by Sujal Thapa | Jan 6, 2023 | Article Writing Competition, Subtle Dystopia
Maximus returned to his room late in the evening. Putting his bag aside, he sat by the window. A glazing yellowish light was radiating. He stared at the huge buildings for a while. He was living alone in an apartment on the hundred and fiftieth floor. He made a coffee for himself and again started to look out. This time he witnessed a calmness in the city. No robots were flying, people talking or helicopters hovering. The city he saw seemed decayed but not dead. He appreciated the silence as much as he feared it. Observing the layer after layer of things present in the city, he asked himself, have we lost the battle? If so, to whom did we lose? To robots, to some mystical deity, or to ourselves. Maximus works in the crime department. His job is to inspect crime scenes. Particularly to take photographs of the scenes and report them. With each click of the camera, he feels poignant. How a thing created by a human obliterates another human’s body. Maximus has been doing this same job for twenty years now. He always relapses into this habit of thinking about his purpose. He observes his surroundings and gets carried away in deep and difficult territories of the human psyche. It was one of those days when he got himself into the abyss of his thoughts inside his tiny brain which no longer is the most powerful computing thing. He always tries to create an alternate present for himself and seeks refuge in such places. Reality seems to be intolerable for him. He no longer can face them cause then he knows he will lose to them again and again. Picking up the half-left cigarette from yesterday night, lighting it up with a powerful flame from the lighter made by a brand that also makes the same cigarette. Deeply inhaling the smoke, he reminiscences the time when Rebecca always argued about his habit of smoking. “When the bloody hell, are you going to stop smoking”? Quickly she would open the windows even if it is cold outside and move away from him. The infinite time he told her that he is going to quit this habit. These memories were like a burden living inside him. He doesn’t know what to do with them.
The sun was about to set. All the huge boards of advertisements and corporate lighted up in multiple colors. It wasn’t the same ten years back, he murmured. Maximus loved reading and music. These two things made him feel himself. Made him feel the present without diluting him with the painful past or with the unprecedented future. He remembered how he loved the books of Orwell, Huxley. How he admired them as human beings and their beyond-good ability to tell so much through their writings. He also loved reading history. About wars and great movements created by great humans. He admired the great impressionist movement and the renaissance period. After 2100 all the history and its existence in the likes of paper were lost. All the things were now on the web, “a network”. It’s 2175, and to access history, one doesn’t have to read books to know about the past, they can get to experience it for some amount of digital transaction. The relationship of everything around human beings has changed. Commoditization of each aspect of human life has left them hollow and in search of their coherent existence in the world. But the reality of today seemed inevitable after a point. After all the technological milestones that humans achieved, they were too ignorant to see the doom days hovering in their backyard. The world feels shallower with each passing year. Nothing significant seems to be happening. Despite having all the means of entertainment to boost the dopamine inside a man. A person living at this age seemed less happy than his previous generation. Being surrounded by hi-tech gadgets and all, they have few things left that can make them feel human.
At the end of the twenty-first century, a war broke out among humans in the name of their belief system. The beliefs were meant to protect humans. Maximus stared at the picture of a figure. That figure was worshipped by the whole city. The mortals believed it to be the reason they survived the war, too blind to see who or what caused it. Maximus lived near “The Wall”. It was made by the Hoyte corporation. According to them, it was made as a symbol and a barrier to keep the city clean. Clean from the outsider. Maximus remembered the story that his parents used to tell. How they got themselves into the city through an agent. The ugliness that the other side of the wall holds. He’d never been on the other side but he had heard other people’s stories. He resented the hierarchy that men created in the world. The human tendency to make themselves superior to others. The greed to feel the power. Humans have now lost the ability to think by and for themselves. The political world-building by so-called leaders had made them impotent to see beyond the created reality. Maximus’s job took him all around the city. He pictured brutal crime scenes. Robots weren’t used to take pictures because of their fragility to online exploitation. He didn’t like his job but he had no other option. Examining the naked concrete of the wall, he realized how many lives it has taken just for being on the other side of it. It was almost night time, he slid into his blanket, lit up another, and puffed it twice. The long and dark shadows of towers and the wall loomed over this room. A few quadcopters passed making noise, it’s their routine job to inspect the people and what they are up to. These copters indicated the omnipresence of the leader. People hated them but couldn’t complain because they don’t have any rights. Freedom seemed like a fairy tale that used to exist in the past. All subjects of human creation have been used against them to promote the propaganda of fascism. People are puppets controlled by leaders, the cables are the media, art, cinema, and books. Everything said or visually expressed was just another form of the great narrative built by the rulers. The science and tech made to serve and develop the human race gave them everything yet couldn’t save them. Is it to blame the tech or the hands and minds of humans that used or misused them to propagate their self-interest? Man ruled the earth not because they were the first to make the tools or the first to draw a picture. It was because of the marvelous plastic mind that made them able to do so much that other species couldn’t. But it also became the reason for the great tragedy that humans faced in the end.
Max took out some sleeping pills, a robotic hand poured some water into the glass. He swallowed the medicine. His job made him wake up all night. All the gruesome images of the crime came flashing as he closes his eyes and try to fall asleep. He recalled the way Rebecca slept by his side. How she taught him to align his breath with hers and they would sleep holding each other in their arms. A cool breeze passed moving the window in the process. He sighed and shed a drop of tears as he missed his old days. The pills started to work. He stared at the ceiling now, thinking of it as the wall between Rebecca and him. God “why me?”, he asked- Silence. “How long?”- Silence. He murmured the same sentences and fell asleep.
by Sujal Thapa | Jan 6, 2023 | Article Writing Competition, Subtle Dystopia
“Please! Not tonight. Not again.”
Though Jordan claims to be a non-believer, every single night he sits on his bed, looks up, and utters these words.
“Not tonight. Not again.” There is an immediate pause.
‘Would saying it help?’ he thinks.
Finally, rather shamefully, he whispers, “Please don’t let it happen tonight, god.”
His face, dripping with shame, bears an expression that can only be described as the face of a man who’s been discovered on stage, in front of thousands of people, naked. Because that is precisely how he feels now -naked. He knows his prayers will have no effect on what is about to happen -what has been happening for the past two months, what is inevitable – his dream.
Every night, for the past two months, Jordan has been terrified of his dreams. This fact may seem rather strange seeing that his dreams are neither terrifying nor recurring. It is quite the opposite. He is absolutely terrified because the only time he’s happy is when he’s dreaming.
Sophie. The story of how they met holds such gravity that seldom a day goes by without him replaying the moment over and over in his head. He remembers that dingy bus. A bus to where? That he does not remember—nor does he care to remember. The bus was almost empty. Just, Sophie, him, and the driver. Suddenly, in the middle of nowhere, it stops. He can see her feet now, now her knees, a fabric of checkered blue pattern—a skirt. The pattern continues until it reaches the base of her neck. Then the bare neck itself. Finally, her face. The actual details of the face meant very little, what did mean a lot was how that face made him feel—understood. The beauty of it was not even worth noting, though it existed, the feeling of it all trumped any form of physicality. Jordan, his whole life, had considered himself an outcast, as though no one had ever understood him, as though no one really could. That all changed now. All the vacant seats and she sits beside him. No words exchanged. Words? They’re for those who don’t yet understand each other. She was everything he wanted her to be and he was everything he wanted himself to be. Eventually, they got off the bus and walked along the streets of Kathmandu. A slight drizzle only excited Jordan as Sophie took him by his hand. Finally, the street came to an end and so did his dream. On waking, Jordan felt terrible. Terrible, not because of what happened in the dream but because what had happened would never happen in reality.
The next night, the dream continued right where the first one ended. Jordan woke up with the same, now familiar feeling. It continued over many nights and Jordan quite literally fell in love with the girl of his dreams, the girl in his dreams.
Every single morning, the divorce between reality and his dreams became more and more apparent. He’d realized the absurdity of it all. Reality would never live up to his dreams. He knew he’d never find a Sophie—that Sophie did not even exist. After 68 days of waking up and not wanting to open his eyes to the dreadful horrors of reality, he decided that all of it was too painful to bear. Something needed to be done.
Every morning, Jordan’s eyes reflect resolution. He knows what he has to do. As soon as he wakes up, he gets up and takes out a piece of paper. Plans his day. He decided not to go to work. On the paper, he wrote down some names.
The list read:
Mom and Dad – 10 AM
Ash – 12 PM
Ava – 2 PM
Robbie – 4 PM
That was it. All the people he cared about, in a list of four numbers. As he looked at the list, a solitary drop of tear emerged from his left eye, rolled down his cheek, and then to his neck.
The list was incomplete. There was one name missing.
He took the paper and added:
- Sophie – tonight
Jordan then started thinking about Sophie and the dream he’d had the night before. He remembered how the pointy grass felt on his neck as he lay there with her, gazing at the stars.
‘If you do exist. Now would be the time to show up.’ He whispered to himself.
Sophie wandered into Jordan’s head multiple times throughout the day. Soon, all the names on the list were crossed out, and met with, except for one.
9 PM, Jordan’s sitting on his bed again, praying. But this time he’s not praying to stop the dream from happening. Instead, he is praying for the dream to last forever.
‘If I do wake up tomorrow, I know what I’ll have to do.’ He says it as a warning -a warning to the god he does not believe in.
Now, for the first time, he looks forward to his dream. He finally meets the last person on his list. They spend the whole day walking with no exchange of words. Sophie understands. She wants to stop him but knows she can’t. Jordan has his arms locked around Sophie’s, he actually believes that he’ll be there forever. With her forever. But the day has to end and so does the night.
Jordan wakes up. He isn’t sad now. He remembers what Sophie’s final words were. The three syllables. He can’t imagine a better ending to a story, to his story. A smile on his face, not the one he’s used to in the real world but the kind he gets when he’s with her. He gets up and opens his windows. Morning sun redness seeps through the windows of his lonely sixth-floor apartment. It was the beginning of a beautiful day; he could feel it. He looks up at the sky. The clouds moved so he could have a better view.
He is content. With a smile on his face, he steps on the railing and jumps off.
by Rohan Maharjan | Jan 6, 2023 | Articles, Subtle Dystopia
Human civilization has transcended from the era of hunters and gatherers to the forefront of the fastest technological advancement, the world has ever seen. Our kind has excelled simultaneously in literature, history, culture, and medicine; and with that, we’ve been blessed with enhancements to our lifestyles and quality of life. The purpose of we humans has extended beyond the sole focus of survival. We venture out to explore the unknown and in our endeavors of doing so; discover new things that will serve as a tool to further our understanding and probe our sphere of knowledge and create new concepts. Dystopia is one such concept.
“An imagined state or society in which there is great suffering or injustice, typically one that is totalitarian or post-apocalyptic.” as defined by the Oxford Dictionary. Although the word “Dystopia” may sound fancy, its meaning is quite harrowing. A post-apocalyptic society where our civilization lay waste with utter annihilation and imminent threat of extinction. As unlikely as it seems, one cannot help but think about the foreseeable future events where our technology brings our own destruction. Be it due to a nuclear fallout caused due to the weapons of mass destruction that we pointed at one another to settle our differences in ideologies, due to an indestructible disease or virus which evolved to become such a side-effect of our advancements in health and technology, or due to a rogue super-advanced Artificial Intelligence crafted from sophisticated technology that we will inevitably create.
Whatever the cause of our speculative dystopian world may be, we always imagine it to be in the distant future; where we won’t be alive to face it. Most of us don’t even take a second to consider the possibility that our perception of the word dystopia may have been exaggerated by the highly imaginative minds of those who have had influence over the mainstream media. There is a likelihood that our thoughts might have been obscured by the fancy description of what is to come. We fail to realize that, perhaps, in between our waiting for the arrival of that dystopian future, our civilization has already been plagued by a subtle dystopia that we’ve been too blind to notice.
It might be due to our fear of being disillusioned by the grand concepts of dystopian fiction that we romanticize so much, or our trend of gradual acceptance of trends that cause the detriment of our society, which has caused us to not recognize it. But it doesn’t debunk the odds of us living in a dystopian world; albeit subtle in nature. Perhaps, where we went wrong was in our failure to recognize that we don’t need some post-apocalyptic scenario, an unstoppable force of nature or a super advanced AI that is going berserk causing mayhem, for our society to be in a state of suffering or their inhabitants to be the victims of injustice. With the advent of the internet, technological advancements, and social media; we have been “blursed”; as the people of the internet say it (blessed as well as cursed). While it indeed has allowed us to exist in a higher state of living, it has also brought upon us the dystopia where there is no privacy, where everything is free but you are the product, where our mental well-being is surmounted by the thoughts of other people in the pyramid of our priority, where we are lingered by the phantasm of free will and freedom of thought; when in reality it is all heavily manipulated by the things we see on the internet.
The future doesn’t manifest itself. It is the actions of today that determine tomorrow. In that perspective, the dystopian future that we imagine cannot rise out of anywhere. Every plant that will grow tomorrow has its seeds planted today. The subtle dystopia that we speak of; might be that seed. We might have inadvertently created the perfect environment for future dystopia while waiting for it to happen or trying to prevent it. Just like how prophecies in myths are vague enough for people to end up fulfilling them on the mission to avert it, our subtle dystopia might be the gateway to opening the floodgates for the real dystopian world and dystopian disaster yet to come. We are already trading our mental well-being and our data in exchange for likes and shares on some social media platforms. We are allowing ourselves to be surveilled by people who know each step that we take and each activity we do. We are allowing our life’s history to be at the disposal of emotionless companies which in conglomeration have the ability to know what we did, and what we are doing. The scary part: predict what we are about to do.
While you’re reading this, In a data center, bytes of data are being uploaded; every bit of information received is being used to more accurately model your thought patterns and behaviors and to research how big corporations can change your decisions. It knows you’ve clicked on the site where this article was published. It also knows where the author was while he was writing this. And that’s only the part that we know. Imagine what is happening behind the confidential walls. Who knows that somewhere in this subtle dystopian world, a bunch of people is brewing a breakthrough technology with noble intentions? But unbeknownst to them, it may bring about the dystopia that we all fear. It may be wild speculation but the chances of it being a hazard that we are too oblivious to notice are equally possible.
The unnerving part of this terrifying delirium which makes it a subtle dystopia is not the fact that the people do not know about this. It is a fact that we choose to ignore all that is happening and turn a blind eye to it. For we have no solution that the people are willing to adopt to avert the oncoming disaster. At this stage, we are sitting ducks brooding the eggs of disaster, unaware of the prowling monster lurking at the threshold of our civilization which will snatch us unaware and drag us spiraling down the turbulent path to the ultimate dystopian future unless we do something about it.
However, all is not yet lost. Never in our historical past have we been successful in establishing a society free of problems. Utopia is practically unachievable and with the realization, we can all work against our flaws that have not yet caused irreversible damage—realizing that our foe isn’t some distant dystopian future but the subtle dystopia of today will be our greatest strength for a steady fast recovery.