Mark Twain writes about the use of technology as a direct way of shaping a civilization in his book A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court. In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, he writes about a society that is already formed and is completely shaped by technologies of control. When in our world Huxley is attempting to use his book as a technology to inform people of the dangers that he believes the government and the powerful upper class can impose upon us using technologies similar to the ones he describes in his fictional work. By contrasting the extremeness of both of these books, an analysis of what is really going on in our world can be seen. Twain’s book revolves around a civilization where almost everyone is born completely ignorant and open to shaping as they grow up, whereas Huxley writes of people who are born completely shaped into the roles they will play throughout the rest of their lives. The meaning of technology should also be analyzed to gain a fuller understanding of what is happening in these worlds and our own.
Technology can be view as a means of preforming a task differently, which corresponds to some benefit. At the beginning of this course we discussed the meaning of the word technology. Technology can be broken down into its Greek roots techné, technique, and logos, word or discourse. “ology” is often used to describe the study or use of a discipline. Therefore it is possible to look at technology as study or use of technique to produce a result. Techniques can be thought of as arising from the evolution of how something is done over time. It is possible to believe that most technologies are the result of humans shaping processes and objects into something new and possibly beneficial. In a few books and essays that were read during this class, along with a few select others, the process of technological evolution is altered slightly. Technology is used as a means of shaping people into objects that can be manipulated and exploited. It is also used as a means of control over others.
Huxley’s fiction world is a dystopian society where people have lost their individuality. People are preprogrammed from “birth” to do a certain task and be happy doing it. Everyone in the civilized area of the world is not born; they are grown. They are genetically modified from fertilization to become a specific unit of society. The lower classes are not even individual units of society; they are multiplied, Bokanovskified, to upwards of seventy identical units. Bokanovskification is a technology that has been developed that has allowed a society to grow in a radically different way.
The means of building a desired civilization is radical different between Twain’s world and that of Huxley’s. Hank Morgan, the main character of A Connecticut Yankee At King Arthur’s Court, begins his manipulation of people once they have been naturally born or takes preexisting individuals. Whereas in Brave New World the individuals are first genetically manipulated by this technology to produce a body designed to carry on specific tasks. The mind is then further manipulated to produce an individual that is happy and willing to preform the desired tasks. The concept of birth into a designed class is well expressed during a conversation between Henry, the main character of Huxley’s story who tries to escape the system, and Lenina, Henry’s companion.
"Every one works for every one else. We can't do without any one. Even Epsilons are useful. I suppose Epsilons don't really mind being Epsilons," she said aloud.
"Of course they don't. How can they? They don't know what it's like being anything else. We'd mind, of course. But then we've been differently conditioned. Besides, we start with a different heredity."
"I'm glad I'm not an Epsilon," said Lenina, with conviction.
"And if you were an Epsilon," said Henry, "your conditioning would have made you no less thankful that you weren't a Beta or an Alpha" (Huxley 77).
The conditioning that has been preformed on these inhabitants of Huxley’s world has produced lower classes that are content.
Huxley’s Bokanovskification may seem like a creative imagination at work, when in reality advances in cloning have produced similar results. Until 1997 cloning seemed like a idea out of a science fiction novel; all of that changed when Dolly the sheep was cloned. Just sixty years after Huxley writes about cloning massive numbers of humans, the first mammalian creature is successfully cloned. The advances in cloning have grown exponentially in the past ten years. Since 1997 a Rhesus monkey, cat and a horse, along with many others, have been cloned. In 2004 a group of scientists at the Seoul National University in South Korea reported in Science that they were able to successfully grow 30 cloned human embryos. This is not the only report of being able to clone humans. Also in 2004, Dr. Boisselier sent a letter to all UN Ambassadors proclaiming that he cloned thirteen children (www.clonaid.com). In 1932 Huxley writes,
One egg, one embryo, one adult--normality. But a bokanovskified egg will bud, will proliferate, will divide. From eight to ninety-six buds, and every bud will grow into a perfectly formed embryo, and every embryo into a full-sized adult. Making ninety-six human beings grow where only one grew before. Progress (Huxley 17).
Only seventy-two years later we are able to clone about thirty identical embryos and thirteen twins. This is a very staggering and somewhat troubling advancement science has made. It is troubling because if in a little over seventy years since Brave New World was written, the human race has developed the technology to replicate its race in a laboratory. If science continues to advance at its current rate, it may not be far off before cloning and genetically engineering our offspring is a common practice. Huxley’s ideas may seem far off form anything imaginable to us, but his bokanovskification is where it all begins. Once bokanovskification has taken place, hypnopædia begins.
Hypnopædia is the means of shaping the mind, to match the character the body is to become. Children are subjected to hypnopædia as soon as possible, and every day at regular intervals. This forms the other half of the understanding of the quote above about being happy in a certain class. Beta children listen to the following sixty four thousand times when they are young.
"… all wear green," said a soft but very distinct voice, beginning in the middle of a sentence, "and Delta Children wear khaki. Oh no, I don't want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They're too stupid to be able to read or write. Besides they wear black, which is such a beastly colour. I'm so glad I'm a Beta."
This form of control is most directly related to what is know as brain washing, a practice that most psychologists reject it having any effect of people. As is true with listening to information as on sleeps in order to prepare for a speech, exam, etc. What hypnopædia can be related to is our television, printed media and the radio. Instead of shaping our minds into perfectly conforming to society, this types of media lead us to the desire to consume as a society. Huxley gives an example of how hypnopædia influenced consumption, while discussing why people at one point loved the country and flowers.
Gammas, Deltas, even Epsilons, had been conditioned to like flowers–flowers in particular and wild nature in general. The idea was to make them want to be going out into the country at every available opportunity, and so compel them to consume transport (Huxley 31).
Before discussing how the television, radio, and written media influence our society, we should look at the different techniques that Hank Morgan uses to reach similar goals.
Now that the means of producing a society to be shaped has been outlined in Huxley’s world, we will look at Twain’s. In A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court Hank Morgan uses technologies of the nineteenth century in the sixth. He is able to gain remarkable amounts of power quickly with his use of these technologies and his knowledge of the world and its events. Once he has gained power he quickly establishes plans for sixth century Europe. “...I had the beginnings of all sorts of industries under way--nuclei of future vast factories, the iron and steel missionaries of my future civilization. I was training a crowd of ignorant folk into experts--experts in every sort of handiwork and scientific calling” (Twain 101). He plans to take these ignorant people of the sixth century and shape them into beings that will work for him and continue his take over of the country. They will run his factors and a few will even fight beside him till the end.
Lyotard in his essay “Can Thought go on without a Body” he analyzes what an action or object must possess in order to be considered a technology. “Any material system is technological if it filters information useful to its survival, if it memorizes and processes that information useful to its survival, if it memorizes and processes that information and makes inferences based on the regulating effect of behavior, that is, if it intervenes on and impacts its environment so as to assure its perpetuation at least” (Lyotard 12). What Hank is doing can be viewed as a means of perpetuating himself in this society. He wishes to produce a lasting impact on the sixth century.
Hank takes advantage of his position that he obtains and uses it to produce forms of marketing. He uses these forms of marketing to help drive his goal of consumption, and ultimately the result of consumption.
As we approached each other, I saw that he wore a plumed helmet, and seemed to be otherwise clothed in steel, but bore a curious addition also -- a stiff square garment like a herald's tabard. However, I had to smile at my own forgetfulness when I got nearer and read this sign on his tabard:
" Persimmon's Soap -- All the Prime-Donna Use It."
That was a little idea of my own, and had several wholesome purposes in view toward the civilizing and uplifting of this nation. In the first place, it was a furtive, underhand blow at this nonsense of knight errantry, though nobody suspected that but me. I had started a number of these people out -- the bravest knights I could get -- each sandwiched between bulletin-boards bearing one device or another, and I judged that by and by when they got to be numerous enough they would begin to look ridiculous; and then, even the steel-clad ass that hadn't any board would himself begin to look ridiculous because he was out of the fashion.
Hank’s hope is to use these early forms of advertisement as a means to cause change. Hank also uses the publication of a newspaper to also help his quest for change.
What is happening us today can be related to the techniques that both Twain and Huxley write about. The media for many years has been influencing what we buy and even how we buy it. In 1957 the world saw the birth of the subliminal projection. A subliminal image is an image or sounds that occur on a level that cannot be interpreted by the conscious mind. The subconscious mind can interpret these images. “Repeated at regular intervals during the showing of a picture in a movie theater, the command to buy more popcorn was said to have resulted in a 50 percent increase in popcorn sales during the intermission” (Huxley 306). As Huxley points out in this case of the use of subliminal persuasion, people can be influenced to consume by a subconscious means.
The use of subliminal images has been outlawed in the United States and other countries because of its ability to influence a person’s mind. But many things were learned from the short times that subliminal images lived. Psychologists learned that “the lower the level of a person’s psychological resistance, the greater will be the effectiveness of strobonically injected suggestions”(Huxley 307). A person’s psychological resistance can be lowered by stress, fatigue and depression. Playing on a person’s psychological resistance has been the center for which the media has based it’s commercials.
Today’s media without the use of subliminal images has had to develop new techniques to sell more products. Large corporations will pay large amounts of money to gain a commercial spot in the evening. Why would they do this? By the time typical daytime worker gets home from a long day of work they are ready to relax. A large portion of America is dissatisfied with their current working condition, so when these people get home for the night their minds are very open to suggestion. When these workers that are in a state of psychological distress caused by their job, watch the latest reality show or a new and exciting game show, they are bombarded with commercials. These commercials are strategically placed at certain times throughout the night in order to successfully immerse the view into the product. Most teachers will repeat their lectures to the class three different times, in different ways, to insure the maximum understanding and provide for a longer retention. Big companies will often display the same commercial three or more times throughout the viewing of a single one hour long program. They do this for the same reason that teachers repeat their lecture three times; to provide a better understanding and provide a longer retention time. The reason that commercial spots during the Super Bowl are so expensive is that there is a large number of people with similar interests, most of these people are drinking, and it is later in the evening. Being later in the evening and the fact that a large majority of people watching are under the effect of a depressant, alcohol, causes the susceptibility of the subconscious to be exploited. Although time slots are very expensive, it doesn’t mean that the companies paying for them are losing money; this cost is justified by the enormous number of people these commercials reach.
The point of showing the public these commercials is to inform them that their lives could be better with this product. The media has convinced us that we need to consume. By consuming we will find happiness. The reason that people will spend billions of dollars a year on weight loss drugs is that they feel that losing a little weight will bring them happiness. Its true that the drugs will help people loose a few pounds, and they will most likely feel happy because of this. But the results are never enough; the commercials show “success” stories where a person’s life is completely turned around by using this weight loss drug. Our society has been conditioned by the media to want to be in shape, and so the desire to buy these drugs to get these results continues to grow.
The consumption of weight loss drugs is only one example of the many things that we have been conditioned to buy by the media. Other items include, two dollar bottles of water, sixty to seventy dollar jeans, nine dollar tickets to see the newest movie and the latest, greatest electronics costing thousands of dollars. The conditioning that the media has done to us is quite similar to the conditioning in Brave New World and A Connecticut Yankee At King Arthur’s Court.
‘We condition the masses to hate the country,’ concluded the Director. ‘But simultaneously we condition them to love all country sports. At the same time, we see to it that all country sports shall entail the use of elaborate apparatus. So that they consume manufactured articles as well as transport (Huxley 31).’
Unlike in Brave New World we are conditioned to hate being left out. The media has trained us to want to have the same things that other people have. It has taught us that if we consume we will be happy. This same idea applies to the knights of the sixth century. If they didn’t wear the odd looking advertisements they eventually became the odd ones out. Consumption and the relief that it provides is a major driving force of how our society and the societies of Huxley and Twain are influenced into conforming. By taking these two opposing views of how to cause a society to conform, the methods that are used in our society can be seen.
Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited.
Happer Perennial Modern Classics, 2004.
Twain, Mark. A Connecticut Yankee At King Arthur’s Court. Penguin Classics
Lyotard, Jean-Francois. “Can Thought go on without a Body?”.