Monday, 3 March 2014

Metaphors of Freedom in the twenty-first century

The Metaphors of freedom in the twenty-first century find voice in novels that describe life under rather straitjacketed norms, rules, and regulations, all of which end up curbing freewill and choice. The Metaphors include, Nature, Religion, Spirituality, and the freedom to procreate.You are a good citizen as long as you conform to popular trends as promoted through Propaganda Techniques. In many cases, this ends up in a tussle between the state and the individual. Some novels have subjected the whole issue with humour, while others have  given a more serious treatment to the whole topic. The three novels in which I find some very strong metaphors of freedom are, George Orwell’s rendition of the Socialist Society in The Animal Farm, Aldous Huxley’s description of the firm that deals in the longevity treatment in The Brave New World, and the third, newer novel The Resistance by Gemma Malley. In many modern societies, there is a rampant abuse of individual privacy in the form of snooping and hacking of internet traffic, and of course eavesdropping of telephone conversations. In recent times, there was this huge hue and cry about the 'Radia Tapes' purportedly containing  incriminating evidence of  the complicity of various individual in the 3-G scam.Various organizations and individuals called the whole  of eavesdropping as going against the right to privacy of the individual. There have been many instances where individual freedoms and rights have been curbed in the interests of a greater entity, probably huge corporations and business houses. The novels mentioned below warn us about the harms of curbing individual free choice and free will. While we talk about free choice or free will, we shouldn't however lose sight of the fact that we also have duties towards the state and other individuals like us. Freedom cannot be construed as license, although it is seen that some people in the twenty-first century society might have greater freedom and thus license than the rest of the citizens living in the same society! It is exactly in the context preventing what may become license and the curbing of other individuals' right to freewill and choice that the concept of freedom in the twenty-first century needs to be analyzed! Ironically the animal farm is simply not a metaphor for freedom-it is rather a metaphor for the oppression of tyranny.
Huxley’s Brave New World, describes the Controller as a man who literally controls the whole process of mixing and matching of genes to create people to populate the whole country. The segregation of the people starts from the very test-tubes where the cells are made to multiply into zygotes. You add such and such chemicals to the biological soup and you get intellectuals who have a high intelligence. You deprive the soup of the chemicals and  get people who are mediocre in intelligence, ideal for menial work! The very process is aimed at creating deliberate divisions in the society, a rather distorted view of a society based on an artificial division of labour based on deliberately determining the  intelligence levels through eugenics.   Ultimately, it is the industry run by the Controller that decides how the world will be run, after all they control the birth of new human beings, and they provide longevity treatments to others, so that no one ever dies! In Brave New World, God and the government have both been replaced by machines, medicines, and happiness which is the result of a regular dose of Soma pills. It is paradox that the industry that deals with Eugenics has become not just the tool of the government but the Government itself! This is an example of the State becoming subservient to the industry that has become essential for the state of slavery to continue. ‘Brave New World’ seems to be  a description of a finished product of what the Nazis were trying to do during the second world war-build up a master race! Unfortunately human beings are not engineered by nature to sit quietly and take orders. The natural curiosity of human beings can often break through the fug of deliberately fed psychotropic substances and drugs fed to individuals by the firm. The very idea of controlling human reproduction goes against the ethos of freedom and liberty, and such a philosophy negates the very freedoms that all human beings expect to enjoy,the freedom to choose a suitable partner, and the freedom to have children, and to procreate within the socially acceptable norms! Nazi abuses of human rights included enforced racial hygiene,  compulsory sterilization, extermination of a particular race, and a general rejection of the doctrine that all human beings are born equal. To quote from Wikipedia:, ‘Both the public and some of the scientific community have associated eugenics with Nazi abuses, such as enforced "racial hygiene", human experimentation, and the extermination of "undesired" population groups.[citation needed] However, developments in genetic, genomic, and reproductive technologies at the end of the 20th century are raising for some people numerous new questions regarding the ethical status of eugenics, effectively creating a resurgence of interest in the subject.’ Huxley's Brave New World describes a society based on  deliberately  engineered species of mankind. The novel expounds the need for free will and choice in choosing a life partner and freedom to procreate in a world of technological advancement. When state run organisations determine the kind of progeny that you should produce, and they take away the freedom to bear children as and when you wish, then you are no freer than slaves, irrespective of the kind of amenities you enjoy. Longevity might after all be a curse that binds you to a vicious cycle of slavery from which there is no escape!
Coming back to Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’, the alternative to the rather stifling and festering life in a scientifically advanced world is the life of those who live in the ‘reservation’- an out of bounds area for misfits and those who would rather do their own thing than follow the diktats of a rather subversive regime! Life in the reservations is rather difficult, with hygiene taking a toss, and of course, you don’t have the luxuries and amenities of a modern city. In the seventh chapter, Lenina remarks to Bernard, referring to the Indian guide, “he smells.” On the way to the Pueblo, we are told how, “Suddenly it was as though the whole air had come alive and were pulsing, puling with the indefatigable movement of blood.” Is it this sense of being alive , the sheer thrill of being alive that drives the engines of a man called Savage? Why does the Savage then deliberately refuse the so called gifts of a  more advanced world ruled by His Fordship, the Director and, the process of genetic engineering? Has the promise of immortality begun to ring hollow for the Savage? The Savage is clearly a proponent of freedom and life in the reservation (in spite of all its shortcomings) is an important metaphor.
George Orwell’s, ‘Animal Farm’ is a rather vitriolic comment on  how the attempt to control individual freewill and choice through a particular ideology can sometimes backfire. What sounds rather Utopian and sweet to the ears,  degenerates into something rather farcical at the end! The farm is taken over by animals in a revolution which banishes human beings from the farm. The animals become the rulers of the farm. Everyone follows a strict regime, and work is allotted to each animal according to his or her abilities. What happens after a few days is that  the whole structure of the society degenerates into on that promotes inequality, encourages oppression, curbs free will and  brings out artificial divisions in the society based on favoritism and nepotism. Under the tyrannical rule of the Boar, one finds life on the farm to be rather oppressive constricting. What had begun as an attempt to create a society of equals in fact ends up creating a society of the unequal, a society in which tyrants and dictators thrive. What happens in the animal farm is an example of what happens when individuals become totally subservient to the dictates of a state which seeks to impose its will on its people suggesting that in the State of equals, no one has the right express his or her personal opinions, or for that effect, no one has an identity apart from that of the state! The end result is that there is a counter revolution and the inhabitants of the farm return to their previous state with the human beings as their caretakers of the society. ‘Animal Farm’ wrote the novel as an expression of his opposition to the ideology of Stalinism and  the kind of dictatorship that was practiced in the Soviet Union during the early thirties and forties. In this novel, the pigs reign over the others, and the actual dictator is a Boar by the name of Napoleon. He doesn’t tolerate dissent, and is very clear about what he expect from the other animals, which is total subservience to the diktats  of of the state and its so called appointed head, Napoleon. Napoleon is also the villain in the book against whom the others rebel in the end. The horses and the donkeys are the most hardworking on the farm, while the Cows’ milk is stolen by the pigs who then mix it in their mash. Clearly we are talking about racial superiority in the book and Orwell makes it clear that the pigs, under the leadership of Napoleon are in fact more equal than others, that to say superior! The hens are the first to voice their opposition  to the oppressive rule and regulations imposed on them by Napoleon the boar. The book was incidentally  banned in Ethiopia, the place of birth of  the writer of this article during the Socialist regime.
The common theme that links the three novels is that state lead dominance is detrimental to freedom of the individual. The paradox is that a technologically advanced society might not after all promote individual freedom! The Novel, ‘The Resistance’ by Gemma Malley  a relatively more contemporary novel  first published in 2008 in Britain,is a Dystopian Novel like Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ and Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ The review on the back of the novel reads, ‘The year is 2140. The battle against ageing has been won and people can now live for ever. But not everyone thinks that eternal life is a good thing and a resistance movement is fighting the drive for eternal youth. Peter finds himself involved in a struggle not only against the authoritarian government, but also against his family.’ The protagonist, Peter is labelled, ‘a surplus’ for not toeing the line. A born dissenter against the oppressions of a regime lead by his Grandfather, Richard Pincent, the owner of Pincent Pharma. He  joins the underground movement lead by ‘Pip’ a diminutive name of a powerful leader, and decides to infiltrate the firm run by his Grandfather. Peter, a ‘Surplus’ citizen is forced to undergo compulsory counselling  in order to be made to accept the longevity treatment and thus become part of the mainstream society of a modern European country of the year 2140. He fools his counsellor by telling her that he wants to join his grandfather, a statement that brings great satisfaction to the counsellor that her efforts have finally born fruit. The whole story makes him question his loyalty to his wife, another ‘surplus’ and true to his love, he returns to his true love. The novel ends with a picture of, ‘several men attacking a Pincent Pharma truck destroying its contents’, an affirmation of the victory of free will over the oppression led by a large corporation.
Gemma Malley's Resistance is an important novel that highlights how individual freedom is curbed through The Declaration that binds all those who conform and take the Longevity treatment into not bringing into the world any children, 'Surpluses' as they are called. The very idea of curbing or taking away the right to bring one's progeny into the world is the ultimate affront on the freedom of human beings by a powerful corporation that has become part of the state machinery. To allow the reader of this article a view into the world ruled by the powerful corporation in Gemma's rendition of the world, I would like to quote from the letter that Peter receives from his grandfather,  ' Dear Peter, ...As you know, signing the declaration entitles you to take Longevity, prolonging your life indefinitely....Longevity has changed the world for humans, allowing us the freedom of limitless time and limitless health.'  The catch is that you have to give away your right to procreate and bring your children into this world. What happens to those who bring 'Surpluses' into the world is that the parents are punished and the children are taken away and placed in a foster home.The Declaration in this novel is a metaphor for an instrument of slavery in the modern world!  The surmise and assumptions in the Declaration are distorted and warped in order to benefit the corporation which promotes the Longevity treatment. To quote a few lines from the Declaration, ' Man has for many thousands of years relied on Nature to increase their numbers and has, at the same time, been in thrall to Nature and Her whims, including disease, pestilence, famine and other plagues that have culled great numbers of humans...Freedom, however, brings with it responsibilities to the planet, to our fellow man, and to Nature Herself. Therefore, as a responsible citizen of the United Kingdom, under the governance of the Authorities of the United Kingdom, I, the undersigned, do solemnly Declare, that I will take every measure and precaution to ensure that I will never be responsible for the creations of new human life (forthwith to be referred to as Surplus), accepting any method deemed appropriate by the Authorities and their appointed doctors to insert implants or other methods as appropriate...'.( page123;124-125) The ultimate insult to the freedom of the individual is to subject him or her to forcible sterilization so that he or she cannot give birth to their children. You will also notice the paradox and the contradiction with reference to Nature.
The emergence of the Corporation or the industrial organisation and its sway over the society is a warning about how powerful corporations might in fact intrude into the workings of the state, and thus undermine individual freewill and rights. In today’s highly commercialized societies, it is a known fact that propaganda techniques determine what an individual chooses and rejects. Individuals are made to jump the bandwagon and follow popular trends that are dictated according to commercial trends. In an age where individual choice is determined by corporate entities which decide what is in and what is effete, it is clear that individual choice, and free will are detrimental to the progress and prosperity of some of the powerful corporate entities vying with each other for supremacy. It is thus a paradox that modernism has resulted in an individual who doesn’t have a free choice, an entity whose own wishes are determined by a corporate organisation that dictates what is right and what is wrong for him. If  today an individual is not able to make his own free choices and decisions, how then can we say that modern man is more emancipated and empowered entity that can celebrate greater freedom of choice than his ancestors who lived during, say the dark ages?
Are all the fruits of so called technological advancement after all just facade for taking away the freedoms of an individual so as to serve the purpose of the corporate entity, or for that effect serve the nefarious desires of the tyrant who has ascended the gilt edged throne of scientific advancement? Is scientific advancement an anathema for individual rights? Recent incidents of big brother spying on individuals through the internet, the access of private information by powerful business houses, and the tapping of private phone calls all point out towards the serious threat to  individual rights in an age of empowerment and education, and technology.Ultimately, the reader might wonder what might be the Metaphors of Freedom in the English Novels discussed above. Well it is obvious that, Nature, Religion and Spirituality are very strong Metaphors of Freedom in the contemporary English Novel!
1.The Brave New World by Aldous Huxley- Flamingo Modern Classics-1994 Edition-  ISBN-0-00-654579-3
2.The Resistance by Gemma Malley-Bloomsbury Publishers-2009 Edition-ISBN 978-0-7475-8772-9
3.The writer’s recollections of the, ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell

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