned and perfectly duplicated, that elite-language is standard and so on—and ended with virtuality— the conversion of classrooms, offices, prisons, shops and similar social spaces into ‘immersive’ on-line holodecks which control and reward participants through permanent, perfect surveillance, the stimulation of positive and negative emotion, offers of godlike powers, and threats to nonconformists of either narco-withdrawal or banishment to an off-line reality now so degraded by the demands of manufacturing an entire artificial universe, that only hellish production-facilities, shoddy living-units and prisons can materially function there.

A footnote next to the word ‘literacy’ explains:

Obviously I’m not suggesting that literacy is inherently or completely dystopian, but it is the beginning of a dangerous and distorting process, which starts with societies demanding literacy for participation — and devaluing orality and improvised forms of expression — and ends with the complete eradication of reality. This danger and distortion increases with every step towards virtuality (print, perspective, photography, television, internet) until, by the time we reach VR, there remains no possibility of reverie, transcendence, humanity, meaning or genuine creativity, all of which become suspect.

Fascinating. More than a hint of the Gutenberg parenthesis and secondary orality in there!