There is nothing particularly desirable about being part of a dystopian society – even those at the top of the chain would have an impending expiration date.
But say you were a lowly worker bee in the grips of a totalitarian state, what would be the best way to cope with your situation? Would it be better to fight for freedom and rebel against the higher powers, or would it be easier to remain just another cog in the machine?
From a reader’s perspective it is easy to judge the Sheep but, as demonstrated by accounts given by citizens from real life totalitarian states, it is very difficult to actually recognise that one is being unfairly controlled, especially if there is nothing else to compare the situation to. This is probably something along the lines of Stockholm Syndrome. With this in mind, the Sheep’s existence is a much more positive and uncomplicated experience. It is called ‘blissful’ ignorance for a reason.
It is also much more rewarding to follow rules and be a functioning member of society than it is to go against it. The feeling of belonging is far more important to humans than we tend to appreciate, and acting against this immediately makes one a vulnerable outsider. Sheep are therefore much more likely to thrive within the system, perhaps even gaining leverage and power after a time because they are easy to manipulate.
Although it is easier to progress within a dystopian society by following the rules, it is also just as likely to misinterpret the intention of the powers that be and get caught out. The inability to play the system against itself can cause unintentional dangers with authority figures, as is shown in Nineteen Eighty-Four with the concept of doublethink.
Furthermore, by siding with the state you automatically become an enemy of the Rebels. This may be even more dangerous than the dystopian regime itself; is it not after all more frightening to have the unpredictable and emotionally unstable rebels as the enemy rather than the relatively structured and predictable government?
Being a Rebel is often a painful role in dystopian fiction, but also an exciting one. A character bravely fighting for their beliefs gives them interesting depth and purpose, which is prevalent in any human being with drive and ambition. It must be immensely satisfying to work for something in that manner, and giving yourself wholly to a greater cause seems much more honourable than merely rolling over and taking it.
And what if the Rebels won and the regime was overturned? Anyone involved in the rebellion would suddenly be incredibly powerful and would be widely known for helping to improve the lives of an entire society. One would go from being a fearful outsider to being a respected and adored activist almost immediately.
But then again…what if the Rebels lost? Either way, there is a very high chance before a Rebel sees the outcome of their efforts they will be killed anyway. Fighting an entire system is not simple and requires both man power and a cunning strategy, which is not easy to come by while you’re trying to fit in to a dystopian society. Any small slip up would equal death, or perhaps worse: torture and brainwashing.
Also, imagine the immense stress you would be put under on a continual basis while fighting for freedom. You can’t come out of a lifetime of something like that and be ‘normal’; you will either be horrendously psychologically scarred and a completely ruined human being, or…well, you would be dead.
All in all living in a dystopian state would royally suck no matter which way you look at it, and whether it would be better to be a Sheep or a Rebel would be an entirely principle-led decision. I personally would rather be a Rebel, but in any probable dystopian situation you would never really gain an advantage either way…
What a cheery thought to end on.