Our dystopian present

One of the great things about the charter school that my kids go to is that they are reading the true classics of literature, and as they read these classics I get a chance to re-read them along with my kids.

My eighth grader is reading “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury. If you haven’t read that in a while, a quick reminder of the plot: it takes place in a dystopian future where people have stopped reading books and indeed hate books so much that they encourage firemen to burn all the books.

Bradbury wrote “Fahrenheit 451” in 1951, and he was alarmed by the new technology of the time, television. He describes a dystopian future where people watch videos on wall-sized screens (!), drive fast cars for thrills and therefore don’t have the attention span to sit and read a book. People are also offended at the things in books, which inevitably insult one group or another with their provocative plots. Later in life, Bradbury, a traditional conservative, lamented the spread of political correctness and cancel culture, which he said were signs that his book was coming true before his eyes.

Bradbury correctly perceived that this kind of society would create a vast void in peoples’ lives, and that suicide would increase as people saw their lives had no meaning. People would be so concerned about their own lives and buying the latest gadgets that they would stop having children and would mostly ignore the children they had. He predicted that young people would become more violent and strike out against society with nihilistic rage. But Bradbury pointed out that this would take place while society kept up appearances. For most people, life would apparently go on as normal. There would be elections, and people would go to work and perform their jobs and of course spend their time being entertained by the wall-sized video screens. And, eerily, Bradbury’s world takes place while there is a massive war being fought, a war that does not affect most of the populace’s everyday lives. Meanwhile, the news would never report the truth about the world around them, constantly inventing pleasant story lines to keep the populace happy.

In the end, Bradbury’s dystopian future is the fault of human beings who stop caring about the important things in life: tradition, family, learning, liberty, fulfilling human potential. Most importantly, they stop caring about Truth. And because people have become mediocre and apathetic in every way, they allow society to fall apart around them. Without giving away the ending, you can imagine that the denouement is sad and violent, with a small reason for hope for the future but mostly a warning lament.

We are living in Bradbury’s nightmare right now, and the sheep-like response to COVID-19 by the populace is further evidence that we are moving closer to his sad climax every day.

Most readers will, I hope, be aware that the left is constantly looking for new books to ban. There have even been calls from leftist intellectuals for book burnings. But I believe that Bradbury was mostly concerned about societal trends he saw around him (and continued to see after he wrote his book in 1951 until he died in 2012). There are several large themes in “Fahrenheit 451” that apply today and, frankly, are frightening.

1)Lack of concern about personal liberty. The firemen in “Fahrenheit 451” burst into peoples’ homes and begin searching for books without warrants and without concern for civil liberties. Bradbury writes in his novel that the desire to ban books did not come from a government decree but instead from a societal demand for change from the people themselves. We are seeing this play out today with the completely panicked and unscientific response to the COVID-19 pandemic. People are told they can’t go to church, can’t run a business, can’t travel, can’t eat out, can’t leave their own homes and can’t even exercise unless they do so in a way approved by the chattering classes. In some cases, the government is persecuting the people, but, sad to say, the vast majority of the fear-mongering and authoritarian control is coming from the people themselves. They follow people around insisting they wear masks, and they report people having barbeques in their own backyards. It is the people — driven to hysteria by fake news and ignorance and fear — who are the real oppressors. And they are insisting that their local governments institute totalitarian mandates on other people because of their own ignorance and fear, just as the people in “Fahrenheit 451” did to their own neighbors.

2)The rise of political correctness and cancel culture. In “Fahrenheit 451,” Bradbury explains that people began to insist that books be burned because of “minorities.” He mentions “the dog-lovers, the cat-lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs, Mormons, Baptists, Unitarians, second-generation Chinese, Swedes, Italians, Germans, Texans, Brooklynites, Irishmen, people from Oregon or Mexico.” What he is talking about here is the overwhelming need that people feel to be protected from any views with which they disagree. This has been a problem throughout human history, but American society had developed in the 20th century to the point where controversial viewpoints were accepted, for the most part. This is changing. Comics regularly lament the fact that you can’t joke about anything anymore. Nobody has a sense of humor. A majority of people now believe that speech should be banned that they disagree with. We are seeing our society being taken over by busy bodies and authoritarians who want to control everything we say and do.

3)Addiction to social media and fake news. In “Fahrenheit 451,” most of the people are vapid sheep who spend their time watching their wall-sized televisions, worrying about money and status and ingesting huge quantities of fake news and other drivel. They have stopped caring about the things that make us all human. Sound familiar?

4)Suicide and violence on the increase. Bradbury describes a world where peoples’ lives have become empty and meaningless. The wife of the main character (Mildred) tries to kill herself early in the book, but is so pathetic that she refuses to acknowledge it or deal with her sadness. Meanwhile, young people respond by becoming increasingly violent — for no apparent reason. Sadly, we are seeing that play out in front of us today. Suicide was already at record levels in 2019, but the pandemic has caused a further jump in depression and anxiety. Meanwhile, young people, stuck at home during lockdowns, rushed into the streets to riot and loot over the summer. Of course the characters in “Fahrenheit 451” take a long list of drugs to deal with their depression. Today, drug addiction is one of our biggest problems, much bigger, long-lasting and harmful than the coronavirus panic.

I will end by referencing another dystopian novel, “Animal Farm” by George Orwell. As readers may recall, this is the parable of a farm where the animals take over and install a totalitarian government. The villains of the story are the pigs, who start out pretending to care about equality but end up caring only about their own comfort. The pigs famously say, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” And as the pigs dine with the men near the end of the novelette, the other animals in the farm cannot tell the difference between the pigs and the men.

During our current pandemic, we have seen that most politicians are more equal than the proletarians they pretend to care about. Gavin Newsom, the execrable governor of California, has imposed a series of rules on the subjects of his state, but of course he does not follow the rules himself. Recently he was caught dining with his friends and family in the fanciest of restaurants — without a mask and without a care in the world for all of the tyranny he has unleashed on his state. He is just like the pigs in “Animal Farm.”

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

17 thoughts on “Our dystopian present

  1. I reread Fahrenheit 451 last year and I was astounded by how prescient Bradbury was. It is incredible how many things he imagined correctly. It is a book worth rereading and learning from. The very best kind of fiction.

  2. The truth of this post is why I often feel very discouraged. Sometimes Christ is the only thing that brings me hope.

  3. Semi-tangentially, I have found more then one reference to Mormons in the sci-fi of the 1950s era. There’s a whole conversation to be had there about why it was on the radar of writers like Bradbury and Heinlein.

    What I really came here to add, though, is that if you want to round out your kid’s dystopian voyage, I’d do it with the 1975 movie Rollerball. The one with James Caan. NOT the remake, which is atrocious. The 1975 original is fantastic, and hits many of the same points as F451. The principal character is a star athlete in a dystopian future, and is allowed vast privileges as a result, but he yearns for something more. What he’s looking for is freedom, but as he moves through the film it becomes clear that he can’t even express that; the learning he’s been allowed to have hasn’t even equipped him with the vocabulary to voice his real desires. It’s heartwrenching. Totally worth the time, says I.

  4. Evenstar, don’t be discouraged! At least we are seeing the world with clear eyes and know what is happening around us. And the greatest thing is that we have living prophets to guide us through these difficult times. I look forward to Pres. Nelson’s talk in a few hours, and I am listening — again — to GC from October. I am also studying the scriptures with my family every day. It is all going to work out in the end.

    Lattertarian, I saw Rollerball in the 1970s but have not seen it since then. I mostly remember the skating scenes, not the dystopian view. I will definitely re-watch. I wonder if I can find it for free on Youtube? Just looked, and I can rent it for $3.99.

  5. Lattertarian, when it comes to LDS people and sci-fi, don’t forget “Battlestar Gallactica” and “The Expanse.” Huge LDS influence on both of those series.

  6. Geoff, while I think we can argue about the specifics of what regulations make sense and what don’t, it seems you have taken a rather extreme position that isn’t in line with our leaders.

    From this interview: https://www.deseret.com/utah/2020/11/19/21578561/latter-day-saint-leaders-how-to-celebrate-holidays-pandemic-salt-lake-mayor-erin-mendenhall?fbclid=IwAR1SNMNBUbi0nWhRlOSueh2uykn75kpvqiBvSi9QyhX03y9x4XsmpMm0fvg

    “Elder Christensen said he hopes unusual times will help people find new ways to love, to worship and to celebrate.

    “I think every family, every individual, every citizen of Utah needs to think of ways that they can be grateful and celebrate, but not necessarily do it in a risky way with those that are around them. I think that’s really the spirit of the season. It’s unusual, but it’s important that we not cause harm, especially to those that are most susceptible during this holiday season,” he said.”


    “Matheson said much has been politicized this year, including public health advice, and asked Elder Christensen how faith leaders can bring people together “as we try to move forward.”

    “I think modifying our holiday plans is hard for all of us, and it’s been a challenge for everyone. And yet we know this too will pass.” — Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society General President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
    “Starting with the leadership of the church, we have been really assertive on trying to support safety guidelines — mask wearing, social distancing, all of the things that will keep our people safe. There are certain fringe groups that want to push back on that, and I’ve had some interesting conversations. … But the fact of the matter is, we’ve led out on some of these issues, we’ve supported on some of these issues, and our goal is just to keep everyone safe. This is an unprecedented time for us.”

    President Bingham said she is grateful to be led by a church president whose science background and faith complement and support each other, referring to President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who was a renowned heart surgeon before being named an Apostle for the church in 1984. He became president of the church in January 2018.

    “I’m grateful that we have a leader who understands the science of the problem, and has no problem connecting that with faith,” President Bingham said. “I think modifying our holiday plans is hard for all of us, and it’s been a challenge for everyone. And yet we know this too will pass.”””

  7. Handsfullmom, there is no contradiction between my post and what our Church leaders have said. The Church always encourages people to follow local laws, and I have no problem with that. In terms of my personal behavior, I can tell you that at least 95 percent of the people in my ward and stake are against mask wearing and all of the other ridiculous government regulations, but we all wear masks when going to private businesses that require masks and going to Church. We are aware that there is a small group, perhaps less than 2 percent of the people in my ward, that have legitimate health concerns from COVID-19, and we wear masks and social distance, and don’t sing at church so those people can feel comfortable. The 98 percent is willing to make sacrifices for the 2 percent.

    Handfullmom, based on your comments you appear to be the most black and white literal person I have ever dealt with. Have you ever heard of the word “nuance?” You appear not to be able to understand that a person can 1)lament all of the trends in society that are decreasing personal freedom and causing more suicides and depression and 2)still agree to make sacrifices for other people on a personal basis and follow Church rules. The two viewpoints are not mutually exclusive.

    Perhaps this will be helpful: Mormon and Moroni, in addition to being prophets, were also warriors who killed people. Probably a LOT of people. They took out swords and spears and hacked off heads and limbs and stabbed people until their entrails fell out of their bodies. That is how warfare took place in 350 AD. Yet they also were spiritual giants. They observed that society was falling apart around them, and they wrote about it extensively, but they also were part of that rotten society for portions of their lives. Life is complex. I am not comparing myself to Mormon and Moroni (far from it), but I am trying to help you understand that a person can lament what is happening in society, and point out that people are responding to this virus in authoritarian, unscientific and ignorant ways, while at the same time supporting the actions of the Church (which I do). If enough people speak out against the authoritarianism and the ignorance about what the science says, perhaps society will change and the Church will no longer have to encourage us to follow stupid government edicts that make no sense and violate liberty. Is that clearer now?

  8. To Handfullmom and others who may be reading this. There have been multiple pandemics over the years. The AIDS crisis, and the Asian flu in the 1950s and the Hong Kong flu of the late 1960s were *considerably more deadly than COVID-19.* Many times more deadly. Yet the Church did not ask people to social distance or wear masks or avoid holiday meals during those pandemics. We must ask ourselves why. The reason is that the Church, as it always does, is calling on us to be good citizens and follow local rules and guidelines. The only thing that has changed is the government and societal response (as I show in my OP), and the Church is responding to that. So, if society had responded to the coronavirus in a sane, scientific way, without panic, the same way that society responded to other, much more dangerous pandemics over the years, the Church would of course have reflected that societal response. But the Church (for many good reasons, in my opinion) wants to fly below the radar. The Church does not want stories that say, “the LDS church is one of the few churches worldwide not encouraging its members to follow local laws.” Someday, that may happen and the Church may encourage resistance to government overreach, but that day is not today. This does not mean that individual Church members (like myself) can’t encourage society to change and become less authoritarian and more focused on the actual science. This is what I have done on social media since the pandemic began. Hopefully I will not have to post this comment again, because it seems extremely obvious to me that this is the approach I am taking, but apparently there are people who cannot understand this nuanced approach.

    To see the numbers on worldwide pandemics over the years, and to understand that the actual science indicates that COVID-19 is a very minor threat, please see this post:


  9. Other classic dystopian movies:

    Soylent Green. (Charlton Heston, Edward G. Robinson)

    Mad Max (original). Exploring mob rule and tribes.

    1984, film of 1956.

    1984, film of 1984.

    Brave New World, 1980 TV film.

    Brave New World, 1998 TV film.

  10. Movieslinger, I have seen all of those. I also watched the 1966 version of “Fahrenheit 451,” which is a bizarre Francois Truffaut directed vehicle with Julie Christie playing both Murtag’s wife AND the neighbor girl he meets, Clarice. In the movie version, Murtag’s wife’s name is changed from “Mildred” to “Julia,” for some strange reason, and Clarice survives until the end of the movie instead of being killed off in the first act, which is what happens in the book. I have not yet seen the newer version of Fahrenheit 451.

  11. Geoff: “The AIDS crisis, and the Asian flu in the 1950s and the Hong Kong flu of the late 1960s were *considerably more deadly than COVID-19.* Many times more deadly”

    Just some figures from Wiki (not that wiki is the ultimate authority either)

    Spanish flu, 1917-19. 500,000 – 850,000 deaths in the U.S.
    total pop: 103,268,000.
    .823% population loss. (using higher figure)

    Asian flu, 1957-58. 70,000 – 116,000 deaths in U.S.
    total pop: 177,751,476
    .065% population loss.

    Hong Kong flu, 1968-69. 34,000 to 100,000 estimated deaths in U.S.
    total pop: 205,805,755
    .048% population loss.

    Covid-19 : 255,098, JHU figure via Wiki, retrieved 11//21/20.
    Today’s pop: 331,002,647
    .077% population loss _so far_

    Net: We have surpassed the deaths per capita for both the 1950’s Asian flu, and the 1960’s Hong Kong flu.

    We would need 10.6 times as many (.823/.077) Covid deaths as there have been so far, to reach the per capita death rate of the Spanish Flu.

    10.6 * 255,098 = 2,704,038.

    A confounding factor is that the _case fatality rate_ of Covid has about halved since April, as doctors have learned how to better treat patients. So… extrapolating in the CFR figures prior to August/sept is not valid.

  12. Numberslinger of Books, I’m not just looking at US numbers. These are worldwide pandemics, after all. The Hong Kong flu killed 2 to 4 million people worldwide, and given that we have changed the way we count deaths by saying that anybody with COVID in their bodies when they died is counted as “COVID death” no matter the cause of the death, the equivalent HK flu number is probably a lot higher than 4 million. I will be conservative and use the 4 million number. The worldwide population in 1969 was 3.6 billion, and it is now 7.3 billion, so we would need 8 million COVID deaths for the pandemic to be as serious as the HK flu. So far, there are 1.3 million COVID deaths worldwide, and we are probably going to end up with between 2 and 3 million, so, yes, the HK flu was a significantly worse problem worldwide than COVID-19. The Asian flu was estimated to kill 1.5 to 2 million people worldwide, and the 1958 worldwide population was 2.9 billion, so this is the equivalent of about 5 million people dying from COVID, which is unlikely to happen.

    As I said in my original comment, there were no lockdowns and no government mandates that are anything like we are seeing today in response to the HK flu and the Asian flu. And of course the Church responded to the societal situation and did not issue guidance to members like we are seeing today. If we actually follow the science, we can see that the COVID-19 response is a huge overreaction that is destroying personal liberty, causing businesses to fail, destroying the economy and causing starvation worldwide as food chain deliveries to poor countries are interrupted. Not to mention of course the increase in suicide, depression and alcohol and drug abuse during the pandemic. The “cure” has been unnecessary and significantly worse than the disease.

  13. When government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear government, there is tyranny.

    Biden will be removed and Harris installed as dictator not long after Biden’s inauguration. Obama 2.0 will commence. The Stalinist Democrats are tyrannical, along with some traitor Republicans. What is happening today in the USA is exactly what happened in the Book of Mormon. Secret combinations, corruption, tyranny. We truly are in the Last Days.

    The USA and Western Civilization are in their death throes, thanks to the Stalinist left and other wicked greedy slimy Cretins.
    Not enough people are paying attention.

  14. There was an interesting article in the New York Times criticizing localities which demand changes to individual actions (e.g., not allowing neighbors from different households to walk together while masked, not allowing different households to gather to socialize outdoors while masked) while at the same time allowing bars and restaurants to remain open for indoor dining/imbibing until 10p.

    The New York Times is not typically a bastion of conservative values and outrage over erosion of personal freedoms, so I found that article noteworthy.

    That said, I and mine will be socially distancing for the holidays. At my job (working for Navy), supervisors have been asked to talk with each of us to ensure we are acting to stay safe in support of national security. Much more than the loyalty of any church, the military has a responsibility to uphold law and also be ready to protect as needed. Having members of the team sidelined, whether through death and illness or through requirements to quarantine in adherence to law, is not acceptable.

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