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Author Margaret Atwood meets with members of The Globe and Mail's editorial board to talk about culture and upcoming federal election. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Author Margaret Atwood meets with members of The Globe and Mail's editorial board to talk about culture and upcoming federal election. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

At the editorial board

Margaret Atwood, uncensored Add to ...

I think a lot of Canadians would fall into that Red Tory category, by which I mean fiscally conservative and socially tolerant. But they now have no Conservative person to vote for. Because those people have been eliminated pretty much. There are no Flora MacDonalds in that party any more. What would Flora say? This is the thing you ask yourself. What would Flora say?

So what's on my mind, because I write a lot about utopias and dystopias. And was imprinted quite early on on George Orwell - another reason the Stalinists yelled at me. Did not like George.

I read Koestler when I was 14 and it made a deep impression. It was certainly very in sync with 1984. Except one of them was fiction, and the other was less fiction. So utopias and dystopias - which I studied as a Victorianist - in the 19th century was of course the age of utopias.

There were thousands and thousands of them written, and a number of them were set up. There's an interesting new book called In Eutopia, in which he follows both the literary utopias and the actual ones to see how they fared. But there were tons of them in the 19th century, and thenin the 20th century were saw two big, and several somewhat smaller experiments, in real-life utopias setting up, and those would be the Soviet socialist republics. And they would be Hitler's Germany followed by things like Cambodia and Mao's China.

They all started as utopias. They all started by saying we're going to make your life so much more unimaginably better. And, by the way, it's inevitable. So you're either with us or against us. And if you're against us, I'm sorry, but we will have to eliminate you. Because you're standing in the way of the greater happiness of the greater number and the greatest good. And the improvement of humanity and all the rest of it.

And that's why people like me are always a little nervous about words like "progress" because we've seen the ends to which that word has been put over the years. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try to make things better, but making them better all at once with sweeping true-believer plans makes us very, very nervous.

So when we're looking at political parties, we think, are there any of these sweeping destroy-everything-build-everything-new true-believers going around these days. Who is most likely to think they have to tear it all down and start over from zero? Who is more likely to say you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs? Who is most likely to be saying the end justifies the means. Those are the things that make us nervous. Those of us who study utopias and write dystopias.

So, I'm actually working on a Dictate-o-meter. It will have an arrow and be like a clock. People think it's from here to there, you know, that screaming anarchy is on one end and total lockdown state is on the other, and some are in the middle as liberal democracy.

But it's actually not linear. It's a circle. So Koestler later wrote a book called The Yogi and the Commissar in which he pointed this out. Ever come across that one? It goes like this, it's not a line, that it's a circle. Because the extreme-left and the extreme-right actually curve around and meet at the bottom. And that's when you get total lockdown - no matter what it calls itself.

So, I'm not very interested in labels. I'm not very interested in what they're calling themselves. I'm interested in what they're doing. So, in the Dictate-o-meter, on the road to total lockdown, the place you don't want to be. And you don't want to be in screaming anarchy either, it's the war of all against all, and that soon precipitates into gangs and warlords and out of that eventually will come Henry VIII. Because we all watch The Tudors. Why didn't he ever get fat? What is his secret? You could sell that.

Gerald Owen, Editorial Writer: He made it as part of his contract actually.

Ms. Atwood: "I shall never get fat." Henry VIII's reducing elixir. So Henry VIII was actually a horrible tyrant and so was Henry IV. So you don't want to be in the land of horrible tyrants who don't want to be in the land of horrible dictators. And you don't want to be in the land of one man-rule.

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