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Are we living in 1984 or Brave New World?

Author: Eden Estabrook

Dystopias. The latest rage in teen fiction AND current reality?

As of late, some conservatives have been comparing modern day America to George Orwell’s dystopian world in 1984. One of my favorites is JP Sears T-shirt that reads “Make 1984 Fiction Again” with the all-seeing eyes haunting the front.

Whether you’ve read the book or not, you know the saying: Big Brother is watching. But this barrage of 1984 comparisons got me thinking – is 1984 the best dystopia to compare modern day America to?

While I’m not an expert on classic dystopian novels, I’ve read my fair share (I did refuse to jump on the Hunger Games train though) and done my research. And, in the spirit of Resident Skeptic’s mission to view culture, news, and politics with a skeptical eye – questioning whether 1984 hits the nail on the head for modern America felt like the right fit.

Don’t misunderstand, while elements of 1984 definitely ring true in today’s society via events such as tech censoring, one key factor makes me wonder if Brave New World is the superior dystopian parallel – the people.

For those who haven’t touched either 1984 or Brave New World since high school, allow me to offer a quick recap:

1984 follows Winston Smith, who attempts to fights back against a totalitarian Party that rules Oceania and the lives of every citizen in the emotionally life-less city. Big Brother is always watching, and privacy is non-existent. It’s a truly eerie read, and if you pick it up again, expect to feel uncomfortable. (Overachievers can read Book Analysis for a full summary)

On the other hand, Brave New World is set in more of an industrialized, sterile environment. In this world, the caste system is not only back, but manufactured, and we follow several different characters through this fictional version of London in 600+ years.

Now that you’ve gotten the lay of the dystopian lands, let’s talk about the people. In 1984, the people are obviously miserable in this totalitarian world. They’re described as tired and oppressed and it shows in how they behave and move through their everyday lives.

In Brave New World, the vibe is surprisingly positive. People in this world behave as if they’re happy, even though every individual we meet is stuck in the World State at their designated caste level and position with no hope of ever getting out.

You may wonder, why would they be happy? In modern day America, we would parallel this with something like economic mobility, I.e. the ability to break out of where you’re at in life. In fact, modern day America has no shortage of politicians and organizations advocating for people to get out of a less than ideal economic situation. So, why would these people be happy and satisfied when their society tells them they can’t leave whatever caste they’re manufactured into (and yes, babies are manufactured. Read the book).

The answer is simple: Soma.

Soma is a drug provided by the World State civilization to all its citizens. The drug provides the illusion of happiness by clouding their mind (and morphing the reality in which they live). It’s arguable the citizens of the World State are just as miserable as the citizens of 1984, but you wouldn’t know it because of soma.

“And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there's always soma to give you a holiday from the facts. And there's always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now, you swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your morality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears–that's what soma is.”

But enough about old books, let’s look at America today. In particular, let’s look at the people. When I look at the world around us, I see a bunch of deceivingly happy people.

The freedom for creative expression is higher than it’s ever been in America and social media is chock full of images of seemingly happy individuals living their best life. The dreary world of 1984 doesn’t feel like the right comparison for the America I see.

On the other hand, Brave New World’s drug-induced utopian dystopia feels more like it. Americans are:

  • Experiencing a mental health crisis

  • Going through a recession being led by an arguably delusional president

  • Slogging through the aftermath of a pandemic... and that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

Yet, the illusion of happiness is rampant, despite the nation crumbling around them. Why is that? Well, remembering it’s an illusion is a critical start. But, I’d argue we have our own version of soma that’s clouding our minds to the reality of our surroundings. Maybe it’s a stretch. But soma feels as real today as it does in Brave New World. When I look around, it feels like well-meaning citizens are being given a “holiday from the facts” by not only those elected to protect us, but even prominent companies and individuals in the nation through virtue-signaling efforts and propaganda. I mean, Michael Knowles from The Daily Wire entertains us with reactions to compilations of commercials with the sole purpose of enchanting its viewers with visions of an “inclusive utopia” (with a logo tacked to the end of it, of course).

And it doesn’t end there.

Rainbow flags draped over buildings. Murals on the streets and side of buildings. Virtuous quibble over who is immortalized in statues in public areas or the names of schools. Pride Month. AAPI Month. Hispanic Heritage Month. Women’s Month. The list goes on.

Arguably, all these “woke” initiatives yield a similar, hidden goal – a holiday from the facts. Propaganda with a purpose. After all, in Brave New World, all soma needs to accomplish is cloud your mind, so you’re not focused on the big picture and blissfully compliant with the innerworkings of the World state civilization. Control achieved by the illusion of freedom.

So, is America more like 1984 or Brave New World?

I think it’s the latter, but you read the books and tell me.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of Resident Skeptics.

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