An Omnipotent Government: Utopia or Dystopia Essay

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An Omnipotent Government: Utopia or Dystopia

“Utopia: an idealized place of perfection or a visionary scheme for a perfect society” (Agnes). However, what if the ideals of utopia result in the seeds of dystopia? What if a government that is able to rule a perfect society, oversteps its bounds and causes destruction of freedom? In the dystopian novels 1984, A Brave New World, and The Giver, the government controls every thought, every fear, every story, and every emotion. These novels warn of the threat of a government that becomes too involved in its citizens’ lives. When citizens allow themselves to be uncaring and uninformed about their government, the ultimate price is freedom and liberty. These novels show that freedom is much to high a cost; momentary contentment should never come at the expense of liberty. Adolf Hitler once said, “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed” (Huxley). Propaganda is a very powerful tool that can be used for good or evil.

In 1984 the Party’s slogan, “WAR IS PEACE. FREEDOM IS SLAVERY. IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH,” convinces its citizens that they want what the government has given them: war, slavery, and ignorance (Orwell). They do not want freedom because it is slavery. They are made to believe that peace and serenity come only during war. They are uninformed about their world, and this gives them strength. This type of government propaganda controls what citizens think by controlling what is heard on the radio, the television, the newspaper, and all other forms of media. In A Brave New World, propaganda is not only forced on citizens through media, but also during sleep. At the time Huxley wrote his novel, a new technique of “sleep learning” had become popular. The technique hypnopaedia was an interesting concept but actually caused negative behavior. Huxley used this in his novel as a form of government brainwashing. In A Brave New World, those in power used “sleep learning” to instill their beliefs in the citizenry of London (Clareson).

This “sleep learning” is a type of non-rational propaganda. Huxley compares the two kinds of propaganda, rational and non-rational. Rational propaganda appeals to a person’s own best interest. Rational propaganda can only be used in a society where people have reason and morals. They could use the propaganda to rationalize what is in their best interest. Nevertheless in a society without reason or morals, what kind of propaganda is effective? Non-rational propaganda appeals not to any person’s best interest, but to their emotions. “The power to respond to reason and truth exist in all of us. On the other hand, unfortunately, does the tendency to respond to unreason and falsehood—particularly in cases where the falsehood evokes some enjoyable emotion” (Huxley 265). Huxley applies Hitler’s rule that the behavior of the masses is not determined by knowledge, but by feelings and innate drives. The propaganda in A Brave New World appeals to passion instead of reason (Clareson). Punishment is a powerful method of controlling any person.

The fear of something that causes pain or unhappiness is usually an effective way to keep a person from rebelling. In The Giver, the fear of “release” or death kept all the citizens from breaking any rules. Even a simple mistake could cost a life. When a pilot in training accidentally flew over the city, the elders comforted the citizens, “Needless to say, he will be released” (Lowery 21). The citizens in The Giver did not understand that “release” meant death, but they could comprehend that it was not a desirous thing. In Lowery’s novel, no one broke rules. When Jonas’ father looked at the name of a baby before the naming ceremony, Jonas was shocked. He could not believe his father had broken a rule. In 1984, many people were hanged for a crime. “Thought Crime” was punishable by death. The Thought Police could not watch everyone’s thoughts simultaneously, but if they came across a belief that did not align with the party, death was the result.

However public execution is not the only form of death in 1984. “Disappearances” were a common occurrence throughout the novel. Often those guilty of “thought crimes” just disappeared. All records of their existence were erased, and the Party attempted to remove all memories of them through “double think” (Orwell). Huxley takes a completely different approach in his novel. Pleasure is the key to controlling the citizenry in A Brave New World. A review of the book states, “Pleasure is the most powerful motivator of man” (Clareson). Research has proven that rewarding good behavior is more effective than punishing wrong behavior. Where the citizens in 1984 are controlled by fear of punishment, the citizens in A Brave New World are controlled by reinforcing desirous behavior. The main tools used by the government to regulate society are sex and Soma, a drug used by all citizens in the novel. The people’s awareness is suppressed to the point that the World Controller refers to them as “nice tame animals.”

They sacrificed their entire future for the pleasure of the moment. If a citizen disagreed with the government in A Brave New World, they would be given soma and through “sleep learning” be retaught the importance of government and their place in society (Huxley). The government fundamentally brainwashes its citizens to keep them ignorant of anything other than what they need know. Knowledge is a valuable thing. “ If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, it expects what never was and will never be…the people cannot be safe without information. Where the press is free, and everyone is able to read; all is safe” (Huxley). One important factor in controlling a large group of people is limiting his or her knowledge and resources. In 1984, the government uses a new form of speaking called “news speak.” Newspeak is a simplified version of the truth. The problem with this is when things are simplified we do not get the full version of the truth; instead we get a biased form of it. In 1984, the government controls information allowing only what reflects well on them to be released.

“Don’t you see the whole aim of newspeak is to narrow the range of thought” (Orwell). Lowery also shows a limitation of knowledge in her novel. In The Giver, the elders censor their peoples’ language, emotions, and behaviors. Only the Giver and Receiver are allowed access to books and memories. The citizens in this novel are childlike in their understanding of things (Hanson). They literally have a limited vision and no way to think for themselves, or to make decisions without the Giver’s help. Taking away knowledge is a powerful thing and dangerous thing. “Who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present controls the past” (Orwell 32). History and memories are essential to a society. When citizens forget the past; it numbs the entire citizenry. In 1984, the government constantly changes the past so it portrays them in a better light. “The party is at war with Eurasia therefore it always has been at war with Eurasia” (“Eternal Vigilance”).

“Double think” is a form of thinking created by the government in Orwell’s novel. To “double think” is to have two contrary beliefs and believe both of them, while only expressing one. Orwell’s main character Winston knows when something is a lie, but has no evidence to controvert it. He says, “ The past…had not merely been altered, it had been destroyed” (Orwell 33). In The Giver, only the Giver himself and Jonas the Receiver are allowed access to the history of their city. Upon discovering the outside world and time Jonas says, “I’m sorry sir. I don’t know what you mean when you say ‘the whole world’ or ‘generations before him.’ I thought there was only us. I thought there was only now.” Before becoming the Receiver, Jonas like all the others in his community only understood the here and now. To them everything outside of their own city simply was “elsewhere” (Lowery 56). When Jonas does discover his people’s past, he longs for a different future; knowing that there was more to life then what was offered by his elders.

Emotion is an essential part of a human being. In these dystopian novels, emotion is either used as a tool for the government or completely eliminated from society. In 1984, negative emotions are used to create a common enemy among the people. Every day, all citizens were required to participate in the “two minutes hate.” During this time, they focused on an enemy of “The Party” and exhibited very animalistic behavior (Orwell 5). They also trained children from a very young age making Party minions. Winston describes his neighbor Parsons, “a man of paralyzing stupidity, a mass of imbecile enthusiasm- one of those completely unquestioning devoted drudges on whom…the stability of ‘The Party’ depended” (Orwell 22). Lowery instead of using emotions, tried to completely suppress them. In The Giver, there is no such thing as color, love, or joy. Jonas’ world is dependent of content people who ask few questions and see no need for change.

Their lives are planned for them; spouses are picked out and children are applied for. All these monumental decisions are made by the council of elders. Jonas is accustomed to a life of “sameness.” Upon turning twelve and becoming the Receiver, Jonas’ lackluster world transforms into a vibrant new place. The memories given to him allow Jonas to experience love and warmth. “I like the feeling of love…but I can see that it was a dangerous way to live” (Lowery 126). In The Giver, “stirrings” are treated with a subduing drug. This represses any curiosity and imagination the young people have. Adults are also required to take medicine that eliminates their sexual desires (Henson). There is nothing beyond what is required and no desire for something more. In each of these cautionary novels, there are uneducated people who have no desire to become informed. Government has become so controlling that even history has been changed.

Propaganda and emotions are only means to advance the government. Liberty is the price paid for stability, safety, and community. Their world did not become the desired utopia instead it became a dystopia. Webster’s dictionary defines dystopia as “a place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives” (Agnes). Liberty and freedom must be earned and guarded. Enlightened and empowered citizens must keep them alive. The dystopian life shown in these novels is only a threat if citizens allow their freedoms to be taken away. When citizens allow themselves to be uncaring and uninformed about their government, the ultimate price is freedom and liberty. These novels show that freedom is much to high a cost; momentary contentment should never come at the expense of liberty.

Works Cited
Agnes, Michael, ed. “Utopia.” Webster’s New Dictionary and Thesaurus. Cleveland, Ohio: Wiley Publishing Inc., 2002. Print. Clareson, Thomas P. “The Classic: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.” Extrapolation 3.1(Dec. 1961): 34-40. Rpt in Contemporary Literature Critisism. Ed. Carolyn Riley. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale Research, 1973. Literature Resource Center. Web. 23 January 2013. “Eternal Vigilance.” New Statesman [1996] 1 June 2009: 41+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 29 Jan. 2013. Hanson, Carter F. “The Utopian function of memory in Lois Lowry’s The Giver.” Extrapolation 50.1 (2009): 45+ Literature Resource Center. Web. 23 January 2013. Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited. New York: Harper Collins Publishers Inc., 2004. Print. Lowry, Lois. The Giver. New York: Dell Laurel –Leaf, 2002. Print. Orwell, George. 1984. Austin, TX: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1991. Print.

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