During this time in quarantine, some of you may feel like we’re living in the end times. Whether or not I believe the end is near is for another post, but those of us who are speculative fiction/dystopian/post-apocalyptic readers are well prepared for this kind of thing.
If you’re scared, don’t worry. George Orwell, Suzanne Collins, and even Disney have taught us plenty about how to survive a dystopia. While some of this post is meant to be funny, I hope you can find some nuggets to chew on and get through this difficult time.
1. Get a Pet
Katniss Everdeen (Hunger Games) has a cat, and she survives all three Hunger Games. Wall-E has a cockroach, and he’s successful in saving EVE and bringing the humans back to Earth. Winston Smith (1984) doesn’t have a pet, and he succumbs to the psychological trickery of Big Brother. So, to stay sane, you obviously need a pet.
You need an animal that’s totally oblivious to the craziness so you can remember that there’s life outside of a virus, a totalitarian government, or world war. Even when the world is falling apart, all Fido seems to care about is chasing that squirrel up a tree. Despite the inconsistent weather outside, the birds are chirping as if it’s a beautiful, sunny day. Sometimes, we need a reminder of the simple things we take for granted.
2. Do Not Believe Everything You See and Hear in the News
In 1984, the main character, Winston Smith, works for the records department of the Ministry of Truth, and his job is to literally rewrite history and the media to make Big Brother seem like the all-knowing, all-powerful figurehead that has led the country in conquering other nations. As a writer in today’s day and age, it saddens me that there are many “Winstons” in our current media. Not all journalists and reporters are bad, but please be aware that “fake news” is out there. With the right editing tools, anyone can make anything look real.
My journalism teacher in high school told me to “beware the one-sourced story.” If you see a meme or a headline, even if it seems like it’s true to you because it caters to your opinions and desires, fact check it like crazy. Google “Did that really happen?” or “Did he really say that?” Look up the original video, article, transcript, photo, etc and analyze it. Use your senses to detect the body language, tone of voice, and details “between the lines.”
To find out if a source is telling the truth, consider their motivation for writing. We’re in an election year in the United States. Now is the perfect time for political campaigns to use what’s going on to talk about how well (or how not-so-well) the government is handling the virus.
Look at the funding behind the organization that put out this article, or what the company sells. If you happen to find a source that purely speaks the truth without any bias or agenda, share it with others. Don’t believe everything you hear, read, or watch on the Internet.
3. Stay Connected to Your Family
Early dystopian novels feature societies where families are separated. In fact, it was one of the main themes of Brave New World. These stories will mention parents and children because you can’t avoid the fact that you came from a human or that a human came out of you (except in Brave New World, where babies are created in factories).
If you pay attention, you’ll notice that family relationships aren’t great in these stories. In A Handmaid’s Tale, women give birth, but have to give up their children to their host family. Usually, the main character lives alone, with little mention of his or her family. In YA dystopian fiction, the main character will often have a sibling that encourages them, like Primrose Everdeen in The Hunger Games and Reed Blackwater in the Out of Time series, but they are usually separated for the majority of the book/series.
The lack of family makes the dystopia even worse because the main character gets inside their own head. During the quarantine, unfortunately, we’ve had to separate from our families. For me, this is the part of the whole COVID-19 situation that’s most like a dystopia for me. This virus has created (or heightened) our distrust of our family members. We’ve been stuck inside our own heads, first for the sake of our elders who we may accidentally give the virus, but now out of fear that our loved ones are now “unsafe” to us.
To survive a dystopia, do everything you can to stay connected to your families. Call them every once in while to see how they’re doing. Video chat. Invite them over your house and sit outside or in the driveway. Show them you care. Invest in people who care about you.
4. Remember That You Can Change the Narrative
Dystopian fiction became popular in the 1920s and 1930s because of political unrest and economic turmoil. Despite many of the details in these books becoming true, they were never meant to predict the future. Rather, they were meant to warn their readers of what could happen if we as people don’t take action.
Brave New World and 1984 came challenge totalitarian government that was popular in other nations around the world. The Hunger Games reveals the evils of self-indulgence. Wall-E is a warning to take care of planet Earth, or else we will have to live on a ship, floating through outer space. These stories weren’t saying, “This will be our future”; they were saying, “This can be our future, if we don’t do something.”
Katniss takes action in The Hunger Games by volunteering as tribute and surviving, even when everyone in District 12 starts the book practically writing her funeral. Parvin Blackwater in A Time to Die (disclaimer: I only read the first book so far of this series!) takes action by writing an autobiography that exposes the insanity of banishing people who lost their clocks.
Will we let our circumstances dictate our future, or will we take ownership of our lives? This is our world. How do you want it to look? What does a right world look like? To survive a dystopia, don’t let your negative circumstances define you. Use them to inspire you to take action to make things right.
5. Pray for God to Bring His Utopian Plan to Earth
When we think of the end times, we think of Armageddon. We think of massive viruses wiping out populations and natural disasters killing our crops. But that is not the end of the story.
In the beginning, when God created man and woman, He gave us dominion over the earth. At the end, after the destruction, there is redemption. God creates a new heaven and a new earth. Read Revelation 21 and 22 to see the beauty that awaits us.
It’s not a faraway place that John sees in his vision. What he sees is a prediction of the renewal of where you’re sitting right now. In the end, God will dwell on Earth with us. Heaven and Earth will become one.
If you think about it, the world isn’t getting worse. It’s getting better. And since WE have dominion over the earth, WE have the power to make it a better place. But we need God’s help, His perfect wisdom, to guide us in our rebuilding process, so that we don’t mess it up like we did the first time.
So, to survive a dystopia, pray that God would equip us to make a utopia out of our hopeless situation. Pray that God would take what the enemy meant for evil and use it for our good. Pray that in the midst of a deadly virus, in the midst of a world war, in the midst of a natural disaster, that we can have hope in our inevitable future with God.
If you read dystopian fiction, I’m in the pitching process of publishing my debut novel, In Real Life. To receive dystopian short stories and updates about my book, you can subscribe here.