Friday, November 21, 2014

Dystopia As A Government Policy

It takes some degree of imagination to concoct the sort of scenarios that are often discussed in government conference rooms. There's the central planning to be done, of course, but you have to see into the future to make a plan for the future. Who says there's no use to be made of a degree in creative writing when bureaucrats needs a little creative spark?

In the 1950s, the Red Scare washed over Europe and trickled into Ireland. What if? the authorities asked each other, formulating their plan in the event of catastrophe. What if Russia invades the continent, what can we do to save our Irish citizens?

A group of fiction writers could have been of use in those days, to compose short stories or even full-length novels that took the invasion as the initial premise and then let the story spin out from their fevered brains. One writer would likely have written something from the perspective of a family on vacation in the south of France, eager to get back to the auld sod to die in a nuclear holocaust in the company of the extended family. One last fry-up and maybe a quick trip to the confessional before the end.

In the event of nuclear holocaust, fly Aer Lingus

What does the family do first, and what might go wrong, and what is Plan B? Those are the questions an author would ask and answer. Those are the questions that a bureaucrat would ask but not be clever enough to answer. But the bureaucrat needs those answers to create new levels of bureaucracy to deal with the what ifs and the then whats.

If a group of novelists had been consulted in 1950, is it likely that someone would have suggested that the State compile a list of all Irish nationals living abroad? With such a list, the State would have letters at the ready to mail off to these citizens, warning them to come home at once.

And then what?

Airports would be jammed with Irish and every other foreigner wanting to get out before it was too late. Commercial airlines couldn't handle the crush. What to do?

The State had plans in place to send Aer Lingus, the entire fleet if necessary, to evacuate the far-flung Irish. While those frightened hordes were making for the airports, the ambassadors would be hard at work burning secret documents and generally doing what needs doing to shut down an embassy. They could leave after their work was done, with a hope that they managed to clear things out in time to catch that last Aer Lingus plane.

After preparing this contingency plan, however, those in charge were unable to suspend disbelief long enough to get caught up in the story. The scheme was deemed unlikely to succeed, which is often the case when a government explores its dystopian policy.

The stuff of good fiction can instruct or serve as a starting point for further discussion, but for making government policy, it's not always possible to blend fiction and reality. A minister can order something, but it takes an author to make things happen in a way that leads to the desired ending. Even though writers create characters that seem real, it's the real people who don't follow directions. Especially when the world is collapsing around them.

No comments: