Conditioning, Persuasion and Propaganda in 1984 and Brave New World
Conditioning, Persuasion and Propaganda in 1984 and Brave New World
Both Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984 present an anti-utopian future, in which anything that might be validly equated with freedom has been destroyed.
Although markedly different in many ways, these two books show a grim parallelism in their presentation of many of the ways that the two authoritarian societies control their environment so as to suppress individual freedom.
On the surface, and certainly in purely material terms, Huxley’s realm offers many more creature comforts. In this society in which it is the “year of Our Ford 632" (AD 2540), the government has eliminated war, poverty, and crime. It has created an extraordinarily efficient world-wide society based on the assembly line principles of Henry Ford.
Technology is revered, especially the efficient factory production that Ford pioneered. It is a completely pleasant society, but the pleasantries come at an awful price. Society produces children on an assembly line basis, in five models, Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, or Epsilon, in appropriate numbers to meet the needs of a planned economy, an order free of the burdens and tensions of capitalism.
Free of greed, this society has no class warfare. Through genetic preselection, constant conditioning during childhood, “hypnopaedia” (sleep- teaching), and drugs, everyone is made happy although they have no free emotions. Each citizen is programmed to be happy in his caste from birth. More effective than overt controls, subconscious persuasion and mind-altering drugs have erased all "pre-Ford" problems.
Adults are equally controlled. Free expression is sacrificed for superficial satiety. Social involvement is mandatory. Solitude is discouraged. People take drugs, watch feelies, and live mindless, grey lives.
Any residual unhappiness is destroyed by the antidepressant hallucinogen soma. People use soma to induce a dull happiness. It is a tool of social control. It is a source of instant gratification. It is a sacrament in a religion of mindlessness.
In 1984, the world is explicitly more ugly and more brutal. In contrast to the high quality of soma, they have poor quality alcohol, the medicinal tasting victory gin. War is a constant, and throughout Airstrip One, Winston Smith finds the terrible signs of war: filth, decay, burnt-out buildings, constant shortages, shoddy goods, rocket-bomb attacks.
The population is culled, with the best performing sixth of the population being admitted to the Party, and the top one percent eventually admitted to the Inner Party, while the great bulk of the people, the proles, are left to their effectively mindless existence.
Control in this world of people in Brave New World is generally discrete, because every person is all but bred to be passively happy, each in the caste for which he is “decanted.” In addition, there are the feelies and the constant supplies of soma which maintain them in their belief in their happiness.
There is comparatively little need for the interventions which will shuttle such malcontents as Bernard Marx and Helmholtz Watson into exile in the Falkland Islands. Indeed, Helmholtz can actually look forward to the freedom that he will enjoy in exile, allowed to write relatively heretical if books that will be harmful because they will be ignored.
In 1984 in Airstrip One, Party activities are pervasive, including the Two-Minutes Hate, the Junior Anti-Sex League activities, public executions, the continual announcements of the glorious activities of the Party (especially those associated with war). The telescreens serve both to send party messages and to maintain continual observation on the populace.
“No one dares trust a wife or a child or a friend any longer.” Dissidents are not quietly exiled to out-of-the-way locations. In generous cases they are “vaporized,” becoming “unpersons” whose very existence is passively denied. In the more typical and brutal cases, as with Winston Smith and his lover Julia, they are taken into the Ministry of Love, where they are subjected to the three stage process of learning, understanding, and acceptance, with the attendant annihilation of anything that could be called an independent spirit.
As demonstrated in Winston Smith’s case, “acceptance” is supremely brutal. Strapped down and helpless, Smith is faced with the awful choice between having his face ripped to shreds by rats or betraying everything that he ever held sacred. After this, his very existence becomes a matter of convincing himself that anything that deviates from the Party, from Big Brother, is untrue, that it never really happened.
The propaganda is overt. The Ministry of Truth provide direct and immediate control over the thinking of the citizens of this grim world. By contrast, the World-State in Brave New World needs much less overt propaganda, because the conditioning of the individual from birth is so widespread.
Babies are subjected to stimulus-response training using shock treatment. Children are made to listen to subliminal messages thousands of times over. As a result, when an person such as Bernard Marx indulges in the anti-social behavior of visiting the reservation lands, merely the social opprobrium of being denounced before his fellow caste-members is largely enough to control him, with the threat of exile almost an afterthought.
These conflicting worlds have two common enemies, solitude and memory. In Brave New World, John the Savage is a novel and even a frightening being because he has learned the works of William Shakespeare. John’s climactic debate with Mustapha Mond is a clash between the individual and the controlled society.
Shakespeare is doubly dangerous in this context because it teaches about familial love. In his debates with Mustapha, John the Savage shows a profound understanding of Shakespeare, and of life as Shakespeare articulated it. As he states in the climactic point, “I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin." Nevertheless, Mond has such complete confidence if the ability of his society to stand against John the Savage that he exiles Bernard Marx, but takes no such action against John.
At the outset of 1984, Winston Smith is a good solid party member, proud of his ability to change history to meet the needs of the Ministry of Truth, finding ways to glorify the propaganda efforts of the state. But to learn anything of the truth of the past is, he knows, a thoughtcrime.
Of solitude, Winston Smith maintains a diary, a thoughtcrime. His apartment is erroneously constructed so that he has the small space in which he can sit out of the view of the telescreen. His idyllic moments with Julia come when they make their way to what she dubs the “golden country,” where they can strip naked and make love, away from the eyes of prying cameras. Their sexual union offers him the release and consummation of something beyond the intricate manipulation of details that he carries on for the Ministry of Truth.
In Brave New World, social involvement is mandatory. Eventually in London, John the Savage refuses to participate in any more of Bernard’s parties. He stays in his room, reading Shakespeare. In the end, he tries to isolae himself, living in a lighthouse and trying to avoid society, and when his solitiude is destroyed, he dies with it.
One key difference between the two societies is the official attitude towards sex.
Given the dangers of family life, as pointed out by “Our Ford,” calling himself as he did “Our Freud” when speaking of psychological matters, the World-State of Brave New World has solved family problems by eliminating the family. With sex liaisons freed from procreation, sexual license is encouraged to the point of being expected and almost mandatory while natural procreation is such a grievous fault as to end careers. The very ideas of sex, birth, and parents have become repulsive.
Sex is entirely different in the two novels. In Brave New World, sexual license is the order, but it is completely detached from procreation. Sexual promiscuity is the norm and order of the day, to defeat any stable emotional bonds. Reproduction is mechanized. In the World- State, natural reproduction is regarded as appalling. People are manufactured, with production is set to match the economic needs of society. The “bottle,” an artificial life support mechanism has replaced the womb. Each individual's destiny is set long before he or she is "decanted."
In 1984, children are still born through natural processes, but purely for the party. A stringent puritanical morality is the standard order. Indeed, one of the ironies of Winston Smith’s attraction to Julia is that he is drawn to her wearing of the anti-sex league sash.
As Julia explains, in pleasurable, personal sex, “afterwards you feel happy and you don’t give a damn for anyone. . . . If you’re happy inside yourself, why should you get excited about Big Brother and the Three-Year Plans and the Two Minutes Hate and all the rest of their bloody rot?”
By contrast, sex as tolerated by the Party is strictly for the purposes of creating children for the Party. “Sexual intercourse was to be looked on as a slightly disgusting operation, like having an enema.” When they meet after each has betrayed the other, she has changed physically, her body thickened and stiffened, losing the turn of her hips so that he no longer finds her physically attractive.
In the Junior Anti-Sex League, the Party has created a class much like medieval monks and nuns, who by their ardent celibacy show their heightened love for their god. Ideally, the Party will eventually succeed in its sexual goal: “We shall abolish orgasm. Our neurologists are at work on it. . . . There will be no love, except love of Big Brother.”
In the Junior Anti-Sex League, the Party has created a class much like zealous medieval monks and nuns. By the ardor of their celibacy, these acolytes show their heightened love for their god, Big Brother. Given this, the response of the sandy-haired woman, murmuring “My savior,” as she extends her arms toward the telescreen at the end of the Two-Minutes Hate, becomes both an expression of quasi-religious adoration, and a matter of erotic displacement.
Ideally, the Party will eventually succeed in its sexual goal: “We shall abolish orgasm. Our neurologists are at work on it. . . . There will be no love, except love of Big Brother.”
For all of the differences between Brave New World and 1984, there is still a terrible sameness to them. They both present a world in which the individual, stripped of any truly meaningful human attachment, stripped of feelings other than those dictated by a state, stripped of any identity other than what the state allows, and needing either alcohol or drugs to find the courage to carry on has nothing that could be called freedom. In this, they are very similar, chillingly similar.