Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Brave New World or 1984 More Relevant Today?

Aldous Huxley's Brave New World is more relevant today than George Orwell's 1984. Although both of the two totalitarian societies are based on plausible premises, the Utopia depicted in Brave New World still has a chance of appearing today, while the Big Brother-dominated society created by Orwell, being based to some extent on the totalitarian societies that existed at the time of the book's inception, is simply obsolete.

Brave New World remains more believable in modern times because the events that led up to the creation of Huxley's Utopia have the greater chance of occurring tomorrow. In both novels, the birth of the totalitarian society is brought on by a catastrophic war that involves the entire world. However, in 1984, the war is in the process of being fought, giving the reader the impression that somewhere in the world, there is still a non-totalitarian government which could defeat Orwell's nightmarish police state. In Brave New World, the war that preceded the creation of Utopia has long since passed; it often appears as though Utopia has always existed.

This war makes ­Brave New World much more believable than Big Brother, especially since it seems more likely to occur when the world is at peace. Also, the war depicted by Brave New World contains technology that seems particularly significant in modern times. Biological weapons have become a more common part of military arsenals in recent years; readers of Brave New World have more reason to believe that its version of the war that starts the rise of totalitarianism could happen today.

Finally, 1984 contains a historical basis that detracts from its ability to remain relevant in any time period. However, it is easily inferred from both the nature of Big Brother and the era in which the novel was written that the nation or political group which started the global conflict is Communist or Communist-controlled (in at least one instance, a character refers to another as "Comrade"). The threat from totalitarian Communist governments was a major concern to Orwell. Huxley's Utopia has no historical basis to ground it in a particular era; therefore, it is more likely than Big Brother to occur in the present.

The society depicted in Brave New World is more likely to appear in modern times because it is easier for a civilization to be taken over from the inside out than by the external power suggested by Orwell. In 1984, the evil regime appeared from the outside, took over, and is now waiting to crush any opposition to its rule using weapons, mind-control instruments, and Thought Police. The government that runs the Brave New World needs none of these; it never has to suppress opposition because there can be none. The Bernard Marxes and Lenina Crownes that populate Utopia never want to resist the rules of society; thanks to the breeding and conditioning techniques of their government, they are ignorant, docile sheep.

Furthermore, unlike Big Brother, Utopia does not take the pleasures of life away from people; it lets them have so much pleasure that it becomes people's only concern, thus making existence trivial and pointless. Whatever purpose the Utopians' existence might have had is drowned in a sea of "orgy porgies", mind-calming soma tablets, and Centrifugal Bumble-Puppy games; moreover, the Utopians like life that way. Big Brother uses torture to subdue those who might oppose it, but Utopia controls people by showering them with pleasure, which is ultimately more effective because pleasure-based control makes the victim want to feel good by submitting to it.

Utopia, the future society depicted in Huxley's Brave New World, is more universal and more relevant to modern society than 1984's Big Brother. While both Utopia and Big Brother are equally plausible versions of a future society, the two were brought into existence by different preceding events. Also, Big Brother has a faint historical basis: Orwell meant for it to reflect the totalitarianism of the communist governments that existed in his era. Huxley gives no indication in Brave New World whether Utopia echoes a particular totalitarian society in real history, allowing it to remain plausible in an era when the brutal Communist regimes that existed in Orwell's time are virtually gone. Finally, Big Brother ensures its dominance by inflicting pain on dissidents while Utopia uses pleasure. Utopia, therefore, would stay in power more easily because pleasure is a more effective method of control than pain.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Classism: Inherent or Acquired Traits Define Social Status

Reading 1984, Brave New World, and The Republic of Plato, an informed reader cannot help but make comparisons between these three historically important novels. The historical discussion over these novels includes ideas such as totalitarianism, utopia, the true nature of humans, and the meaning of justice. All the ideas presented in these books have to do with one thing: the organization of humans into societies of a specific type. In George Orwell’s chilling tale of the futuristic yet drab and depressing state of the world, he shares what life would be like if society had organized itself in a particular fashion, in this case a totalitarian government. This is just one scenario that George Orwell perhaps decided he should explore and form into the novel 1984, but all three novels address the situation of humans living in a society together, and discuss different forms of society.
One common theme between these three texts that I have chosen to focus on is the existence of classist systems. In the societies portrayed in 1984, Brave New World, and The Republic, there exists to a moderate extent a system that classifies people based on either socio-economic background, pre-determined social roles, natural abilities such as intelligence and strength, or all of the above. This classist system is central to the functioning of Orwell’s Oceania, Huxley’s utopia, and Socrates’ ideal city.
In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley illustrates the lives of people living in a society obsessed with constant happiness. However, while the all-consuming goal of the general population is keeping themselves contented in the easiest way possible at all times, the goal of the limited number of so-called “controllers”, or people in positions of absolute authority who rule over every aspect of the world is to keep the population under control. The existence of a classist system in Brave New World is apparent throughout the novel, in fact the classism in this novel is an essential part of all characters’ conditioning from birth: they are taught to believe in stereotypes of differently ranked classes so that they uphold the classist system. However, it isn’t just the beliefs of all members of this society that they belong in their social level and that all people of every level conform to a certain stereotype that upholds the classism in this novel, it is a carefully administered plan by the controllers that predetermines every infant from birth as to what class they will belong to. Even when the babies are born, they have a determined class they will belong to in fact they are raised from the earliest stages of life to fit into their class, because of methodology such as polluting the bloodstream with alcohol and other modification techniques applied to the fetuses.
George Orwell writes of the life of Winston Smith, a Party member with a revolutionary streak. 1984 shows how a completely repressive government operates and controls its population through channeling all their anger at external sources. The existence of classism is very important in this novel as well, represented by the distinction between members of The Party, and the proles. Party members such as Winston Smith are afforded the comforts of life and a higher social status, as well as better paying jobs, while the proles live outside of the urban areas in poverty and without any degree of control over their own lives because of their deprived situation. At the same time, the contradiction in 1984 to this classist system is that arguably the Party members have more stifling and less rewarding lives than that of the proles, because they are constantly under the surveillance and scrutiny of the Party: because of their intelligence, ability, and access to materials having to do with the running of the government, Party members like Winston are monitored very closely. While the upper class is being watched and manipulated, the proles are living their own lifes, relatively free of the influence of the Party. This freedom however comes at the cost of their quality of living, as the proles live in abject poverty, but do in fact have a limited degree of intellectual freedom.
Socrates and his young male friends discuss the functioning and design of an ideal city in order to best represent the true nature of man. In this city, the presence of classism is fundamental to its existence. The system of gold, silver, and bronze as identifiers of social class is central to the Aristocratic city that Plato writes of in The Republic. In this city, membership to any of the three social classes is based on ability in intellectual pursuits as well as physical fitness. This classist system is different than that of the other two novels in that a single individual can join a higher or lower class based on their own actions, whereas in 1984 and Brave New World, individuals cannot decide or play any part in which social class they belong to.

But What About the Women?

Kyler Robinson

The Republic of Plato, 1984 and Brave New World are three books containing a common outlook on social systems and social organization. While all literary works have some sort of social system as a background in which they are set, the social systems and organization in these three works are more significant in that they present very radical ideas – from being born out of the womb to having a strict caste standard in which they are born. In dealing with these complex proposals however, women are used in different manners which ultimately further empower a male dominated world – even in The Republic of Plato where he states men do all things inherently better than women.

The Republic of Plato is perhaps the backbone for which the other two novels are based around. Besides the fact that this book has become the most influential work that has informed western political thought, there are direct connections such as the metal caste system, which is reflected in 1984 through the disparity of the party members and the proles while in Brave New World the reflection is even more clear to the strict gold, silver, bronze reflected through the conditioning depending on a persons Greek alphabet levels.

Although all of the social systems in each literary works allow some movement in for women, they the novels demonstrate that there still is not enough flexibility. In The Republic of Plato Socrates begins an improvement that allows women to fight along side men and have the same training and education as men and while this is an improvement it is done under pretenses separate from the feminist movement – it is for overall social convenience rather than liberation of women. 1984 and Brave New World reflect a social system that allows women the same basic rights that were proposed by The Republic of Plato – they are given the same education, have the ability to work and in 1984 are able to fight in a sense during the hate time every day.

While these are all good things for the equality of women, there remains an anti women sentiment throughout all of the books. Perhaps this is because the origin – The Republic of Plato – did not do it for the right reasons that we still see the oppression of women appearing in the later two novels. Although in 1984 we see that Julia has a job and is a very strong individual, she cannot succeed because of the male dominant society. This happens because men such as O’Brian control the world and leave no room for women. In Brave New World the characterization of women is even greater. Both of the main female characters are either old and ugly – in the case of Linda, or they are stupid and drugged up – in the case of Lenina. All three of these books make present places where women could flourish but they fail in that the steps are not full steps but are instead often inconsequential for the reality of the women who live in the societies.

The Outcast Actant

In the texts Brave New World, The Republic of Plato, and 1984, there exists a common actant, or character role, of an enlightened individual. This enlightened individual provides the means necessary to dissect the workings of their world’s government and society. It is of note as well that these characters each belong to a department close to the government, or are of an upper class, allowing them a closer and more intimate relationship with their society.
Without the presence of this character, the book would provide a glimpse at a society, but with no thoughts of resolution or manner of analysis. 1984’s Winston Smith, Plato’s Socrates, and Brave New World’s Bernard Marx fill this role, along with the support of the minor characters in each novel, most notably Lenina’s contrast in World and Goldstein’s presence in 1984.
Brave New World’s Marx provides the perfect example of this actant: his place in the department of psychology in this world and status as an Alpha caste member allows him full utilization of the benefits of the world, as well as a good place to analyze its workings from. For example, he works directly with Mustapha, one of the Commanders of the human race, and has full biological potential for development due to the cushy prenatal conditions that he was provided with.
In 1984, Winston Smith works in the Ministry of Truth, aptly named, for he discovers the ‘truth’ behind his society through his own discovery. It would be impossible for him as a prole to make this discover; in fact, it would dissuade his interest from these workings. His personal dissatisfaction stems from his ability to gain insight on the world around him. Because of his access to books and literature, he is able to investigate further into the motivations and past transgressions of The Party, and eventually discovers the hideous Truth behind the world.
Finally, The Republic of Plato is perhaps the best representative of this thesis. The entire text is centered around the discussions of government with Socrates, the epitome of an enlightened individual that sets himself apart and often at odds with the established society. His opinions are countered by those around him, and his series of discussions is, as he proclaims himself, validated by the fact that he is a philosopher; an enlightened individual of society. His ‘gold, silver, and bronze’ standard system is his own way of separating those capable of philosophy from those that must be led by the more capable.
Socrates sets himself against the established norm of society to create what he believes the perfect aristocracy, he considers himself a champion of justice and this even leads to the vehement disagreement of other intellectuals throughout the course of the text. However, he stays sure of his opinions, and true to the nature of this ‘outcast’ or ‘individual’ actant, refuses to concede to the opinions of others.

When reading George Orwell’s 1984, Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World and The Republic of Plato the reader instantly recognizes similarities between the tree texts. Primarily, all three books are based on the creation of a utopian society that functions under a set of specific guidelines that keep the people in check and, in a lot of ways, inside of the Cave that Plato describes in Book 7. The populations in each of these societies are forced to abide by certain specific rules, especially regarding “relishes.” These rules are designed to maintain the “perfect” culture that was created.
For example, in 1984 there are serious rules about “thoughts.” In fact, any kind of anti-society thinking or thinking that is out of the norm, even something as simple as an inappropriate smile is considered a thought crime and is punishable by law. Anyone can report these thought crimes and they are encouraged to in order to keep their society strong and really to keep the masses from fighting against the system. If a person’s thought crime gets bad enough they are forced to go into room 101 for reprogramming in order to bring them back to the same level of thought as the rest of the society.
Similarly, in Brave New World, the people are conditioned from the time they are infants to fill a specific role in society. They are designated into a caste system and then physically and mentally conditioned from the point on to be perfectly satisfied and happy in their position and also to be perfectly fit for their job. They rely on a drug called Soma in order to keep them in a thoughtless state. Soma is a control drug that is used to keep the populations under a “haze.” Because they are high on the drug for the majority of the time they are unable to have thoughts that might be damaging to the society, or cause them to rebel against the rules and the system that they have been put into.
In The Republic of Plato, Plato outlines specific guidelines for a utopian city, much like the cities in 1984 and Brave New World. In Plato’s Republic there is a strict caste system with guardian’s in place and also very specific rules regarding things like sex. For example, there is only one time in a year when people are permitted to take part in sexual intercourse and it is for the purpose of reproduction alone. If there are children who are born at a time that doesn’t correspond to the date that intercourse was permitted then that child is killed.
Both Orwell, and Huxley, most likely read Plato’s republic and gained some of their ideas from his book. Another similarity between all three is that there is some kind of “outcast” or “rebel” who doesn’t accept the values of the society and attempts to break out of it. In 1984 it is Winston who has thought crimes and doesn’t accept the society that he is put into and in Brave New World it is Bernard and in Plato it is Socrates who is eventually murdered for his beliefs. The novels all show the positive and negative parts of these societies, however, while Brave New World and 1984 focus on the bad parts Plato describes a lot of the benefits of such societies. All of the books demonstrate a all controlling society with very set rules and standards and the problems that could occur as a result, as well as the benefits of control a large population in this way.

Perfection is a Point of View

The Novels 1984, Brave New World, and The Republic of Plato all are considered masterpieces and/or classics in our world. These novels draw the reader in using a new and interesting plot which at the time of publishing made each novel revolutionary in terms of concepts and ideas. Socrates as a writer focuses more upon the hypothetical formation of such a society while Huxley and Orwell focus upon the individual living in such a society. Each of these novels discusses a different form of the most-perfect society.
The Republic of Plato is a philosophical argument about the perfect city, which is metaphorically the perfect and most just society. Plato focuses more on the ideals behind the city and not the people in it. He believes that if he can set up the perfect society that people will live happily in perfect bliss. Plato deals in broad generalizations that make many assumptions about the morals of the common man. Although Plato hypothetically forms the perfect city through discussion and philosophizing he never once thinks of the corrupt decisions of humans. The fact is with human nature the perfect society can never exist. Humans will always make choices in their best interest and not for the interest of the group as Plato had hoped. Humans in general wish for money, power, and stature for all humans are greedy at heart to a certain extent.
In Brave New World a perfect society has been formed to a certain point of view. This novel focuses in on the individuals living under this perfect society. The only problem with the creation of a perfect society is that it is a complete point of view. It is perfect to the people in control and the elite upper class because they are the ones benefiting from it. The fact of the matter is that a society where children are grown in jars, people are made to fit a different caste by pre-birth conditioning, and people are kept subdued and numbed by the perfect drug is not a perfect society to all. The directors and the alpha’s (bigger, stronger, intellectual caste) in the society see it mostly as a perfect society because they benefit from the lower classes suffering and inbred stupidity. Huxley makes clear that this is the best and most efficient society to live in but it is not necessarily beneficial to its people. Unlike Socrates, Huxley draws on a more personal side of this society that leads to the reader feeling sympathy for the protagonist. This sympathy allows for the reader to allow emotion to get into their judgment. Instead of an efficient society for the masses the reader now sees a society in which the rich benefit on the suffering of the poor. Huxley’s future society is a cautionary tale to the dangers of science and totalitarian rule and not a foretelling of a perfect society.
George Orwell wrote 1984 as a warning to the ultimate horrible and corrupt society that can ever exist. It is the perfect totalitarian government for it has banned emotion, love and all human thought. People convicted of “thoughtcrimes” are taken to the torture Room 101 and literally reprogrammed to love their country. The elites of this class, The Party generally see their style of living as the most perfect society in the history of the world. O’Brien himself compares The Party to past fascist regimes of Hitler, Mussolini and other famous tyrants, except that he states their failure as not doing enough. He believes that his system of government is infinitely better because it goes farther than any other before it. 1984 is not seen by any means as a perfect society instead it is seen as the ultimate warning against censorship and totalitarian rule.
All three books describe the most efficient and perfect city. This being said, it must be known that this statement is a point of view and the perfect society to one person can be different to another. The fact that Socrates used broad generalizations versus Huxley/Orwell’s use of personal stories which get sympathy from the readers, leads to Socrates’ society being just and great and the others being corrupt, horrible, and unjust.

Where Plato and Two 21st Century Authors Differ

There are some startling similarities between The Republic of Plato, 1984, and Brave New World. At the most basic level all three are describing the perfect society in which the population is collectively working towards a common goal. Unlike Socrates, Aldous Huxley and George Orwell are much more reserved when discussing the positive qualities of such societies. Their two novels create a warning against the societies featured in their novels instead of embracing them as Plato does. This difference in philosophies stems from what each one is focusing on.

Throughout the discussion of Plato’s republic, there are no specifically detailed protagonists and antagonist; rather the just and unjust are spoken of in generalities. By taking this stance Plato can turn the focus of the novel away from specific characters and towards the city as a whole. Each intrinsic character in the city is referred to as little more than, “the farmer…the shoemaker…or smiths.” Their personal happiness does not matter in the whole picture. Instead of the personal, the focus is on the justice of the entire system.

Huxley and Orwell approach the issue from the perspective of two similar protagonists, Bernard Marx and Winston Smith. By analyzing the governments based on the individual characters such as Smith or Marx, these authors come away with a very different opinion of this so-called perfect society. Both Orwell and Huxely understood what they must choose as the Controller explains in Brave New World, “’Of course it is,’ the controller agreed. ‘But that’s the price we have to pay for stability. You’ve got to choose between happiness and what people used to call high art. We sacrificed the high art. We have feelies and the scent organ instead.’” The choice between total personal freedom and social stability is the question that Plato, and Huxley and Orwell answer so differently. It is apparent that both Huxley and Orwell sympathize with their protagonists throughout their novels and side with personal freedoms over social stability.

The societies featured in Brave New World and 1984 have been nearly perfectly modeled after Plato’s republic. The notions of family, class structure, and material possessions that horrify so many people are nearly all directly copied from Plato’s republic. Mother and Father have become obscenities in Brave New World, stable and unquestioning ignorance is the norm in 1984, and the caste system has been perfected with rapidly developing technology. Instead of viewing the benefits oh having such institutions, Huxley and Orwell focus on every failing from the eyes of a questioning individual.