Tuesday, January 08, 2013

The New Utopia

I finally found a readable website copy of this 1891 document written by a popular writer of the times, Jerome K. Jerome  (here).
This was before H. G. Wells story "When the Sleeper Awakes," and must have been known to Wells.  It uses the premise of a Rip Van Wrinkle figure who awakes to find a few centuries have passed by, and his sleeping body has been protected and taken care of by the authorities.  

Wells by the way went on to revise his story later in 1910 and called it simply The Sleeper Awakes.  Despite being riduculed for some of his other crazy socialist utopian novels, this one follows a more dystopian path, and the lot of the workers is just as bad or worse as in the evil days of capitalism.  So we have to give Wells credit for being able to look at a subject from opposite points of view.   It would appear The New Utopia's dismal forecast of a socialist world order influenced the famous socialist Wells into imagining just how far things could go wrong when the power of the State is unchecked.

Jerome's short story draws some conclusions from egalitarian socialist theory: the majority decide everything and the minority have no rights, everyone has to dress and eat the same, superior physique or intelligence is stunted to prevent superiority, families are banned, babies are raised in public nurseries and schools until age 14, and everyone has to live in barracks so no one is better off than anyone else.  The incentive of parents to work hard to create  better circumstances for their offspring is seen as a great evil now overcome.  

What is interesting is the many similarities found here with Zamyatin's We (1921), Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1931), and George Orwell's 1984 (1949). It is believed Zamyatin's benighted socialist future was directly influenced by Jerome's story, as it follows many of its ideas.  Huxley could have been influenced by We, and Orwell certainly was.  In all of these works, the State is all powerful, individualism condemned; stark regimentation is the order of the day, and freedom of thought suppressed.  Huxley supposes a society dosed in epicurean pleasures will make people surrender their liberty, while Orwell presupposes a harsh North Korean-like society soaked in fear will do the trick.  

These works show the direction social engineering projects are headed.  The nanny state concept that today results in ridiculous actions as suspending a 6 year old from school for pointing his finger like a gun and saying "pow" is a recent example.  An endless list of such absurdities is on display at NannyState.com (here).

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