One of my favorite themes to explore in post-apocalyptic fiction is social collapse and social control. I’m specifically interested in how poverty is used as a form of social control in dystopian societies. I’ve given this some thought and I’ve come to believe that in any society that has a social hierarchy, you will have some form of poverty and that this lack of access to resources is often used as a form of social control. Below I explore a few of my thoughts on this matter.
When we think of poverty we think of starvation, homelessness, living in unsafe neighborhoods and lacking the essential resources of life. But poverty can also mean a lack of access to channels of power, lack of status and lack of recognition. Poverty takes many shapes in both real and fictional worlds. Poverty is also relative and therefore a state of mind. Think about it: Someone living in a rural village where no one has electricity may have a different idea of what poverty is, while someone living in the US would immediately consider themselves poor if they were no longer able to afford their electric bill. In that sense poverty is relative. Now taking this idea a little further, outside of the basics such as food, water, shelter and relative safety, everything else we “need” is in fact a manufactured need. The electricity we need is there because so many things in our lives depend on it—the ability to keep our food fresh, to plug in our computers which some of us use for work, to charge our phones which we use to communicate. When these necessities (including the basics) are unaffordable or scarce we experience poverty. Social control rears its ugly head when those people in power use their control of resources bolster their own personal power and/or to force others to make choices they wouldn’t normally make. If you can control a human being’s access to food, water, and sense of safety you can exert serious power over his decisions.
In my futuristic, dystopian novel New Hope City, a small, southern city is in a state of collapse. Most citizens struggle to get the basics such as food, water and shelter, and most live with the constant fear of losing what little they have. And because both crime and corruption go unchecked, most citizens live with an unrelenting sense of terror and desperation. It’s under these circumstances that the main character, Sunni Brown, tries to eke out a life. But because of her desperate circumstances she’s become easy pickings for those in power. It’s her poverty that allows her to be exploited. In New Hope City, the people in power profit from the suffering of others, so they have no incentive to improve the city’s living conditions.
In my science fiction serial “After The Darkness” I explore several themes, but one of them is the use of social status as a form of social control. In this post-apocalyptic future, people are separated into “levels” with the highest levels having the most access to resources and the lowest levels have virtually no access. The people in power use social status to control the will of the people. In the beginning of the serial, the main character, Nadia, is stripped of her higher status and made to live at the bottom of society. This punishment is a warning to others who would dare to question the choices of the people in control. It’s this type of social control that allows the city leaders unchecked power to do horrendous things in the name of keeping order or honoring the sacrifices of their ancestors. By threatening their citizens with poverty and the loss of status they can make them bend to their will.
While I don’t believe that poverty as a form of social control renders any human being completely helpless, I do believe it leaves them with limited and very difficult choices. I’m looking forward to exploring this theme further in my future post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction.
SunHi Mistwalker writes fiction set in dystopic and post-apocalyptic worlds. Her new novel New Hope City, a dark coming-of-age story set in a post-apocalyptic America, follows the life of Sunni Brown, a teenage girl exploited by sex traffickers who tries to get a fresh start when she meets a disillusioned cop. She is also the author of the science fiction series After The Darkness. Please sign up for the mailing list for receive updates, freebies and special discounts. You can also follow SunHi on Twitter and Facebook.