If you have read George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, it may seem that these two novels have nothing in common except for the fact that they both describe dystopian societies of the future.
And yet, they both provide the same recipe for mental slavery that is used in our society today.
George Orwell’s Society
In 1984, we see a gloomy world of the Party’s ruthless dictatorship that keeps everyone in fear. Orwell’s society doesn’t only suppress the freedom of speech – it suppresses the freedom of thought and the individuality itself.
Methods of terror such as absurd war propaganda and total surveillance kill the tiniest seed of critical thought in people’s minds. Those who are still capable of some extent of critical thinking are persecuted and eventually destroyed by the Thought Police.
No one is safe – in this totalitarian society, people report their neighbors and co-workers for unorthodox behavior to the authorities as easily as children report their own parents.
Aldous Huxley’s Society
Brave New World describes a society that is similar to ours in so many ways. It is built on mindless consumerism and superficial desires for endless fun and casual sex.
There is no concept of family, relationship, or love – ‘everyone belongs to everyone else’, meaning that there are no commitments or attachments between people.
Not only are family and emotional bonds non-existent, but the very idea of such connections between human beings is considered inappropriate and shameful.
Here, the freedom of thought is abolished in a different way than in 1984 – by feeding people with the illusion of global happiness and abundance. There is a variety of foods to eat, goods to buy, and fun things to fill your free time with.
Who could possibly be unhappy in such a society?
The Recipe for Mental Slavery
In both dystopian societies, people are turned into mindless slaves by the means of mind control and social conditioning. While the methods are quite different, there is one underlying principle that is actively used in our society too:
Keep people as busy and distracted as possible.
Both in 1984 and Brave New World, citizens rarely get the chance to stay on their own. They are constantly engaged in group activities at work and in their leisure time. The desire to miss out on these activities is regarded as a rebellion against society itself.
Solitary pursuits are not just discouraged – they are considered abnormal and harmful. Anyone who likes spending time in their own company is pathologized and victimized.
Here is a quote from 1984:
In principle a Party member had no spare time, and was never alone except in bed. It was assumed that when he was not working, eating, or sleeping he would be taking part in some kind of communal recreation: to do anything that suggested a taste for solitude, even to go for a walk by yourself, was always slightly dangerous.
And here is a citation from Brave New World:
“But people never are alone now,” said Mustapha Mond. “We make them hate solitude; and we arrange their lives so that it’s almost impossible for them ever to have it.”
Mental Slavery in Our Society
So what’s the connection with today’s society? Fortunately, we are not fired from work or captured by the police just because we prefer to spend a Friday evening at home all alone.
But if you think about it, we too live in a world of constant distraction.
Our busy schedules rarely give us the chance to stay alone with our thoughts, our smartphones keep us connected to the world 24 hours a day, and our TVs numb our minds with all kinds of nonsense.
In essence, we are never alone, just like the protagonists of these two novels. It’s no coincidence that solitary activities are discouraged in these dystopian societies so much. When a man stays alone, he thinks.
The more time you spend on your own, the more aware you become. The more likely you are to question yourself, your life, other people, and the world you live in.
You learn to think for yourself and give a second thought to every event or fact. You cease to be an unconscious consumer of useless stuff and meaningless information.
And no society wants its citizens to be awake and capable of critical thought because it means that they will inevitably end up questioning the society itself.
One is much easier to control when their focus is centered on celebrity gossips, TV shows, and unsettling stories from the news broadcasts. Or when one only cares about satisfying their impulses and selfish desires for pleasure, money, and vanity.
As you can see, no sophisticated mind control techniques are required to trap the population into mental slavery. All it takes is to keep people constantly busy and distracted.
And this is what George Orwell and Aldous Huxley warned us about in their literary masterpieces over 70 years ago.
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