|From newser.com--of course, this claim rather|
depends on the type of dystopia you fear most:
anarchy or Big Brother.
It is extremely well-crafted. If nothing else, it is an example of good writing. But the premise is cartoonish.
I realize that the story is supposed to be a fable about how traditions can foolishly persist, even when harmful. Those traditions don't necessarily have to include human sacrifice (which in Europe was replaced with animal sacrifice back in the B.C.E.)--just any tradition that causes/exploits human suffering.
The problem is that all traditions, including harmful ones, continue for a mass of contradictory and complicated human reasons ranging from the economic to the sexual to the familial. And they involve everything from hubris, fear, shame, desperation, greed, and social climbing to love, loyalty, respect, sincerity, spiritualism, entertainment, comfort, nostalgia, and joy. How people react to traditions is never as simplistic as "The Lottery" implies.
Even if one narrows the focus to "bad" traditions, "The Lottery"'s premise is still that a bunch of middleclass villagers in an American-like town would stone someone to death because unthinking acceptance of a past tradition is more powerful than cultural context, Freud's id/ego/superego, economic need, and the powerful inducements of self-serving justification. The whole thing happens in a vacuum--which any decent historian or anthropologist can tell you is blatantly inaccurate. (My standard of "decent" anthropologist/historian may be too high.)
In other words, taking "The Lottery" too seriously can lead to stuff like Rent.
Unfortunately, a story like "The Lottery" is an easy way for instructors to create supposedly profound discussions about LIFE AND STUFF. But I have my doubts--based on the questions I saw--that the ensuing discussion would actually ever tackle the premise. Would anyone be allowed to disagree with Shirley Jackson's theme without being branded one of those unenlightened masses who loves tradition? Unless the premise itself came under debate (this story is an inaccurate picture of humanity), I imagine the ensuing argument would be rather similar to listening to Creationists argue with Richard Dawkins.
And who cares?
This is how I feel about dystopian literature/art in general. I don't mind sci-fi that presents a ridiculous dystopian premise if the point is the story/adventure (The Matrix) or a specific relationship (Terminator) or, even, the complexity of human feeling (Equilibrium). But so much dystopian literature presents human nature as static. It's an adolescent view of behavior that appears rather often in higher education, as when one of my professors told me that all Puritans went to church (not correct) and therefore believed all the same stuff.
"No, they didn't," I said. "There were believers and non-believers and people who went for the social content and people who went for the spiritual content."
"But they were all going to the same church under the same authority," he said. "There was no outside influence, so they all believed the same."
I was stunned. Setting aside people like Roger Williams, who left the Massachusetts Bay Colony, yet continued to correspond with many of its leaders (who rather liked him and found his ideas interesting if disruptive); setting aside people like Anne Hutchinson, who was very popular until she got kicked out of, well, everywhere; setting aside that more Puritan women than men were active church-goers (this is true across the board; women are always more active church-goers than men although men start more religions than women); setting aside that many of the changes to Puritanism, which led to differing forms and offshoots of Protestantism in the 1700s, including the First Great Awakening, happened from within; setting aside all the infighting that took place during the Puritan years over congregational leaders; setting aside the ongoing debates on witches in which Puritan leaders took various sides; setting aside the poems and essays of people like Anne Bradstreet and Jonathan Edwards (who wrote more than just "sinners in the hands of an angry God") which emphasize entirely personal and unique spiritual experiences; setting aside the reality that when a government releases its stranglehold on religious observation, people instantly parcel themselves into a range of churches and beliefs (it doesn't take another generation for people to "learn" to express themselves; they already know whether they are strident believers or indifferent believers or orthodox believers or non-believers) . . .
Setting all that aside, my response is still . . .
Sure, any human organization appears monolithic on the outside. But once one begins to examine its inner workings, one discoveries a multitude of disagreements, offshoots, oddities, and randomness. So the paleontology department appears seamless on the outside; okay, now, go talk to some of the researchers.
I'd expect a professor to know this.
But monolithic commentary on culture is an easy way to deal with the universe (and still look insightful), just as dystopian fiction is an easy way to deliver supposed profundities about human nature. And maybe, like the true classic Lord of the Flies, it is a good place to start.
But not to end.