Are We Writing Our Own ‘2084’?
By NANCY PATRICK
Do you remember reading George Orwell’s novel 1984 or Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World? When I first read them in 1968, the predictions of future society seemed farfetched; however, much later as I taught literature students through three and a half decades, I realized that many of the predictions had actually happened or would soon manifest themselves.
I do not intend to write a literary analysis in this article, but I couldn’t ignore the relevance of these books to what I observe in my own world. Orwell’s views focus on the concept of Big Brother, perpetual war, “bread and circuses” (the appeal to pleasure), and newspeak.
Huxley’s book emphasizes a society with hardly any sexual restrictions, brain-washing along with sleep-teaching, and the use of mind-altering drugs (he prescribed soma).
As I watched a recent episode of CBS This Morning, I particularly listened to a report on some modern technologies meant for society’s benefit. One of the inventions comprises a curved media screen with a stationary bike rider experiencing in 3D the roads, hills, woods, flowers, and perhaps nearby traffic. I have seen something similar to this on Peloton commercials.
One company has invented a machine that massages a person’s entire body with the feel of human hands. The appeal of the invention—you don’t have to undress in front of a real person.
Touted as medical devices, computerized rings and watches can now detect blood sugar, heart irregularities, and blood pressure. Surgical robotics have proven useful for years and will soon have programs that exhibit human emotions (such as emojis currently do).
As I watch world news to stay abreast of society’s situations, I sometimes feel as if the world has actually slipped into the plots of 1984 and Brave New World. We certainly experience the advantages and disadvantages of Big Brother every day. I often tell people that my computer houses tiny gremlins who change settings and update programs while I sleep at night.
Every cop drama shows the use of Big Brother to track criminals through CCTV cameras and cell phone pings. Obviously, law enforcement benefits from this technology, but some people may find the cameras an intrusion into their private lives.
I have never done anything of interest to Big Brother, but I do feel a little weird when I begin filling in an online form and all the relevant information appears automatically as soon as I type my name!
I had not heard the term “bread and circuses” before researching this topic. Roman poet Juvenal first introduced the theory of diverting a population’s attention from important and controversial issues by providing welfare programs and entertainment that superficially satisfy them and lure them away from truly important matters.
When I think of the relevance of this theory for today’s world, I can’t ignore all the propaganda that tries to divert us from important issues facing the global population. Many groups even sponsor public service announcements that feature children whose parents point out what the children will face in their adult lives—primarily the environmental devastation of the planet.
Science clearly shows that global warming threatens the earth’s sustainability. No one can know for sure how much time we have to correct some of our damaging behavior before that happens. Although I will be gone by that time, I care about all those who will face the challenges.
Orwell’s other two points, perpetual war and newspeak, need little or no explanation. We all know that our country becomes involved in one war after another as other countries constantly threaten us with war.
Any American who has lived through the last ten years will recognize newspeak. It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic to realize how politicians twist and pervert language to suit their own ends. Merriam-Webster defines the term as “propagandistic language marked by euphemism, circumlocution, and the inversion of customary meanings.”
Even the definition of newspeak represents the concept. The definition could be simply stated this way: newspeak pretends better circumstances than truly exist by giving them nicer descriptions, beating around the bush in answering questions, and perverting the real meaning of the issues.
Huxley’s Brave New World presents a similar view of the dystopian society that can result with the loss of personal freedom and individuality. Huxley presents the idea of keeping the population calm and malleable by giving the drug “soma” to everyone. The soma produces a type of brain freeze that keeps everyone happy and unquestioning.
Huxley’s world reminds me of The Stepford Wives, a story with a world in which the programmed wives behave submissively and pleasantly. The women are beautiful robots without emotions.
These frightening examples illustrate what can happen if people gradually consent to forfeit one freedom after another. All these works warn us of the danger of demagoguery. Demagogs, though charismatic and charming, aim to lure gullible people into their folds.
Americans have historically prized their independence and ability to make decisions for themselves. When we blindly accept teachings that contradict logic and encourage us to jump on a popular bandwagon, we enter dangerous territory—similar to cultish behavior. Let us not write our own America: 2084.
Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing