During my college years, I read two books the content of which has remained with me. Years later, I saw a film that also left a strong impression. Those impressions seem relevant in today’s rapidly changing world. It seems as if what is emerging is a cross between the film, The Matrix,and the books, Brave New World by Huxley and 1984 by Orwell. Most people have seen or are familiar with The Matrix. Brave New World and 1984 are well worth reading. Each is its own reflection of what is, projected into a possible future.
The Matrix foreshadows what can happen as we are drawn, especially our children, further and further into living our lives in Cyberspace. The Internet is a wonderful tool; however, as we spend more and more time and attention living there, it begins to dominate our lives. We don’t notice how contact with the natural world diminishes, as we enjoy the images designed to stimulate pleasant emotions and please us as we interact with a device. Do we realize the threat global warming and our own activities pose to the environment that heretofore has sustained us? Do we rely on technology to save, nurture and sustain us? Watch The Matrix again, and pose these questions to yourself. Is this the direction we want?
Brave New World posits a new social order, again sustained by technology. In this world, everything is controlled by an overarching state, one which is itself incapable of change. People are genetically engineered into caste systems, each designed for a particular kind of work. To achieve this end, children are no longer conceived and borne by women. Instead, they are conceived in vitro and gestated in specially designed glass jars, in which substances are added to the amniotic fluid to deliberately stunt the intelligence and stature of the embryos destined for the castes designed for manual labor. The children are raised in nurseries reminiscent of today’s daycare and full-day school systems. In this new society, to be a mother is the equivalent of being a prostitute in conservative societies of the past. Committed relationships do not exist. In order to control the population, children are taught early to engage in intercourse of many kinds with many people, and the population is regularly given feel-good drugs, distributed by the authorities as an act of magnanimity. Read, and notice the resemblances. Notice an outcome presented in the book. Is this the society we want??
1984 gives us the concepts of Big Brother and Doublespeak. Big Brother has now become common terminology used to describe the various kinds of surveillance to which those in power feel necessary to subject us. In 1984, privacy has become non-existent. Outside surveillance has become ubiquitous, and inside, every space contains a screen on which people can watch entertainment and events as we watch TV, but which they are not allowed to evade. Those screens also watch them. If one manages to find a spot not covered by a screen, the police knock on the door. People’s thoughts are monitored by observing their reactions, and those who do or think anything the authorities do not like are taken to rather unpleasant rehabilitation centers. Does that begin to resemble what is happening now?
Doublespeak is the practice of emptying words of their familiar and usually understood meanings, and using them to mean whatever the user wants them to mean. In 1984 it is the government that engages in this practice. For example,freedom would be used to mean engaging in a life of which society or the government approves. Concepts are thus redefined to mean whatever is politically correct. We can see this now, most obviously in advertisement, labeling and politics (e.g., natural is now used to infuse a feel-good response to engineered and processed foods, and has nothing to do with nature; patriotic means whatever a speech maker wants it to mean). On a deeper level, the push for gender neutral words that would deny any difference between the genders has begun to erode the concepts of masculinity and femininity. These two complementary concepts (present in varying degrees of predominance in all people) are now being presented as the same thing, in the name of equality. Or, the institution of marriage, which has been defined since unremembered time as a union both civil – civil/spiritual AND one from which under normal conditions children may be conceived, born and nurtured. The meaning of marriage has now been changed by judicial decree to disconnect it from procreation, in order to accommodate those whose unions are not able to produce children. Could we have done that differently, extended recognition, value and rights under the law to non-procreative unions, using words unique to those relationships? Yes, we could have, but instead, we redefined marriage, taking from it the gift and responsibility of raising children, and taking it from those who were traditionally defined by it. The resulting protests, resentments and resistance could have been avoided.
Additionally, children are now regarded as a “right”, one which may be claimed by adoption or surrogacy or other means. The idea of children as a gift and responsibility, as individual people, is being discouraged. If one has a right to something, that something is a kind of property. It is not an individual human being whose best interests must be considered first. Are our children property? Is our society becoming semantically engineered? Is this what we want?
The Matrix, Brave New World, and 1984 are futuristic tales. They are not prophecy, not cast in stone. They do, however, give us an image of the directions in which we are going, and they give us that image in time for us to think of where we want to go. They give us time to use our faculty of discernment as well as our capacity for emotion. Using that faculty is a part of accepting the free will with which we are born.
Do read these books, and others, and think.