James Thomas Lukasavage, a local author and avowed pacifist anarchist, takes the reader through a deeply-sourced meditation on the world today, what has gone wrong and how it can be saved. It’s the type of book that, when described as it just was, sounds completely unappealing and aggressively disinteresting unless coming from someone with an earnest, thoughtful perspective that hasn’t been hashed and rehashed by every jackwagon with WiFi access. Thankfully, Lukasavage has that in spades, and shows it in Dystopia!
The book is organized in three Parts, with a conclusion and apotheosis following that. Lukasavage posits four goals people should strive for that would result, theoretically, in the birth of a new American direction. Those goals are saved for the end of the book though, and there will be no spoilers in this review. He methodically builds his case for them as the book starts, presenting evidence and navigating through what can be an unlit path, if only because it hasn’t been traveled much before.
While his prognosis of the future is bleak, that belief is contingent on society continuing down some version of the same path; he seems to offer a rather optimistic view that people are capable of change, and would thus be able to reverse course for the dystopic present and future after which the book is titled. The foreword itself probably best explains this thought of two vastly different visions of the future, dependent on us: “one that holds total, global annihilation through overpopulation, hyper-development, and environmental collapse, or a future in which humans have learned to exist in equipoise with nature [...] through transcendental, collective asceticism, and responsible, economic degrowth.”
If there’s one criticism of the book, it can tend to meander a bit. The amount of research Lukasavage has done to back up his ideological points is impressive, but at times it seems to trip up the book’s flow; it can jump from a criticism of modern American moral direction to an analysis of Hammurabi’s Code in the space of a few paragraphs. This critique is only a mild one, though, as a few clumsy jumps in prose are to be expected considering the sheer level of research that Lukasavage invested in his work. Everybody from Martin Luther King to a roster of modern social scientists to early Roman philosophers and rulers are cited; the book could fairly doubles as a history lesson between its discussions on American culture.
This research does serve a purpose though, a vital one in a book such as this. Without it, the high-minded ideas and themes formed by Lukasavage might come off as nonsensical ranting through no fault of his own, but simply because some of them are so unfamiliar that they would be hard to consume without some tangible backing to guide the reader along with him. The research Lukasavage draws upon saves the book from careening into a full-throated manifesto, and it keeps him more focused as well.
One of the more interesting themes of the book is the clear splitting of “family values” and religion Lukasavage drives toward. Man-made religion is a popular target for him throughout the book, while the entire point of the book is pointing out that the troublesome future Lukasavage sees for American society is a product of the crumbling of the family structure, the reparation of which he views as the single most important challenge facing the West (perhaps second to the health of the environment). For whatever reason, religion and family seem to have become inherently linked over time, a hand-in-hand combination that Lukasavage indirectly rejects, in fact saying that organized religion should be abolished for the good of humanity but also the good of the world -- specifically, that the Earth would benefit if humans forsook the belief that there’s a better place that exists after death.
But the seminal point of the book can be found in its subtitle: A World History Told from the Perspective of a Member of America’s [White] Underclass. There’s risk in that title, primarily the negative connotations that could come along with being a member of the White underclass in light of the last presidential election particularly in hardline liberal Ithaca, but those connotations would not be earned by Lukasavage’s work. It becomes clear throughout the book, and confirmed in a conversation with him, the wording of the title was meant to centralize the book’s intentions. Lukasavage wants his audience to understand that while this is his experience and belief system, it’s not a universally applicable one.
That might be the most salient part of what he’s done with this book. He lays out his strategy here, one he believes in fiercely enough that it can be felt thoroughly through every page, even more intensely during the final 60-80 pages. In the span of 364 pages, he takes on religion, the Corporate State, the welfare state, institutionalized racism and classism, the criminal justice system, and that’s just the highlights. He’s punching up, but at least he knows it. This is his rebellion, Lukasavage said, a peaceful fist in the air accompanied by a voice shouting into the ether, that doesn’t leave much unchallenged. His message isn’t for everyone, but everyone can stand to hear it. •
Dystopia! Can be found online at Amazon.com or locally at Buffalo Street Books. Disclosure: Lukasavage is a former writer for the Ithaca Times.