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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Book Report: The Handmaid's Tale

... in which I just finished reading a book: The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood. It's a dystopian story centered around the US as a totalitarian, patriarchal Christian theocracy - but that much you can get from Wikipedia.

As with a lot of dystopian fiction, it is not meant to be a comfortable read. Even though I'm probably not who this book is aimed at, since I'm already doing what I can (inasmuch as I am involved in political activism at all) to see that such things never come to pass in the US, it's still the sort of thing that makes one think.

In particular, I end up thinking about what my political opponents - the Christian organizations standing up to see their morals enshrined in the public square - really want, and how much this dystopia really matches their end goal.

Some of it probably does match. It doesn't take much imagination or effort to find those who think abortion doctors, gay or lesbian people, or rival religious adherents should be executed, as the Republic of Gilead in the book does. It certainly doesn't take any effort at all to find those (and not all religious people, at that) who think we need to enforce a more moral society.

But I also think of the Christians I know personally, and their ideals, and I know that they would recoil from the idea of enforcing adherence to their beliefs and moral restrictions with secret police and public executions. They just want what's best for everyone... their definition of "best" varies somewhat from mine, but I'm still confident they would not want to hurt that many people and destroy our freedom to see it happen.

I question how else they could ever get the widespread adherence to their beliefs and morals that they seem to want - or fear what they might do if or when they eventually come to believe that themselves - though. And while I don't want to say that the best intentions in the world aren't a valid defense, they're still only a valid defense if one can legitimately say that any harm that resulted was sufficiently unforeseen. I question whether that's the case when the damage done to people's lives is the intended mechanism to force them to change themselves.

In the end, there seems to be no answer but to proceed carefully and question the possible negative consequences of our own goals. We certainly don't seem capable of listening to our opponents when they point out those negative consequences.

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