Another surprising feature is the attitude toward machinery. Several centuries earlier, the Erewhonians had attained a remarkable stage of sophistication in the development of machinery, but through the teachings of a prophet they had been persuaded that machines might some day become masters over men, with the result that they destroyed all of the machinery having any degree of complexity and outlawed any further experimentation in the field. They retained only the simplest kinds of implements — spades and scythes — and horses and wagons.
It is a fundamental disposition of humankind to concoct imaginary Utopias, although their names for such places may differ. The word utopia, which has become the familiar designation for such states, was More's creation. It is inevitable that people, recognizing the manifold stupidities, corruptions, and inequities current in their society, should attempt to devise a better system for people living together. Omar Khayyam voiced the attitude admirably in The Rubaiyat.
In George Orwell's 1984 (1949), the society of the year 1984 which Orwell projects for us is based on the assumption that a "limited" nuclear war of the 1950s had left civilization severely crippled and that government controls were seized by well-organized opportunists employing the familiar methods of a police state to maintain power. London, the scene of the novel's action, is the capital of Oceania, one of three superpowers. The other superpowers are called Eastasia and Eurasia. The city of London contains a few enormous government buildings and a small number of fine apartment buildings, but the vast majority of the buildings are eighteenth- or nineteenth-century houses in dilapidated condition which provide shelter for the common people. There are also a good many neglected bombed-out areas. Certainly this is not a picture of somebody's dream city.
The planning of their extensive program of amusements has two main purposes. First, it is intended to stimulate the economy. The games and feelies all require expensive equipment; that means more factories and also more opportunities for people to distribute their pay checks. Second, the government is concerned to keep everybody busy during waking hours to leave them no odd moments for thinking.
“ [A] permanent possibility of selfishness arises from the mere fact of having a self, and not from any accidents of education or ill-treatment. And the weakness of all Utopias is this, that they take the greatest difficulty of man and assume it to be overcome, and then give an elaborate account of the overcoming of the smaller ones. They first assume that no man will want more than his share, and then are very ingenious in explaining whether his share will be delivered by motor-car or balloon. ”
The application of scientific methods begins in the "Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre." There humans are bred in test tubes, transferred as they grow to larger jars, and nourished under controlled conditions until they reach the stage for hatching or "decanting." Even in the test tube stage they are marked for treatment that will produce the type of human desired. The types are labeled alpha, beta, gamma, delta, and epsilon, with certain plus or minus grades within each type. In infancy the individuals are scientifically "conditioned" to cultivate certain desires, to abhor certain things, to believe certain truisms, according to the kind of service for which they are designated. The conditioning takes the form of nutritional treatment, electric shock, screeching sirens, or hypnopaedia — that is, sleep-teaching.
One of the most eccentric features of Erewhonian life is the interpretation of crime and punishment. Illness is treated as a crime. Sentences of varying degrees of severity are pronounced according to the nature and seriousness of the disease. There are no physicians in the country. Those actions which Europeans consider criminal — theft, fraud, embezzlement — are regarded as weaknesses of character deserving sympathy and help, help which is provided through the ministrations of "straighteners."
There is, of course, nothing new in all of this program, nothing fantastic such as Huxley's "Hatchery and Conditioning Centre." The reader, while he cringes at the horror, keeps repeating to himself, "It can't happen here." Nevertheless, Orwell compels us to recognize not only Nazi devices but also certain telltale symptoms in our own social and political practices that cannot help but undermine our complacency.
In August 2012, Alderman joined the faculty at the University of Tennessee after serving as a professor of geography at East Carolina University since 2000. He recently completed service on the Council of the Association of American Geographers (AAG) as Regional Councillor and Chair of the Association's Publications Committee. Alderman is the former President of the Southeastern Division of the AAG and a former co-editor of the peer-reviewed journal Southeastern Geographer.
Sir Francis Bacon, New Atlantis. Although he never completed it, this utopian novel by one of the great philosophers of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras is well worth reading. It was published posthumously in 1627 and outlines a perfect society, Bensalem (its name suggesting Jerusalem) founded on peace, enlightenment, and public spirit. Available in Three Early Modern Utopias Thomas More: Utopia / Francis Bacon: New Atlantis / Henry Neville: The Isle of Pines (Oxford World’s Classics) along with More’s Utopia and another early utopian novel, Henry Neville’s The Isle of Pines.