Three Futures: Idiocracy, Starship Troopers, and Elysium


Various people have compared the current situation in the country to the movie Idiocracy. In this movie, humanity has undergone a process of devolution until the entire population has become dumb. It is really a shocking movie and a great commentary on the current state of our society. But while that movie has a some similarity to the current situation, I don’t think it is realistic at all. If the entire population becomes dumb, a country the size of the US will just disintegrate. It can not build large scale organizations or industries such as a government that rules over such a large area or a corporation that caters to consumers in such a large area. It cannot produce the kinds of products and services that are depicted in that movie. The truth is, if all of us became dumber, it might not be so bad at all. We might actually be happier. Look at how other apes live, for example.

No, we seem to be headed in a totally different direction. I believe much better (and more realistic, and thus scarier) analogies are provided by 2 other movies. The first one is what the new administration (and looks like a large section of conservatives in general) want to believe where we should be going. But the second one is where I believe we will eventually end up if we go this way.

The first movie is Starship Troopers. It has the same kind of highly authoritarian, efficient, and militarized society that has become so attractive to conservatives of today. It contains constant government propaganda, a clear sense of good and bad, simple ideas about what it means to be a citizen, and simple ways of dealing with problems (“Medics!”). And it even has TV personalities who shout “alternative facts” at each other.

But Starship Troopers is still kind of unrealistic. Everyone is expected to serve in order to become citizens, the armed forces are very much a meritocracy, the whole world acts as one against a formidable enemy, and there is really no one who is able to isolate themselves from society. This is not realistic at all. The people who have economic and political power today will always want to create a barrier between themselves and society. They will want to remain above the law and they will want to maintain power by manipulating the meritocracy. And since they have their own interests, they will not act as one. They would rather use the vision of Starship Troopers as a “carrot” (for those who like it) to lead us towards a different outcome.
This scenario is presented in the movie Elysium. In that movie, we have the richest and most powerful people of the world living in a city in space and the entire population of the earth lives in extreme and violent poverty, supporting this “pie in the sky”.

In fact, if you think about it, this is not too far from where we already are today, except for the space part. A refugee fleeing from a war-torn or dirt-poor country, fighting his or her way through extremely hostile situations, and eventually landing in a modern affluent city probably feels very like the earth people in the movie who manage to sneak into Elysium. They probably have the same exact sense of wonder as well as envy, and the same goal to use the resources of Elysium to improve their rotting condition.

I’d highly recommend watching all three movies.