The battle between emotion and control is an old one. It is fought by each of us in our lives as well as philosophers at a more conceptual level. In more recent times philosophical expression has extended to fictional realms like books, series and movies.
I have a particular fascination with this topic because I have gone the full cycle from being uninhibitedly emotional and expressive, to cultivating an almost abnormally well-developed control over them using analysis and rational thinking, to a point where I have become more open to emotions again, accepting them as healthy, and useful as indicators of well-being.
There is something to be said of having control over one’s emotions, or at least their expression. Often, emotionally driven behaviour causes misunderstandings, and unnecessary hurt. Though most people will have their personal examples, I wonder how many have considered how this plays out on a social level. Take, for example, the recent news about the anti-muslim video. Clearly it was made to provoke several negative emotions and, as expected, the offended Muslims responded emotionally; so much so that some people were killed. In books like Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and movies like Equilibrium, a new way of life is brought about where human emotionality is targeted the root of all violence, war and instability, and is eliminated.
Before I get into a comparison of these two works, I, as a Star Trek fan, would like to tell you about the Vulcan way. Vulcans have a violent and barbaric history, similar to, if not worse than human history. Then Surak, a philosophical leader, led them into ‘The Time of Awakening’, a modern age of emotional control. Vulcan children are taught several meditative techniques that help them control their feelings so they are not controlled by them. It is said that Vulcan emotions are far more powerful than human ones and this is seen in several episodes of Star Trek when there is a mind meld or during Pon Farr. The Vulcans believe in logic and peace. Since their method derives from personal discipline and philosophical ideology, they still retain a high level of personal freedom of thought, growth and action.
This is not the case in A Brave New World. Emotions are regulated by soma (which by the way, is the name of a drink bestowing immortality in the Rig Veda). Any time people feels anxious, angry, upset, jealous or uncomfortable, they take doses of soma and go on a trip. It is said to produce the effect of cocaine and alcohol without the unpleasant side effects of either. But it is also reported to take years off a person, which is acceptable in that world because no one grows old there anyway. To discourage building intense emotional bonds, promiscuity is encouraged and children are exposed to death at an early age as a fact of life to feel nothing about. Most importantly, in this world, they do away with viviparous birth and the concept of a family. Instead, children are grown in hatcheries and raised in common nurseries, based on their assigned social class, and taught the rules of society in their sleep (a process called Hynopaedia). There is no violence or forceful control and as far as those totally within the system are concerned, life is perfect. Each individual knows his/her place in society and is programmed to want to behave according to their predesignation. Their every wish is met. No one is poor, unhappy, troubled or curious for more. In the exceptional cases where an individual crosses the line from happiness to truth, he/she is sent to Iceland or other such settlements with similar minded people so they don’t interfere with the order of the set up. The chapter where the World Controller and The Savage debate their points of view after The Savage tries to set people free of soma is particularly fascinating. The Savage expresses his wish to have the freedom and right to be unhappy, to suffer, to earn the right to express his love for a woman, to be able to think and feel for himself. But such freedom gets the world into chaos and conflict.
Equilibrium also starts with a similar context. In order to prevent another world war, they set up a wing of the justice department to ‘process’ ‘sense offenders’. Books, art, perfume, even pets are eliminated, violently. People in the Nether, who are part of an underground resistance group to maintain freedom of emotion are hunted down. Any artistic expression is burnt. Those in the city take injections of Prozium at certain intervals of the day, which suppress their emotions. The order is maintained by clerics who are warrior-priests who report indirectly to ‘Father’ who repeats his philosophy over large TV screens through out the city. This gives a very 1984 feeling and can be compared to the Hypnopaedia in Brave New World. When Christian Bale’s character questions the Father’s decision to shoot sense offenders on sight, asking if it is any different to the mayhem their way of life seeks to prevent, he is told to have faith and obey.
In many ways Equilibrium is far less ideal than Brave New World.
1) Whereas the World Controller grants audience to the three trouble makers and engages them in rational conversation, the Father never interacts with anyone in person due to security risks.
2) When someone disagrees with the set up in Brave New World, they are sent to a settlement which would suit their pursuits better. In Equilibrium they are shot on sight or burnt alive (a contrast to 1984 in which they would be reconditioned)! In fact, they are pursued with a certain aggression, violence and hate which are, ironically, the very feelings they are trying to eradicate.
3) Soma induces a high so the people in Brave New World, though numb, are happily numb and have no need or wish to form any resistance or violence. Prozium merely numbs Librians. The totalitarian system grants them no lulling illusion of happiness.
4) While the Hatcheries have taken over the family system, Equilibrium still seems to maintain it, albeit, expecting none of the members to put their family members above the laws of Libria.
In many ways, though, they are similar. They both use artificial means to suppress emotion, both use colour coded uniforms to indicate class, and both have a semblance of a system of faith; in Brave New World it is Ford, the symbol which inspired their system used in phrases like ‘his Fordship’ and ‘oh my Ford’, and Father in Equilibrium, who demands one’s faith and obedience. They even have a common symbol of reverence. In Brave New World, T is chosen because Ford’s first car was named Model T. It became a symbol of advancement, rationality and leaving the old ways behind. It also became convenient to chop off the tops of Christian crosses to establish their presence in many more places. In Equilibrium, we can only assume that the T signifies the Tetragrammaton Council. It makes theirs screens, windows, building motifs and their flag. This flag is also said to resemble the Nazi flag.
It is very possible that Brave New World influenced Equilibrium in many ways, conscious and unconscious, simply because it was such an ideologically revolutionary book (and one I would recommend (18+)). Though highly twisted and at some points quite disturbing, the concepts within Brave New World work together flawlessly. Nevertheless, it also has a highly artificial control method and doesn’t compare to the Vulcan self-discipline. Though not stated explicitly in Brave New World, emotional freedom is what is made to appeals to us as readers because The Savage is the most familiar character to us as humans with present day values. We empathise with him and feel like liberating them from their mindless happiness. Similarly, in Equilibrium, we want the emotionally free resistance to win and destroy the Prozium factories. Would this be because we value freedom of emotion in specific or freedom as an idea in general? Are philosophies like Stoicism, which is similar to the Vulcan philosophy and advocate logic, reason, freedom from irrational emotion outdated? Hindu and Buddhist philosophies also talk about attaining a peaceful state which has no emotional fluctuations but these require mental discipline, possibly meditation, which not many people are willing to practice today. Are we growing into a more emotionally expressive and perhaps less stable society? I wonder who will be exploring these questions, using what methods and reaching what conclusions in the ages to come.
Disclaimer; The images used here are meant to be illustrative. I do not claim to own them.