Thursday, June 6, 2013

Unweaned masses

Note: This is a companion piece to “Big Mother.”

“There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always—do not forget this, Winston—always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.” –O’Brien, 1984

For all the debt we owe to George Orwell for probing deep into the instruments and internal justifications of fascism in 1984, Aldous Huxley’s “soft” tyranny in Brave New World has proven to be the more accurate vision of the evolution of Western society.

In 1984, Soviet-style state propaganda is everywhere, but it is not particularly convincing. The omnipresent Thought Police, officers of the surveillance state, keep the people in check, but they do not police thought per se. Winston still has private thoughts; it’s his actions that get him into trouble.

Fear is what makes it work. The state answers dissent with brute force. Faced with having his face torn off by a rat, Winston gives in to his torturer and confesses that 2 and 2 is 5. Indeed, he will testify to any “reality” the regime feeds him. It is an undeniably masculine method of coercion, physical and confrontational.

At no point does Winston believe what he is saying. That’s fine by his masters. They don’t want to change his mind. They want to imprison his mind.

Such a deterrent is not necessary in Brave New World, where the mind itself is the prison. There is no dissent because people are formed in the image of the state. Human genetic models are churned out of laboratories, engineered for certain tasks and capable of only certain thoughts. Minds are further softened by use of the drug, soma. The people believe in the system’s perfection, so they perpetuate it among themselves. They cannot rebel.

Opposite 1984’s “force” model is Brave New World’s “nurture” model. It is the subtler power the O’Brien character referred to in the opening quote. It is less provoking and thus harder to fight. Its apotheosis is the nanny state, which smothers the individual in its engorged bosom. Rather than break men’s spirit, it appeals to our infantile yearning for safety, security, and approval.

In our time, there are no Room 101s in which resistance to the state is crushed; instead, there are sensitivity training seminars, historical revisionism, and gender studies and the like. There are no Thought Police monitoring everything you say and do; instead, there is an army of true believers—including your friends, your family, your employer, your peers, everyone—prepared either to convince you that you’re at fault for thinking the truth, or to denounce and disown you for your heterodoxy.

Society will be completely co-opted. To retain membership, we will collaborate in our own submission.

One of the most sickening sounds you will ever hear is the crowds of North Koreans who wept hysterically over dictator Kim Jong-il’s death.

Are they faking it, or are the tears real? Have they been told, 1984-style, to put on a show for the cameras—or else!—or has their nature been so thoroughly undermined that we hardly recognize them as human?

I am more fearful that the tears are real, because then there really is no hope. If people are truly content under tyranny, who will overthrow the tyrant?

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