Monday, April 25, 2016

Big Brother in the Brave Real World

Roughly a year ago I decided it was time to start reading two classic science fiction literature. One of them was Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley (1932) and, you probable guessed it right, the other one is 1984 by George Orwell (1949). As I read through the books I was fascinated by the ability of both writers to envision a future that is in a creepy way comparable to our present world.

They both are stories of course and I personally do not envision such aerie and desolate dystopian future as laid out in the books. I see patterns of similarity though, but different than what we say in the mainstream (information security) media. At least, that is what I think. In this post I will enlighten you on my point of view concerning these two stories and how they relate to the real world. And since it is almost May the 5th, the Day of Freedom in The Netherlands, it is a nice moment to publish this post.

As this is not really a book review, I will not tell you about the story itself, but rather the context in which the story exists. In both books, the real main character is the world and society itself, rather than people in the story.


Oppression by the government

Both stories talk about a government oppressing people, but in a rather fundamental different way. The story by Huxley is about a government called World State that ‘accepts’ exceptions, but you can hardly participate in society when you are an exception. There are even reservations in which people can live differently, although very poor and with lack of proper healthcare. Both government and citizens are rather dismissive towards people who do not follow the normal (predetermined) steps of their society and deviate from the normal course of… well, just being. Everyone is literally grown and raised into specific roles in society and due to a drug called Soma, everyone is kept chemical happy.

The story by Orwell is about a government that does not tolerate any deviations that threaten the existence of the so called Party; not even in the slightest way. Everyone is being monitored by the so called Big Brother, and due to fear people often betray each other. No action, no feeling and no thoughts are allowed, because when you do, you will become a liability. There is even a new language in the works called Newspeak, which it is stripped of any emotion and sensitivity. In this world, most people are miserable and the general population is poor and underfed.

No parenthood versus no intimacy

In the society of Brave New World parenthood is strange to people and having a baby through the means of giving birth is nasty, gross, and downward silly to do. Instead, babies are home-grown in baby-factories where they are even conditioned towards their predestined roles in society. During the initial phases of growth some babies might get forced oxygen shortage or alcohol submitted. The reason for this is that not everyone can be smart and the same. People also still need to work to cause no trouble due to being bored, so babies are grown into a certain class for certain purposes.

In the world of 1984 parenthood exists, but children are conceived and given birth to in the most mundane situation imaginable. Intimacy is not allowed between any human. Children and adults alike are confronted with daily propaganda distributed by so called telescreens that can be found anywhere in the society, even within one’s home. It is not uncommon that children betray their parents due to behavior that is disallowed by the Party. So, keeping your head down, even towards your children, is a matter of survival.

Thought Police versus Citizens

As I mentioned earlier, in the story by Huxley it is not even the World State itself that monitors people, but the citizens itself due to rather intensive social control. When you deviate from your path to much and too often, people will eventually report you. It is not because of fear, but by a true believe in that the World State knows best. Therefore, there is no Thought Police like in 1984. Of course there is a police-force, but it plays a different role than in 1984.

The situation in Orwell’s story is different. Citizens also do report each other, but it is more based on fear of getting ‘caught’ themselves, than it is about truly believing in the Party. Whereas an exceptional deviation in the world of the World State is allowed, no exception is allowed in the world of the Party. But because people cannot be trusted, the Party instated also a Thought Police. This police-force has the ‘honorable’ duty to look for dissidents and to get them out of the public asap.

Sexual liberty versus Banished sexuality

The World State encourages sexual liberty in every way imaginable. If people want to make love with each other, they just do it. Whether it is between two people, four or entire groups, anything is allowed and anything is acceptable. Homosexuals are no outcasts and people are free to do anything they like, for as long as it is consensual.

The Party totally thinks different on this topic. Intercourse is only meant for procreation and surely not for pleasure (by punishment of death). And rest assured, a telescreen is monitoring the activities. Homosexuality is strictly forbidden as it also applies to any other form of sexual activity, including love itself, between people.

1984 versus the real world

The story in 1984 is about oppression, surveillance, persecution, sexual oppression, and fear. People are not allowed to enjoy anything in any way and the general population is poor and mostly underfed. When you take this parallel to the real world, can you recognize this in the Western world? Are Western nations generally poor and relatively unhappy? Is sexual oppression of non-heterosexuals still the norm? And is the government actively oppressing its citizens?

When you look at the analogy with the real world, states in Eurasia resemble on some parts more to the world as described by George Orwell. Often not as extreme as 1984, but the general view is rather the same. I personally cannot recognize the Western world in the view of Orwell, besides the fact of surveillance by the government. And even that is relative, as it is more surveillance by corporations. It is also more like a Some Brother type of thing, than a full blown Big Brother type of thing. Besides that, I still like to believe that for the most part intelligence agencies are really trying to improve security of the general public, in contrast to the Thought Police who does its job mainly to protect the Party.

Brave new world versus the real world

When you look at the story of Huxley though, I found it more similar with the Western societies. The focus is on being happy (without drugs for now), sexual freedom that fits the individual person, doing and saying whatever anyone wants to do or say and not to mention one's desire to predetermine characteristics (like prevention of down syndrome) of fetus. The believe in this system is so strong that is often considered by other (mostly non-Western) nations as imperialistic. There are also many groups within society that propagate democracy, (almost) unlimited freedom for everyone, freedom of speech and a common thrive for general happiness. Anything is or should be allowed for you to feel happy, no matter the cost.

In the Western world there are citizens who defend such believes in ways that it may almost be considered fundamentalistic, just as the citizens do under the rule of the World State. You can count on a strong backfire whenever you hold an opinion that is not aligned with that of the general mass or consensus. If you think that homosexuals are not okay or they should at least be unable to marry, then you are in for a treat. And do not even start by saying that abortion is murder. And when you think freedom of speech should not always be applicable, then you are considered an extremist of the right (or left) wing of politics or perhaps even an aspirant-terrorist.

Of course there are many more variations in opinions allowed in the real world, far more than in Brave New World and yes, I am on purposely overstating the previous paragraph. But somehow and somewhere there is a fine line between taking part of society and being treated as an outcast just for thinking differently. This behavior is what I believe to be like that of the citizens in Brave New World.

And I explicitly state that the paragraphs above are not necessarily my opinion or believes, they are not relevant in this post. They are merely the patterns that I see around me, whether it is on the news or in my daily life.

Recap

Whenever we compare the Western world (where I live in) to 1984, I think we somehow miss the point that Orwell was stating in his book. He states that a totalitarian government is about keeping power instead of prospering its citizens. Whenever I look around I see way too many idealists in our midst who devote their lives to better the lives of others. I see governments that really try to improve life of the people here and abroad, although it may be sometimes or often ill-executed. And I see also people fighting for the rights of others and people fighting to prevent or correct a (semi-)corrupt government. Do we have issues like mass-surveillance we need to address? Yes, we do! And do we have issues concerning non-conventional thinkers and believers? Yes, we do.

I feel that the Western world is more like Brave New World, than it is as in 1984. Let us prevent the movement to create outcasts of non-conventional thinkers and let us continue the debate what real freedom and freedom of speech is. I believe it is imperative to let everyone's voice heard, in order to prevent people becoming outcasts, and outcasts becoming radicals. And remember, diversity is what created our beautiful freedom in the first place.

Freedom of speech is not about me having the right to write this blog. It is the right I give to you to whole heartily disagree with what I wrote. Whether what you think or feel, if you want to share it, you can use the comment section below. I will not treat you as an outcast for thinking differently.

Books

1984
  • Author: George Orwell
  • First released: 1949
  • Pages: 336
  • ISBN: 978-0-451-52493-5
  • Linkwww.penguin.com

Brave New World
  • Genre: Thriller, Science Fiction
  • Author: Aldous Huxley
  • First released: 1932
  • Pages: 229
  • ISBN: 978-0-099-47746-4
  • Linkwww.vintage-books.co.uk

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