Home

Writing Catalog


Aiden Burkholder

Grade: 12

University High School

Instructor: Lee Fallon

The Hole in the Bucket

Critical Essay

The Hole in the Bucket

When faced with a hole in a bucket, there are two ways to solve the problem. One can either catch all the water, or one can plug the hole. The societies of Huxley's Brave New World and Orwell's 1985 each have their place in this dichotomy with mass subjugation as the water. The society of 1985 chooses to catch all the water, as the Party must constantly destroy people to ensure no act of rebellion can gain enough traction to be a serious threat. The society of Brave New World, on the other hand, chooses to plug the hole. They effectively remove the need for people to rebel against the overarching society, as nobody can feel anything but happy. As a specific example, one can look at the treatment of sex in both novels. In Brave New World, any attachment through sex is removed because of the sheer volume of it that takes place, while in 1985, the Party must vigilantly protect against any sex outside of their approval. It is this wider difference of methods that causes Huxley's vision to be far more relevant than Orwell's to our modern society. Indeed, the society depicted in Brave New World is more likely to come about than that society shown in 1985, as it rests solidly on ensuring happiness rather than coercing the population through fear.

Huxley's society is, in a word, happy. Great pains are taken to guarantee that every single member of the World State has no reason to ever feel any negative emotion, thereby mentally castrating them through sheer bliss. The most devious aspect of this plan: the people want this to happen. In fact, when John the Savage throws the soma distribution box out the window, thereby restoring freedom to the masses, he is attacked for it. The fact of the matter is people like being controlled. Mustafa Mond says just that: "People were ready to have even their appetites controlled then. Anything for a quiet life. We've gone on controlling ever since… it's been very good for happiness" (Huxley 156). We can see these very same trends in our modern society. People don't want to do the heavy intellectual lifting to come up with their own thoughts and feelings; they would rather be told what to think by the television, or the government, or the wider internet. Indeed, the central tenet of the World State, stated most accurately by Mustafa Mond, that "You can't have a lasting civilization without plenty of pleasant vices" (Huxley 161), can be seen in our society today. With the advent of the internet, anyone can access a little bit of everything, all of the time. Movies, reactions, games, pornography, whatever the mindless entertainment may be, it is within easy reach. The masses are pacified not through force and fear, but because they choose to be, and to be perfectly honest, who can blame them? Happiness is only ever a couple of button pushes away, so why would anyone choose to be sad? The only aspect of Brave New World yet missing from our society is soma. Soma is the plaster, used liberally to fill in the cracks of the World State. If ever anyone does begin to feel melancholy, they can always take a half-gramme holiday to perk themselves up. However, once modern chemistry eventually provides us with this miracle drug, all the tools to make Huxley's vision a reality will be there. Overall, because of the reliance on bliss as a control mechanism, the society depicted in Brave New World is fairly likely to become a reality.

The society depicted in Orwell's 1985 is a mathematical and philosophical impossibility because of its overreliance on fear to control the populace. Firstly, and least importantly, the numbers in 1985 don't work on any sort of sustainable scale. If, as O'Brien says, "we quicken the tempo of human life till men are senile at thirty" (Orwell 339), the Party will no longer be able to sustain itself. Figuring the numbers offered in Goldstein's book are not totally inaccurate and using Winston's life as a relatively standard blueprint for the average Party member, it is literally impossible for the Party to continue to exist if its members die at thirty. According to the book (and a little bit of arithmetic), there are 45 million total Party members. Many of them will never have children, partly because the Party discourages it so strongly, partly because some of them won't want to have children, and partly because, unfortunately for the Party, gay people exist. Conservatively assuming a third of them don't procreate, that leaves 15 million breeding pairs. Assuming they get married at 25 (Winston was married at 29), they have time for two or three children at most, or about 2.5 children on average. Thus, for each successive generation that passes, the Party will shrink by about 16.67%. Of course, there is the offer of artificial insemination, but the Party seems to be approaching total insanity before that becomes a possibility, especially given their attitude toward scientific research. However, one might argue that all of this is just dramatic hyperbole. After all, the Party could not possibly cause such madness that people drop dead or commit suicide at a mere thirty years of age. O'Brien is simply indulging Winston; death at such a young age is not a reality. When one turns to the realities of 1985, though, induced insanity at thirty no longer seems so absurd. The mental gymnastics asked of every member of society, the constant surveillance, the lack of any free thought or even joy is simply unsustainable. The human instinct for survival is strong, but not so strong as to overrule the desire for love, human connection, and happiness. If even Parsons, the most devout consumer of Party ideology is brought in for treachery, then who is it that is capable of swallowing their message of despair? In short, the Party mathematically cannot continue to exist if they continue on their current path of madness.

More importantly, 1985 cannot come to exist because it relies on fear as the sole method of controlling people. Indeed, the world of Orwell's imagination is so bleak as to be impossible to live in. Winston himself puts it best, saying the society "would commit suicide" (Orwell 339) if all it felt was hatred and terror. Especially in the United States, people are too attached to their autonomy to be terrified into submission. Too many people have the phrase oft on their tongue of liberty being pried out of their cold, dead hands. To attempt to do so would be to fulfill their wildest patriotic dreams; it would be to martyr them. Americans are vigilant toward external tyranny to a fault, so it is unlikely any organization could seize so much control through use of coercion. In short, though the masses might be lulled into submission, it is nearly impossible to force them into it. Additionally, the greater portion of the populace does not possess the intellectual capacity to doublethink. It requires an intense philosophical realization that objective reality is a comfortable lie, one that most are ill-equipped to come to. Most of what O'Brien says about the philosophy of doublethink would be beyond the average person. Essentially, 1985 is unrealistic because doublethink is unrealistic and because force is a double-edged sword, one that more often creates martyrs than subjects.

It is often the subtle threat that is more dangerous. 1985 can be pointed to so often in our modern society because it is so loud as a novel. The methods in it are egregiously offensive; they cause the reasonable mind to recoil from the disgusting nature of the Party. One feels the need to discredit the book after reading it because of how truly awful the society contained within is. However, despite all this, it is Brave New World we ought to guard more rigorously against. Stability and happiness at the cost of truth and beauty is a deal most make without thinking about it, whether they wish to or not. Indeed, on a small scale, how often do people lie about themselves or betray their beliefs to make things more comfortable in a social situation? How often do people settle for good enough so that they have enough time for mindless entertainment? In short, the society depicted in Huxley's Brave New World is more relevant to our modern society than the society depicted in Orwell's 1985.


Creating Kallipolis

Critical Essay

Creating Kallipolis

In his book Republic, Plato attempts to outline a truly perfect society. He wrote the book in response to the many problems he perceived in Athenian democracy. The idea of a system of government where anyone could ascend to power deeply perturbed Plato, and he set out to create a society where rulers were highly trained and selected for the job. From this idea springs Kallipolis, his great city, where all know their place and are happy in it. Each caste performs its duty perfectly, and all are in harmony with all others. However, there exist some cracks in Plato's perfect mosaic. His idea of how the guardians should replenish their numbers is fundamentally flawed, largely because it relies on a skewed view of hereditary traits. Plato also has a near obsession with individual morality, which blinds him to the truth that his society at large does not require a perfect set of ethics to function. With these changes made to his blueprints, perhaps such a society could actually function in the real world. However, it becomes apparent after some thought that it is massively unlikely Kallipolis would ever come to pass. It would require a singular individual or group thereof to guide the change from the way the world currently works to Plato's vision that it can be considered impossible. Overall, Plato's Republic presents a general sketch for a society that could exist if some basic changes are made to his plans, particularly concerning the selection of guardians and the morality of its citizens, though it is unlikely such a society would ever actually occur, as its creation depends heavily upon a highly moral, power averse, yet utterly ruthless initiator.

The first and perhaps greatest flaw in Plato's design is that of the creation of so-called philosopher rulers. Most simply, his idea that such nebulous traits as bravery, intelligence, and wisdom can be reliably passed down from parent to child is scientifically laughable. Though it is feasible that genetics may cause a person to have a disposition toward certain traits over others, the relationship is hardly one to one, and to attempt to predict the products of a particular union with accuracy is infeasible. However, even beyond such a surface-level critique, Plato's mechanism for determining who ought to have kids in the upper classes of philosopher rulers and auxiliaries is flawed as well. He outlines in Republic that sex should be offered as a reward to those guardians that perform their duty exceptionally well. The offering of sex as a reward for only some guardians leads to a host of problems. Firstly, this directly contradicts Plato's previous assertion that guardians care only for the state over the individual. If they are successful guardians, the state should take priority over any personal desires, so the added motivator of sex for a job well done would be meaningless for them. Furthermore, it presupposes a specific attitude about sex for all citizens, namely that they all want it and they will all reproduce with their preferred partner, both of which are verifiably false. Unfortunately for Plato, gay people exist. The presence of people outside of the established dogma of sexuality as well as the scientific fact that bravery is not a heritable trait show that Plato's breeding scheme is not worth keeping in an ideal society.

Plato's second problem is his scheme for educating the higher castes of society for their duties as guardians. If it is true that the guardians' children are not inherently as good as their parents, then his "magnificent myth" begins to crumble. The children of gold are not gold, and the opposite is true as well: the children of bronze are not necessarily bronze. Even so, a simple solution does exist. All children should be taken from their parents and educated as philosopher rulers until they are determined to be unfit for the position. This allows a true meritocracy, as only those who are best suited for the role of guardian will achieve the position. Furthermore, this method actually allows a tighter control on the education of any children. They can be tricked about the purpose of their education in a way that reveals those who would be too attached to power and its trappings. Any who are deemed unfit to be guardians can simply be returned to their families or raised by the state at the time they are determined to be ill-suited for the position. This method also weakens family ties, which are some of the most potentially dangerous elements of a utopian society such as the one in Republic. The biological desire to protect one's own offspring can override good sense, but if all children are separated from their parents at a young age, then it is harder for such connections to form between individuals and easier for such a connection to form between all citizens and the state. Indeed, Plato's magnificent myth ought to be restructured thusly: instead of a triad set in stone, society is a solution containing countless miscible metals and alloys in an eternally shifting tapestry of virtue and vice, only the finest elements of which will be purified and tempered to form the ruling caste. The mixture crystallizes for an instant, providing a selection of the next generation before liquidizing once more to churn out another generation of perfect citizens. With this new plan for the education of the rulers of Kallipolis, guardians will be better suited for their job, they will be pulled from a wider pool, and the wider populace will be better educated and less prone to forming harmful attachments.

The third and final glaring flaw in Plato's plan is that of morality. Plato begins Republic in a quest to find the meaning of justice and its inherent benefit, and in doing so, creates a perfect society. Ultimately, in the structure of his argument, the society is a large-scale representation of the individual. What is good for the society is good for the person; what exists in the society exists in the person. However, this comparison is faulty. It is a gross oversimplification to say that every element of a just society has an equal counterpart in the soul. Plato needed the comparison between individual and society to work for the rest of his argument about justice to fall in line, so he essentially forced the metaphor to fit without truly examining its validity. The particular realm in which his argument begins to fall apart is when one closely examines Plato's three parts of the soul: reason, appetites, and, most especially, spirit. Reason and appetite can both clearly be observed in a person, and it is easy to think of many examples where they are arrayed against or with each other. The argument becomes shaky when spirit enters the picture. There is no instance where reason, spirit, and appetite are all arrayed on disparate sides of an issue, nor is there an instance where reason and appetite are together pitted against spirit. According to Plato's initial outline for this argument, spirit is not a unique element of the soul as it is never isolated from reason and appetite. It could be more accurately classified as a catch-all bucket for the distinct emotions contained within the human soul. Clearly, Plato's argument about the translation of society to the individual can be disregarded. What, then, becomes of the rest of his designs? Can Kallipolis succeed without ironclad moral principles guiding the ruling elite? In short, yes. Plato's near obsession with morality and justice is unwarranted in terms of creating a perfect society. It is totally inconsequential whether or not the people of this paradise are actually moral. All that truly matters is that they perceive themselves, and particularly their guardians, to be. So long as the guardians receive a first-rate education, value the state over themselves, and aren't corrupted by power, they don't need any advanced understanding of the warring parts of the soul. As for the rest of the population, they only need to be sufficiently conditioned that the way things are done right now is the best way to do them and that the guardians are perfectly moral and thus beyond reproach. If these things are both true, then the actual morality of the society is totally inconsequential. In the terms of Plato's allegory of the cave, the light of the sun is too hard to reach, so why bother trying to when lying about seeing it is so much easier and no less effective? To those in the cave, there is no difference between one who has genuinely seen the light and one who only claims to have done so. Indeed, even if one truly believes that they've entered the light, there is no objective measure to tell they actually have. For the citizens of Kallipolis, there is no need to torture oneself to attempt to gain enlightenment when a noble lie offers the same results. For any who manage to uncover this lie, they can either be made a philosopher ruler, as truth and reason are clearly placed highly in their mind, or, if they have some defect of personality that would preclude them from such a position, they can be killed. In short, Plato's designs ought to be amended such that any striving for perfect morality is dismissed as impossible, and the positive results of which can be more easily attained through societal conditioning of the masses.

For Plato's Kallipolis to come to pass, it must be initiated by a moral, ruthless, and incorruptible ruler. The governments, institutions, and cultures of the modern world are utterly incompatible with Plato's ideas. As such, it would require massive political and social change to create an environment for his society to blossom. Such change could only be enacted by an entity with absolute authority over every element of a state, whether that be a united populace, an oligarchical council, or a single dictator. A populace that is so single-minded in such radical aims can be quickly ruled out as an impossibility. The creation of such an environment could be brought about by a group of people, but the larger the group is, the greater chance for disagreement, and thus scheming and subsequent anarchy. As such, it is far more likely that the society outlined above could only be initiated by one person or perhaps a very small and like-minded group of people. Such an individual would have to seize despotic levels of power to exact the changes deemed fit, but they would have to have no love for such power, as after the restructuring was completed, they would have to willingly vacate their position to be replaced by the properly trained guardians. In essence, their only motivation for taking power would have to be a purely moral one: the improvement of all humankind. Not only would they have to willingly and forcibly seize power and completely abandon it upon the completion of their task; they would also have to simultaneously be uniquely moral while also being comfortable crushing dissident elements of society. Any challenge to this perfect society can't be allowed to exist, especially during its formative years where the charade does not yet have the weight of tradition behind it. As such, any who loudly disagree or protest against the formation of this society must be exiled, or, should that not suffice, executed. So, as a brief overview of the qualities of the initiator: they must hold themselves to a high ethical standard, they must be willing to take absolute power by force, they must not be corrupted by this power, they must utterly crush any dissenters, and after it's all done, they must retire to a private life as a relic of the past. It is not difficult to see the relative impossibility of such an individual existing.

Despite all the problems solved above, there remain some that have not been addressed. For example, Plato's treatment of women in his society is almost hilariously outdated, his ideas about people who have physical disabilities are barbaric, and his discussion of fear is deeply flawed. However, those dealt with above are perhaps the most egregious and those with the most variance in solutions. Even with provisions for all the elements of Plato's society that need changing, the question remains: should a modern state attempt to adopt his plan? The answer, in short, is no. For all the qualifications imposed above to polish Plato's sketch to a razor sheen, none of them matter if the society can't be initiated, and as previously stated, the qualifications for such an initiator are bordering on impossible. The final characteristic of the initiator puts the final nail in the coffin of Kallipolis: they must be self-appointed. No government would ever willingly give up power, so it must be taken from them. As such, the line between a terrible dictator and a benevolent initiator is totally invisible from the outside. Both kill those who disagree with them, both wield absolute power, and both forcibly seize rule through force. If one was content to let one such as this rule in the hopes they would eventually bring about a sort of heaven on Earth, it is far more likely than not that they will passively stand by as a ruthless despot crushes basic liberties underfoot. In essence, Kallipolis, Plato's dream, will forever remain only that no matter how many of its flaws are perfected, as the method by which it is created is too close to that of a dictatorship to be seen through to completion.