The Time-Traveler’s Dystopia

The only remedy for the falsehoods bombarding us is to remain firm in the Truth.

‘Time’ (photo: Ollyy / Shutterstock)

In the city of Raleigh, during the year 1932, a man searching for work during the Depression answers a strangely-worded ad printed in a newspaper. He brings with him a newly-released book along, in case he’ll have to wait to be interviewed, and goes to the house of a mad scientist. 

The mad scientist explains to the man that he has built a machine, capable of placing a person 90 years into the future, and needs a test subject. He’s willing to pay handsomely. The machine, at this stage in development, can place a person in the future for only one hour. 

The man agrees to the job. He becomes the world’s first time-traveler on the next day. The machine works. He returns from the future an hour later.

“What did you see?” the mad scientist asks.

The time-traveler does his best to explain the marvels he saw while walking about Raleigh’s streets in the year 2022. He tries to explain the smartphones, that a person at a café was attending a work meeting from a computer, televisions with hundreds upon hundreds of channels, silently-running electric cars, that some buildings even had solar panels on the roof. No one he saw looked to be starving, and the opposite of starvation had become rather common. Segregation was long done with, so that all persons shared the same spaces, regardless of color. “The people of the future are very happy,” he concludes. “They have everything, and they live in harmony.”

The mad scientist continues working on the time machine so that it can place a person in the future for an entire day. “Will you go again?” the mad scientist asks the time-traveler.

The time-traveler agrees. He goes into the future once again, returning a day later.

“What did you see?” the mad scientist asks.

The time-traveler does what he can to explain the peculiarities of 2022. Many of the people constantly buried their faces in those smartphones, oblivious to life all around them. Taking advantage of Prohibition’s repeal, he’d gone to a bar, and watched some of the programming on those hundreds upon hundreds of channels. Common entertainment was saturated with sexual imagery, and the sitcoms he’d watched were raunchy. Ads showing homosexual couples holding hands, or even kissing, surprised him more than a little, but ran unnoticed by the other bar patrons at all. Several of those oblivious patrons just kept casually smoking, something which clearly wasn’t tobacco, from their pens. When he opted to listen to some music instead, he’d heard several songs with lyrical filth which even the drunkest of sailors of 1932 would’ve been too bashful to repeat. “The future has certainly gotten better, in some ways,” he concludes, “but also really bizarre, and even perverted, in some other ways.”

The mad scientist continues working on the time machine so that it can place a person in the future for a full month. “Will you go again?” the mad scientist asks.

The time-traveler, reluctant to be away from his loved ones for so long, yet still in need of money, agrees. He goes into the future once again, and returns a month later, on All Souls Day.

“What did you see?” the mad scientist asks.

The time-traveler, having made several acquaintances during that month, explains how so many of the people of the future were endlessly distracted, and alienated, from having those hundreds of channels, smartphones and ample amounts of easily-accessible pornography. Marijuana, plentiful and common, only added to their evasions of responsibility. Broken families, he learned, had been very common for two generations. Nearly half of his acquaintances hardly knew anything at all about their fathers. Several acquaintances were promiscuous, and very proud of it. Other acquaintances felt shame, for not having lived lives which were as depraved as they’d figured they ought to have been. Expectations from having an instant-everything, and from being bombarded by ads routinely appealing to self-centeredness, fanned the flames of selfishness. Much of what had long been considered common sense, including even gender itself, were contentious topics. Fits of rage, whenever politics were brought up in conversation, were so common that he’d become careful never to bring up certain subjects at all.

“We have many of these problems in our own day,” the mad scientist assures him.

“We do,” the time-traveler agrees, “but the scale of it is much greater in the future. A lot of them have lost their sanity.” The time-traveler hesitates for a moment.

“While I was there, on Oct. 13, a young man, only 15 years old, started shooting people at random in a neighborhood, right here in Raleigh. I was disturbed by it. But several of my friends weren’t surprised at all. They said that things like that had happened a number of times before, and that it would probably happen again, someplace else. Then they just went about their day, like nothing even happened. They were so numb! The people of 2022 eat just fine, and live so comfortably” he concludes, “but it’s as though they’re still starving, for something else entirely.”

“I’ve read this since we first met,” the time-traveler says, showing the mad scientist the book which he’d purchased on the day they’d first met; Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. “Some of the things written in this book are a little bit off, but quite a few things really will happen.”

“While you were gone, I continued working on my machine,” the mad scientist finally says. “I could permanently settle you and your family in the year 2022, if you’d like that.”

“No way!” the time-traveler replies. “I’ll take my chances right here.”


Our Brave New World 

“One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them.”

A friend of mine committed suicide on Oct. 6. He was 41 years old. A relative of mine likewise committed suicide on July 15. He was 30. Many men and women in my own parish were deeply shaken after a young man, coming from a family of active Catholics, committed suicide on June 26. He was only 13. 

These three men lived very different lives. My friend was a restaurant manager, divorced, and living in Raleigh, North Carolina. My relative was a former Marine, the younger child of a divorced couple, living in Michigan. What they had in common was that their time on Earth tragically ended by their own hands.

The suicide of any one person leaves those of us affected with far more questions than answers. Questions are often limited to the lifestyle and background, risk factors in particular, of the person who’d died. My friend had a history of struggling with substance abuse. Several relatives on my mother’s side struggle with mental illness. Suicide is usually the result of a convergence, of many things tormenting a person, and so we’re bound to be left with more questions than answers.

To be in the vicinity of several suicides, in the span of just a few months, raises even more questions. Questions are not so much limited to the nature of the individual himself. They regard the nurture from life in the world itself. What state is our world in to cause us to witness this so often? What messages have our loved ones been conditioned by, concerning who they are, or what their lives are “supposed” to be, that exacerbates a decline in their mental health? 

Life expectancy in the United States has declined, slightly, in several of the years over the past decade. The first of these recent interruptions in life expectancy’s steady growth occurred before COVID-19, in 2014. Rising rates of suicide, drug overdoses and alcohol-related deaths, among men and women between the ages of 25 and 64, were leading causes for these declines. The rate of deaths resulting from drug overdose has increased fourfold between the years 1999 and 2017. Suicide rates have been steadily climbing since the early 1990’s. 

If more and more young men and women continue to resort to the conclusion that life isn’t worth living, then how can we claim that the world has become a better place in this time span?

This year marks the 90th anniversary of the publishing of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, a novel which Peter Kreeft himself listed as among the 20th century’s most important books. The story is set in the year 2540 (“632 After Ford”). But could it be that Huxley didn’t really need to set his dystopian vision so far into the future? Could the current statistics on suicide and drugs be a sign that our own era has already crossed a threshold, that we’re living in a dystopia right now? 

The peculiarities of our current era could very well strike almost any visitor, from 1932, as that being the case.

All of us are programmed, to a large degree, by the world surrounding us. Each of us is a participant in the world, contributing to the standardization of countless things, who thereby contribute to the conditioning of our neighbors. We’re all responsible for one another, whether we care to admit it or not, so that what we believe and how we live matters a great deal to the well-being, or the downfall, of others. Any responsible person must therefore ask him or herself: How do my own actions contribute to the conditioning of my neighbors? 

Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale, an asinine work of paranoid fantasy, asserts that our future would become dystopic if the world were to embrace religion. But the recorded statistics of our current, and very much real, world contains a correlation suggesting that the very reverse may actually be true: that declining church attendance and this widespread decline in mental health go rather hand-in-hand.

Trivializing of faith does not go without consequences.

There have been, in our own day, worldly efforts to ameliorate the troubles of our world. Vanity is what they are. Ad spots, for instance, meant for raising mental health awareness, have become rather common in recent years. And yet much of our popular entertainment continues to recklessly produce content that bombards those very viewers with messages that could exacerbate this overall decline in mental health. 

“If you’re not having lots of sex,” plenty of today’s shows suggest, “and with many beautiful people, then you’re a failure.” Then, during an ad break, the viewers are told that “if you see yourself as a failure, then get help, and here’s a hotline if you ever need it.” From there, the show proceeds to go on. … How very kind of them! 

Kindness, minus truth, yields cruelty.

Calls for “proper” legislation can divert plenty of individuals from accepting responsibility for the impact of their very own beliefs and actions. Legislation, forceful as it can often be, doesn’t magically heal the souls and minds of those who’ve been driven to the brink by our corporate beliefs and actions. The efforts of the world are little more than band-aids.

Worldliness understands force just fine. What it doesn’t understand is true power.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives …” (John 14:27)

“Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

The pains of rampant divorce and absent fathers, the standardization of promiscuity and smut, rampant drug use, cultural disregard of common sense, and so many other changes over the last 60 years, have indeed wreaked havoc on so many of our loved ones. But if each of us has a profound impact upon countless others, then there is a way of life each of us has an opportunity to live by, to help standardize the healing of our world gone mad, beginning with our very selves: a life of sainthood. 

The only remedy for the falsehoods bombarding us is to remain firm in the Truth. Doing so could even be what it takes to spare the sanity of those whom we love the most.