08 January 2013

Review: Blind Faith by Ben Elton

He worked in the DegSep Division of NatDat. DegSep was short for Degrees of Separation and it existed in order to establish and catalogue the connections (no matter how tenuous) between every single person, every other person and every single thing that happened. 
~Blind Faith by Ben Elton

The "he" referred to here is Trafford, the protagonist of this comic dystopian novel. Blind Faith is set in a future where the world as we know it has been wiped out by a disastrous flood bought on my mankind's carelessness toward the environment. In its place is a world ravaged by plagues, where only 50% of children survive past their 5th birthday and vaccinations are illegal because they contravene God's Will.

In fact, there is now a single world religion in which the entire population participates with blind faith. In this religion, people are told that they are the embodiment of God and that to respect God they must worship themselves. Privacy is seen as a perversion and everything one does is recorded and shared with everyone else via all forms of social media. People must blog daily and place footage of everything from childbirth to sex to shaving their bikini line on You Tube for everyone else watch. This is a world where it is sinful for women to have natural breasts, g-strings are every day dress and McDonalds is the fanciest restaurant around.

Trafford, a conservative man who wears shorts as long as half way down his thigh, secretly despises the world in which he lives and desires the ability to reason for himself. Blind Faith is the story of Trafford's attempt to reason for himself and share his knowledge with the rest of the population.

Blind Faith is essentially a warning. Firstly it is a warning against the dangers of climate change. In this future, the earth has been abused to such an extent that is has responded with a devastating flood, that has killed a significant proportion of the worlds population, changed the geography of the planet and bought with it ravaging diseases.

Secondly, and what struck a nerve with me, it is a warning against what might come as a result of the increasing fascination with sharing our lives and thoughts via social media (blogging for example!). Elton creates a world where people have become so engrossed with themselves and sharing every minute of their lives that they have come to see themselves as the embodiment of God on earth and therefore deserving of the worship of others.

As I was reading the book, I couldn't help but wonder whether or not this was too much of a leap, a little too unbelievable. I can see the dangers of social media. I don't use twitter and I don't use facebook. I don't have an interest in sharing every little thing with every other person who pretends an interest (or even has a real one). If there's something I want to share with someone, I would hope that I could be close enough to that person to share it with them in a more personal way. Yet I found myself wondering as I read the book whether mankind would really take it so far? Scarily though, the more I think about it the more I wonder if it isn't a possibility we should give some thought to. The book has made me wonder why it is that we want to share so many details of our lives in such a public way and what effect this could have on our collective psyche. Already in places like America they allow video cameras in the court room and televise trials. In Australia we see footage on the news of videos people have taken on their mobile phone of incidents they've witnessed where their first response is to pull out their mobile and film it rather than just experience it or assist in any way. I was forcibly reminded of Blind Faith a couple of week ago at the football, when below me in the crowd I witnessed a fight and almost the entire stand around them stand up and pull out their mobiles phones as one and film the fight as if it was entertainment they would laugh over with friends later that night. Could it be that sharing so much about ourselves makes us feel more important than perhaps we should feel? Might we become suspicious of those that don't share their thoughts and actions with others via social media? How far could this go? I don't know the answers to these questions, but Blind Faith certainly raises many of these questions in the reader's mind.

Although some of this might serious, Blind Faith is really a comedy. The world of the future is outrageous. Every time I read some newly uncovered aspect this this future world, like Trafford's conservative shorts that reach half way down his thighs, I found that I had to share it with my partner so that I had someone to laugh with. This outrageousness is, I think, Blind Faith's biggest strength.

Its biggest weakness for me, however, was the way in which Elton delivered his messages. Elton had a definite agenda he wanted to address in relation to the dangers of social media and climate change and as I read the book I felt as though I was being hit over the head with it so to speak. Although it was a funny book, I can think of other works of dystopian fiction dealing with the same issues in a more subtle way.

So, I enjoyed Blind Faith. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I can see that I have got something out of reading it. It's funny and outrageous, although in the end I think that this distracts somewhat from the book's message.



5 / 8 stars
Good and worth reading if you have the opportunity, but there's no need to prioritise it.


Have you ever given any serious thought to the danger that social media might pose to our world in the distant future? How do you think that blogging might contribute to this, if at all?