How to recognize a dystopia – Alex Gendler


Have you ever tried to picture
an ideal world? One without war, poverty, or crime? If so, you’re not alone. Plato imagined an enlightened
republic ruled by philosopher kings, many religions promise
bliss in the afterlife, and throughout history, various groups have tried to build
paradise on Earth. Thomas More’s 1516 book “Utopia”
gave this concept a name, Greek for “no place.” Though the name suggested impossibility, modern scientific and political progress raised hopes of these dreams
finally becoming reality. But time and time again,
they instead turned into nightmares of war, famine, and oppression. And as artists began to question
utopian thinking, the genre of dystopia,
the not good place, was born. One of the earliest dystopian works
is Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels.” Throughout his journey, Gulliver
encounters fictional societies, some of which at first seem impressive,
but turn out to be seriously flawed. On the flying island of Laputa, scientists and social planners
pursue extravagant and useless schemes while neglecting the practical needs
of the people below. And the Houyhnhnm who live
in perfectly logical harmony have no tolerance for the imperfections
of actual human beings. With his novel, Swift established
a blueprint for dystopia, imagining a world where certain trends
in contemporary society are taken to extremes, exposing their underlying flaws. And the next few centuries would
provide plenty of material. Industrial technology that promised
to free laborers imprisoned them in slums
and factories, instead, while tycoons grew richer than kings. By the late 1800’s, many feared
where such conditions might lead. H. G. Wells’s “The Time Machine” imagined
upper classes and workers evolving into separate species, while Jack London’s “The Iron Heel”
portrayed a tyrannical oligarchy ruling over impoverished masses. The new century brought more exciting
and terrifying changes. Medical advances made it possible
to transcend biological limits while mass media allowed instant
communication between leaders and the public. In Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”,
citizens are genetically engineered and conditioned to perform
their social roles. While propaganda and drugs keep
the society happy, it’s clear some crucial
human element is lost. But the best known dystopias
were not imaginary at all. As Europe suffered unprecedented
industrial warfare, new political movements took power. Some promised to erase
all social distinctions, while others sought to unite people
around a mythical heritage. The results were real-world dystopias where life passed under the watchful eye
of the State and death came with ruthless efficiency
to any who didn’t belong. Many writers of the time didn’t
just observe these horrors, but lived through them. In his novel “We”, Soviet writer
Yevgeny Zamyatin described a future where free will and individuality
were eliminated. Banned in the U.S.S.R., the book inspired
authors like George Orwell who fought on the front lines
against both fascism and communism. While his novel “Animal Farm” directly
mocked the Soviet regime, the classic “1984” was a broader critique
of totalitarianism, media, and language. And in the U.S.A., Sinclair Lewis’s
“It Can’t Happen Here” envisioned how easily democracy
gave way to fascism. In the decades after World War II, writers wondered what new technologies like atomic energy,
artificial intelligence, and space travel meant for humanity’s future. Contrasting with popular visions
of shining progress, dystopian science fiction expanded
to films, comics, and games. Robots turned against their creators while TV screens broadcast
deadly mass entertainment. Workers toiled in space colonies
above an Earth of depleted resources and overpopulated, crime-plagued cities. Yet politics was never far away. Works like “Dr. Strangelove” and “Watchmen”
explored the real threat of nuclear war, while “V for Vendetta”
and “The Handmaid’s Tale” warned how easily our rights could
disappear in a crisis. And today’s dystopian fiction continues
to reflect modern anxieties about inequality, climate change, government power, and global epidemics. So why bother with all this pessimism? Because at their heart, dystopias
are cautionary tales, not about some particular government
or technology, but the very idea that humanity can be
molded into an ideal shape. Think back to the perfect world
you imagined. Did you also imagine what it would
take to achieve? How would you make people cooperate? And how would you make sure it lasted? Now take another look. Does that world still seem perfect?

100 Replies to “How to recognize a dystopia – Alex Gendler

  1. Long story short: There won’t and never will be a perfect world, because there can’t be one.

    Just like there can’t and never will be perfect humans.

    Because the world is shaped by humanity, and humanity is shaped by the same world they live in.

  2. The only acheivable utopia is if people only have the same ideologies and live in a world where they get what they want. Lets say a person has everything he wants, its a utopia for him but maybe not others. If he kills off people with different ideology, it is a utopia.

  3. Hmm because of this, maybe I aim to study politics and its roots or history but I don't know where to start ahaha

  4. I usually imagine humans never existed though
    Pretty sure if there's no humanity at all then there'll be no poverty, no wars etc.

  5. Thought I was high cuz I heard: Play-doh instead of: Plato had to rewind and put on captions to realize I heard Play-doh when it wasn't Play-doh

  6. There was this great dystopian book I read. I can’t remember the name. Basically, medicine was so unaffordable that average people were dying from totally treatable diseases. A puppet ruler was installed to power with the aid of an enemy country. And corporations pretended to care about people. Does anyone know the name of the book?

  7. Think of a world that every time you take something,someone takes some of it. That is the basic definition of tax system. Think that you choose a representetive to govern the place you live, but her or she is controlled by the people which controls the money. And that people make themselves even richer by increasing their profit. They dont even directly work. They gain money by giving people jobs, getting them to produce and sell the products. If it makes sense to you, contiune to sleep. I can guarantee you that if there are alternative universes, they consider the world we live is a dystopia. Maybe we cant make our world a utopia, but we can make it better. We just have to try it first.

  8. A utopia is where life is fair on everyone, like the poor get treat as well as the rich, where is 3rd world countries get a change with building an economy, corruption in companies fade away
    Not where everyone is overly happy, no crime, everyone is rich, everything is exactly the same, that would be hellish to live with

  9. When did Orwell fight communism in the front line? Sorry guys, fascism is a logical consequence of capitalism.

  10. Dystopias don’t emerge from utopias, they emerge from conformity, from not rocking the boat, from letting things continue the way they are.

  11. An utopian society is a world where everyone says the same words, thinks the same ideas, wants the same things, has the same opinions and hears the same informations as everyone.

  12. Well poverty is the necessity for luxury.
    No poverty, no luxury.
    Moreover, poverty cannot disappear. Cause slums build the cities which we live in today, otherwise who'll do the labour (minimum wage jobs with high potential risk to death)

  13. Things mentioned in the video that you may want to refer to after the video to expand your knowledge-
    ¬Utopia
    ¬Gulliver's Travels
    ¬The Time Machine
    ¬The Iron Heel
    ¬Brave New World
    ¬Animal Farm
    ¬1984
    ¬We
    ¬Handmaid's Tale
    ¬It Can't Happen Here
    ¬V for Vendetta

  14. Ahhh that’s so scary! So basically it’s all of our conflicts and anger and fights which is saving us and protecting us. Trying to be united causes tyrannical leaders being formed.

  15. Simply legalize weed tax the people who are the 1% irs mor active in the field of the rich hiding their money, give teachers higher pay, global health care because $100 for an iv that cost less than $2 to make is bs getting people who don't have violent crimes out of prison to strengthen the work force with less taxes to components who employ the principles, fixing all thoes dam potholes we use prisoners to set up fences how hard is it for them to fill a hole, and some reform to help people move from Apartments to houses and homeless people into those apartments

  16. Honestly, the human mind is so plastic (litterally moldable), that we could probably make lots of societies that can work like utopias without those flaws, and that's important, because this is the real steuggle. We shouldn't protect what we have at the cost of progress due to fear, we should accept that human nature isn't fixed, and that we will change as we allways have. Thw cautionary tale of dystopias is better at describing how the obsessipn over some value, and it's vertue will lead to totaliterianism. If equality is overdone you may forget individuality, but if you overdo individuality we becomw isolated, and I can invision a society where all blame is put on the individual, letting systems get evermore exploitative and oppressive. I don't think it's wrong to acknowlege that humans can change, or that societies can improve. We should adapt society to the needs and wishes of people, and the material conditions, allowing adaptability and progress, without fixating on optimisation, or conservation. Utilise new discoveries, allow your mind to be changed, and let progress adapt to our needs, instead of being forced towards a narrow idea of good, or being keot from taking place. That's how I see it anyways.

  17. I think we should just stick every human into those matrix virtual reality tubes and have the artificial intelligence robots handle everything else in the real world such as our maintenance

  18. I accept Dystopia… It is better to recognise than denying… Only those who living in utopia never realise their flaw…

  19. The world can be better but not perfect as "perfection" ends up becoming a failure which means we would be going backwards but we can get close to perfect but we have to make sure we don't become "perfect"

  20. A perfect world would be boring, making it—by definition—not a utopia. And a society that’s not boring, is bound to have mistakes, and—by definition—cannot be a utopia either.

    This is why it’s impossible to create a utopia. Because when you seemingly get rid of all the problems in a given society, new problems will come to take their place. Even if they’re psychological. I guarantee it.

  21. George Orwell was not against communism. In fact, he was communist himself. What he was standing against was 1) fascist regimes & 2) totalitarian communist regimes, such as Stalin's. He believed in the core of Karl Marx's ideas, but he stood against totalitarianism as the means to an end because, as he says in 1984 & Animal Farm, power can and will corrupt any man who has it without limitations. One can start with good intentions, but will always end up a tyrant if the opportunity is given.

    The belief that Orwell was against communism is result of the US using his books, specially Animal Farm, in schools as propaganda against Soviet Union and its political system during the cold war, which still happens nowadays. Today, communism is seen by many as the left-wing version of the right-wing's fascism, but it is not accurate and this is where the misconceptions about George Orwell come in. And no, I'm not a communist.

    I love TED-ed videos btw.

  22. Eef off with your ideas of perfection, perception, turning people against others, humans are a fallen race they cant attain perfection in this place of existence

  23. There is no way to achieve utopia. Humans are fragile and imperfect beings, we're living in the dystopian society since the dawn of civilization.

  24. What people consider to be a utopia/dystopia seems to be very relative.

    I mean in these days, people want authority and restrictions. People want a dystopia so long as someone is promising them peace and safety. Why fight an all powerful figure if they are giving you all your necessities and keeping you distracted with gadgets? People are simpletons.

  25. Are you serious? Plato imagined?
    Shame on you! A TedEd?!😲😲 You don't know that geologists and volcano researchers proved that Plato's Utopia was actually the modern day Crete?
    It has been proven after finding under the volcanic dust every aspect of the city …

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