A woman finds herself in a polluted world where it is increasingly difficult to become pregnant.
She has a baby . . .
But struggles with balancing the demands of a stressful career with her desire to be a loving mother.
The conservative religious right proposes a simple solution:
Return to traditional gender roles.
The resulting disempowerment of women is devastating, they are completely subjugated.
Rape becomes sanctioned by the state as a way of ensuring the elite propagate.
Men find themselves dehumanised as the whole community becomes increasingly controlling and violent.
Difference is despised.
Freedom of speech violated.
Terrorism becomes an excuse to terrorise your own people through state sanctions.
I first read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atkins at university 30 years ago.
It was disturbing then.
It is terrifying now.
Like a prophetess predicting Armageddon.
The book and TV series fall into a category of literature called dystopia.
They show a world where our ideals of utopia and hopes for a better world come crashing down in the face of cold, hard, ‘slap in the face’ reality.
Why would we want to watch such negative stories played out?
Because dystopias are a warning of where our world can head if we are not careful.
And why it is important NOT to go there.
When women feel stressed at work and struggle to get pregnant, simplistic thinking yearns for a time when gender roles were more straightforward.
But in this romanticising of times gone past, people forget the price paid by disempowerment based on sex and gender roles.
Empowerment, freedom and equality are complicated.
Sharing power and ensuring equal rights takes communication and sophistication.
But the alternative is unthinkable.
When we disempower people . . .
When we make difference a problem . . .
Not only do we disempower those who are different, we dehumanise society as a whole.
When injustice becomes too great, angry people protest against it.
In an unjust world this anger becomes revolutionary.
The society then has a choice:
Listen and make change or control and enforce control.
But what do we do when the revolutionary anger is in itself controlling, corrupt and dangerous, as it was in Nazi Germany or the Pol Pot regime?
Or in the case of The Handmaid’s Tale; the conservative, religious right?
The answer is not simple.
Freedom of speech is difficult when those speaking want to stop freedom of speech.
The thing is to stop looking at the symptom and start looking for the cause.
A happy, healthy society doesn’t breed a ground swell of revolution.
Of course, there will always be radical conservatives, but in a healthy society, they remain a voice in the wilderness.
But in an unhealthy society they become a rallying call.
Often radical, controlling thinking is an attempt at a simple solution for very real, complex problems.
But the more controlling an individual, a leader, a society becomes . . .
The more insecure they feel about difference . . .
The more paranoid they become about dissent . . .
The more violent their need for enforcing obedience.
This is the same in domestic as well as societal violence.
But this does not mean, no control, but rather intelligent understanding of when control is truly needed and when it is just a fear of difference.
Like I said it’s complicated . . .
And it takes wisdom.
But when intelligent people are complacent and ignore the reality of complex problems and do not work towards solutions, then conservative radicals gets a foothold in society.
Their anger becomes justifiable, and in the face of no better solution, their answer becomes the false hope of the future.
When there is only one straw to grasp, that is the one taken.
This is why it is worth watching dystopias.
They are a warning for a society that wants to live in delusion, to put its head in the sand.
This is what we need to watch out for in the face of positive thinking.
We need to ensure it doesn’t become a way of escaping the pain we don’t want to face.
Personal development needs to take into account societal development.
We can’t just live in a delusional bubble and assume the world’s problems will go away.
Instead, personal development needs to be a ground swell that allows us to deeply understand difference, listen and communicate with an ear for the hurt that sits under anger and do something to empower ourselves and others in the face of complex problems.
Simple answers will never solve complex issues.
Complexity requires sophistication, compassion and wisdom while maintaining the capacity to act.
This requires us to dig deep without burying our head in the sand.
It requires following intuition with direct action in the little things as well as the big.
It requires us to act locally while we think globally.
This is perhaps the best New Year’s Resolution we can have.