Dystopian fears are coming true before our eyes
When people hear the word ‘dystopia’ most of them think of the notorious novel 1984 by George Orwell. This book has always been a standard text in high school, and when teens draw a mental image of a dystopia in their heads, Orwell’s morbid images of a world where books are banned and pain is the price for even thinking the wrong thing, come to mind.
However, there is another famous novel written by Aldous Huxley entitled Brave New World that is a much more accurate depiction of the world our society is heading towards. This particular novel depicts a world opposite of what Orwell mapped out, one where the things that we love most ultimately destroy us in the end. Huxley creates a society so preoccupied with pleasure and trivial distractions that they ultimately ignore the greater issues surrounding them.
Huxley’s dystopia seems to be echoed in today’s world. As a society, we have just about everything we need to achieve happiness. We have the latest gadgets, we have houses, and the perfect pets. However, these material items are distracting us from larger scale issues. Our country is in the midst of three wars, we are in the worst debt since our country was founded and our nation seems to be divided both politically and morally. All the while we are so absorbed in our friends’ latest tweets and Facebook updates, that we do not even stop to realize what is going on around us.
Huxley foresaw these types of distractions; he feared that the truth would drown out in a sea of irrelevant facts. Our generation is largely enthralled by celebrity gossip and trivial news, if it is between watching the 5 o’clock news or flipping to E! to catch the latest episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, there is not much competition. We are distracted by unimportant information and as a result let these critical news stories fly under our radar. Huxley also articulates the fear that we will become a trivial culture, preoccupied with games like the “Centrifugal Bumble-Puppy” (a game similar to tetherball depicted in the novel) or the feelings of the “orgy-porgy” (a group of men and women who sit around and consume soma — a pleasure inducing drug). This exact type of behavior is echoed in the world around us with sports as a central part of our culture and passive playing through videogames.
Huxley notably differs from Orwell in his concepts about books and information. Orwell thought that the government would ultimately ban us from these vital sources, however Huxley foresaw a world that would have no use for books because there would be no one who wanted to read them. Huxley’s predictions are more on track with what is happening in our country today. Even with national campaigns like Read Across America, the amount of kids reading in America has clearly seen a decline. In a study conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2004 entitled Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America found that Americans in every demographic were reading considerably less than 10 or 20 years before, but the decline was steepest among young adults. The study concluded that this lack of interest in literature could have serious civil, social, cultural and economic implications. It is becoming increasingly evident that teens in America are more preoccupied with the internet and smartphone apps. The reading they do largely tends to be required texts for class, if that. Reading provides kids with skills in critical thinking and without these skills our population will become dependent thinkers, only able to process what our government feeds us.
Perhaps the most poignant point Huxley makes is how the characters throughout his book are controlled not by inflicting pain but by inflicting pleasure. In 1984 the all-powerful government often resorts to painful measures to deal with perpetrators of their society. Huxley created a world where people are distracted by delightful things. Today we are constantly distracted by such trivial things. We fill our lives with inconsequential behaviors and habits that we think will make us happy or feel good, and as a result we are not really looking at the world around us. By using pleasure to distract the masses, Huxley creates a whole new dynamic of control. When people are only flocking to pleasurable things, they will have no idea how much they are really being controlled.
Sabrina Dorronsoro is a freshman journalism major who is claiming the right to be unhappy. Reach her at sdorron1[at]ithaca[dot]edu.