Thursday, February 23, 2017

Toward Brave New World

Cover of Brave New World's 1st edition
Just as a utopia is a literary work that describes a perfect society, from the point of view of its author, a dystopia is the description of a society where certain characteristics of the world in which the author lives, which he considers unacceptable, are exaggerated and carried to the extreme, with a satirical or denouncing intent.
The two world wars caused a feeling of disillusionment in the West that gave rise to the two most famous dystopias of recent history: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (written in 1931, published in 1932) and Nineteen-Eighty-Four by George Orwell (written in 1948, published in 1949). These two works are original in another sense: while other earlier dystopias (such as Samuel Butler's Erewhon, 1872) were located in remote places, such as the Antipodes, the two modern dystopias take place in the future.
The feeling of oppression that seizes the reader of these two novels is almost unbearable. In both cases, the very few nonconformists in society are excluded: in the first, they are banished to an island; in the second, the exclusion is only temporary: the rebel is submitted to brainwashing so as to destroy his spirit and turn him into a mental waste, raw material on which the social planner can act, remodel and educate until he is recovered and adapted to society. The two dystopias are horrible, but they have a very great power of conviction and verisimilitude.

Cover of Brave New World
Revisited's 1st edition
Over a quarter century after the publication of his novel, Aldous Huxley wrote an essay entitled Brave New World Revisited (1958) where he reviewed the evolution of modern society and compared it to the predictions of both dystopias, his and Orwell's. In summary, his conclusions are the following:
  • When he wrote Brave New World, he thought it would take at least six centuries for his predictions to be fulfilled. A quarter of a century later, he sees Western society so advanced on the road to his dystopia, that he no longer thinks the same, and foresees its consummation, at the latest, for the twenty-first century.
  • He believes Brave New World will be much closer to reality than Nineteen-Eighty-Four, because the latter foresees a world in permanent war, where, of course, dissidents are forced to adapt through brute force. On the other hand, in the society of Brave New World free thought can be eradicated by peaceful means, by providing the members of society with alternatives such as free sex, non-harmful drugs, and endless distractions.
Let us look at a few quotes:
To parody the words of Winston Churchill, never have so many been manipulated so much by so few.
[Many people] are normal only in relation to a profoundly abnormal society. Their perfect adjustment to that abnormal society is a measure of their mental sickness. These millions of abnormally normal people, living without fuss in a society to which, if they were fully human beings, they should not be adjusted, still cherish "the illusion of individuality", but in fact have to a great extent deindividualized. Their conformity is developing into something like uniformity.
To give organizations precedence over persons is to subordinate ends to the means. What happens when ends are subordinated to means was clearly demonstrated by Hitler and Stalin
Human beings are a good deal less rational and innately just than the optimists of the eighteenth century supposed. On the other hand they are neither so morally blind nor so hopelessly unreasonable as the pessimists of the twentieth century would have us believe.
Cover of 1984's first edition
Huxley is right when he points that the present society is promoting its own conversion into a termite nest, precisely by applying the methods that he had indicated. But when he says that his vision is closer to reality than Orwell’s, he forgets one of the latter’s predictions, which is even closer to fulfillment. In Nineteen-Eighty-Four, the members of that society undergo manipulation because they are under a permanent surveillance expressed by a single phrase:
Big Brother is Watching You
How is this surveillance performed? By means of TV sets that cannot be disconnected, which permanently emit information about the image and sound in front of them in the opposite direction to the usual. And since there are TV sets everywhere, always connected, every human being remains permanently under the eyes of those who are watching him.
What do we have today? Just the same, but in the form of smartphones rather than TV sets. Have you noticed that it is impossible to completely disconnect these devices, as the following suspicious hint indicates? If you turn your smartphone off at night, when you turn it on in the morning it has lost some of its battery charge. This was not the case with mobile phones of the previous generation. They were not so smart, but could be disconnected for weeks without losing battery charge. Nor does it happen with personal computers, whose battery discharges very slowly while they are turned off.
The conclusion is obvious: the two dystopias of the twentieth century threaten to become reality. What their two authors warned us could happen, because they did not want it to happen, is about to happen. What can we do? In Aldous Huxley own words:

Some of us still believe that, without freedom, human beings cannot become fully human and that freedom is therefore supremely valuable. Perhaps the forces that now menace freedom are too strong to be resisted for very long. It is still our duty to do whatever we can to resist them.

The same post in Spanish
Thematic Thread on Politics and Economy: Previous Next
Manuel Alfonseca

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