We all know that dystopian fictions are often just thinly veiled descriptions of the here and new. But have you noticed that it goes the other way too? Reading the news, I sometimes feel like I am in a dystopian novel. Some shit is just too fucked up to be true. But it is true, and we should think about that and react. Or at the very least start writing dystopias of our own.
Welcome to News From Dystopia. This is going to be a weekly (or perhaps bi-weekly, sometimes I can’t stomach the utter despair this flavor of news is capable of calling up in me) column that pulls together the most dystopian of the latest news.
Tomorrow’s dystopias today
This article has haunted me since it first popped up in my facebook feed. The nutshell version: “Future biotechnology could be used to trick a prisoner’s mind into thinking they have served a 1,000 year sentence, a group of scientists have claimed.”
Let’s all just take a moment to collectively shudder.
Done? No? Yeah, I needed a few more before I could focus again too.
I am not sure I can think of a more fucked up way to deal with incarceration. Go to prison, spend seven lifetimes there, and be home in time for dinner! What the fucking fuck?
Isn’t prison still—at least on the surface, in the PR—being sold as a means for, among other things, rehabilitation? Where does that fit into this scenario? Mind you, I personally think the prison system is fucked up beyond belief, that it ineffectively hinders crime, that it destroys people’s ability to function normally, that it is based on deeply racist and sexist systems and laws, and that it creates further situations that could lead to more crime. This particular prison tech hack amounts to several lifetimes of torture. That may slightly reduce crime levels, but as prisons have proven, fear of punishment doesn’t erase crime, and it leaves no room—not even theoretical room—for rehabilitation, whatever that even means.
This idea, according to its creators, could either be accomplished with psychoactive drugs or by “Uploading the mind of a convicted criminal and running it a million times faster than normal.”
While the tech side of it is fascinating, I do not even want to imagine a world where the ruling government is allowed to create prison sentences longer than the current natural human life. Then again, there are the potential positives: at the end of the day, criminals would only be spending fifteen minutes or so in jail, and that would wreck the profits of the increasingly privatized prison system currently in use in much of the western world. Good. Those convicted of a crime would be punished without missing their kids’ birthdays or fucking up romantic relationships or forcing pregnant convicts to give birth under guard, sometimes while handcuffed. But it still sounds like anguishing torture to me. Like being sent on the worst acid trip of your life without your permission. Like a combination of The Minority Report and, and, I can’t actually think of a fictional dystopian that has incarcerated its prisoners in a way that is quite so horrific. It is a method that leaves no room to dream of escape because the prison is your mind.
Not that the scholars involved—and I was relieved to hear that this was a thought experiment done by scholars and philosophers rather than the latest from such-and-such state prison’s IT department—in this horrifying little thought experiment haven’t thought about the moral aspect.
“To me, these questions about technology are interesting because they force us to rethink the truisms we currently hold about punishment. When we ask ourselves whether it’s inhumane to inflict a certain technology on someone, we have to make sure it’s not just the unfamiliarity that spooks us,” Dr Roache said.
But is it human to turn a human mind into a prison? To lock someone up within themself? In a place where they can’t even spend the time reading books? No. Thanks.
Then again, I come from a place of privilege. I have never been locked up in a prison, so I can’t really say what would be worse. What do you think?