Pardon me for writing an actual entry today, but I'm in the mood to do some chatting about sci-fi television. Spoilers for Sliders and Torchwood: Miracle Day below...
I started watching "Sliders" recently. If you haven't heard the original concept of the show (which is to say, the first few seasons before Executive Meddling kicked in), it's pretty much a 4-person version of Quantum Leap/Doctor Who. A genius grad student in physics named Quinn Mallory figures out how to hop through portals to alternate universes with the use of a timer, which he does with three other people. However, he or whoever operates the timer (a) has no control over where they go to or for how long they are there or when they can leave--the timer somehow bizarrely sets this stuff for them--and (b) he lost the way to get back to his original Earth. So he and his friends travel through various worlds, frequently getting mixed up in local politics and attempting to improve things before they slide out.
Several versions of Quinn in other alternate Earths have figured out sliding, and our Quinn got the final missing piece of data from one alt-Quinn dropping in for a visit. He gives a brief primer on how it goes (though "how to not screw up the timer so you can get home" is lost via noisiness), and at one point, alt-Quinn mentions that he'd gone to a world with no crime and total peace that was wonderful, and how he'd like to get back there someday. According to the makers of the show, this is the world the sliders visit in season 1, episode 9, "The Luck of the Draw."
Paradise World is best known for its small population--even San Francisco is around 100,000 in population. There's no crime or wars, there's free cars to borrow, and there's even free money if you need it! Actually, that's where the kicker comes in. The Sliders team are thrown into societies that are to some degree "off" from ours, and as far as they can tell, it's free money being handed out at "The Lottery" ATM. But they don't know the connotations behind taking this "free money" (though Professor Arturo does smell a rat). What those in the culture already know is that the lottery comes with a potential price. Anyone who takes money from the ATM is entering themselves in a lottery of death.
Winners--12 drawn at a time-- are given $5 million to leave to their heirs and get a couple of days of free shopping, nice clothes and a fancy ball before being quietly, blissfully euthanized to keep the population down. "Making way," as they call it, is something most people of this world find desireable, so most people are not fazed by this. (Those who are are deemed "right-to-lifers.") You get your money and you take your chances. If you're not willing to "make way" any time soon, then don't take the money. Of course, this is where the Sliders run into trouble when one of them wins the lottery and another falls in love with a fellow lottery winner, and they find out that the only major crime in this world is interfering with or chickening out of the lottery.
The setup of the lottery raises a lot of logistical questions for me, such as: (a) How often does it run? Yearly, monthly, weekly? (b) If you take money and aren't drawn, is your name remaining in the reaping (TM Hunger Games) from then on, or is your name purged? and (c) How long do you get to have this whopping "White Card" shopping spree before you die and don't get to take those toys with you? It's a nice idea, but you really don't get much time to enjoy it, do you?
But in addition to this, I can't help but think that in a way, for all of this utopianness, it's also a culture of death. What I mean by that is that death is a lot more accepted in their society (and even revered) than it is in ours. Death is not only a natural process, but it's okay for it to be an unnatural process if it's for the good of others. The less people there are, the better other people's lives are. And if you're willing to take yourself out for the good of all, well...you'll get a very nice sendoff for your sacrifice. To which I say, well, if that's your choice, okay... but it's a pretty strange mental leap to make unless you've been conditioned to it since the 1700's.
Paradise World's culture, according to the Earth Prime Travelogue page, is based off of the beliefs of Reverend Thomas Malthus. To quote from the page:
"In 1798, Reverend Thomas Malthus, a 19th century English economist, published the widely influential Essay on the Principle of Population which warned that mankind would be condemned to misery and poverty because the rate of population growth would increase faster than the rate of food supply. Taking Malthus' theory seriously, Paradise managed to keep the world population down to 500,000,000, which is roughly 10% of Earth Prime's world population. San Francisco has less than 100,000 citizens and feels more like a small town than a major metropolitan city. This has been made possible through heavy emphasis on birth control and a Lottery system that may seem barbaric to an off-worlder but is rather sensible.
The Lottery itself is like an ATM, except you request money from it. The more you ask for, the higher the chance that you'll be chosen to participate in a euthanasia program that rewards the beneficiaries of those who choose to "make way."
Now, there's two major ways to manage the population: controlling births and deaths. This episode focuses on the latter, but it's made clear that birth control is literally in your drinks. (I'd love to know how they pull that off for all genders.) I would imagine that if you want to get an abortion in this society, it wouldn't be an issue. I suspect it might be more like the "Love Gods" episode in season 2 (most men have died off, those remaining are kept in breeding centers impregnating young and hot women who were approved for a pregnancy) in that you have to apply for a special birthing license. This doesn't sound like a bad idea to me, all things considered.
But in a society where you literally have lottery winners choosing to take the risk of death...well, clearly a lot of someones felt the need to implement something like this ON TOP OF very well maintained birth control. If well maintained birth control isn't quite enough to keep the population manageable, to the point where they are doing a lottery for healthy adults to voluntarily die...what other policies do you think they have going on in this utopia?
I suspect euthanasia happens for anyone who gets sick beyond something that's easily fixed. If you come down with an incurable disease, make way! Well...having watched my various relatives in this situation, I wouldn't really argue with this point. Watching someone suffer for a decade is godawful, and in the end I don't think prolonging people's suffering did a lick of good. So while I'm fine with that, after that point it gets ambiguous. If you come down with a possibly curable disease, what happens? Do they bother to cure people who get cancer, or encourage them to "make way" instead? I suspect the latter, since the population is already accustomed to this happening in the lottery. Does this society bother looking for cures for diseases? Do they vaccinate? Do they do organ transplants? What if you have a chronic disease that may or may not kill you, but is treatable (if not curable)? Do they go above and beyond in saving you when something goes drastically wrong in your body or you get hit by a car, or do they let you "make way?" Early on in the episode, Quinn accidentally hits his head and falls off a horse. He's okay, but when that happened I thought, "If he needs serious medical attention, are they just going to let him die?" It's a good thing he wasn't shot until the end of this episode as he jumped out of there, I suppose.
As for the legal system: does anyone prosecute murderers? I'm sure we're supposed to think that a utopia wouldn't have any, but shit happens and some people are still born assholes and these things happen. Is it like the episode "The Good, The Bad, and The Wealthy" where nobody cares when people are killed? Are those folks just given a pat on the back for doing a service?
All things considered, if you live in a culture where you accept that enough people are going to need to die on their own in order to keep the rest of society happy, it probably makes people feel more comfortable if extreme measures aren't taken to preserve life. But I wonder what middle measures may or may not be taken to preserve life under these circumstances. I think on that level alone, it makes the "culture of death" a pretty uncomfortable idea. The TV show Torchwood covered this in their season series "Miracle Day," in which people were no longer able to die regardless of what happened to their bodies. "Categories of life" had to be created, with Category 3 being a designation for the still-healthy, Category 1 being for the "should be dead but aren't, what do we do with them to really kill them for good" people (answer: incineration...if that works?), and Category 2 being the people with chronic health problems. How those people are handled is where it gets ugly, as they are taken (forcibly) to "overflow camps" along with the Category 1's. We find out that plenty of conscious Category 2 people can easily be assigned to Category 1 and future incineration....
It's a slippery slope once you focus on getting people out of the way more than anything else, isn't it? To me, that's the difference between this world and our world's arguments right now about abortion and euthanasia. The focus in our world in those arguments for those things is quality of life. Those in favor of say, letting the terminally ill die when they want to rather than letting a disease erode them away, want to do this so that nobody has to suffer any longer than they have to. Those in favor of abortion don't want mothers or children to suffer by having or being an unwanted child, or one that can't be provided for, or a child doomed to suffer and die due to disease, etc. Even though it sounds like we don't treat life in a reverent way by being in favor of those things in bad circumstances, it's really that people in favor of these things prioritize having a good life rather than one at all costs.
"But don't they think that way on Paradise World?" you might be thinking. "They prioritize having a good life so much, for all, that they realize that everybody can't have one."True, in a sense. But in order to prioritize "having a good life due to less people," their true priority is to eliminate people as easily as possible--including getting people acculturated to death via lottery. But I wonder what their standards and boundaries are for health care, and how easily those standards erode when the priority is to easily rid the world of other humans. And that, to me, is where the utopia fails. It makes me wonder about the morals of these people, and how much effort they put into preserving the lives of people who didn't choose to enter the lottery. If something happens to you in Paradise World, will you be saved? Or would you even care if you were?
(Note: comments closed because you know crazy people are going to find this via search engines.)