Revisiting dystopian fiction

If you are living inside a dystopia, would you be aware of it?

Although it has been discussed again and again, in this post I’ll do a quick review about two of the most popular dystopian fiction books: “1984” and “Brave New World”. First, let’s redefine again what it means to be a dystopia. At first, my idea of a dystopia would be where there’s a lot of social injustice, constant suffering of its inhabitant, and overall oppression from the people who rule that world. But after reading Brave New World and rethinking about it, it appears that a dystopia can be rather unique. In general, for a world to be a dystopia, the population must be put in place through some kind of control. And this method of control must clash against our current idea about what a humane society is.

1984

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In 1984, it’s very easy to see why it’s a dystopia. The nation of Oceania is at constant war with the other two superpowers of the world – and to make things even more messed up the war does not serve any purpose. It is only there to make sure wealth is consumed and prevent class mobility. Resources are scarce, the food is awful, and everyone is living in constant poverty. Control of society is performed through violence and constant surveillance. Individuals with the potential to challenge Ingsoc – the ruling party – is vaporized, meaning they are completely erased from the records of history. The party with Big Brother as its figurehead is elevated to a god-like status through brainwashing and alteration of history (at this point I’m not sure if I’m talking about Oceania or North Korea). To top it off is the principle of doublethink – to blatantly lie, while accepting the lie as the absolute truth, enabling truth and history to be modified anytime it’s seen as fit. Interpersonal relationship is heavily controlled, as illustrated in the novel where Winston had to take extreme precaution just to have a chat with Julia inside the Ministry of Truth.

Brave New World

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In Huxley’s Brave New World it’s a dystopia – but only a dystopia when you use today’s society norm as a measuring stick. Otherwise, it’s a utopia which is achieved by maintaining status quo and eliminating human’s desire for progress. Children are created through cloning facilities, and assigned caste from Alpha – individuals destined to be assigned complex jobs and position in society – through Epsilon – individuals which are going to be assigned to extremely menial jobs. From even before birth, the citizens of the brave new world are pre-conditioned to support extreme consumerism and elliminate any desire for them to move to the upper caste. Meaning, even though epsilons are pretty much slaves, they won’t have any desire for better lives, since that capability has been taken from them. But since, there’s no such desire, they are perfectly content with what they have now. Unrest in society is minimized by providing limitless amount of entertainments. And when individuals face emotional distress, soma is provided to give them instant pleasure, making hardship optional.

Comparison

Both books deal with control of society, either through fear and violence or with endless pleasure. But at the core of it, order is obtained by suppressing human instinct. In 1984, the human desire for socializing and critical thinking is suppressed. This is done systematically through youth programs, constant propagandas, and even butchering language to limit the scope of human’s critical thinking capabilities. In brave new world, order is maintained by removing human’s desire to rebel by giving them constant distraction. If limitless pleasure is available and suffering is optional, why would you put yourself through unnecessary pain?

Well, if I have to pick one of the two dystopia model, I’ll pick Huxley’s pleasure model. Orwell’s model still leave some room for individuals to maintain some degree of humanity by harboring rebellious sentiments against the party, but ultimately they are brainwashed through severe torture into loving the party before ultimately killed – making the struggle meaningless.

Real world?

The Orwellian’s model of dystopia pops up from time to time in the real world where totalitarian governments are involved. And after some time, it usually crumbles one way or another. Maintaining the status quo as explained in the book is extremely tricky to do, as it requires constant brainwashing while trying to prolong a stalemate with foreign powers. Right now, North Korea is the most apparent country still maintaining an Orwellian government, but even then it is starting to give way to openness little by little.

Nowadays, people typically agree that the world is closer to Huxley’s model of dystopia. With constant distraction from social media and rampant consumerism, people tend to focus more on cheap entertainment while ignoring real issues at hand such as global warming and social injustice for example. There’s a subreddit highlighting this thing called /r/aboringdystopia, which usually gives me a good chuckle followed by feeling of dread. The funny thing is, with the recent Facebok data leak fiasco it become apparent that our source of entertainment is also serving as the big brother figure keeping track of everything we do – but in this case we voluntarily gives up our freedom for more entertainment.

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