Review by Barbara Glass
Instead of reading current political polemics, I reread two books that I haven’t touched since high school: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (published in 1932) and 1984 by George Orwell (published in 1949).
When I first read these books, I saw them as doomsday futuristic prophecies: Brave New World tells of a world where groups of people are ‘decanted’ according to their future work function. After birth, certain attitudes and virtues are then programmed during sleep by repetition. Hence, a worker who is predestined to work indoors is deliberately ‘decanted’ to the proper intelligence level for his task, and later programmed in sleep repetitions to despise working outdoors. The worker will then be happy with his life – he will not ever want it to be otherwise. The decanting process presages genetic controls and cloning, for most of these ‘decanted’ workers are identical copies. Orwell’s world is presided over by Big Brother and ubiquitous telescreens that observe everyone’s movements at all times. In high school, what I found most interesting was the futuristic predictions. Today, the fascinating reading in these books is the commentary on human nature that would lead us to these futuristic worlds. My conclusion? Human nature has not changed at all.
1984 and Brave New World both have conflicted heroes: John Savage is a man who is a stranger in both worlds. On the ‘Reservation’, virtues like heroism, respect for history and blood ties are held dear and are reinforced by learning to read on an old volume of Shakespeare’s plays. John and his mother are outsiders, however, so he is never fully accepted within the reservation group. In the outside world, John cannot accept the trivialization of virtues he holds dear, so he is considered an outcast there as well. 1984’s Winston Smith is a member of The Party; he goes through the motions of acceptance for the telescreens, but does not believe the rhetoric. Both heroes are treated as the insane ones because their belief system runs counter to the ones in power, and both end tragically.
What 1984 and Brave New World describe is what that societal power structure looks like and they are very similar to each other. Power is in the hands of a small percentage of the population who designs a political structure that supports business interests and stability. The means differ, but in both books, the end justifies the means. Sound familiar?
1984 defines ‘doublethink’ as the conscious ability to hold two contradictory beliefs at one time and to believe both of them. For example, we believe that killing is morally wrong, but is acceptable in cases of self-defense or war. We believe that lying is also wrong, but if it is done for the greater good, then it is not wrong. Hence, the ‘truth’ is relative to the situation.
In ‘Newspeak’, some are speaking ‘untruth’.
Barbara serves as Community Liaison for Texas seniors at The Lodge Enhanced Assisted Living in Frisco, and Quail Park Independent & Assisted Living in Granbury. “The longer I live in Texas, the more I love this place!”