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Essay: The relevance of Brave New World and 1984 in Modern Society

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Introduction

Brave New World and 1984 are both over sixty years old. However, they continue to be read and studied in the modern day. Both novels were intended to show that a perfect society is not achievable; 1984 was written to warn the Western world of the dangers of Communism, and Brave New World was a satirical take on the progress of society and its limit in a totalitarian dystopian society. Huxley was Orwell’s French teacher for a short stint during the latter’s time at Eton, and Huxley sent a letter to Orwell regarding 1984. The two men held very different views on the future of society and their very different novels reflect that. <– Insert more contemporary relevance of the two authors

Argument

Both of these novels have managed to stand the test of time. This dissertation will look at how the novels are each relevant to modern society in their own ways and how this has allowed them to continue to satisfy readers for decades. For example, the sales of 1984 shot up 6 000%  after Edward Snowden leaked files relating to US breaches of privacy rights, which may imply that novels’ continued relevance is strongly linked to the readers’ perceived similarity of the novel to modern society. The novels must also be able to send an influential message to the reader, and they must continue to be entertaining to continue to be read. I will be discussing various aspects of these novels and their individual relevance in modern society.

Comparison of 1984 and Brave New World to Modern Society

Economic Structure

Modern society’s economic structure is much more reflective of Brave New World than 1984, with (for the upper middle classes at least) a nearly inexhaustible supply of goods. In 1984, the country is constantly at war, and the economy is very restricted, with constant supply shortages and rationing. In Brave New World, on the other hand, there is a plentiful supply and consumption is encouraged. The consumerism of our modern developed society is much closer to Brave New World than the restrictive rationing of 1984, but companies play a much larger role in our society than they do in either book.

Technology

Modern society is dissimilar to both novels in this regard, and the level of technological development is somewhere between that of 1984 and Brave New World. In 1984 the technology is not very complex. The technology is mainly limited to gadgets such as two-way screens, which are fairly basic by today’s standards, and the equipment used for torture is decidedly medieval. It must be kept in mind, however, that this book was written a long time before modern technological advancements such as computers, and that the technology depicted in the book was still quite a leap away from the society it was written in. In Brave New World, on the other hand, the technology is developed to a much higher level than it is today ‘ examples include human cloning and the artificial growth of foetuses. However, in both novels further technological development is restricted. In modern society, technology is at a much higher level than 1984, although this is to be expected as 1984 was intended to be a depiction of a society that could realistically exist soon after the time of writing, whereas Brave New World is clearly set decades (or even centuries) into the future. Further technological development is encouraged in modern society, unlike either novel. However, some topics are still debated and some behaviours capped in modern society, such as the ethics of human cloning and genetic modification, which are commonplace in Brave New World.

Caste Structure

Modern society is similar to both of the novels in that there are prominent social divisions, at least in some aspects of it.

In 1984, there are prominent class divisions, which are reflected by the privileges of the different levels of Party Membership. The leader is Big Brother, a likely apocryphal figure. O’Brien is Winston’s superior, which is reflected in his better food and slightly better office. The inequalities in the society are, in fact, considered to be necessary to the totalitarian regime of the Party ‘ Goldstein’s Manifesto states that ‘the primary aim of modern warfare’ is to use up the products of the machine without raising the general standard of living.’

In Brave New World there are also strong class divisions. The Leaders Controllers Council is entered by merit, such as Mustapha Mond World Controller, who was invited to join rather than being exiled to an island. The social classes are imposed artificially literally since birth ‘ for example, the lower classes are deprived of oxygen and treated with alcohol to decrease their mental capacity. The ‘Epsilon-Minus-Semi-Moron’ working the elevator is conditioned to artificially feel a sense of elation upon arriving at the roof ‘ in fact, his arrival is described in an almost religious sense: ”Oh, roof!’ he repeated in a voice of rapture’ as though suddenly and joyfully awakened from a dark annihilating stupor.’ As John witnesses, other members of the lower classes are also given subliminal messages to make them feel more satisfied with being in the classes that they are.

In some aspects of modern society, feudal systems are still evident. However, they are often not as extreme as feudal divisions in 1984 and Brave New World. The class divisions in modern society appear mainly to be based on wealth; in the books the situation is opposite: in Brave New World and 1984, the wealth of citizens is based on their class, which is artificially produced.

Maintenance of Order

Modern society’s methods of maintaining order are more similar to Brave New World’s overload of information than 1984’s more physical methods.

In 1984, the citizens are controlled partly by physical force to ensure their conformance to the society. The citizens are first trained in ‘doublethink’, which means ”the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.’ This means that they accept whatever the government claims is true even if they have explicit evidence to the contrary. For example, during one of the Hate Week summits, the speaker changed who the enemy was halfway through the speech. The audience immediately accepted this, despite only a few seconds ago having been enemies with those who they were now allied with, and in fact were quite embarrassed to find that they had made the incorrect signs for the event. In fact, a lot of these enemies were created by the government for just this sort of psychological manipulation. If anyone was to bypass the psychological manipulation and stand up against the government, they would then be physically tortured into submission. As Winston himself says, even a tiny twitch of the face can cause a man to be arrested, which is known as ‘facecrime’ in the novel. The government also uses a variety of methods to convince people that current society is the best society ‘ the government is able to change records of the past to convince citizens that society is the best it has ever been, and therefore based on this upwards trend will continue to get better, as it is no secret to the citizens that the society they are living in is a dystopian and drained one.

In Brave New World, on the other hand, citizens are controlled almost entirely psychologically. Firstly, there is an overload of information in the society, which makes it difficult for any citizens to filter out fact from fiction. The government also gives the citizens artificial excessive pleasure, usually in the form of soma, to help keep them under control. The citizens are conditioned from birth to situations such as death, desensitizing them, such as when a group of children are conditioned with nonchalance towards John’s mother’s death, and the citizens are also taught that ignorance is good. In fact, the Controller explicitly states at one point that ‘no pains have been spared to make your lives emotionally easy’to preserve you, as far as that is possible, from having emotions at all.” Soma is used as a method of control for the society, and anyone who is able to bypass all these measures, such as Marx or Helmholtz, is faced with exile from society. The government does not have to work hard at all to convince the citizens of anything as they are mostly ignorant and for the most part do not care much about their surroundings. BNW and 1984 both involve people only being able to think within the frame of reference they have been taught ‘ John can only think based on the means provided to him from an early age through the Shakespeare texts that his mother read to him, often speaking in Shakespearean language and comparing his life to a Shakespeare play.

In modern society, there is also an information overload present, similarly to Brave New World. With the rise of the internet, it has become easy for anyone to share falsities (or at the very least non-truths) with a large audience, although there is a lot of legitimate content. However, there is also physical force used in modern society, although this is not as prevalent as in, say, 1984 (as far as we know). In the news we commonly hear about the controversial use of torture to extract information from (or more controversially, punish) terrorists and others . A mixture of mental and physical force is used to punish non-conformists in modern society. The government does not push to convince modern society that this is the best society, but it is generally accepted that modern society is an improvement over the past. In cases with famous and much-cited whistle-blowers such as Assange and Snowden, they are faced with forceful exile from the society as they cause disruptions in the system.

Privacy

Modern society appears to be more similar to 1984’s forceful privacy violations in many aspects, although there are a few consensual privacy violations more similar to Brave New World.

In 1984, citizens have little to no privacy. The violations of privacy in 1984 are ‘forceful’ violations of privacy, which means that they are not easy to escape ‘ Winston is surrounded by technology such as two-way screens and security cameras, and there are few places he can go to avoid being spied on. The privacy violations are intended to ensure that the public is kept in check and that the society continues running smoothly.

The violations of privacy in BNW, on the other hand, are mostly ‘consensual,’ by which the citizens allow themselves to have little privacy due to their social conditioning and selective breeding, as well as ignorance, which could be considered part of their conditioning. Violations of privacy are less prominently featured than in 1984, in which violations of privacy are the main driving factor throughout the entire novel; they are instead a less important factor in Brave New World that nevertheless should be considered. The violations are not intended for anything, but rather are considered a harmless by-product of conditioning.

In modern society, it appears that there are many breaches of privacy that occur without consent, which is more similar to 1984’s forceful privacy violations. These include recent scandals where the US government was found to be monitoring emails and telephone calls globally through surveillance programs such as PRISM . Violations of privacy occur for a few main reasons ‘ ‘safety’ and ‘consumerism.’ The former involves the privacy of many being violated to prevent low-probability high-impact events, and these privacy violations include such measures as airport security. The latter involves privacy being violated to increase consumption in society, such as location-based advertising for particular items, or suggestion of items based on a user’s recent purchases. These are mostly consensual but not given much thought, as people are ignorant of personal data being collected or are aware of it but simply do not consider it a privacy violation, similar to Brave New World’s violations of privacy.

Religion

In 1984, the only religion that is allowed to persist is that of worshipping Big Brother and the party. The party intends to control their subjects, ensuring the subjects’ unequivocal devotion to the party, which is identical to a concept of religion. O’Brien says to Winston that ‘[the party] are the priests of power. God is power’ It is time for you to gather some idea of what power means. The first thing you must realise is that power is collective.’ This presents the party as identical to God, as it seeks to control every aspect of the people. O’Brien also says that ‘the real power… is not power over things, but over men.’ This also indicates that the party goes out of its way to control the people, going to the length of physical torture and even beyond that with additional extensive psychological conditioning.

In Brave New World, the intention of the government is that religion, at least in the Christian sense, is removed. Mustapha Mond stated in the novel that ‘God isn’t compatible with machinery and scientific medicine and universal happiness,’ although he does not refer to the concept of a God but rather the concept of the Christian God, which involves the idea of chastity as an important component of religion ‘ clearly incompatible with the sex-fuelled society of Brave New World ‘ and certainly does not regard such topics as death and  environmental destruction with nonchalance. God has essentially been replaced by Ford, evident in the date scheme which directly references him. Ford was a pioneer in technology and drugs known as soma. The cross has morphed into a T, representative of the T-Model invented by Ford. The community attends ‘solidarity services’ rather than a church. At one point in the novel, twelve members of the church use soma and wait for an illusion of happiness, which spirals into an orgy. The number of members is relevant ‘ Jesus had twelve apostles ‘ and sex is one of the most important aspects of life in Brave New World. Mustapha Mond also stated that religion existed in part ‘to compensate us for all our losses,’ and that people turned toward religion to deal with problems or stress. However, as the society purports to be able to solve all of the people’s problems with sex and soma, the old religion is no longer necessary to this end in the society. Religion has been drastically changed in the society of Brave New World.

In modern society, many social ideals have been secularized ‘ for example, laws are no longer largely based on divinity, as they were in medieval times, but on arbitrary secular rules that are set by the government. This may be indicative of a move away from religion, or at least Western religion as we knew it, which is quite similar to the situation in both of the novels.

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