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The price of progression

C.J. Cromwell
Writer's Craft ISU
January 21st, 2002

Throughout the ages, humans have tried to develop their communities into places where hard labor is unnecessary and pleasures are endless. According to philosopher Thomas Hobbes, it is human nature to find ways to maximize one's pleasure. As time goes by, we find ways to make things easier and more efficient, we call this progression. Therefore, progression is greatly desired because it will better the lives of humankind, greatly increasing pleasure for most individuals. The desire for advancement must be innate since it is universal, and never seems to end. The question is: Will the human race ever create a utopian society, and if so at what costs? It is not possible for us to outline how future events will occur, but it is important to consider where we are going so we can be wise in the choices we make now.

It is foolish to guess what the future has in store without researching the past. By searching and understanding the past we can see the consequences of actions performed by our ancestors. Hopefully we will learn from the past and use the information to create solutions and make a prediction of what will happen in days to come. The Bible is a great gift that explains events from the beginning to the end of time. In the book of Ecclesiastes, wise King Solomon states, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) Whether one believes in the Bible or not does not matter when considering this piece of scripture. This wise statement turns into a question to be deeply considered. Is there anything new on this old world? Rather than quickly point out the inventions of humankind as new things, you must truly understand the question and ponder about the eternal things that last in this world. Is art a new thing? Is evil new? Is human nature changing with every generation? With this in mind approach the question of the quest for progression again. Will we ever create a new world with a new order that will soar above all our past attempts to maintain perfect peace and harmony?

A perfect functioning society held together with 'brotherly love' is shown in Ayn Rand's novel, Anthem. Rand created a story which shows a civilization in our future, living the life of our past. The people of this civilization originate from our culture and society but live as those that did centuries before us. These people have rejected and hidden all of our inventions and tools. Books have been destroyed, street lights taken down, subway tunnels covered, and all electronic tools had been destroyed and forgotten. Much like the novel Fahrenheit 451, the common people of this society were never taught the ways of the past, and their education system simply prepared them for work and nothing else. In Fahrenheit 451, books were destroyed as soon as they were discovered and the owner of the books along with them. The people of this novel had the desire of creativity and curiosity snuffed out of them by the tight social system.

In Anthem the education system was the system that made the students more ignorant and inhuman. The protagonist, Equality 7-2521, was a genius, and as soon as this was discovered the education system tried to discourage Equality 7-2521 from becoming knowledgeable. As an attempt to condition or socialize him, he was punished when he let his intelligence show. He called his intellectual gift a curse because he was expected to be simple and uninterested in education and he could not even pretend to be completely ignorant. Referring to himself as “we” as all people did in this collective society, Equality 7-2521 stated “So we fought against this curse. We tried to forget our lessons, but we always remembered. We tried not to understand what the Teacher taught, but we always understood it before the Teacher had spoken.” (Anthem. page 17) The attempt to keep the people of the society ignorant was a process that continued after the education system.

From birth to the age of five, children live in the “Home of the Infants” then they are sent to the Home of the Students for 10 years. After completing their 'education' programs, the new working age citizens were assigned a career by the state, and accepted without question. It was not an accident that Equality 7-2521 was assigned to be a Street Sweeper. However, even though the society banned new inventions, ideas, and discoveries, and it robbed its citizens of their creativity, freedom, and human nature. Is it justified because there is equality and peace? Is this the price we must pay? Is this progress? A famous saying states “nothing in life is free”, if this is true, there is a price to pay to enjoy the benefits of a harmonic worry-free society. But does this mean we must give up our humanity, which is full of imperfections, to create a perfect society?

Anthony Burgess', A Clockwork Orange, gives us a completely different view of our future. The society shown in this novel is very complex and dysfunctional unlike the society shown in Anthem. Rather than having a simple, predictable, clockwork society, this community is very unstable. The difference in this case is simple the fact that agents of social control are not reaching everyone. Some of the youth in this society are violent, vicious, psychopathic rebels. The protagonist, Alex, is a young man who has a nightly job of terrorizing the ordinary citizens. Alex and his gang, which consisted of four members including himself, beat, mug, rape, and murder for sport. Pete, Georgie, Dim, and Alex, are in their mid-teenage years and see the world as their playground, their toys being chains, knives, and any other handy weapon.

The problem with this society besides the youth lacking social ties, is the government's values. One of the only things this society has in common with Anthem is the high levels of corruption in the society, and surely that is not new to any society. A statement made from a drunken elderly man while Alex and his gang beat him for fun, gives us an idea of where the government's priorities were. “It's a stinking world because it lets the youth get on to the old like you done, and there's no law nor order no more... What sort of a world is it at all? Men on the moon and men spinning round the earth like it might be midges round a lamp, and there's not no attention paid to earthly law nor order no more.”(Clockwork Orange. page15) However, the government finally discovered a way to control these deviant citizens. Alex was the first to have been put through the system. This society is far too complex to be able to do what the government did in Anthem or Fahrenheit 451. The exploration of space and other achievements can not be left to uneducated people. Therefore, there must be a different way to control the people and have a functioning prospering society. The method used to recreate human nature in this society was much like the system used in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, conditioning.

In Clockwork Orange, Alex was drugged, placed in front of a movie screen, strapped down in a chair, hooked up to a machine, and had his eyes held open by the machine. “ ...they put like clips on the skin of my forehead, so that my top glazz-lids (eye-lids) were pulled up and up and up and I could not shut my glazzies (eyes) no matter how I tried.”(Clockwork Orange. page 80-81) He was shown a number of movie clips displaying extremely violent acts. When he saw these clips, one directly after another, he became ill and helpless, with the help of the drugs. They also played music he was fond of in the background as he screamed for mercy. After many sessions of this, Alex had been conditioned. Every time he pondered on a violent act he would be come so ill that the thoughts of violence pained him. The music that he loved, which played in the background during his conditioning, was another weapon because it brought worse feelings to him than the violent thoughts would. That was an added bonus for the experimenters. Through punishing him when he thought wrong, he was conditioned. He was taught that violence is terrible and his body naturally developed a negative reaction to it once it learned that violence causes physical pain for itself. The drugs were unnecessary after a while and the experiment was a success.

In Huxley's Brave New World, the conditioning was at a much more advanced level than that of Clockwork Orange. All citizens were literally made in labs. They were clones. The workers in this lab, which was known as the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Center, created clones differently to fill all the positions in society. A person that was to work in a low class position was not given the same amount of nutrients as someone who was to become a professor. After 'birth' they would be brought up quite differently as well. They would undergo socialization in its purist form. As the children slept, a speaker under their pillow would hypnotize them with subliminal messages, and this procedure would happen every night. The messages would tell them how to act and think. The Neo-Pavlovian Center was the conditioning center for infants. If a child was to fill an office job, they would be exposed to out-door objects such as flowers or pictures of landscapes and be punished if they attempted to experiment with the objects. For example, a nurse would place a flower on the floor, the infant would then creep up to touch and discover the flower, and to the infant's surprise he or she would receive an electric shock from the floor. Contact with any of the objects would result in a mild shock to the infants. Therefore the infants will have no interest in outdoor events and materials, thus conditioning them to a content life of office work. This form of conditioning is morally wrong, and some would still state that cloning is wrong as well, yet the question still remains. Would this be a fair price to pay for a society were there is no crime, no disease, no stress, nothing but happiness and pleasure? Will conditioning bring peace, and correct our faults which prevent us from reaching our goal of a functioning utopian society?

Many authors write great stories concerned with the state of our future societies. Novels including George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, and Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale, as well as the novels previously mentioned, offer many potential outcomes for the near future. These novels all reveal different fascinating societies that emerge from our own. They all have many important themes in common. They reveal how deceptive our interpretation of progression and happiness can be. The novels encourage us to think; What is true happiness? If we eliminate all hate, will there be greater love?

It is also interesting to compare the societies in these novels with our own society. The importance of education is mentioned in all of these novels, and we learn that taking our education lightly will result in terrible consequences. The importance of studying the past is also underlined in each of these novels, and in the heart of these novels there is a beating question. Will we be able to produce a perfect society, and if so, at what price? Studying these novels in an attempt to reach an absolute answer for this question is not reasonable. But, learning the valuable lessons each of these novels teach is vital. We learn that, we are human because of our imperfections. It is important to note that progression and happiness are deceptive words, they can not grasp the true meaning of what they entail. Progression can be a term referring to the goal of humankind to become perfect. Happiness for some can translates to, feeling free from worry, pain, and all unpleasantness. The truth is that these terms can not be defined in any simple way. If one has not known pain, they also must not feel blessed because they have never gone through or known any difficulties. Are they happy? If humankind develops a society where everyone is equal, no rich, no poor; and the entire world is at peace, yet they are no longer free to be human by nature, is that progress?

Our struggle for perfection is not in vain because it leads to developing devices that truly do better our lives, including medicine, and laws that protect us. The desire for progress has always been, and will always be, according to King Solomon. However, progression comes with a price. If we were to arrive at a point where we could choose a utopia, a society full of peace and contentment; or to remain in our human communities with conflict and pain, which choice would make us happier? Is true happiness and love greater in either one? That is a question which requires more attention than any question mentioned previously.

The price of progression.


  • Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid's Tale: McClelland and Stewart, 1985
  • Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451: Ballantine Books, 1953
  • * Burgess, Anthony. A Clockwork Orange: Penguin Books, England, 1972, 148 pages.
  • Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. 1932
  • Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. 1949
  • * Rand, Ayn. Anthem: Penguin Books, United States, 1946, 123 pages.
  • “Thomas Hobbes” by The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy at http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/h/hobbes.htm
* primary sources


You may also contact me directly at martin@aller-stead.com