I like to say that my dystopian satire series Unstable States is a cross between Idiocracy and The Handmaid’s Tale. Both titles are older and well-established views of a society gone off the rails. Idiocracy is itself a satire and although a friend argued with me about it, Handmaid’s Tale and the lack of female bodily autonomy seemed as if it could come true. It was true after all, in my mother’s lifetime and for those before her. And now here, or so it seems.
We’ve all read about repressive societies, fictional and otherwise. But what traits should we be looking for? For my satire, I incorporated my own Puritanically influenced upbringing and the early 1900s and post 9-11. And yes, Iowa’s growing pollution problem and governor were factors.
What if these influences had become autocracy? How would we even know? I turned to Political Science professor Jim Zaffiro for advice. He came up with some ideas.
Authoritarian Societies have these traits:
1.Marked by brain drain, hostility to truth tellers & intellectuals.
2. Leaders are elevated into masterminds to save the nation.
3. Information is censored and tightly controlled, so that the masses hear only or mostly the official interpretations of things.
4. Exploitation of invented outside or internal threats to justify suspension of civil liberties; often involves scapegoating undesirable groups, by race, religion, ethnicity, or foreign origin.
5. Tight control of other organs of government, including political parties, judiciary, and legislative.
6. Use of illegal methods or flaunting existing laws and norms in the name of security.
7. Elevation of regime and leader survival over all else, leading to constitutional changes and rigged elections.
8.Use of neopatrimonialism to create sub-bosses totally loyal to the supreme leader who rewards them with patronage. (As seen in privatization schemes).
Other sources have similar lists including:
10. Hostility to intellectualism and the arts
11. Hostility to labor and labor unions. Protection of corporate power.
12. Obsession with crime and punishment
13. Insisting on titles such as Sir.
One problem with examining society and deciding if it is authoritarian or not is this: even egalitarian societies have rules and regulations. NO RULES! is not the mark of freedom. Ask yourself who do the rules benefit?
Inequality spreads much more easily than equality. Creating an egalitarian society where all people have equal opportunities, are not dominated, and may even punish alpha behaviors, isn’t easy. Authoritarianism is like germs in a sneeze. It may not be stable, but it spreads easily. We all need to recognize it for what it is and mask up. You don’t want to catch it. Hopefully here in Iowa we haven’t already.