The danger of the past was that men became slaves. The danger of the future is that men may become robots.—Erich Fromm, The Sane Society
You just can’t differentiate between a robot and the very best of humans.―Isaac Asimov, I, Robot
Every time something bad happens in the world, I reach for the nearest dystopia. Because reading about how things could be so much worse than they are helps me realize that things aren’t really as bad as all that. In fact, things are pretty good. Not Lake Woebegone good, of course, but then Garrison Keillor retired and everyone in Lake Woebegone just packed their bags and headed off to Glendale or St. Petersburg or Palm Springs. But still, pretty good.
We don’t have Robocops replacing real cops in Detroit, or Terminators run by large, malevolent multi-national corporations, trying to get humanity to off itself. We don’t have Zombie Wars, or Hunger Games, or a last Jedi lost in an abandoned Temple on a far away planet. We don’t have Station Eleven, Handmaids or Divergents. There may be mutants, but they are mostly confined to oncology wards and because they are often dying, they are not very threatening.
Because what we have is free will. We can choose our future. We can choose to be free, to care for the earth and each other, to change the course of human history. We may be plummeting towards total war, but we can wage peace. We can give so that others may prosper. We can love.
Our dystopias are pretty tame compared to the dystopias of the imagination. But we still need them, these visions of the Inferno, these liaisons dangereuses of the heart. Because they drive us towards the light, towards the good, towards the possible, towards the future.
When it feels bad, when it feels hopeless, when it feels like the Abyss is just over the next rise, remember: we are not robots, programmed to do the will of some twisted cosmic Overlord, we are in charge of our future. The world will not end this afternoon. Probably not tomorrow, either.