Examples of highly-rationalized dystopias?
November 11, 2011 1:20 AM   Subscribe

Examples of highly-rationalized dystopias?

I'd like to collect examples, from literature and movies and whatever other media, of rationalized dystopian future scenarios. I'm thinking of rationalization in the sense of efficiency, order, and orientations toward success.

Titles would be great, but short descriptions of the general theme as well would be even greater!
posted by iftheaccidentwill to Society & Culture (26 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
One relatively recent movie which comes to mind is Equilibrium.
posted by zachawry at 1:27 AM on November 11, 2011

Peter Watts' Blindsight comes to mind. It posits that human-style culture and its affinity for art, music, empathy, introspection, love, etc. is a freak evolutionary accident -- all other technologically advanced civilizations are hardened, amoral, ruthless species that take the brainpower humans waste on the "soul" and devote them to the singleminded pursuit of survival. As a result, they're incredibly intelligent, but utterly lack the capacity for consciousness or self-awareness.

Blindsight introduces and explores this concept, while the upcoming State of Grace will show how such a civilization might conquer Earth.
posted by Rhaomi at 1:47 AM on November 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

The society in Lois Lowry's The Giver? From Wikipedia:

The Giver is a 1993 soft science fiction novel by Lois Lowry. It is set in a future society which is at first presented as a utopian society and gradually appears more and more dystopian. The novel follows a boy named Jonas through the twelfth year of his life. The society has eliminated pain and strife by converting to "Sameness", a plan which has also eradicated emotional depth from their lives.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 1:53 AM on November 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin seems like a good candidate, although it's rather ambiguous whether we're talking about a dystopia or utopia, which is part of the point of the novel, I think.
posted by dubitable at 2:48 AM on November 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Brave New World - and actually, possibly, Island by the same author (Aldous Huxley). In Brave new world, there's a few chapters where the "savage" talks to the "controller" about the society that has been created and the rationale behind it. Persuasive, hard to argue against, but still, nevertheless, a dystopia.
posted by BigCalm at 3:26 AM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Bit of a weird one, but Christopher Priest's Inverted World does fit your requirements, pretty much. It involves a society/city which, apparently of necessity, has to perform highly regulated and demanding tasks (basically to keep the entire city slowly moving along a pre-determined path, irrespective of obstacles) simply in order to continue existing. It's also an absolute mindfuck of a novel. Highly recommended.
posted by Decani at 4:03 AM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, if you read that Wikipedia link, I'd advise skipping the last two or three paragraphs if you ever plan on reading the book. They're end spoilers.
posted by Decani at 4:06 AM on November 11, 2011

One of the segments of Cloud Atlas is set in a highly rationalised future unified Korea (in what appears to be a now-capitalist-but-still-totalitarian Pyongyang), and Never Let Me Go is set in a highly rationalised (at least medically) distopian future England. In both cases, you don't get much detail on how the socirty works, because both stories are told through 'outsider' perspectives. In Cloud Atlas, you do get some perspective on the origins and eventual fate of the society from other segments.
posted by Wylla at 4:54 AM on November 11, 2011

Wow, spellcheck fail. Apologies!
posted by Wylla at 4:55 AM on November 11, 2011

I think We by Yevgeny Zamyatin would also fit the bill.

It's a panopticon future (think, everything made of glass) organised around some terrifying version of F.W. Taylor industrial efficiency.
posted by generichuman at 5:07 AM on November 11, 2011

Lowry also has two other books related to The Giver, both with their own versions of dystopia, called Gathering Blue and Messenger.
posted by SeedStitch at 5:23 AM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Gattaca is a film about a dystopia where genetic testing is used to choose each and every person's best place in society.
posted by artlung at 6:13 AM on November 11, 2011

Perhaps Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron?
posted by Gilbert at 6:32 AM on November 11, 2011

This Perfect Day is a Brave New World-esque rational dystopia by, weirdly enough, the author of The Stepford Wives, Rosemary's Baby, and The Boys from Brazil. The world is unified and controlled by a computer, and everyone is given one of eight possible names, followed by a number. People who rebel and fight the system can escape to hidden islands where they are surreptitiously given a series of tasks which, if passed, allow them to become one of the computer's programmers, thus bringing them back into the fold.
posted by Tubalcain at 6:45 AM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

We is the thing that first popped to mind, for sure. Taylorized everything.

MODICUM from Thomas M. Disch's 334 is a failed/failing sort of rationalized super-War On Poverty, and Shalmaneser and General Technics in John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar are sort of in the vein of this trope, although they don't cover all of society.
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 6:47 AM on November 11, 2011

Oh, also, Anthem by Ayn Rand takes place in a fictionalized version of a "perfect" Soviet state, where people are assigned by a group of controllers to their place in society, and any kind of personal selfishness is unthinkable. It's probably most notable for the idea that the word "I" has been entirely dropped from use; instead, characters will always refer to themselves as "we", and hence part of a collective working for the greater good.

I've never seen it, but my understanding is that THX-1138 is relatively similar in theme: It's about a highly-surveilled society where people are drugged in order to work better for the greater good.
posted by Tubalcain at 6:57 AM on November 11, 2011

Definitely The Giver. I had no idea that there were follow-up books but I will be reading them!
posted by radioamy at 7:55 AM on November 11, 2011

1984 and Brave New World are both archetypes of dystopia.

Terry Gilliam's Brazil might pass, but the dystopia is selected for bureaucracy, not efficiency.
posted by plinth at 8:34 AM on November 11, 2011

I had all but forgotten about This Perfect Day, but after reading the wikipedia summary to refresh my memory, I have to second Tubalcain's recommendation. Especially since the story appears to have stuck with me to the extent that I've been attributing parts of it to other, better known works for a couple decades now.
posted by JaredSeth at 9:05 AM on November 11, 2011

J.G. Ballard's short story "Chronopolis" is set in the aftermath of a highly rationalized dystopia -- a society possessed by a mania for order and efficiency as other societies have been by religious manias and apocalyptic fantasies. The culture in which the story starts has a vision of a clock as a kind of weapon:

"Isn't it obvious? You can time him, know exactly how long it takes him to do something."
"Then you can make him do it faster."

(A somewhat silly but related note is Magnasanti, a Sim City dystopia which has been near-perfectly optimized for population density, with a life of brutal regimentation for the citizens, and an ideally efficient police state that runs for 50,000 years.)
posted by finnb at 9:13 AM on November 11, 2011

Tanith Lee's Biting the Sun. There's a good Jo Walton thing on it here.
posted by gudrun at 9:34 AM on November 11, 2011

Arguably Thomas More's Utopia is actually a dystopia. He's partly commenting on economic systems and creates a very high rational and efficient one based largely on slavery for convicts.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:46 AM on November 11, 2011

Zamyatin's "We" is one of the earliest (if not the earliest?) of the dystopia genre, and really very good. Nothing more hyper-rationalized than the russians. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_%28novel%29
posted by dis_integration at 9:59 AM on November 11, 2011

Winston's reading of Goldstien's book in 1894 reveals the rationale driving the three "super states". Also the concept of DOUBLETHINK also allows citizens to rationalise their existence in the distoipia.
posted by the noob at 5:32 PM on November 11, 2011

Response by poster: You are all awesome and appreciated. Thank-you very much!
posted by iftheaccidentwill at 8:01 PM on November 12, 2011

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