Originally printed over at the SuperversiveSF blog, here are my musing after reading two great classics.
I have recently read 1984 by George Orwell, and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley for the first time.
Both excellent pieces of Science Fiction.
Both immensely disturbing.
When I finished Brave New World, I began to think and muse, and compare it to the world of 1984. In doing so, I discovered both have a surprising amount of things in common.
First, in both stories the society is under strict control. But while one is controlled through force and hatred, the other is controlled through Soma and conditioning. The second common theme is that for the societies to work, the sense of individuality must be destroyed. They need everyone to fit and work together; they need the people to be perfectly in place to make everything run smoothly – just like gears in a machine. But gears are expendable. So if one gear starts acting up, it is much easier to toss it aside and replace it with a more manageable gear. Which is something they wouldn’t hesitate to do.
I was thinking about all this, about a world where everyone is united under one force, working perfectly together. In theory, it sounds great. Since everyone is united, there is no strife and no war within that society. Everyone agrees on everything. And so, in theory, there is world peace. But as you see in both stories, when there are those who dream and who don’t want to live in the boxes they are told to fit into, it almost never comes to a good end. So how can you have a stable society and world peace, but also have free will and imagination? Well, I believe the answer is, you can’t.
If you want a perfect society, you need perfect people. The problem lies in the fact that humanity is messy and imperfect. The only way to make the perfect people for your perfect society, is to take away their humanity and turn them into compliant sheep. Because thinking, dreaming, and using our imagination and intellect is always a dangerous thing, especially to those trying to rule over us. After all, if the sheep started thinking, they might build a ladder over the fence or set the farmhouse on fire.
As I mused over all this, I got to wondering if it was possible to be completely united under one force, while keeping the respect for the individual and human life. Indeed that is possible. People band together for important causes, or to defend themselves in war, and I’m sure a lot of other reason. But it’s never perfect, there will always be some clashing of will within the most united movement.
And so I was trying to think of the closest thing there was to a perfect and completely united people, that still held their individuality. My mind was immediately drawn to the The Body of Christ. Just look at the saints – the men and woman that completely immersed themselves in the Body of Christ. They are all united in their dedication to serve God’s will; yet at the same time, are so vastly different.
Saint Joan of Arc: A warrior and martyr.
Saint Thomas Aquinas: A master theologian.
Saint Gabriel Possenti: Who single handedly ran ruffians out of his village at gunpoint.
Saint Therese of Lisieux: A girl who wanted, throughout all her childhood, to be a nun.
As you can see, there is everything from warriors to thoughtful monks. Certainly, the Body of Christ it is not perfect. Since it is made up of imperfect humans, there will always be small and large struggles; there will always be things that could be better. But it has held up for over 2,000 year – of course, it’s only been held up by the grace of God – but that’s kinda the whole point of it. The Body of Christ is so connected, yet so completely diverse. That’s what makes the Body of Christ so unique and different from the worlds of 1984 and Brave New World.
With all those thoughts melding in my mind, I began to compare the Body of Christ to the Societies. So allow me to further lay out my musing.
As I mentioned before, both societies seek to destroy the individual. Human life is not valued. And so, you are just a part of a machine and have no worth other than serving the society.
Where in the Body of Christ and His Church, you have innate value. And although you have a duty to serve, your value comes from the fact that you are a child of God – made in his image. Not from what you can do or produce.
The other thing is that in both societies, marriage is offensive and the family is repulsive. I find it interesting that even though intercourse in the two societies is viewed in completely opposite ways, their hatred for family and the strong relationships found within it, are almost equal.
In 1984, the family is a threat. The loyalty of the people must be exclusive to Big Brother. Procreation is viewed as an unsavory, yet necessary, act that is not allowed to be enjoyed. The children are instructed in watching and monitoring their parents, and they are rewarded for betraying their parents to the Thought Police for even the tiniest offence.
The family is just as much of a threat in Brave New World as in 1984. Because they are conditioned to flinch at the very word “mother.” Because everyone belongs to everyone else. Because it is not good if someone feels too strongly for someone else. Because intercourse is just a pastime. Because strong feelings lead to strong action. And we have Soma to take that away.
Another common theme is segregations. You can see this in 1984, not only that the inner Party is much richer than the normal labor folks, but in the almost livestock view of the Proles. The Proles aren’t really part of the Party, they are only there to do the dirty work. They are let to their own ways: to work, and drink, and breed. They are less than lower class to everyone else.
However, Brave New World is where you can really see the segregation. Everyone is made into a class. They are made the fit into that class by tamperings while they develop in a bottle, and they learn to love their class from hypnotic conditioning in their sleep as children. There is never much hate between the classes. At most it’s disdain, especially from the upper classes. While you are conditioned to love your group above the others, you are also conditioned to recognize you need to other classes. You’re just really glad you’re not them.
But in the Body of Christ, all are equal and all are welcome. Everytime I go to mass I see rich and poor, man and woman, black, white, and purple, all kneeling next to each other and praying in the same voice. We have people of different backgrounds and walks of life. But neither do we go around bragging about how “diverse” we are. No, I never even notice. I just see people. Because everyone will be looked at and judged the same when brought before the Lord.
Next is the subject about rations, and how everything is assigned: from who they are – as I mentioned earlier – even to what they eat. In 1984 it is very clear to see. The Ministry of Plenty controls how much of what you get, from clothes, to razors, to food. And with the “war” going on, it’s easier for them cut back and give you less.
In Brave New World, it is not as harsh. In fact, is seems like most everyone has plenty of whatever they want. But the Soma is regulated to a degree and passed out from day to day.
In the Body of Christ we are not promised that we will have any earthly comfort. We are only asked to trust that God will provide, and to trust and follow his will. But at the same time this doesn’t mean we can’t work hard and try to make something out of what we have. You can push yourself to do better, you can improve. You do not always have to be stuck with is handed out to you.
Lastly, and what I found most interesting, is that both societies severely limit your free time. They must keep you working, making, doing. They fear, and rightly so, that if a person is allowed to be without distraction and let their mind settle, they will be drawn to find truth.
Where, in the Body of Christ, we are encouraged and even commanded to be still, to pray, and to be alone with the one who made us. The longing for silence is a spiritual longing. And I’m not simply talking about absence of sound. I’m talking of an inner silence and quieting of mind – the longing to find who you truly are, and from where you came.
You can see this happening in Bernard and Winston.
In Brave New World, Bernard desires to be away from the crowd and the noise: out of the stupor of the Soma, to be alone. Of course this is unheard of and scandalous, and everyone shuns him for it. He feels cast out and empty – looking to be filled by something beyond him.
You can also see this in Helmholtz. He is a writer, wishing to write something with power – or as he puts it, something piercing. He is tired of writing the same, formulated propaganda. He seeks more than just the shallow entertainment allowed to the masses. However, that is impossible, since high art is not allowed in their stable society. They are to be happy, dull, sheep – not made to think too hard about things.
It is very similar for Winston in 1984. He hates that his every move, and every thought, is being watched. He chafes and strains against this strict society. He wishes for, and pursues, freedom. Of course, doing so means certain death.
I believe the common thread unifying these characters, is that they are reaching beyond themselves. Winston wonders and hopes that there is a world, or people, beyond the cruel one he knows. Bernard wants to know what it’s like to have self control, and he wants to be able to sit and look at the world. And Helmholtz wishes to write something to stir the hearts of men. In the societies in which they live, they are held back. But in the Body of Christ, they would be praised and fulfilled.