Against the backdrop of a pandemic, the thesis that the elite is opposed to the common man began to acquire clear apocalyptic and dystopian features, writes Oleg Barabanov, Programme Director of the Valdai Club. It is clear that we are far away from having Morlocks and Eloi, but the fact remains that the trend towards just such a development is set to become a constant in the public consciousness in the wake of the epidemic and the protests.
Among the social consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, it is worth highlighting a rather tangible increase in attention to the dystopian science fiction genre. Moreover, the assertion that the real world of the present and the future is a dystopia made manifest has gained increasing popularity in various recent theories and texts that forecast the world’s development in the post-epidemic era. The surge of protest movements in the US and elsewhere last summer has also spawned openly dystopian scenarios. In this regard, it’s already an interesting prospect, both culturally and politically, to trace the main themes of the dystopia genre and its prospects for their realisation in the modern world.
One common theme of dystopian fiction is the sharp division of the human community into classes and/or races. This separation leads to their growing alienation from each other, which over time leads to the development of not only different behavioural traits, but also an increasingly divergent physical appearance. A recognised classic of this type of dystopia is The Time Machine by Herbert Wells. The two warring species of human (or already post-human) creatures depicted in it – the Eloi and the Morlocks – very clearly represent the ultimate results of this kind of divergence between the elite and the plebs, between the rich and the poor, between the intellectuals and the proletariat, and so on. According to Wells’ book, this extreme divergence did not end with anything good for the world.
One modern dystopia of this kind is Michel Houellebecq’s novel The Possibility of the Island (La possibilité d’une île), where after a global demographic catastrophe, only sophisticated clones and degenerate barbarians remain in the world. There are many more examples of this kind, where the basis of a global dystopia lies in a grotesque social division. If we look for examples of dystopia in real life, then we can agree that the focus of the Black Lives Matter movement is a good match. In the context of the pandemic, one can cite numerous statistical reports about the racial imbalance among the victims of the coronavirus, information about the contrast between overcrowded hospitals for the poor and elite private clinics for the rich and influential which are off-limits to ordinary patients, etc. There are also rapidly spreading rumours about special drugs, about serum blood, and about a proto-vaccine, which were provided to the sick elite, but which were denied to everyone else. All this has contributed to the imagination of the global public consciousness, particularly, the thesis that the elite is opposed to the common man. This thesis, against the backdrop of a pandemic, began to acquire clear apocalyptic and dystopian features. It is clear that we are far away from having Morlocks and Eloi, but the fact remains that the trend towards just such a development is set to become a constant in the public consciousness in the wake of the epidemic and the protests.