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.

43 Comments:

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