You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myPalmBeachPost.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myPalmBeachPost.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myPalmBeachPost.com.

A wry squint into our grim future


WASHINGTON — Although America’s political system seems unable to stimulate robust, sustained economic growth, it at least is stimulating consumption of a small but important segment of literature. Dystopian novels are selling briskly — Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” (1932), Sinclair Lewis’ “It Can’t Happen Here” (1935), George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” (1945) and “1984” (1949), Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” (1953) and Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” (1985), all warning about nasty regimes displacing democracy.

There is, however, a more recent and pertinent presentation of a grim future. Last year, in her 13th novel, “The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047,” Lionel Shriver imagined America slouching into dystopia merely by continuing current practices.

Shriver, who is fascinated by the susceptibility of complex systems to catastrophic collapses, begins her story after the 2029 economic crash and the Great Renunciation, whereby the nation, like a dissolute Atlas, shrugged off its national debt, saying to creditors: It’s nothing personal. The world is not amused, and Americans’ subsequent downward social mobility is not pretty.

Florence Darkly, a millennial, is a “single mother” but such mothers now outnumber married ones. Newspapers have almost disappeared, so “print journalism had given way to a rabble of amateurs hawking unverified stories and always to an ideological purpose.” Her Americans are living, on average, to 92, the economy is “powered by the whims of the retired,” and, “desperate to qualify for entitlements, these days everyone couldn’t wait to be old.” People who have never been told “no” are apoplectic if they can’t retire at 52.

The government monitors every movement and the IRS, renamed the Bureau for Social Contribution Assistance, siphons up everything, on the you-didn’t-build-that principle: “Morally, your money does belong to everybody.”

Social order collapses when hyperinflation follows the promiscuous printing of money after the Renunciation. This punishes those “who had a conscientious, caretaking relationship to the future.”

In her novel, she writes:

“The state starts moving money around. A little fairness here, little more fairness there. … Government becomes a pricey, clumsy, inefficient mechanism for transferring wealth from people who do something to people who don’t, and from the young to the old — which is the wrong direction. All that effort, and you’ve only managed a new unfairness.”

Laughing mordantly as the apocalypse approaches, Shriver has a gimlet eye for the foibles of today’s secure (or so it thinks) upper middle class, from Washington’s Cleveland Park to Brooklyn. About the gentrification of the latter, she observes:

“Oh, you could get a facelift nearby, put your dog in therapy, or spend $500 at Ottawa on a bafflingly trendy dinner of Canadian cuisine (the city’s elite was running out of new ethnicities whose food could become fashionable). But you couldn’t buy a screwdriver, pick up a gallon of paint, take in your dry cleaning, get new tips on your high heels, copy a key, or buy a slice of pizza. Wealthy residents might own bicycles worth $5K, but no shop within miles would repair the brakes. … High rents had priced out the very service sector whose presence at ready hand once helped to justify urban living.”

The (only) good news from Shriver’s squint into the future is that when Americans are put through a wringer, they emerge tougher.

Speaking to Reason, Shriver said: “I think that the bullet we dodged in 2008 is still whizzing around the planet and is going to hit us in the head.” If so, this story has already been written.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Opinion

Letters Problem isn’t fraud; it’s voter suppression

Problem isn’t fraud; it’s voter suppression Your editorial, “Fix Florida’s absurdly lax mail-in voting laws” (Wednesday), is missing the point. The problem in our elections is a lack of participation, not fraud. Many eligible voters don’t vote at all or are not even registered. This is especially the case when it...
POINT OF VIEW Price controls won’t work in post-PIP world

However well intentioned, price controls will not work in Florida, if the Legislature moves to finally repeal the No-Fault/Personal Insurance Protection (PIP) auto insurance system this spring. While the concept of No-Fault/PIP may sound reasonable — $10,000 of personal injury protection made available regardless of fault in an accident &mdash...
cartoon
cartoon

CARTOON VIEW DANA SUMMERS
Gerson: How Trump can get his groove back

The central promise of the Trump administration — the repeal and replacement of Obamacare — has failed. The central premise of the Trump administration — that Donald Trump is a brilliant negotiator — has been discredited. In the process of losing a legislative battle, Trump has lost the theory of his presidency. It was a profoundly...
Dowd: Dear DJT: Are we going to lose so much we’ll get tired of losing?

Dear Donald, We’ve known each other a long time, so I think I can be blunt. You know how you said at campaign rallies that you did not like being identified as a politician? Don’t worry. No one will ever mistake you for a politician. After this past week, they won’t even mistake you for a top-notch negotiator. I was born in D.C. And...
More Stories