Big Brother’s Soma Nation

How much do you remember from the books of your childhood?

Mark is convinced that a soma pacified populace is a possibility and having big brother watch is impossible. He argues that it is harder to control people by force than by offering them dionysian compensation.

“But there are plenty of examples of Big Brother states and, in primitive forms, they have always existed. China, North Korea and the former eastern bloc. They are, were, surveillance states. In fact, every totalitarian state that I can think of uses surveillance. And I can’t think of a single example of a totalitarian soma nation.”

“What about the trivialization of culture? Reality TV, professional sports and games. The sedated sedentary masses.”

“There’s a case to be made for that but I am disagreeing with your statement that Big Brother is not only less likely but impossible.”

He ignores my pedantry and continues to give examples of blissed servitude. He finishes with a comment about finding his island.

I know the tropes and I don’t remember the details. “Maybe it’s my weed smoking that makes me more paranoid about surveillance.”

Sometimes I feel like I am the only one who continued worrying about Big Brother after 1984 came and went. It is as-if by using a date in the title it became failed prophecy in 1985.

Brave New World is set so far off into the future that it is very much a possible future.

I can remember a genetically programmed population, soma and a climatic mescal moment in New Mexico. The details don’t really matter in the carrot versus stick debate.

How long since I last read them?

I remember so little that it’s almost like reading it for the first time. It’s a little bit like reading a modern adaptation of a classic story. You know where the story is going but, at an irregular pace, it gets there in unexpected ways.

The story is in New Mexico a lot sooner than I was expecting and John is a revelation. I cannot believe that I forgot him. I console myself by celebrating every Shakespearean reference I notice — I did not know any Shakespeare the first time I read Brave New World.

In 2019, Nineteen Eighty-Four reads like an alternate history. The era is everywhere: an exaggerated version of Stalin’s Soviet Union, World War II-style rationing, and the atomic World War III.

I also have one trope wrong: Big Brother is not watching eighty-five percent of the population. The proles are controlled, contained and pacified but are of little interest in the particular. This actually bolsters the claim that Big Brother states exist. Only a small percentage of the population are party members and only a small percentage of the members have power.

Now I grok what is meant by ‘A book is different at each reading.’ It’s not only that I will have changed, there are also things I have learned, and changes in the world. A new context in every way.

Do I grok grok rightly? I recommend Stranger in Strange Land to myself.