The threat perceived dystopian future as well as our many slow, relentless and ongoing environmental, social and political apocalypses has never been more apparent in our education system than now. Our specific, fanatical focus on STEM fields, a technophilic dream of an enhanced future in which scientific and technological advancements have cured all ills, has led to disillusion with, even disparagement of, the humanities, at the expense of many potential imaginative solutions.
Although Crake is a model for the hyper-masculinized scientist figure of apocalyptic literature in particular, he maintains the childish practice of nicknames. However, naming himself and employees after only dead animals implies a lack of progress, a perverse fetishization of human destruction. Crake never explores the extent of human innovation beyond the technological—there is, after all, one type of animal he cannot abide. “No unicorns, no griffins, no manticores or basilisks” (7) no creatures of the myth of imagination were allowed in his naming system, showing an utter disregard for not only imagination but for the past, for the societies and cultures, legends and myths, which gave rise to fantastic beings and creatures.
Crake’s idea of the society, in a state of constant catastrophe, is akin to Ulrich Beck’s risk society in which “the powers of our imagination fail us,” in the face of “unimaginable, unthinkable” devastation. Crake’s ‘solution’ to the incredible lack of his society is a patchwork stasis—a “coping with the symptoms and symbols of risks,” rather than seeking to eliminate the actual problem. Instead of seeking sustainable alternatives, the society produces substitutions for normalcy, such as “NooSkins,” to replace “the older epidermis with a fresh one,” literally covering up the less desirable skin of older women with one which is “wrinkle- and blemish-free” (55). The skin covers up imperfections on the women, just as the compounds, with their walls, block out the imperfections, the social and economic disparities, of the surrounding country and cities.
Jimmy the “Word Man,” by contrast, employs new and imaginative mythologies to remain alive in the (western, heteronormative) post-apocalyptic future. Although his words form the basis for the society of the Children of Crake, he himself diminishes his words by referring to them only as “lying” (96). Stories, in the catastrophic society of Oryx and Crake, are not just worthless: they are dangerous. Likewise, the emotional response inherent to such word sand stories is also diminished—Jimmy’s emotional outbursts earn him only reproach, proof that he lacks an “elegant mind” (142).
Unfortunately, information alone does nothing to change or prevent the destruction of society in Oryx and Crake, just as more information has failed to raise activism in our own global environmental crises. The public is informed; they choose to do nothing, whether through bystander complex, blatant disregard/disbelief, or a misplaced faith in the ability of modern ‘rationality’ to produce solutions independent of social or cultural change. The humanities, “word men” such as Jimmy, are more necessary now than ever for transforming our social environment through more evocative expressions of the nature of our dystopian future. “Literature,” both in its writing and its study, “is an uttering…of the human imagination [putting] shadowy forms of thought and feeling…out into the light, where we can take a good look at them and perhaps come to a better understand of…what our limits may be.” Literature, and speculative fiction in particular, the imaginative pursuits and wholistic understand of societies afforded by the humanities must not be abandoned to the academic periphery; as Atwood says, “imagination is no longer a pastime…but a necessity, because increasingly, if we can imagine something, we’ll be able to do it” (Atwood 517).