The Nightmare Scenario
The charges of Atwood in the novel “Year of the Flood” are based off her concept that never in the history of creation has a species had the means to its own mass extinction that it literally had it within its very fingertips.
This is idea is of course inspired from the potentially destructive forces of nuclear holocausts, unmitigated genetic engineering and an increasingly divisive society where the potential for class warfare is a growing concern as seen by the recent uprisings in the Middle East. For Atwood, her destruction of choice is death by plague wherein humanity is wiped out by a plague that was initially disguised as a prophylactic.
While the Geneva Convention on Human Rights has banned the use and development of biological agents as a means of warfare, thus sparing humanity the possibility of dying due to a virulent disease, the fact remains that studies still do continue in the realm of genetic engineering wherein the secrets of the genetic code are continuously being explored by scientists. For Atwood the structure of our culture involving sciences, religion and people are inherently flawed and in need for change.
The current norm in society is in the fostering of the concept of social inequality which can and will create problems in the future in relation to cooperation between all sectors of humanity (Brooks, 11). It is due to this that Atwood portrays the future in such a dystopic faction since it is actually a good enough impression of what the world will look like should nothing be done.
In relation to the science of genetic engineering, it has been able to create bioengineered corn that is more resistant to disease, created effective means of treatment through hormones and gene therapy, all while the science of genetic engineering is still within its infancy. On the other hand various negative outcomes have also come about such as bioengineered crops that humans are actually allergic to and untold side-effects on the human body by the current myriad of drugs and inoculations developed by pharmaceutical companies.
While unlikely, the possibility is still there for catastrophe to occur; one statement by Atwood in the book summarizes this possibility “this was not an ordinary pandemic it wouldn’t be contained after a few hundred thousand deaths, the obliterated with bio-tools and bleach, this was the Waterless Flood the Gardeners so often had warned about, it had all the signs: it travelled through the air as if on wings, it burned through the cities like fire, spreading germ-ridden mobs, terror, and butchery” (Atwood, 20).
This particular quote from the book shows how a biological contagion can sweep through society; unhindered, unstoppable and un-killable.
The point that Atwood is trying to make in this particular instance is that with every step we take towards scientific progress is a possible step towards human extinction. In the case of the actions of Craker she seemingly posits the idea that if progress isn’t tempered with sufficient mental fortitude and care the result could be disastrous.
In order for humanity to arrive at level shown in “Year of the Flood” current trends and practices don’t need to be exaggerated rather letting them follow on through with their current course of action will inevitably lead to the current dystopic future shown in the novel (Snyder, 19).
Already unmitigated pollutants being released into the atmosphere have unleashed all manner of contagions for humanity, the continued expansion of the gap between rich and poor will inevitably reach a boiling point and undisciplined genetic experiments done in the name of science can and will unleash some form of genetic aberration onto the world that will make life more difficult for humanity (Brooks, 15).
The inevitable nightmare scenario does not need any further catalyst nor exaggeration in order for it to come to pass, rather, inaction by government leaders, communities and scientists will bring it about one way or another.
After a moment of self-introspection I would have to say that I would classify myself as being a generally pessimistic thinker. While I don’t go around looking at the possible negative implications of the various actions humanity has committed I am not so naive as to expect that true and positive change will not come without some form of impetus triggering it.
For example right now regions such as the U.A.E, Australia and China have been implementing increasingly stringent methods of internet censorship in order to prevent the general public from “being harmed” by various antigovernment propaganda currently proliferating the web at this very moment.
What must be understood though is that the internet is one of the best tools today for social and political change as seen in the recent uprisings in the Middle East. One scene from the novel actually shows the inevitability of such an action ” then the CorpSeCorps had outlawed firearms in the interests of public security, reserving the newly invented spray guns for themselves, and suddenly people were officially weaponless” (Atwood, 24).
With the development of the internet as a true tool of social change and reform it comes as no surprise that governments would then step in to control it just as the CorpSeCrops stepped in as mentioned in the novel for the purpose of “public security”. As such based on what can be seen in the present regarding increasingly stringent government control over the lives of their citizens one cannot help but remain pessimistic as the very tools citizens can use to fight back are slowly being taken away from them.
Humanity and machines
Generally speaking, the primary purpose of machines has always been to make human lives easier. In fact their benefits have been mentioned in the book in the following passage “The food came in through the safety-sealed hatchway, plus there was the minifridge with snacks, and the water was filtered, coming in and out both” (Atwood, 7).
As such it can be seen that it is even in the opinion of Atwood that as machines get better in providing human needs so to does the possibility of the quality of life increase. On the other hand it can also be stated that as machines continue to grow so to will the jobs previously done by humans be phased out in favor of cold machine efficiency.
In fact it can even be seen in various sections of the book where the increased isolation of the educated half of the population in the environments provided by the companies is due to the fact that an increasing amount of human jobs being outsourced to robots which cause a large percentage of the population to live in poverty. As such, while it can be said that while machines get better the quality of human life will increase this degree of quality will be increasingly isolated towards the upper echelons of society.
Changing Along With Machines
One of the messages Atwood tries to impart in the novel is the concept of friendship however this concept can be further interpreted as having to care for your fellow man. What must be taken into consideration is the fact that along with improvements in machines humanity must also improve along with them.
This does not mean the evolution of the physical self but rather the evolution of thought wherein humanity develops a sufficient enough capacity to understand that its continued actions will harm rather than help humanity as a whole. As such, this means developing new societal structures that foster equality rather than inequality, better cultural norms that focus on morals and ethics and finally the development of the self to encompass both a love for life and the desire to protect it.
Atwood, Margaret. The Year of the Flood. 1st. London: Bloomsbery, 2009. 3-48. Print.
Brooks Bouson, J. ““We’re Using Up the Earth. It’s Almost Gone”: A Return to the Post-Apocalyptic Future in Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood.” Journal of Commonwealth Literature 46.1 (2011): 9-26. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 17 Apr. 2011.
Snyder, Katherine V. “It’s the End of the World As We Know It.” Women’s Review of Books 27.2 (2010): 19-20. Literary Reference Center. EBSCO. Web. 17 Apr. 2011.