I have been rereading some old classics, and recently finished George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. These are the books you read in high school and kinda sorta remember them, but then again you’ve forgot everything about them.
Both works have settings that involve a certain sort of controlled society. The societies are very different: Orwell’s is grey, monotonous, and sexless. Huxley’s is bright, inviting, and sensuous. In both cases, however, there is some omnipotent force or bureau or commission or government setting the stage.
There is another thing they have in common. In both Orwell’s and Huxley’s worlds there is is an underlying current, mentioned not as a primary point of the plot but rather as an aside that the reader is assumed to just take for granted and not question. In both worlds there was some sort of opiate always in the background, mentioned casually in passing. An opiate, if one thinks on it, that was designed to placate the masses.
For Orwell in 1984, it was Victory Gin:
Unbidden, a waiter came and filled his glass up with Victory Gin, shaking into it a few drops from another bottle with a quill through the cork. It was saccharine flavoured with cloves, a specialty of the cafe.
For Huxley in Brave New World, it was soma:
…that second dose of soma had raised a quite impenetrable wall between the actual universe and their minds.
Victory Gin dulled one’s senses. The grey world was still grey, but it didn’t much matter. One became resigned. Soma sent one into blissfullness or dreamless sleep. It induced a feeling of well-being and peace and happiness. One couldn’t care much about anything else in that state, could they?
Karl Marx had another word for Victory Gin and soma. He called it religion, the opiate of the masses:
The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.
In both 1984 and Brave New World, people had indeed given up on their illusions. They had, they were told, Marx’s “real happiness”. It was defined, not to be questioned.
It seems to me that though we would scoff at the notion that today we are being surreptiously treated with Victory Gin or induced into oblivious submissiveness with soma, that there is indeed an opiate permeating our society today. It is less obvious but insidiously more seductive.
It is the common good.
While I am quite certainly common, possessed of no great talent nor wealth, I sense a kind of euphoric and nearly orgasmic tendency of the so-called progressive left today to leave no stone unturned to ensure my safety, stability, and happiness. I think it is quite proper as a function of government to provide, a safety net for those less fortunate or who are through an act of nature unable to take care of themselves.
But I asked for none of this for myself. I resent these menial intrusions telling me what to eat, how to drive, what is safe or unsafe for me to do. I can decide that for myself.
No, the opiate today is not Victory Gin or soma. It is the self-satisfied smugs of politicians who telling us they are doing us a favor.
And we buy into it. They are taking care of us, so all is good and all is well. And they are so very happy to be of service to us.
But who is serving whom ?
Confident of their benevolence, we vote them into office again and again. Their smiles are are so damn infectious as they look upon their placated masses.
Do you see the connection ? No, we are not fed Victory Gin nor are we supplied with soma.
We are being given so so so much more. Do you think they will suffer our clingy neediness for too long ? They, with their mysterious powers of laws and regulations are making sure we are not only safe, but well-behaved. Then they have to get us to stop whining.
If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face–forever.