Brave New World
Hot this season on the political column circuit – all things Orwellian. The President amended the constitution. Everyone’s talking about democracy infringed and the boot stamping on the face and people vanished forever. George Orwell’s 1984 has suddenly become the go-to reference when describing the political situation.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great book. I just think it’s time for a different perspective.
Recently, I’ve been reading Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”.
In Huxley’s book, people are not born, but created. No mothers, fathers or families. They are grown in bottles, their destiny decided at the moment of creation. Each is then conditioned through sleep hypnotism to repeat a particular pattern of behaviour. There’s a Government endorsed drug people can take to escape problems. There is no marriage. Everyone belongs to everyone, and everyone is happy. Or conditioned to be so.
That doesn’t sound like a perfect world to me. Just the other side of the coin.
More importantly though, it got me thinking. If Sri Lanka is Orwellian, then maybe there’s a place that’s Huxleyan.
A colleague of mine was describing how in Oslo, Norway, people have to punch their own tickets into a machine. No one checks it for them. It’s quite possible to ride around all day without paying a thing. And yet the people punch. When he asked them why, they just shrugged and said, ‘because we’re supposed to.’ That sounds like conditioning to me. Which brings me to this.
An old college friend of mine was arguing about how everything in life is dictated by law. He tried to explain. ‘When you’re at the pedestrian crossing and you see a red light, you stop, right?’
I laughed. Everyone knows here, the people cross when they want, where they want. It is an insouciant bending of rules, a swift middle finger to the system. Here, red only means ‘be careful. Vehicles could run you down as you stroll across anyway.’ Those little ‘stick it to the systems’ are part of what makes us Sri Lankan. Teenagers flock to White Horse under the sign that says, “No alcohol served to those under 21.” When driving, we cross lanes when we want.
But our little acts of deviousness have climbed their way up to the top. And now we see the politicians rob with impunity. It seems that power and greed go hand in hand.
People jaywalk because they’re in a hurry. Or simply because they don’t want to wait. Unfortunately, as a consequence, people get used to the bending. That’s why politicians here can do what they do and no one really shouts too loud about it.
But what happens if we conform? Will there be a day when we blindly follow orders? Will we form orderly queues at bus stops? Will we wait till the red man goes green? Will we then become automatons, following orders without questioning? Isn’t that a form of repression just as insidious? To blind people with contentment- give people everything they want to live, and they’ll live happily, never questioning where the powers that be get the money for their expensive Pajeros. They won’t care about tender fixing, or corruption or democracy, or anything other than themselves.
Perhaps we need to stay angry.
And perhaps (dare I say it? We don’t really want change. Perhaps we want noise and chaos.
We don’t want to punch our tickets on the train when no one’s watching.
We don’t want contentment.
We like grumbling good naturedly about the state of the nation over our morning coffee.
Maybe we deserve what we got. Because subconsciously we want it that way.