Fiction in Reality: Creating a Protopia
As a lifelong reader, I have always been fascinated by the concept of fiction. Books, TV shows, movies: they all help us escape into a new world, a place where we are not ourselves, and instead, we become the main character of a different universe. Though there are many genres, and some plots could definitely happen in real life, I find that my favorite part about fiction is the impossibility of a new world.
Traveling to Wonderland (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland), Narnia (The Chronicles of Narnia), Neverland (Peter Pan), or traveling back in time, throwing ourselves into a distant or not-so-distant future. In books, and storytelling mediums alike, fiction creates a new space for us to explore, whether it be a secret wizarding school like Hogwarts (Harry Potter), or the prediction of where our futures are headed like Panem (The Hunger Games) or run by an organization called WICKED (The Maze Runner). These fictional worlds provide a space for readers to explore a new concept, learn a life lesson, and ultimately grow.
In real life, we do this all the time. Humans are conversational, passing stories along because we want to share information, themes. We enjoy learning from our mistakes because it makes us better people. I believe this is the main point of a dystopian novel: to learn our lesson before we get to the point of no return, before it is too late.
In a way, dystopian novels are dire warnings, resolutions that we will not allow teenagers to kill each other once a year (The Hunger Games) or force everyone into factions when most people have more than just one personality trait (Divergent). Dystopian novels are like gazing into crystal balls and foretelling a future we all want to stay clear of.
Dystopian novels tell us what to avoid, but they do not tell us how to make the future better. We know that utopias do not work either, because, in many cases, it takes human uniqueness away and leaves us with an impractical society, ultimately becoming a dystopia (The Giver) or (Fahrenheit 451).
It kind of seems like our future is a little rocky, no matter what. Honestly, I do believe we have a lot of challenges ahead of us, problems that I will most likely not be around to see resolved. This is probably why I surround myself in fictional worlds so often, as I want to experience the "Happily Ever After" that simply does not come with real life.
So, am I saying all hope is lost? Am I saying we are doomed to a dystopia in some way, and we are just twiddling our thumbs until we see the horrendous outcome?
In an Anthropology class I took this past semester, fittingly named The End of the World, our class collaborated on ways to view the future ahead, how our society might collapse, or simply transform into something new. We had many valuable discussions in this class, but I determined throughout our discourse that our society will eventually change, or in fact, is in the middle of changing every day. Especially in the middle of this pandemic, people and circumstances change overnight, but nonetheless, we are constantly changing and barreling towards a future that will inevitably shift our ways of life. This is something I found both comforting and scary.
In a lot of ways, humans do not like change; I know I don't. I have a routine, a plan for my entire life, and each time it changes, I become so anxious. None of us enjoy change, and yet, it is the only constant thing in our world. Though we might not always want change, it often comes whether we are ready or not, and I believe that the changes ahead will be for the best.
I think we all try to avoid change, avoid looking too deeply into the future because we are scared of what we might find there.
In the midst of dystopian and utopian prophecies in our media, I think there is a solution just waiting to be uncovered, a plan on how to change our society for the better and be accountable for that change.
Kevin Kelly, an American thinker and "Futurist", determined that the only way to imagine a real future that we will desire, is to use the mindset of a "Protopia." A protopia is a future in which we are no longer fighting for survival, a dystopia, nor accepting unattainable perfection, a utopia. Instead, we become accountable for the future we need and take the required steps to create a better life for everyone on our planet.
This would be a society that relies on empathy, on understanding one another so that we give everyone the best opportunities. This is a society that embraces prosocial behavior, meaning that we allow positive, helpful feelings to guide us towards social acceptance and friendship. This would be a society in which we eliminate hate for one another, and simply work together.
This is not a society without challenges; there will always be challenges in every endeavor. This future would be created to serve all, and it would be up to each other to make it happen. It would not be a political leader or a spooky organization. It would be you, your family, your neighbors, your community, coming together to create a protopia.
Does this sound impossible to you? Do you think a protopia is unattainable?
Maybe to the pessimists, this seems like an impossible feat. But to me, this seems like the only realistic way to predict and prepare for a future that will depend on our choices and changes now.
I know I will not live to see a world completely rid of hate, but I hope that one day, someone will. I hope that one day, the human species will relearn how to communicate without yelling, learn to love unconditionally, and treat everyone with respect, no matter their background or faults.
If we are to change, and we will, then why not set our sights on something that will ultimately make the world a better place? Why not create a plan, take action, for the things we care about most? If you think it's impossible, then imagine a future in which you actually think we could all belong. What steps should we take to get there?
Maybe it is not as impossible as you think.
"Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." -- Lewis Carroll
When I read and write fiction, I often think about which lessons the stories hold. Though writers have various reasons for recording their stories for others to read, which may be only for pure enjoyment, I think one characteristic I want my fiction to reflect is the possibility of a protopia, a place where kindness and empathy truly are a gift and power in both reality and magical worlds. While there may be many varieties in the plots I write, I will always strive to create a universe in which kindness is power, even when I cannot in the real world.
However, that will not stop me from attempting both.
As the new year approaches, I want you to reflect on how you are creating your future. Are you developing your own protopia? What are you doing today that will lead to a better future? If not for an entire community, for yourself and for the loved ones around you?
Take a deep breath. Then take these protopian ideas with you into the new year. After all, the future appears as soon as tomorrow, and we all need to make the best of it.