"There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it's only a hundred billion. It's less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers." ~ Richard Feynman
1984 or Brave New World?
George Orwell, born Eric Blair on June 25, 1903 , would turn 100 this week had he not died in 1950 at the age of 47. On the anniversary of his birth, it seems fitting to briefly compare his 1948 dystopian warning of the future, 1984, to that of his one-time teacher, Aldous Huxley, who had written his own prophecy, Brave New World, in 1931.
Both novels remain popular among readers, but if you ask them which came closer to the future as it exists today, you get mixed results. Both novels envisioned States with similar traits: socialist and totalitarian. Orwell's dictatorship was based on punishment, but Huxley's oligarchy was based on pleasure. Which would you choose as the more accurate prophecy? My answer may surprise you: both. I contend that it depends heavily on your location, which greatly influences your viewpoint and the answer.
I offer two nations as an example of each prophecy: Australia and the United States. Since 9/11, the Bush regime has pushed the 1984 Big Brother approach to the limit. Australia, on the other hand, currently exhibits many, if not most, of the earmarks of Brave New World. This is no accident; it is mostly a question of timing. Both nations are bastions of socialism, but Australia is years ahead of the U.S., as I said in 'Taxpayer Breeder Program.'
I contend that the U.S. will follow in Australia's footsteps, eventually abandoning the 1984 approach and replacing it with the Brave New World approach. It is only a matter of time. Once the inevitable finally occurs (crash of the U.S. dollar, more inflation by the Fed, major income tax increases, and depletion of the U.S. Treasury to afford the costs of Medicare, Social Security for Boomers, and Perpetual War for Peace) the relatively few remaining American taxpayers will gladly welcome their daily ration of soma, the ultimate happiness drug in Brave New World. Designer drugs like Ecstasy point the way. One need only read the recent headlines from Australia to peer into the future.
In Brave New World, the State ran its own hatcheries, since giving birth and having parents was outlawed. In Australia today the State is still subsidizing the production of babies the old fashioned way, but it remains to be seen if the offered financial incentives will achieve the goal of producing enough taxpayers to fill the gaping maw of Leviathan. Not to worry, though, because 'The people of the current generation will see a human cloned before their lives end, said Dr. Mark Westhusin, who spoke [recently] at the George Bush Presidential Library Complex.'
Eventually, it will become obvious even to Americans that the 1984 approach is doomed. It is based on punishment, which creates criminals, who then must be punished, imprisoned, or re-educated, all at great expense. Even the most ardent supporter of the 1984 approach will finally realize that incarcerating the majority of the population incurs excessive costs to society while simultaneously draining the pool of available workers and taxpayers. A 1984 society is one of spies, informers, Big Brother, and constant surveillance, not to mention a distinct lack of happiness.
The Brave New World approach dispenses with all of that by replacing punishment with pleasure, but again the cost is high. It requires giving up art, science, literature, history, marriage, monogamy, religion, love, individuality, and freedom in return for soma, temporary happiness in a tablet.
Janadas Devan writing in The Straits Times goes even further. He contends that '1984 is past and Brave New World is here.'
Huxley's argument, in essence, was that it would be easier to control people by making them happy (cakes and circuses) instead of flogging and kicking them into submission (clubs and prison).
'The nearly perfect control exercised by the government is achieved by systematic reinforcement of desirable behaviour, by many kinds of nearly non-violent manipulation, both physical and psychological, and by genetic standardisation.'
Huxley was a better prophet. In many respects, the Brave New World he described is already upon us - and governments have had little to do with its achievement.
Bokanovsky's Process - the technique of 'decanting' many babies from one egg: Well, we have cloning now.
Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons - the five genetically-determined classes of people Huxley imagined: Well, genetic engineering is already a possibility.
Hypnopaedia - conditioning of behaviour through verbal suggestion while asleep: Have you checked out the CDs and tapes already available in this department?
Feelies - total saturation visual, aural and olfactory recreation: surround sound, virtual reality, big-screen TV, home theatre, special-effect movies. Smell will be coming soon to a theatre near you.
Soma - the feel-good drug with no side-effects: Prozac and any number of other anti-depressants, Ecstasy, etc; nobody need feel sad anymore.
Orgie-porgy - free sex: Sex has certainly become freer since Huxley wrote his novel in 1931.
Tyrants were the chief threats to freedom and individuality in the 20th century. The chief threats to freedom and individuality in the 21st century will come from Good Time Charlies. We are bound to succumb; we already have.
Drug addiction in Australia reveals that Brave New World is indeed already a fact of life for many, but not for those that you might think. Julie-Anne Davies writes, 'Ask anyone to describe a typical Australian drug addict and almost without exception they will get it wrong. Forget the sad, emaciated, usually young heroin addicts or stumbling, brain-damaged alcoholics. Instead, picture your neighbour, your child's school teacher, your mother, or more likely, your grandmother. These addicts score regularly, but legally, across their local pharmacy counter and most have no idea they have a drug problem.
'They are hooked on benzodiazepines - more commonly known as tranquillisers and sleeping pills - which are prescribed in their millions every year by doctors at an annual cost to the community of nearly $55 million. They tantalise users with promises of dulling emotional pain, chasing away anxiety and crooning them to sleep. But what most benzodiazepine users often don't get told or simply don't get, is that these drugs are highly addictive and withdrawal can be hell.
'Further, benzodiazepines are only a temporary fix--it is often only a few weeks before the positive effects wear off and dependency begins. Doctors admit they have been unsuccessful in weaning Australians off their benzos despite a decade-long effort. 'Yes, we've been nagging the community for years on this one and you'd have to say, without a great deal of success,' says Dr Lynn Weekes, head of the National Prescribing Service.'
Of course, this same situation exists in the U.S., but on a much larger scale. It appears that even if the U.S. hasn't yet reached Brave New World, it is well on its way. It could be a gradual transition, one that slowly, but surely replaces the current 1984 approach to utopia in our socialist State. Medicare coverage of prescriptions for seniors will only push us closer to achieving Huxley's prophecy.
Orwell's 1984 was a good model for the 20th Century, with its prevalence of totalitarian dictators, but the page has turned. In the 21st Century, the vast majority of nations exhibit some form of democracy. This fact alone suggests that Huxley's prophecy will prevail. Voters (and taxpayers) will demand happiness, and their socialist States will deliver. Even John the Savage in Brave New World, one of the few remaining educated individuals from the outside world, finally succumbed to the call of happiness in a tablet.
Soma is much less expensive than Big Brother, and in a Wal-Mart world, Macy's is doomed.