In modern America, all the dystopian horrors exist hand-in-hand with what seems like one perpetual theme-park existence. The war, torture, abortions, castrations, murders, suicides, drug addiction, homelessness, and medical horrors reside side-by-side with the smiling face of America, where everyone has perfect teeth and waves out a cheerful, “Have a nice day!”…

Having just re-read C.S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength, it strikes me once again that it belongs on the shelf with the other classic dystopian novels, Brave New World and 1984. Lewis captures all the classic dystopian elements of the totalitarian threat, and he rightly identifies the atheistic scientism and utilitarianism lying beneath all utopian ideologies.

Most dystopian stories are predictably apocalyptic. The future is horrible as the hideous strength asserts its domination. Perhaps the scientists and social engineers have created a “perfect” world, but it is sterile, joyless and somber. Invariably an elite group of experts, or a totalitarian cadre, controls the masses by force, cutting off true life, true love, and true light. The dystopia is dark.

However, what Lewis, Orwell, and Huxley and other dystopian prophets have not predicted is what might be called the “Disneyland Dystopia” of the contemporary United States, in which the horrors are covered with a cosmetic veneer and the nightmares and screams are smothered with smiles and miles of plasticized dreams. Evelyn Waugh prodded the monster with his wickedly satirical novella about Hollywood morticians, The Loved One, but to my knowledge, no one else has put a bomb under Cinderella’s castle.

What exactly do I mean by the Disneyland Dystopia? As I write in May 2018, the government is considering a candidate to run the CIA who has not only participated in torture, but has been in charge of a facility designed specifically to torture people. She has been proposed by a president who has boosted military spending even further and is on the record for not only being in favor of torture, but thinking it ought to be increased.

Despite mouthing pro-life platitudes, his budget continues to fund Planned Parenthood—an organization that is not only an abortion mill, but one that intentionally places its clinics in low-income, ethnic-minority communities, reminding one of Supreme Court Justice Ginsberg’s observation that “We don’t want more of those kind of people do we?” So our tax dollar not only supports an organization started by a racist eugenicist, but one whose employees were caught selling baby body parts and planning abortions so that particularly valuable parts are preserved intact for later sale.

When it comes to the “advances” of modern medicine, Americans increasingly take it for granted that surgical enhancement is one of the choices available. Orthodontics give us straight teeth, but it is now a bragging point when someone has cosmetic surgery not only to lift his or her face, but to lift her breast, buttock, his penis, or most anything else.

Meanwhile, we solve obesity with stomach-reduction surgery and pop pills for just about any human complaint. Has your libido shriveled? Take a pill. Are your children sluggish? Give them a pill. Are your children too hyperactive? Give them a pill. Are you sad? Take a happy pill. Are you manic? Take a pill to calm down. Take a diet pill. Chemical manipulation is part of everyday life for millions of Americans, drug addiction is at an all-time high, and senior citizen communities in sunshine states are rife with sexually-transmitted diseases.

In middle America, suicide is skyrocketing while mindless massacres in schools have become a part of American life. Drive-by shootings and drive-thru hamburger joints reside side by side. America’s underbelly suckles gang violence, homelessness, divorce, child abuse, and broken homes, broken marriages, broken lives, and broken hearts.

Our media and celebrities celebrate not only a “gay agenda” in which men marry men and women marry women, but the gender confusion has gone to its logical endpoint, in which sex and gender no longer exist. As part of this gender meltdown, the media and celebrity culture celebrate an agenda that advocates the chemical, social, and surgical castration not only of adults, but of children.

The culture of death continues its danse macabre not only with abortion, but the increasing trend of selective abortion—eliminating fetuses with Downs syndrome and other abnormalities. Anyone can see that this is eugenics and that we might coin a new portmanteau word, “eugenicide” for as lifespans lengthen, “assisted suicide” will start to mean that the victim was “assisted” by a hefty Fairy Hardcastle in a white coat and a needle. Already our “do not resuscitate” orders have become so flexible that in some cases “do not resuscitate” means “withhold treatment even if it is requested.”

We already have frozen embryos, artificial wombs, surrogate pregnancy, artificial insemination, in-vitro fertilization and forced sterilization. With further “advances” in medical technology, our genetic code will soon be manipulated to eliminate all diseases and disabilities. Animal-human hybrids called chimeras may be advanced to “improve” the human race, and Lewis’ nightmare of a head being kept alive is not far off in a world where heads are already preserved cryogenically.

A future dystopia? All these horrors are already part of our everyday American society, but they are candied by our affluent entertainment culture. We go along with the Disneyland Dystopia because we enjoy the benefits. Middle America has never had it better. We have comfortable homes in the suburbs with luxuries that would have made a Roman emperor blush. Our garages have swollen to park three or four cars, and the storage facility business is booming because we don’t have enough room in our houses for all our stuff. We enjoy security and calm, and the stock market is bullish.

Like a ubiquitous amusement park, our restaurants and retail centers offer us a constantly “themed” experience. Here we enjoy an Italian experience at a restaurant that looks like a Tuscan villa. Next door is a hacienda where we eat Mexican food. Further on is an Australian steakhouse with “steaks on the barbie.” Should our plates be empty but our palates bored we can be entertained by a Chinese Emperor, a magical Japanese chef who flips food at your table, or dine at the Persian Palace or the Indian Taj Mahal. Next door is Mama’s Country Kitchen, Bobby’s Ole Fashioned Bar-B-Q, and Papa’s Pizza Place. All of them shimmering like a crass casino.

With theme parks and cinemas and casinos and our noses in a screen 24-7, we are entertainment addicts. Even our homes have become like Disneyland. Furnished by designers who “theme” a room, they do not project our personalities as much as they reproduce yet another artificial atmosphere of affluence. As an African friend observed, we have larger and larger houses for smaller and smaller families. In new subdivisions, there are no lawns and gardens for no one wants to be torn away from the screen to go outside. We are distracted to death, putting our heads into the sand of our screens.

So in modern America, all the dystopian horrors exist hand-in-hand with what seems like one perpetual theme-park existence. The war, torture, abortions, castrations, murders, suicides, drug addiction, homelessness, and medical horrors reside side-by-side with the smiling face of America, where everyone has perfect teeth and waves out a cheerful, “Have a nice day!”

Most alarmingly, this dystopia has not been forced on anyone. The junta who have produced it do not wear military uniforms; they wear the suits of the advertising men, the movie moguls, television producers, newspaper and magazine editors, politicians, academics, and journalists. No one has frogmarched us at gunpoint. Caught up in the entertainment culture, we have not been forced. We have been seduced.

Like the “girl who can’t say ‘No,’” we have gone along with the seduction without even a naughty wink or a moment of shame.

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16 replies to this post
  1. A well written article with some meaningful and well made points. I do have some objections though.

    First, you criticize modern society for the grotesque things done by medical science. All well and good, but I have to point out that I at least live with a genetic illness called Cystic Fibrosis, and I owe my life to modern medicine quite literally. Your article seems to advocate an extreme in which we abandon the luxuries of the West entirely in favor of third world simplicity, which I have considered at times. However, if we were to do that, I and millions like me would die. This may be selfish, but I don’t see how that could be good.

    Second, you claim that “America’s underbelly suckles gang violence.” Maybe it does, but I would venture to guess it did so long before many of the culture of death architecture that you describe was in place. Many know the name Al Capone, after all, a gangster from the 20’s, and there was a reason it was called the “wild west,” although it may be strange to call the violence back then gang violence. I would also point out that all things considered, you have a significantly lower chance of getting murdered than you did, say, fifty years ago, with the exception of a handful of places. That includes mass shooting, by the way, a dramatic but ultimately not a representative violent crime. We are safer now than we ever have been.

    Third, you decry the atrocities (and I do call them atrocities) committed by the culture of death without addressing their underlying causes. I would venture to guess that if the conditions weren’t right, none of these things would be happening. You didn’t account for these conditions, and since you didn’t, your argument is thin and declarative in nature: “America is a dystopia.” Does that mean we have an oppressive government? I would say not, knowing that North Korea exists to contrast us. It’s a dystopia because our world revolves around ourselves, and we demand the constant sacrifice of innocents (as abortion and in pornography). It’s a dystopia of many, a kinder, gentler dystopia. But you don’t go into that; you don’t ask “how did we get here,” or “why are we staying here?” You don’t address the culture of porn, which I think is one of the unacknowledged factors that goes into the American suicide and mass shooting problem. It’s not, I think, because you don’t think this is important; I think it’s because your goal isn’t to construct a solution, but to shake your fist at the people who you disagree with and get some of that sweet, sweet confirmation bias from an audience. Is that evil? No. Sometimes a fist must be shaken. People have to be rallied. That’s what confirmation bias is for. But if I were an opponent, I would see accusation upon accusation with little evidence, and the likening of modern America to 1984, which is objectively absurd. China is modern day’s Orwellian empire; read up on their social credit system.

    The point is, the modern world has given us absurd luxury and power. That’s given us the capacity to do atrocious things; but it also gives us power for good. You would never have met your African friend unless America had offered him the chance for education. You look at the evil things as if they haven’t always been there, things like violence and acts of selfishness. Jesus said that it is easier for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to go to heaven. Well, we’re all absurdly rich in worldly terms now. CS Lewis himself said that every power of man is power over man. We have a lot of power too. I don’t see an escape from the dystopia of the many other than the dystopia of the few, a turn to socialism and communism, both of which are also unacceptable. What we need to do is cultivate virtue and embrace God on an individual level and have faith that He will sort out the rest. How do we do that and still provide for our children and those of us with genetic illnesses? That’s the question we need to answer. And that’s what you aren’t asking.

  2. You raise good points, but I always think it is tricky to criticize a short opinion piece for what it doesn’t address. As you have rightly said, the root causes of this illness are complex and reach into our underlying philosophies and theologies as a nation. I have written about these matters elsewhere, as have Dreher, Douthat and others. Finally, to criticize one thing is not to endorse its opposite alternative. We agree that the solution is to build a foundation of true faith.

  3. Thanks for your reply, Fr. Longenecker. I agree with your counterpoint, it is unreasonable to ask for a complete picture in such a short medium. However, my objection is mainly that you seem to focus entirely on the evil committed in our society without looking at the good. I worry about that because it’s the exact sort of thing that makes our nation so divided, and it goes along with the underlying problem that you identify; the gratification of the self over the rest of the world. I don’t accuse you of anything, but I think that some mention should be made of the good in our culture, and in our own moral philosophies, and I don’t see that here. I think it would be helpful, and I think if you did, you would find yourself stretching to label the United States a dystopia. I look for balance, and I don’t see it here, and I have great respect for you, so I thought that the question should be raised. And of course, I’m very young, so there’s still many issues I’m not decided on, so this may also serve as a trial by fire for me. Thanks again!

  4. As always, Father Longenecker gives us food for thought.

    Ephesians 6:12 “For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.”

    Who needs God when we have it so good, right?! /sarc

    This dystopia is brought to us by our Enemy, and those who serve him: “atheistic scientism and utilitarianism” being, of course, the secular religion created in order to cause us to lapse into the hubris that denies God.

    The story of Babel is well worth pondering again after reading this excellent article, and Milton’s masterwork seems to be more relevant than ever. Sadly, one could substitute some prominent, famous Atheists for the fallen one without damaging the narrative much at all.

    Thanks be to God for our excellent priests, and may God keep them close!

  5. Johnbrain, you make an excellent point, but I would humbly submit that medical technology is inherently amoral.

    It is the persons involved and their choice of action that Father is addressing, not the technology per se.

    That said, one could validly ask if some technological advancements justify their cost and risk. I say this while keeping in mind precisely those things that can be done using medical technology but whose ends are not, in fact, the practice of medicine.

  6. Jonbrain makes some good points but I see some flaws in his analysis.

    Fr. Longenecker never advocated an abandonment of modern medicine. He simply described how it is misused. He is making a critique of our culture, not pointing out what is good.

    Violent crime may be down but attributing that to some improvement in our culture would be wrong. It may be lower but we also have more than 30,000 people per year dying from drug abuse now, mostly stolen prescription drugs. The enormous death rate caused by this is certainly influencing the violent crime rate. Criminals can’t rob you for drug money when they are laying in a casket. This is a case where one horror has replaced another and given the illusion that things have improved.

    There are other reasons for the falling violent crime rate. One of the main ones is our rapidly dropping birth rate. Violent crime is usually perpetrated by young people and we now have dramatically fewer young people. The youth we should have were either contracepted out of existence or lie in our landfills in bio-hazard trash bags courtesy of our abortion clinics. Again, don’t be so sure that something good is happening for the right reason. There’s very little violent crime in totalitarian countries too. That doesn’t mean it’s a great place to live.

    Fr. Longenecker’s comparison to 1984 is apt. While we may not have a totalitarian government like China, our government certainly knows a lot more about our private lives than we should be comfortable with. They surveil every form of electronic communication in this country. Do some reading on the Echelon system and see if it doesn’t smack of Big Brother. Google and Amazon know more about you and your habits that you do and hey’re both deeply tied in with our government. How long before they use that information in ways we don’t like? Time will tell.

    Jonbrain’s suggestion that we live our best and leave the rest up to God is valid but sometimes God calls us to do more. God works through people and sometimes a prophet is necessary to call people to repentance. Unfortunately, as in Biblical times, prophets are not respected, especially in their home towns (or countries).

    Fr. Longenecker makes a very valid point in that we have done this to ourselves. We have chosen it. We are obsessed with selfishness and personal comfort. Our affluence allows us to live this way because few of us have to wonder where our next meal is coming from. We don’t need God, we just need a decent paycheck. Just give us some beer, pizza, and Netflix and you can do whatever you like. I continually think of the movie WALL-E. Is that our future? Maybe. If we stay on this path, our culture wont’ go out with a bang, but with a whimper.

  7. We are prison happy in the USA. I think the incarceration issue is directly related to the population issue. There are simply less young men out there to commit crimes. The ones that were out there are locked up and there’s no new generation to follow them. Thus a lower crime rate. Full prisons but less crime. Is that a blessing?

    I am continually surprised by people who have a rose colored view of our modern world. I think that happens when you become anesthetized by the realities of modern culture. People today don’t bat an eye at things that would have made people blush, cry, or get angry about just twenty years ago. Porn actresses have become celebrities interviewed on cable news and asked their opinions on politics. A reality TV star is president. A disturbed man guns down hundred of people at a concert and it’s forgotten in a week, even though no real information has been released by the police about the case since. Our privacy has disappeared, not because of the government, but because we voluntarily give it up so we can use social media. A whole generation of young people interact with the world through five inch screens and have no social skills. The teen sex rate is dropping, not because they aren’t interested in sex, but because they’ve watched so much porn that they can’t get turned on by real people. The teen suicide rate is higher than ever. Ditto for the adult suicide rate. Prescription drugs are killing more people every year than car accidents or homicide. The majority of our fellow citizens believe the lie that a man can become a woman or vice versa because they decide to and, sadly, we allow doctors to legally mutilate them instead of confronting them with biological reality. We have to keep inventing new pronouns to describe the twisted ways individuals wish to describe themselves. 1.38 billion babies have been exterminated in abortion clinics in just over 40 years. More human beings than the entire population of North and South America…combined. I could go on for another 1000 words and not make a dent in the depravity around us.

    But hey, as long as the crime rate is down, my medical care is good, and I’m comfortable on my couch binge watching some Netflix with my pizza, life is good! So please keep the prophets quiet. They’re interrupting my show.

  8. WALL-E is here. You just don’t live in the right places to see it. The fact that most of us are not confronted with it on a daily basis is the reason for smug and uncaring suburbia. Hey, my lawn is green (never mind there are no more bees or butterflies), I’ve got my 144 inch plasma TV. Life is good. But out in the Pacific Ocean, nuclear waste from Fukashima inches closer to our shores every day. Already fish and other creatures with horrific abnormalities are being caught. A floating pile of plastic crap the size of Texas lazily drifts along in the Pacific. Coral reefs are dying out. But nevermind….what’s the word on the latest I Phone?

    Yeah, I think this article is spot on. I am almost 70 and my brother and I often talk in amazement about how this stuff wouldn’t have been dreamed about when we were kids. This is Capitalism 101, the gift of the Puritans to our country. If you don’t know what I am talking about, get the book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber.

    In Capitalism, it’s all about the money, for making money and being successful is a sure sign that you are one of “the elect” of God, and so you can stop worrying about your eternal future. That was the Puritan dilemma. From there, it was just a short step to seeing money not as a means to an end, but as the end in itself (“He who dies with the most toys wins!”)

    Into that thinking stepped Edward Bernays and Albert Lasker, men who taught Wall Street how to psychologically manipulate people so as to make them buy whatever was one sale. Lasker convinced women that smoking was good for them when in the 1920’s it was frowned upon.

    Planned Parenthood is not attacked, Playboy Magazine was not attacked, prostitution was not attacked, in fact, no business making money was attacked by our government. So bad was this that American companies such as Coca-Cola continued to do business with Nazi Germany long into the war effort, just under secret companies and different names. Money is the god of this country, and don’t you forget it, peasant! Mess with the money and you will wind up in the Hudson River in cement overshoes.

    So don’t look for any substantive change in the dystopia in which we live. People don’t want to be bothered with things like moral indignation. Too demanding to insist upon real change.

    As for WALL-E….I have this picture of the opening shot from the movie. A hand thrusts out of the pile of debris, clutching a Benjie ($100 bill) and we hear the last words of the last man on earth:

    “I WIN!!!!”

  9. TG makes a good point about violent crime rates and offers some explanations that I haven’t heard before, so thank you.

    I still think that there’s a long way to go before we become a 1984-esque surveillance state; sure, Google and Amazon spy on us directly, and they’re only the big entities in the spy game. But to my knowledge, that hasn’t led to any political arrests; censorship, perhaps, and that’s only going to increase as Europe and America hold Facebook and Google accountable for Russian election interference, but that’s still a far cry from the world according to Orwell. Google, Amazon, and Facebook have their own agendas separate from any government entity, and that worries me more than the US government’s expired Patriot Act surveillance practices. But it is there, and it can be weaponized; my point is that it hasn’t yet, and to say that it’s the same is reactionary and not productive.

  10. Absolutely the best analysis I have read in years! The most frightening thing is that everything appears normal and few are alarmed.

  11. I have a question more than a comment. I am curious about the direct quote you attribute to Ginsberg. When I google it all I get is this article if I use quotes and nothing relevant when I use no quotes. Thank you!

    Generally speaking, I enjoyed the article. I just like to track down source material.

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