They shall beat their swords into plowshares — and proceed to destroy the earth by plowing, tilling, drenching the ground with chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and planting genetically modified crops.
— LONG MEADOW FARM SAYING
Garrison Keillor marked the birthday of Aldous Huxley on July 26 during his “Writer’s Almanac” by reviving the debate between those who considered a future like Huxley’s “Brave New World,” versus those who favored George Orwell’s version of the future in “1984.”
(Huxley had the distinction of having the same birth date as Stanley Kubrick, Carl Jung, George Bernard Shaw and Mick Jagger. He also had the distinction of dying on Nov. 22, 1963, the day of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, and thus getting no press then.)
I was a high school freshman in 1957 when I read “Brave New World.” My teenage brain latched right on to the possibilities. Like how nice it would be to be an Alpha or Beta, OK to be a Gamma (they were happy, too), and horrible to be an Epsilon, the minions of society. Fortunately, everyone got to enjoy life, thanks to the miracle drug, soma.
“Brave New World,” published in 1931, was heavy on top-down social and biological engineering. Parenthood was unknown, since everyone was hatched in glass bottles. Miraculously, everyone had jobs, plenty of entertainment, and any twinge of dissatisfaction could be whisked away by a dose of soma. “A gram is better than a damn,” the saying went.
Enter Orwell’s “1984,” published in 1949, with Big Brother government, and a world of propaganda speak.
“War is Peace”
“Freedom is Slavery”
“Ignorance is Strength”
And here we are in 2011, years away from Huxley and Orwell’s vision, but strangely living in a very bad mixture of both.
We have a Brave New World brought to us by the pharmaceutical industry. It hasn’t released a blockbuster drug like soma yet, but not for lack of trying. Instead we have a world of feel-good drugs, pain killers, anti-depressants, and anti-anxiety drugs, some or all of which are addictive.
We have a medical establishment — doctors, primarily — cheerfully prescribing these drugs to young and old alike, and Maine and other places have a secondary drug industry fueled by stolen or purchased addictive painkillers.
We also have a Brave New World brought to us by our industrial food industry. “Comfort foods” such as soda, chips, fries, doughnuts.
These things that don’t really qualify as food, but they do make us fat and sick, and we still gobble them up. Almost a third of our population is diabetic or pre-diabetic. Three-quarters of us are overweight or obese.
Even if we had our doses of a soma-like drug, it still wouldn’t be fun to be sick and slow-moving.
And then we have an Orwellian add-on that gives us “corporate speak” on climate change (“Just a theory”), energy (“No problem”), social programs (“No need for Social Security, welfare, Medicare”), taxation (“Don’t tax the rich!”), and government (“No regulation, please. The market will make everything nice.”).
Government itself — despite its huge expenditures — is ineffective and marginalized, as we saw during the pointless and nearly endless debate about the debt ceiling.
Our vast military machine is neither effective nor efficient.
We haven’t won a war since 1945, and we still are living with the huge negative baggage of stalemate in Korea, defeat in Vietnam, and no positive outcome (for us at least) in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Huxley and Orwell themselves would be amazed at what we have wrought. I’m sure our current system of delivering goods, services, food, jobs and health care would boggle their imaginations for its multiple failures in spite of our (formerly) vast resources.
What to do?
* Think local. Act local.
* Grow your own food as much as you can.
* Find local sources of food if you can’t grow your own.
* Put your accounts in local banks.
* Buy at your local hardware and merchandise stores, not at big-box stores.
* Pay attention to what your state senator and representatives are doing.
* Pay attention to your local government. Go to town meetings.
* Get to know your neighbors. Give them a hand if they need it.
How’s that for being brave in our new and exciting world?
Denis Thoet owns and manages Long Meadow Farm in West Gardiner. www.longmeadowfarmmaine.com.