Freedom to choose vs. total control

dystopian futureI enjoy reading books from the “dystopian future” category. I don’t know why, specifically, but I guess a lot of other people enjoy it as well because there sure are a lot of them. I think it relates to the universal struggle between freedom to choose and being controlled by an outside force. Many stories are told about good and evil, taking various forms, but the heart of it is freedom to choose or being controlled. The control comes in the form of restriction or regulation; either all options are taken away so people can only follow one path, or there are multiple paths available but a powerful influence “strongly encourages” the people not to take some of them. It’s one of the arteries of life, this struggle is. From early on children mature into greater autonomy while being bombarded with influential voices recommending which direction they should go. This influence can be good or bad, but to the child, especially the adolescent child, a lot of it sounds restrictive or overly regulated.

My wife has set a goal to read a certain number of books this year. I followed her lead and also set a goal. She asked what I was planning to read and I read off my list of books. Without any fiction titles listed she asked if I planned to read any. I asked for suggestions, she suggested The Alliance (1983) by Gerald Lund.

I finished reading the book a few days ago. It started off kind of shaky, but picked up speed and I ended up enjoying it, mostly. The end of the story, while ending on as good a note as possible, was a little weak to me. Overall it is definitely worth reading if you are interested in the dystopian genre. The general story was solid. The setting is the near future, which, having been written in the early 1980’s, sets it at about today, or even a few years ago. Eric Lloyd is the main character. He is living in a small valley community in Wyoming, eighteen years after the war that ended world civilization as it had been known. For the most part the community was living a nineteenth century lifestyle with some modern conveniences leftover from before everything shut down. The community is happy and living well, aside from occasional roving bands of marauders attacking.

Eric’s community isn’t the only one that has survived and seen success in the new world. Several large cities exist in what is called The Alliance of the Four Cities, or AFC. The AFC occasionally seeks out other pockets of survivors and brings them back to their major cities. The book revolves around the AFC bringing Eric’s community into their fold. Unfortunately, inclusion requires giving up freedom. AFC leaders have a surgical implantation device that shocks the body if any thoughts occur which lead to anger or violation of rules. Eric’s community is invited to the city, but then drugged and implanted without foreknowledge or consent. AFC’s ruling class, the Guardians, are not implanted because in order to protect the alliance they must be free to do violate rules, such as harming another person, in order to maintain safety. They claim that there is never any crime and everyone is always happy. They claim to have created utopia. Eric disagrees and initiates a rebellion.

It is an interesting story and carries the theme of individual agency and accountability vs. total control in the interest of peace quite well. Throughout the story there is debate between Eric and one of the Guardians about whether or not the people in the AFC are truly free. It is an interesting concept. Does freedom require the ability to do wrong? The people in the AFC can’t behave badly, it has been conditioned out of them through pain sensations. Are they really free? The leaders of the AFC think they have done something good by eliminating the possibility of human cruelty, but the way they have done it is absolutely cruel.

Personally, I think freedom can’t exist without options. If an outside force has prevented an individual from choosing between all available options, good or bad, then that individual is not free. The intention of the outside force may seem good on the surface, protecting the person from ever experiencing bad, but without the experience of bad, how can good be fully appreciated?

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About paulbrodie

I am a writer and a musician. My education is in psychology with emphasis in industrial/organizational psychology. My work experience has been primarily with electronic document management. Academically and intellectually I am interested in criminology and sociology. I am married to my favorite person in the world and we have one daughter.
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