Saturday, December 22, 2012


During my early teen years, I read a bunch of books my parents had laying around.  There was quite a variety since many of the books were the popular fiction of the 1970s or books they had read during high school or college (the marginalia gave away which books were which).  I read everything from First Blood and Shōgun to Watership Down and a collection of Mark Twain short stories.  I don’t know how much I remember from these books, a few of which were probably beyond my years.  Although I could understand the words and the basic plot, the subject matter was sometimes too violent or too sexually graphic for the young teenage mind, and I tend to remember those sequences in the stories instead of the story lines.  Another book that resulted in a similar experience for me was 1984, although I did understand it enough to know that it was a warning against various political ideologies, including communism.

Book cover.1984 is considered by many to be the epitomy of the dystopian (utopia gone wrong) novel, but it was not the first.  Many years before 1984 was written, Russian author Eugene Zamiatin wrote We (ISBN: 0-525-47039-5).  Zamiatin wrote his book, this edition translated by Gregory Zilboorg, to protest the direction the Bolshevik Party was taking the Soviet Union.  Zamiatin was a Bolshevik, but did not subscribe to the Leninist idea of zero tolerance for dissenting ideas within the party.  In the book, there is one, giant state (called the United State) that controls every single aspect of its citizens’ lives, down to the number of times they chew their state-provided food rations.  The protagonist is one of the elite thanks to his role as the designer of a very advanced spaceship that will soon export the ideas and ways of the United State to some other people (ostensibly on another planet).  He starts a journal since all citizens were encouraged to write something to send on the rocket.  However, he meets another citizen, an attractive female, who introduces him to some concepts he’d never thought of before, such as acting and thinking for oneself.  He is eventually introduced to people outside the walls of the United State, and a plan is hatched to use a test flight of the rocket to get both disaffected citizens of the United State and the people outside the wall to some new place in the world.  The plan doesn’t go off, though, thanks to a spy, and the protagonist is forced to undergo a radical new surgery that removes his ability to imagine and then watches as the woman he loved is tortured.  After the operation, he is again completely loyal to the totalitarian regime.

The book was an interesting read, largely because it seemed so relevant to today.  State control of every aspect of our lives seems to be something we’re slowly moving toward.  I found the food example to be particularly germane with various cities, schools, and other government-run organizations banning particular foods.  One example that seemed to go against modern statist ideas (and this failing to foresee modern statist tendencies was present in 1984, too) was the United State’s desire to control its citizens’ sex lives.  Modern statists preach sexual promiscuity and encourage uncontrolled sexual expression, no matter the consequences.  (On the other hand, population control seeems to be the end goal of both.)  It goes without saying that much that goes on in the schools in America is similar to the schools of the United State.  Thinking for oneself is not encouraged, but parroting revisionist history and other ideas is.  The logic so highly touted by the United State, kids in schools are taught that some ephemeral concept called science is where all trust should be placed.  It is interesting to see how the government in We preached that by eliminating choices, eliminating people’s ability to imagine, and making people more and more the same (i.e., social equality), they would acheive true happiness.  Of course, nothing is farther from the truth, and the characters in We recognized that once they had experienced the ability to think for themselves and make their own decisions.  Liberty, the ability to make a choice, is what allows us to experience true happiness.  It does not intrinsically bring us happiness, but allows us to choose those things that do bring happiness, and we can do that regardless of the ability of poeple around us to make poor decisions.  As Zamiatin realized, we don’t need a state directing our decisions; we need the ability to present and live by our own precepts.  We need liberty.

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