In part one of the dystopian book series, we discussed how tales like 1984 raised our collective consciousness to the horrors of totalitarian systems. If that’s true, why is it difficult for us to join together and articulate current events to lessons we’ve learned from the book? In my mid-twenties, I had the realization that ideological beliefs can lead to a blind trust in authority. The visionary fiction novel that opened my eyes was Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea’s Illuminatus Trilogy. The book challenged my worldview by prompting me to question my beliefs, and I realized they had all been programmed! Parts of the novel are quite raunchy, but I enjoyed the absurdist style of storytelling. This was before I heard of Albert Camus! The humor helped me drop my guard and led to many aha moments. While the novel isn’t pure dystopian, many passages focus on submission to society and the state:
As a spiritual agnostic, I tackle the construct of belief in all my novels, leaving it for readers to draw their own conclusions. Plato’s Cave served as the foundation for my first book, Unison – The Spheral. The protagonist, Damon, starts out as part of the ruling elite. He unmasks the horrors of his dystopian society and breaks out of its dark mythology. After his liberation, he performs his version of Plato’s Cave for his lover, Flora, to wake her up from her dystopian delusion:
Characters in dystopian novels are either open to the truth, or they languish inside the darkness of the cave. We see the consequences of their choices as they meet their fates. Within their journeys, we learn from both their strengths and weaknesses. What compels some authors to visit the dark side of human nature in dystopian fiction? Neil Gaiman eloquently expresses this in his introduction to Fahrenheit 451:
UNIVERSAL WORLD VIEW
I interviewed my daughters about their reactions to 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 and got some surprising responses. My youngest daughter, 15, mentioned that societies tell us how the world works and what is considered normal. “If we see something abnormal, it discomforts us, and we have varying reactions. In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 characters viewed censorship and book burning as normal.” Can we connect to this construct in reality? What do we identify as “normal,” in our society and how did we arrive at that consensus?
In 1984, regarding the Ministry of Truth, my oldest daughter, 17, explained that it’s easy to erase history and it can even happen in the real world. She realizes that the news doesn’t report everything, and “even current things are hidden from people.” How do we know what we know? Are we certain of it? The characters in dystopian novels answer those questions, but it doesn’t always lead them out of the cave.
In Brave New World, characters either live in harmony within the World State or with the reality of pain and suffering outside its borders. Helmholtz Watson is an Alpha who loves poetry. He rebels by reading a heretical poem to his students and later helps John the Savage destroy the Delta’s soma rations. Mustapha Mond exiles Watson to the Falkland Islands. What Mond reveals to him and the Savage illuminates how people may react when forced to choose between safety of the cave and the dangers outside:
The characters in Brave New World respond differently to the polarity of bliss versus pain and suffering. Mond reveals that in his youth he was an unorthodox physicist and was almost exiled. He chose to trade in his love of science for power. Watson views his exile as an opportunity to find meaning and become a better writer. John the Savage leaves the World State and lives on his own in a lighthouse where he becomes a spectacle for his self-flagellation. He later hangs himself because he couldn’t live up to his own statement to Mond about wanting comfort and freedom along with sin. We can relate to these internal struggles in our current world. As humans, we conform, so we can be part of the social community. However, outer reality doesn’t always align with our ability to consciously evolve as individuals. Brave New World shows us the dark side of that struggle. Through Watson, we see a sliver of hope that no matter how lost we might feel, we can break our chains, leave the cave and liberate ourselves.
The desire for humans to want a better world is Universal. Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle shows us an alternate history where the Nazis had won WWII. It’s written as a book within a book. The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, authored by the character Abendsen, is based on the I-Ching and depicts a world where the Germans had lost the war. Juliana Crain is determined to find Abendsen and discover the truth about the book.
In Ayn Rand’s Anthem, Equality 7-2521 lives in a closed system, where no words exist that define individuality. He takes on the role of the light bearer and brings electricity to a regressive dystopia that’s lit by candles.
Rather than being thanked, Equality 7-2521 is jailed for upsetting the balance of his society. The theme in this book is the individual versus the collective. This construct’s universality relates to the spiritual problem of the modern person, as explained by Carl Jung. “Every step forward means tearing oneself loose from the maternal womb of unconsciousness in which the mass of men dwells.” Jung viewed that individuals who awaken into consciousness become solitary. It sounds stark, but fear not, for within darkness, there is always light!
EVOLUTION OF CONSCIOUSNESS
We now arrive at the heart of our question as to whether dystopian stories can be visionary fiction. Can reading these dark stories lead to an expansion in consciousness?
In 1984, O’Brien brings Winston into the Brotherhood, which supposedly exists to fight the Party. After Winston’s arrest, O’Brien shape-shifts into his torturer. Something I’ve only just picked up on is that O’Brien inverts the meaning of spirituality!
O’Brien later claims that “reality is inside the skull” but in the context that only what the Party dictates is true. Revisiting this scene filled me with dread, and I had to meditate afterwards to clear my head. Perhaps first-time readers would have more of a consciousness expanding experience. A lesson my oldest daughter learned from the book is that “When you see something, sit back and think about it. Is it true, or this part of some bigger picture thing that I can’t see because it’s all kept from everyone.” My youngest daughter added that we can’t truly discern the truth from the news or with politicians. “Whether they show themselves to be bad or good, you don’t know what their true intentions are.” When I asked her about the Ministry of Truth and the problem with rewriting history and censoring, she replied, “We are going backward, and we’re also diminishing success.” How can we discern truth from fiction? She explained that if we understand that what we’re told is not always the truth, we go through life with less worry. “It’s important to keep an open mind and question everything we’re told. Is it true? Is it not true? If you find that something is false, it doesn’t hit you as hard.” She learned her Stoic lessons well!
While Winston lost his individuality and submitted to the collective, in Anthem, Equality 7-2521 and the woman he loves, connect to the word “I” and become individuals. They name themselves Prometheus and Gaea. In Greek mythology, Prometheus steals fire from the gods to give to man, and Gaea is a goddess known as the mother of life. Although Ayn Rand was an atheist, there are spiritual elements that can be found throughout the book.
The Man in the High Castle has several examples of inner-growth. Rudolph Wegener, who goes by the name of Banes, is a Nazi secret agent. He questions the party’s imperialistic approach. In the following quote, he introspects after Lotze, a Jewish man, comments how a baseball stadium appears to be designed by a Jew:
Juliana Crain finds the mysterious author of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, Abendsen. She consults the Oracle (I Ching), and the words inner truth come to her. She interprets it to mean that the Germans had lost the war. Her revelation angers Abendsen, who refers to her as a little chthonic spirit (underworld spirits of ancient mythology). Towards the beginning of the book, we get a glimpse into Juliana’s Inner Truth through another character (Robert Childan) who muses over understanding the Tao:
In Fahrenheit 451, Granger reveals to Montag that humankind is a phoenix that rises out of the ashes and is born anew. I asked my youngest daughter to break down what she’d learned from the book. “What we see is not what it has to be, and we can change reality.” That hit me because it demonstrates how we create the reality we live in, and it’s up to us whether it’s an evolution or devolution of consciousness.
INNER TRUTH AND VISIONARY FICTION
To pass the visionary fiction test, we need to ask whether the dystopian books mentioned in this article can lead to the evolution of human consciousness. I believe I made the argument that they do, but there’s a caveat with this assertion. In 1984 and Brave New World, the protagonists tragically regress in their journeys. However, Orwell and Huxley both used visionary elements that awaken us to potential dangers that can be inflicted on us by despots and governments. The Man in the High Castle, Anthem and Fahrenheit 451 all have characters that evolve during their journeys. We feel the horror as they face their dark challenges. In the end, we feel a spark of hope as they leave their caves and see the light. The growth of these characters shows us that the evolution of consciousness happens individually. When it’s forced, destruction follows, as John the Savage discovers when the Deltas turn against him. Visionary fiction also affects people individually. Did you have any inner truths revealed while reading these stories? Are any or all of these books visionary fiction? I leave it up to you, the readers, to decide.