So, before we find out more about how all rebellions are wrong because fuck the oppressed, let’s pause and go over what we’ve seen so far. As is necessary, we have to discard the previous books, but just going on what we have here, are there interesting stories that could be told?
One of my rewrites with Wither suggested that the brokenness of their society was actually a wide combination of virus-based attempts to cure society. I think the question of how you’d deal with a world where you tried to fix people and ended up with widespread insanity is a really good one. It’s the same reason I found the basic premise of Host intriguing – what do you do when the people you want to help are hurting each other?
The problem is the focus has to be on protecting the whole society. If you only care about protecting the normal people, then you don’t need a cure, you just need enough bullets.
So how do you protect everyone?
I think the faction system would make sense as a way of minimizing damage by keeping people with similar stress points together. If all Candor tell the truth and get mad when you lie to them, they’ll get along fine among themselves. If all Dauntless like physical activity and resolving their differences with fighting, you can at least minimize the damage by keeping them together. If all Amity are defenseless, put them on farms outside the city and remind everyone constantly that they’re essential to everyone else’s survival. Give everyone jobs based on the thing they value and they’ll be happier while doing that job to the absolute best of their abilities.
And that worked, but was it a solution? People are functional within factions, but the factions themselves don’t look functional. While the setting is forever in flux, it does seem Erudite really felt that all non-necessary people should be wiped out. And the other factions responded by gawping at this and/or dying. The system only worked so long as nothing changed – something someone seems to have figured out along the way, with Tris saying that their society is a pile of compromises that can never be reevaluated or war breaks out. Maybe inter-faction fighting almost broke out before and they were mindwiped and their history updated to include not rocking the boat ever, because the factions as a whole end up acting as insane caricatures even as the people who make them up are made saner by the experience.
So, with this in mind, the faction system may create a society that can’t respond to any changes, which is not a model you can apply to most of your population. If most people have altered DNA, trying to solve unrest with factions would be repeating the same mistake over again – it all looks like it’s working and then suddenly everything’s on fire. And it seems that it has the worrying side effect that all normal people raised under it will be molded into the same behaviors, so if you’re hoping the genetic craziness will work its way out, the faction system means it’ll never end even if the genes do break down eventually.
There’s also the problem that even when running more or less as intended, the natural drift of factions seems to lead to hurting those who aren’t sufficiently in line with whatever the virtue is, as seen with Dauntless throwing the weak off trains. The only way to prevent this is to have other oversight, but factions make people hate those with different viewpoints even more. The individuals are happier to not deal with those different than themselves, but it means they have absolutely no tolerance for it when it does occur.
I think you might be able to get something workable with the 2.0 factions system – encourage them to value all virtues, and really push for each faction to adopt complimentary virtues. Abnegation/Dauntless works pretty great, especially in absence of deadly situations – in war, you’ve created suicide bombers, but in peacetime, they’d make wonderful cops. Erudite/Candor similarly seems like a really good mix, Candor’s love of debate and constant search for the truth could keep them from getting isolated and hidebound while Erudite’s objective measurements and quantifying uncertainty might keep them from freezing up when they faced uncertainty. Amity/Abnegation might have helped the Amity be more proactive about the murders going on at their doorstep, as selflessness compels them to not put peace above protecting those in need, and would help minimize Abnegation getting too into “greater good” atrocities, and Amity/Dauntless would really help keep things under control, to have people who are trained to stop conflict without hurting anyone – I think a major issue Amity had was thinking there was no other sort of conflict but violence, but it is possible to restrain people without causing further harm, especially if you’re devoted and brave enough to be willing to risk personal injury in the process.
Then remove the factionless issue entirely – factions can only judge people by virtue, not, say, virtue+physical health like Dauntless, and you can try another faction. Meanwhile, there’s a sixth faction of people who don’t like any of the factions, and they run their own things just like any other faction. If factioners get violent and unstable when forced to live a nonfaction life, it follows that there will be original model humans who can’t handle faction life. Let them have their own group and their own place – there’s going to be plenty of jobs in society where factions aren’t a perfect fit. Erudites may not be a perfect fit as teachers, especially in lower level classes. And maybe we can finally get some documentation if there’s a faction that isn’t obsessed with peace/selflessness/intelligence/bravery/honesty and can finally set up a decent bureaucracy.
Also, make the kids interact with each other! At best, this will help moderate the problem of the factions producing groups that can’t deal with each other, and at the least, this will prevent kids with different tendencies feeling trapped in the wrong culture. It should also minimize the problem of baseline humans picking up faction-specific behaviors – although if factions 2.0 turns out to actually be more stable than original human society, that may be a drawback and the kids have to suck it up and get raised according to their parent faction. (In that case, maybe also keep readding the genes if the “divergent” population gets too high.)
AND BE DEMOCRATIC OH MY GOD WHY AREN’T THEY DEMOCRATIC. The factions need to exist in a state of mutually beneficial compromise, not an Abnegation dictatorship. The factions each get to elect representatives. Maybe even let them elect non-faction representatives if you can get them to get along well enough that it’s at all possible. Historical evidence says that this will actually produce a better government, and at the least, you won’t get multiple coup attempts wtf Abnegation you suck so much.
As to trying to combine this setting with the books, eh, I guess you could say that the shocking reveal is it turns out the people outside wanted divergent sent from the city because they tend to disrupt the city, or just because they’re muddying the data about how factions work to produce a stable society of GMO people. So maybe the plot involves trying to hide divergence because it means you’re “exiled” for the crime, and Jeanine realizes a lot of them are getting protected and decides that also killing them would be the more practical solution, so she tries to step things up. That also fits with the idea the scientists care more about the experiment than the people – they may have initially set it up to involve humanely removing the divergent, but if the people inside decide to genocide them instead, eh, both work. The storyline of the final book is about building Factions 2.0 and doing it without all the lying and control and create a society that can actually live up to the original ideals of making braver/kinder/smarter people.
There’s also another plot we’ve been presented with, which is that the factions have nothing to do with anything, what’s going on is prejudice.
I think what works best is having society be divided about how to deal with their undesireables. Let’s assume a similar trajectory to currently, where wealth is concentrated more and more in a few hands. Some of them decide to solve the problem of unrest by finding “morality” genes and stuffing them into people as fast as they can. Others believe GMOs are the devil, and when making people value honesty more just made them start muckracking journalism, the second camp decided that GMOs had just made the problem worse, probably because Jesus said not to eat GMOs. So an whole thing needed to be purged by fire, starting with California. That’s why the West is currently uninhabited. When the people fought back, it triggered the Purity Wars, which managed to be bloody enough the whole thing eventually dragged to a halt. The “pure” were still richer but their always-low numbers had been decimated even further, plus they could no longer pick a hot wife out of the lower classes since those were all unclean GMO people now. So, they blame the poor and try to find another solution, and ten generations later, Tris leaves one of those solutions to hear that there was a purity war where the evil, sinful GMOs attacked the pure and great all-organics for no reason and left society shattered.
The mystery/narrative arc of this one is built around this secret history. Tris is one of the pure and welcomed into those ranks, so she’s surrounded by people who treat her well and assure her they’re doing this all to help, and they aren’t prejudiced in the least.
Tris is swayed by this, of course. But she also hasn’t been raised to find the prejudice they show to be invisible, and this is where we get payoff for her being a good judge of character, not in her ability to insist that bitch who dared exist while pretty near her boyfriend is a liar. Tris learns about the underclass and she’s as willing to throw herself in with these people as she was to fight to save the Candor before, because Tris understands you support the people rebelling to have a better life, not the boot stomping on their face.