Dystopian Book Recommendations -Highlights and Thoughts on Orwell’s “1984” and Huxley’s “Brave New World”

2/10/17

With these two dystopian cornerstones  we have the two most widely read, most widely referenced, indelibly fascinating and persistently eerie future-shock novels of all time. Honorable mention should go to Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” however – that book will likely get a separate review in the coming weeks since it is worthy of note as well.

Every other dystopian story told since the mid-twentieth century has imitated one of those two novels.
Each takes a distinct and unique approach in outlining the world of tomorrow.orwell_1984

Orwell’s future was brutal and oppressive, thoughts were controlled (not so subtly – more like “thoughts were forcibly directed”) , people were tortured, movement and expression was tightly controlled. Private space didn’t exist and one woke up in the morning to the television set barking orders to get started on your exercises.

Orwell used the Marxist system of the Soviet Union as a model for the future and it clearly shows. His dystopia featured strict food rationing and even tighter controls on the flow of information. The latter degree of control was to the extent that the English language had morphed into something that was, at times, hardly recognizable to the uninitiated.
The Über-efficient, military-style approach of making acronyms out of nearly everything is featured here. The concept of “INGSOC” is introduced early in the novel – this is the strain of “Working Socialism” that politically unites Oceania.
Other featured terms include:

  • Good think – these are government approved feelings and thoughts
  • Unperson – an individual who has been both murdered by the State and also erased from history’s records (by those who work in “The Ministry of Truth” – like the book’s main protagonist – “Winston“)
  • Thoughtcrime – an occurrence of socially unacceptable beliefs or thoughts

There’s a nice Wiki out there that lists all of the Orwellian “Newspeak” terms if you are interested in reading more – Link to More Newspeak
Interestingly – that Wiki shows an actual example of one of the sources of Orwell’s inspiration for this aspect of the book. The site contains old Soviet photos showing how an individual in one photo was removed from the second – huxley-quote-people-will-love-their-oppressionthereby becoming an “unperson”.

orwell_war-waged-to-maintain-power

A constant state of warfare existed throughout the novel and it seems the denizens of Orwell’s Oceania never knew a time when there wasn’t war. It’s though this constant state of war readiness and paranoia that the State maintains brutal control of the public.

This is also how they legitimize their constant draconian methods of control – it’s being  done to protect the “Homeland”. In this alternate reality there are only three remaining organized governments but they are super-states who are in perpetual war with one another. It’s a little spooky when you see the government entities and their propaganda organs do an “about-face” to rally public support and uniformity for war against the nation that had formerly been their ally.

orwell_the-3-virtues

Here’s one of my favorite passages from the book – another allusion to the importance of HISTORY as well – read on:

“Who controls the past,” ran the Party slogan, “controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting.

It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. “Reality control,” they called it: in Newspeak, “doublethink.”

Two other interesting features of the novel are:

  • The state sponsored (and mandatory) “2 minutes of hate” where political party members were required to watch a film that featured the enemies of their nation (Oceania) – featuring an elusive character named:
  • Emmanuel Goldstein: He’s the primary architect of so many of Oceania’s ills. He’s as crafty and resourceful as he is elusive. Ultimately the party members are required to rant, rave and scream at the screens when his image is projected.

 

george-orwell_aka-erikblaire
Eric Blair aka – George Orwell

Huxley’s approach was much more velvet glove than Orwell’s iron fisted (and less futuristic) future – and depicted a world where consumption was mandatory, “want” had been essentially done away with and an International Order had been established after a catastrophic economic breakdown and world war (called the 9 years war).

In “BNW” we learn from the reminiscing of one of the world’s ten “Controllers” (Mustafa Mond) that – following these two great calamities – the planet had to choose between World Control (a Brave New World Order, no doubt) or chaos and destruction.

At this point we see a parallel to the predictions of Marx who believed that Capitalism would ultimately exhaust all markets and extinguish itself – once that happened Socialism (and the designed march to Communism) would supplant the Old Order.

huxley_bnw-book-coverLike 1984, Huxley’s triumphant system of World Control has several  discrete points that we can enumerate:

  • Eugenics (which was openly promoted in the 1920’s in both the US and Great Britain – I have much more planned on that topic for a coming article though) was one of the primary cornerstones of stability.
    • Civilized people were no longer born from their mother’s womb. In fact the term “mother” had become one of the most vulgar words a person could utter. The concept of “Family” as we know it had been abolished. In its place was a mass production system designed to mix all the required biological material (and more as noted below) in a large decanter. People were now being mass-produced with pre-destined futures and capabilities planned by a central government.
      • This method of bio-engineering / cloning people followed a mass production regimen inspired by Henry Ford. The characters in BNW actually held Ford in regard as God. Not just “a god” (for there was no longer any trace of other religions) but GOD.
  • Hand in hand with the systematic genetic bio-engineering was an established caste system where the “Alphas” were the only ones not made from clones and were destined to be intellectually superior leaders of the World Order.
    • From there the caste descends through the hierarchy (with each class wearing a different uniform and also having different heights and other programmed tendencies) – the Betas followed the Alphas and were relied upon to work in places where a higher degree of critical thinking skills was required.
    • The Gammas followed and tended to be servile and oriented to public services of some type.
    • Deltas were actually programmed from birth to dislike books and were primarily used to work in factories.
    • And finally, at the bottom of the Great Pyramid – you had the Epsilons who were used for manual labor and often hard labor like mining. It was these unfortunate genetic scapegoats who received additional amounts of alcohol placed in their blood surrogates so their physical stature would be stunted and their intellect would be dulled from day 1.

 

huxley-1-smoking
Aldous Huxley

 

  • Indulgence of the senses – another hallmark of BNW. Technological developments had made a more advanced version of the cinema – they called them “Feelies”. You could not only watch the action on the screen but also physically feel and experience what was being portrayed. Naturally these were very popular and consumed A LOT of everyone’s time.
  • Mass Consumer Consumption was actually placed on a schedule in order to artificially support industry after the “9 Years War”. Constant consumption eventually became a type of altruism – it was considered disgraceful to try to mend your clothes as opposed to throwing them away at the first sign of wear — “Ending is better than mending” was a phrase that was repeated by the characters as they were under stringent mind control from a very early age (see “Hypnopedia” below).

huxley-quote-people-will-love-their-oppression

  • Sexualization of children at a very early age. There’s a scene where two very young children are playing naked and exploring each others bodies – they’re encouraged to do so and it’s a comical scene to the characters in the novel. Ultimately the goal was to reinforce the idea that “everyone belongs to everyone else” while also further de-emphasizing the concept of the traditional family unit.
  • Breakthroughs in the effective delivery of propaganda and reinforcement of desired behaviors ultimately led to another interesting tool in the hands of Huxley’s Intelligentsia. “Hypnopedia” (or “sleep teaching”) was the artful practice of having subliminal messages (caste=behavior specific, or educational in nature) pumped into the nurseries and sleeping (“conditioning rooms”) areas of all children. Ultimately each representative of the various pre-planned levels of this Brave New Society were being given the data the aligned with the life (existence) they would lead.
  • Finally – there was Soma. Soma was a drug that had replaced the need for religious devotion. We learn that the drug has been engineered to combine the effects of a religious experience (think LSD or mescaline etc) with a more mundane release of simple intoxication. The drug was routinely dispensed at pubic locations and was yet one more pillar in this false “stability”.
    • One of the quotes from the book regarding Soma was, “...there is always soma, delicious soma, half a gramme for a half-holiday, a gramme for a week-end, two grammes for a trip to the gorgeous East, three for a dark eternity on the moon…”

huxley_soma-drugs

Closing Thoughts:

  • I read both of these books in my teenage years and then came back and re-read both when I was older. Particularly in the U.S. and especially in the “Post 9/11 era”, these two books continue to present an uncomfortable mirror to evaluate our changing society and culture (and sometimes lack thereof).
  • There are clearly elements of each book that are now somewhat of a description of the standard operating procedure for how some nations are governed. For instance,  in the U.S. we’ve grown sadly and shockingly numb to the idea that we’ve been fighting a “War on Terror” for – almost 16 years now, I wish I could tell you what the goals of this war are and how we’ll know when we’re finished.
    • More accurately I wish we had a leader with the courage to pronounce an END to the “GWOT”
  • Orwell has written other essays on the importance of language in the art of literature as well as politics. If you’ve seen my other book reviews you know that I’m a big proponent of people reading his book “All Art is Propaganda” – if for no other reason, I believe you will find his frank and direct approach to describing how political language is abused – refreshing.
    • While I doubt that I would have gotten on with all of his political viewpoints, Orwell always struck me as being ideologically honest enough to call out people in his own party as well as those in others. I don’t know that we have many more figures engaged in political commentary who posses that degree of intellect, vision and forthrightness. I wish we could use Huxley’s methods to clone a few more Eric Blairs.
  • Huxley came from a famous family actually and they were very well-known & highly regarded within the British “intellectual aristocracy”. Going strictly by memory his grandfather was a famous biologist, his father a doctor and one of his brothers founded The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization UNESCO). Aldous had planned to follow in the family footsteps and enter the medical field but a debilitating eye disease preventing him from doing so.
  • Because I’ve read a LOT more Huxley than Orwell I eventually gravitated to Sybil Bedford’s fantastic, 700 page biography of Aldous about 5 years ago. I highly recommend it if you are interested in learning more about Mr Huxley.huxley-bedfords-bio
    Other interesting Huxley books I’ve collected and would recommend:

Antic Hay
Chrome Yellow
Mortal Coils (A Play)
After Many a Summer Dies the Swan
Brave New World Revisited
Eyeless in Gaza
Island (perhaps the most fascinating of them all!)

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