“It’s fair to say that no-one knows quite how Dinopolis came into being. The Pyrites say the city emerged – at a flash – from the fire, an inexplicable elemental miracle. The Uranites instead believe that, in time of yore, it descended from the sky, fully formed but sparsely populated. Most modern Dinopolitans think it the messy result of myriad periods of change and flux – but plenty, it should be said, profess neither to know nor care.
The city’s more recent history, however, is easier to relate. Some 500 years ago, Dinopolis was a city rife with strife and injustice. The Pyrites, who had (they claimed) always lived in their own urban quarter, had reached an impasse with the Uranites, who argued that no area of the community should be the exclusive domain of one group. The fall-out was immense. Every Dinopolitan found that they had to choose a side: to defend or to dismiss the right of groups to self-segregate. What began as sectarian riots soon became pitched battles. Dinopolis was desperately divided, and the hundred-year war that ensued was truly devastating.
The following 300 years were mercifully different. Faced with the horrors of their recent past, both sides sought to repair their relationship: a first thaw in hostilities eventually brought floods of change. Crucially, Dinopolitans cast a critical eye on their collective past and realised some astonishing truths: all of them – whether Pyrites, Uranites, both or neither – were equally human; although none was quite the same as any other, all deserved mutual respect and commensurate opportunities. Their differences, though real and apparent, could not obscure their fundamentally shared origins. No Dinopolitan had any inherent right to treat others differently because of the group to which he or she had been consigned – by birth or by choice. Enlightened by this realisation, the community collectively evolved – over a dozen generations – to remove every unjust and indefensible division that segregated them.
And so, only a hundred years ago, Dinopolis was a spectacle, a paragon of human endeavour, experiment and enterprise. The city nourished and celebrated individual talent, irrespective of background or personal circumstances. Astounding achievements were made by all in all fields: remarkably, the distribution of success was organically uniform. Works of literature, music and art were judged according to their merit, not their creator; intellectual and scientific enquiry of infinite variety was pursued by all suited to it; in every sector, all Dinopolitans found employers honestly appraising their skills and interests. With the opportunity and freedom to choose their careers, citizens’ success was proportional to their efforts and talents. Perhaps most astoundingly, everyone had unfettered access to the full panoply of recorded knowledge – a privilege previously unknown to the world, and one for which countless others had died.
But this halcyon age was not to last. After so many generations had fought to secure these freedoms, and had become gradually attuned to a new world of unquestioning acceptance, the generation that followed took these peaceable environs for granted. Without a stake in the struggles of the past, some came to resent the uncanny perfection they saw around them, and sought for a cause to make their own. Dinopolis did indeed have a complex past, the vestiges of which were still visible if you knew where to look. In earlier centuries, all manner of citizens had been unjust to others, sometimes unspeakably so. No-one could point to individual crimes, for no such records existed; but there was no doubt that certain groups had been broadly responsible for various aggressions.
This small but keen pack of difference-hunters swiftly found that, for all the progress over subsequent centuries, it was still possible to dissect Dinopolitans by old – and new – groups. Many of these categories were innate: for instance, there still were Pyrites and Uranites, many of whom were avowedly proud of that heritage. Beyond such tribal divisions, there were also undeniable differences in gender, sexuality, age, experience – and everything else you could conceive.
It’s unclear who started the process that followed, but once it had begun it only gained in pace. Once groups of citizens were identified, they were isolated socially – and soon after spatially. The Pyrites were told that the Uranites living among them were not, after all, the same, and should be treated as distinct: once thus grouped as collectives, they were told that their different pasts made them unintelligible to those outside. Many individuals complained that their association to groups was not under their control, and that they felt no burden of responsibility for people that, quite simply, were not them. Still, Dinopolis changed vanishingly fast: schools became group-specific in pupils and curricula; communities were strictly patrolled by Anti-Diversity Police; the arts excluded those outside the artists’ groups. The reasoning was ruthless: meaningful cross-group communication was dismissed as impossible, and even undesirable. ‘Empathy’ was panned as naive presumption, ‘humanity’ as crass oversimplification.
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This process didn’t happen spontaneously, of course. It was a few Dinopolitans (their names and groups are not known) who steered the process, eventually enshrining their Code of Categorisation in law. But further legislation was inevitable, for each group, once segregated, found itself internally divided. Not all Pyrites, for instance, emerged to think or be the same: some had Uranite family, some had renounced their culture, some had wealth, and all had different views on the world. So a new set of subgroups was implemented to subdivide them appropriately. To the dismay of the Legislative Council, this only recreated the problem of latent differences, albeit on a smaller scale. In fact, once the Council had imposed all of their ratified subdivisions, not one Dinopolitan ended up being quite the same as another.
To the distant viewer, the Dinopolis that emerged looked like the city of old – of individuals proudly distinguished by their own personal characteristics. To the careful observer, the truth was very different: each was instead the lead spokesperson, willy-nilly, for a vastly complex – and unique – cocktail of categories that, in totality, rendered them inaccessible and incomprehensible to all the other souls accidentally born in that once great city.
In the present day, Dinopolis is still famous: its name crosses all corners of the world. Some call it the City of a Million individuals, others The Regressive Miracle. I have never visited – no official passes are issued – but the Dinopoliticians would be quick to dispute their reputation. They would tell us that justice has been done, for everyone at last has their proper place.”
The preceding account, only recently rediscovered, has caused considerable debate among academics. While historians are agreed that Dinopolis most certainly existed, it remains curious that no trace of it or its culture survives. It’s an open question, therefore, to what degree this document could reflect reality.
David Butterfield is a Lecturer in the Classics.