Here’s a social dynamic you can use to create the “corrupted paradise” structure in dystopian worldbuilding for science fiction stories.
This is hard sci-fi — meaning that this dynamic will result in a future world that plausibly extrapolates from present-day reality.
Ongoing controversy surrounds admissions to Harvard University. A group of Asian-Americans — demographically “recent immigrants from mainland China who are highly educated” — are fighting against affirmative action in the Harvard admissions process.
From the beginning, the idea sounds strange: members of a minority group are fighting to reverse policies designed to fight discrimination against minorities? The dynamics themselves, however, are more widespread. As usual, racism is only an intermediate step.
The protestors who want to destroy affirmative action at Harvard have co-opted civil rights-era slogans — “judge people by their character, not the colour of their skin.” Sounds a lot like rhetorical games used in racist slogans like “all lives matter”, doesn’t it? Yes, it’s the same game.
Fighting Against Ourselves
Plot twist: highly-educated, recent Chinese-American immigrants are, in the short-term, pushing a perspective that, until now, has served the interests of wealthy white Americans. Dismantlement of affirmative action harms all non-white Americans. So why support its destruction?
The dystopian game in play can be called “reversal”. In the reversal game, a concept designed for one purpose (civil rights, in this case) is propagandised to embody its opposite (oppression). Real outcome: the rich get richer. Everyone else dehumanises each other and destroys their own rights.
In the Harvard case, recent Chinese-American immigrants are aware that Harvard has used discriminatory policies, and are fighting against them. The nuance is that the earlier policies favoured white students. Affirmative action has the same goal: rectifying discrimination.
The impetus behind (preferences for legacies and athletes) was what scholars now refer to as “negative action,” the preferential treatment of white over Asian-American applicants, rather than affirmative action, the consideration of race in admissions to boost underrepresented minorities and foster diversity. As Poon wrote in the book Contemporary Asian America, “The experience with negative action in the 1981s contributed to a collective memory for Asian Americans and wariness of possible anti-Asian quotas.”
The phrase “recent Chinese-American immigrants” is used here as a distinction to emphasise diminished comprehension of historical context, creating susceptibility to racist doublespeak. Similarly, “all lives matter” sounds fine for those who are unaware of its cultural background as a dogwhistle for racism.
In the Harvard admission case, reversal leads members of one minority to prey on members of other minorities. The final outcome is the destruction of policies designed to fight against income- and race-based discrimination. The rich get richer. The doors close for everyone else.
Where else do we see the reversal game?
Super-wealthy individuals and groups create a doctrine that preaches a particular gospel of financial deregulation and anti-taxation. Politicians are universally corrupt liars who can’t be trusted. Mainstream media are “biased enemies of the people”.
More reversal games: Immigrants steal jobs from hard-working citizens. White Americans are an oppressed minority. Masculinity is under attack by “the matriarchy”. Education and healthcare must be privatised since the “invisible guiding hand of the market” is the only fair determinant of real value.
Racism is a proxy upholding corrupt institutions. As more people feel socioeconomic insecurity, they push down (bigotry) instead of up (at the super-rich). Now consider what “Crazy Rich Asians” stands for, in this dystopian context. Crazy Rich [Everybody]. That’s the game.
The (Illegal) Aliens Are Coming! We Need a Spaceship to Mars!
Dystopian outcomes of reversal games: institutionalised racism as well as gender- and income discrimination lead elite universities to remain open only to those who are wealthy or game the system. Deregulation creates a boom-and-bust superstar economy of extractive investors and real-estate vultures.
Corporate tax exemption drains society of infrastructure funding and social services. This results in neglect of infrastructure (roadways, the power grid, industrial control systems), unaffordable healthcare, inadequate education, and “do-it-yourself” disaster relief in a time of climate change. Schools in low-income neighborhoods become a zero-tolerance doorstep to corporate-run prisons.
Hypercapitalist religious dogma leads to public obsession: imitate reality-show consumer lifestyles of “A-list” celebrities. Hire “alpha” billionaire CEOs for president instead of personally running for office, participating in representative democracy (i.e. voting), or exercising critical thought in “political” art.
Immigrants are demonised to the point that thousands of Spanish-speaking Americans are left to die after natural disasters because they are not “pure” enough, despite being full-bloodied citizens.
The term “illegal alien” becomes synonymous with “subhuman entity to be thrown away.” Their families are torn apart indefinitely; children are psychologically and physically abused in detainment centers. Some are lost in the system and simply disappear, while others may be adopted in a scenario that only separates them further from their real parents.
Every twenty-four hours, a new raft of clickbait headlines wash the memory of their lives away, enabled by surveillance capitalism via “free” social media run by billionaires whose only truth is the destruction of privacy.
Mainstream media is replaced by sensationalism and extremist quasi-state propaganda, clothed in familiar cliches: racism, misogyny, homophobia, religious hatred, xenophobia.
This genre is “science fiction.” If you want to create hard sci-fi stories that begin with our real world, the reversal game is one place to start.