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Dystopian Connections

Planted 02022-12-05

The term “Utopia” is commonly known to describe any place or state of ideal perfection. However, lesser known is that the word “Utopia” was first written by Sir Thomas More (1478–1535) in his book Utopia, published in Latin in 1516. Moreover, the first use of “Dystopian” as an “imaginary bad place” was in a speech given by John Stuart Mill in 1868 during an adjourned debate. In the 352 years in between Galileo had invented the thermometer, calculus had been invented, Thomas Newcomen had invented the steam engine, Edward Jenner had invented the first vaccination, Alessandro Volta had made the first battery, Michael Faraday had invented the electric motor, Charles Babbage had designed the first mechanical computer, Joseph Niepce had invented photography, Edwin Budding had invented the lawn mower, Jacob Perkins had invented the refrigerator, Charles Thurber had invented the type writer, Samuel Morse had sent the first morse code message, the first transatlantic telegraph had been completed and the first transcontinental railroad had been built. Modernity had begun. One can hardly imagine life without such common conveniences and ideas; such things make up our everyday world today and seem wildly trivial.

In the wake of these great changes author Herbert George (H.G.) Wells (1866–1946) would become known as the “father of science fiction” by imagining time travel, alien invasion, invisibility, and biological engineering. In the emergence of global powers and in the midst of the modern mechanized metropolis forming, Yevgeny Zamyatin (1884–1937) influenced the emerging dystopia genre with We (1924). Colloquially corollary works include Brave New World (1932) by Aldous Huxley (1894–1963) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) by George Orwell (1903–1950). These contemporary novels provide a foundational range of thought on dystopia in a web of interconnected events.


Since the late 15th century, the term “integral” has meant “belonging as a part to a whole” or “whole”. However, Henri Lebesgue’s (1875–1941) wrote his groundbreaking thesis “Integral, Length, Area” in 1902. The Lebesgue integration was a hot topic when Zamyatin studied engineering for the Imperial Russian Navy from 1902 until 1908.

We begins with word-for-word documentation of today’s print of The State Gazette. Inside resides an update on the first INTEGRAL—it will lift off into space in 120 days—and a directive invitation for all Numbers to complete the more considerable feat of composing compositions celebrating OneState as the first cargo carried on the INTEGRAL. As OneState is obliged to imperialize any irrational inhabitants into the infallible happiness that is OneState, these compositions are to intervene before bearing arms1.

The records in We are D-503’s response. D-503 introduces himself as the builder of the INTEGRAL and one of many mathematicians of OneState. He decides to write what he thinks daily. His cheeks burn as he writes these records, knowing their life is mathematically perfect; thus, any record of their daily life must be an epic.

Similar Structures

The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949) by Joseph Campbell (1904–1987) popularized “the hero’s journey.” It explores a model heroic adventure: In Act One, a hero departs their ordinary world for the supernatural. In Act Two, they encounter and win over forces, thus, gaining power beneficial to their ordinary world. In Act Three, they are reborn into their ordinary world.

Squinting, these three novels follow the hero’s journey. However, below is a more refined template.

First, for the state to maintain the status quo, it educates citizens to give up the old, savage, barbaric, irrational individual freedoms to benefit the larger whole; the state’s desired view is made sacred. However, education is not enough. The state enforces continued allegiance through controlling irrational individual desires by suffering or smothering.

However, rebels seeking to fulfill their irrational individual freedoms pass like weeds through the cracks of concrete enforcement. These rebels lure and initiate the hero of the story. Then, the hero goes through a transformation in what they hold sacred, away from the state’s desired view, helping the rebels in a plot for freedom. The hero is caught and brought to the power; the power acknowledges the Noble Lie. While ultimately caught and destroyed together, the rebels and hero show how freedom never remains contained.

Totalitarian Mechanized Metropolis

In his 1993 translation of the novel, Clarence Brown writes in the introduction, “Zamyatin’s nightmare is a nightmare of the early twenties.” In the turn of the 20th century, the United States experienced rapid economic growth. New railroads enabled previously inaccessible areas to be developed and birthed one of the richest people in modern history: John D. Rockefeller (1839–1937). 1869 brought the first transcontinental railroad and by 1917 U.S. railroads operated over 250,000 miles and employed more than any other industry. Rockefeller’s wealth came from Standard Oil, a petroleum company so large the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it was an illegal monopoly in 1911. Standard Oil lives on through its descendants who continue to make up the largest oil and gas companies. In 1907, Leo Baekeland (1863-1944) invented Bakelite—the first synthetic plastic—and started the Age of Plastics. In 1908, Henry Ford (1863–1947) introduced the Model T to the world—the first mass production car, produced on an assembly line, and made up over half of all registered automobiles in the world by 1920. In 1910, the first electric-powered washing machine was patented by Alva J. Fisher (1862–1947). In 1911, Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856–1915) pioneered scientific management—improving economic efficiency through engineering principles on the factory floor—in The Principles of Scientific Management, resulting in “Taylorism”. In 1913, Ford implemented the first moving assembly line, enabling higher production and higher wages—resulting in “Fordism”. This era came to be known as “the Second Industrial Revolution”. In 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, beginning World War I. In October 1917, Bolshevik Red Guards overthrew the Russian government, establishing Vladimir Lenin as the first and founding head of government of Soviet Russia and in December, signed an armistice with Germany. In April 1918, Pravda—the official newspaper of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union—published The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government by Vladimir Lenin.

The Taylor system, the last word of capitalism in this respect, like all capitalist progress, is a combination of the refined brutality of bourgeois exploitation and a number of the greatest scientific achievements in the field of analysing mechanical motions during work, the elimination of superfluous and awkward motions, the elaboration of correct methods of work, the introduction of the best system of accounting and control, etc. The Soviet Republic must at all costs adopt all that is valuable in the achievements of science and technology in this field. The possibility of building socialism depends exactly upon our success in combining the Soviet power and the Soviet organisation of administration with the up-to-date achievements of capitalism. We must organise in Russia the study and teaching of the Taylor system and systematically try it out and adapt it to our own ends.

Zamyatin himself was a Bolshevik and agreed to hide a paper bag filled with explosives before he was arrested by the Okhrana in 1905.

In November 1918, Germany signs the Armistice at Compiègne, ending World War I.

Zamyatin, Huxley, and Orwell’s novels exist in the context of unprecedented industry growth, technological advancement, and war. We and Brave New World explicitly define Taylorism and Fordism as sacred respectively.

Citizens in the OneState of We are governed by the Table of Hours—a calendar with every citizens hours planned in a table. Zamyatin was likely influenced by the United States establishment of time zones in 1883 and further standardization throughout his life as a result of the proliferation of railroads. Mentions of Taylorism in We give reason for the Table of Hours and the mechanized metropolis, and the educational systems tirelessly teach about Taylor’s genius. Zamyatin must have been aware of the power of Standard Oil in the largest petroleum company in the world as his future mechanized metropolis in We only offers petroleum food.

The beauty of the mechanism is in the precise and invariable rhythm, like that of the pendulum. But you —sustained as you were from infancy on the Taylorian system—are you any less pendulum-perfect? (We, Record 31)

However, in Brave new World, Fordism not only acts as the genius behind the mechanized metropolis but “Lord” becomes “Ford” in every aspect as Ford and the new world he enabled is worshipped.

In Nineteen Eight-Four, production efficiency is directly correlated to maintaining the status quo of the state.

The Noble Lie

The idea that a lie must govern a civil society is at least as old as Plato2. This lie, intended to maintain civilization, is embedded through state education. As a result, citizens are unaware of what is lost through this lie and this lie becomes sacred. Sacred things are consecrated things to be devoted to and not to be violated. Sacred things bring ecstatic experiences while savage things bring disgust or revulsion and group rituals teach and affirm that which is sacred and unite the group.

The Noble Lie across these novels is that individual freedoms are old, savage, barbaric, and irrational. Moreover, in giving them up, citizens are made happier.

“What is it that people beg for, dream about, torment themselves for, from the time they leave swaddling clothes? They want someone to tell them, once and for all, what happiness is—and then to bind them to that happiness with a chain. What is it we’re doing right now, if not that? The ancient dream of paradise … Remember: In paradise they’ve lost all knowledge of desires, pity, love—they are the blessed, with their imaginations surgically removed (the only reason why they are blessed)—angels, the slaves of God….” (We, Record 36)

“Violent Passion Surrogate. Regularly once a month. We flood the whole system with adrenin. It’s the complete physiological equivalent of fear and rage. All the tonic effects of murdering Desdemona and being murdered by Othello, without any of the inconveniences.”
“But I like the inconveniences.”
“We don’t,” said the Controller. “We prefer to do things comfortably.”
“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”
“In fact,” said Mustapha Mond, “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”
“All right then,” said the Savage defiantly, “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”
“Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.” There was a long silence.
“I claim them all,” said the Savage at last.
(Brave New World)

’You know the Party slogan: “Freedom is Slavery”. Has it ever occurred to you that it is reversible? Slavery is freedom. Alone – free – the human being is always defeated. It must be so, because every human being is doomed to die, which is the greatest of all failures. But if he can make complete, utter submission, if he can escape from his identity, if he can merge himself in the Party so that he is the Party, then he is all-powerful and immortal. The second thing for you to realize is that power is power over human beings. Over the body but, above all, over the mind. Power over matter – external reality, as you would call it – is not important. Already our control over matter is absolute.’[^Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part 3, Chapter 3,]

“we don’t want people to be attracted by old things. We want them to like the new ones.” (Brave New World, Chapter 16)

We educates on Taylorism, Brave New World educates on class, and Nineteen Eighty Four educates on conformity-pushed cruelty (Junior Spies).


Plato’s Noble Lie was one of hierarchy. However, the powers in We, Brave New World, and Nineteen Eighty-Four take hierarchy as truth; the reason for their own Noble Lie.

“‘All of you in the city are certainly brothers,’ we shall say to them in telling the tale, ’but the god, in fashioning those of you who are competent to rule, mixed gold in at their birth; this is why they are most honored; in auxiliaries, silver; and iron and bronze in the farmers and the other craftsmen. So, because you’re all related, although for the most part you’ll produce offspring like yourselves, it sometimes happens that a silver child will be born from a golden parent, a golden child from a silver parent, and similarly all the others from each other. Hence the god commands the rulers first and foremost to be of nothing such good guardians and to keep over nothing so careful a watch as the children, seeing which of these metals is mixed in their souls. And, if a child of theirs should be born with an admixture of bronze or iron, by no manner of means are they to take pity on it, but shall assign the proper value to its nature and thrust it out among the craftsmen or the farmers; and, again, if from these men one should naturally grow who has an admixture of gold or silver, they will honor such ones and lead them up, some to the guardian group, others to the auxiliary, believing that there is an oracle that the city will be destroyed when an iron or bronze man is its guardian.’” (The Republic of Plato, Book 3, 414e–15c)

”You cannot pour upper-caste champagne-surrogate into lower-caste bottles. It’s obvious theoretically. But it has also been proved in actual practice. The result of the Cyprus experiment was convincing.”
“What was that?” asked the Savage.
Mustapha Mond smiled. “Well, you can call it an experiment in rebottling if you like. It began in A.F. 473. The Controllers had the island of Cyprus cleared of all its existing inhabitants and re-colonized with a specially prepared batch of twenty-two thousand Alphas. All agricultural and industrial equipment was handed over to them and they were left to manage their own affairs. The result exactly fulfilled all the theoretical predictions. The land wasn’t properly worked; there were strikes in all the factories; the laws were set at naught, orders disobeyed; all the people detailed for a spell of low-grade work were perpetually intriguing for high-grade jobs, and all the people with high-grade jobs were counter-intriguing at all costs to stay where they were. Within six years they were having a first-class civil war. When nineteen out of the twenty-two thousand had been killed, the survivors unanimously petitioned the World Controllers to resume the government of the island. Which they did. And that was the end of the only society of Alphas that the world has ever seen.” (Brave New World)

The primary aim of modern warfare […] is to use up the products of the machine without raising the general standard of living. […] It was possible, no doubt, to imagine a society in which wealth, in the sense of personal possessions and luxuries, should be evenly distributed, while power remained in the hands of a small privileged caste. But in practice such a society could not long remain stable. For if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselves; and when once they had done this, they would sooner or later realize that the privileged minority had no function, and they would sweep it away. In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance. (Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part 2, Chapter 9)

Zamyatin does not provide an elaborate hierarchy in We, the most we can see is a discrimination between citizens and The Benefactor.

In Brave New World, there is an explicit hierarchy labeled by greek alphabet letters and corresponding colored clothes. The Alpha class is grey, Beta class is mulberry, Gamma class is green, Delta class in khaki, Epsilon class is black.

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, there is Big Brother, the Inner Party, the Outer Party, and the proletariat.

Big Brother is the guise in which the Party chooses to exhibit itself to the world. His function is to act as a focusing point for love, fear, and reverence, emotions which are more easily felt towards an individual than towards an organization. Below Big Brother comes the Inner Party, its numbers limited to six millions, or something less than 2 per cent of the population of Oceania. Below the Inner Party comes the Outer Party, which, if the Inner Party is described as the brain of the State, may be justly likened to the hands. Below that come the dumb masses whom we habitually refer to as ‘the proles’, numbering perhaps 85 per cent of the population. In the terms of our earlier classification, the proles are the Low: for the slave population of the equatorial lands who pass constantly from conqueror to conqueror, are not a permanent or necessary part of the structure. (Nineteen Eighty-Four)

Proletarians, in practice, are not allowed to graduate into the Party. The most gifted among them, who might possibly become nuclei of discontent, are simply marked down by the Thought Police and eliminated. But this state of affairs is not necessarily permanent, nor is it a matter of principle. The Party is not a class in the old sense of the word. It does not aim at transmitting power to its own children, as such; and if there were no other way of keeping the ablest people at the top, it would be perfectly prepared to recruit an entire new generation from the ranks of the proletariat. (Nineteen Eighty-Four)

The essence of oligarchical rule is not father-to-son inheritance, but the persistence of a certain world-view and a certain way of life, imposed by the dead upon the living. A ruling group is a ruling group so long as it can nominate its successors. The Party is not concerned with perpetuating its blood but with perpetuating itself. Who wields power is not important, provided that the hierarchical structure remains always the same. (Nineteen Eighty-Four)

I tell you, Winston, that reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes: only in the mind of the Party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the Party holds to be the truth, is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party. (Nineteen Eighty-Four)

Submit, Suffer or Smother

The powers in We and Nineteen Eighty-Four make citizens suffer to maintain power. The Great Operation in We is a cure to the imagination disease: three doses of X rays.

“That evening they seized my neighbor, the one who’d discovered that the universe is finite, and me, and everybody who’d been with us, and charged us with not having the certificate of the Operation, and took us off to the nearest auditorium (the number of which, 112, was familiar for some reason). Here we were strapped to the tables and put through the Great Operation.” (We, Record 40)

Never again will you be capable of love, or friendship, or joy of living, or laughter, or curiosity, or courage, or integrity. You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty, and then we shall fill you with ourselves. (Nineteen Eighty-Four)

The totalitarian regimes maintain power through a strict hierarchy and eccentric cruelty. The hero in these novels deviate from the states desired view. In We, eccentric face The Machine—a death machine. In Brave New World, eccentric face exile. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, eccentric face various forms of torture. Orwell strongly believed that a flaw in Brave New World was its depiction of a totalitarian regime that does not impart suffering to maintain power.

‘How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?’
Winston thought. ‘By making him suffer,’ he said.
‘Exactly. By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing. (Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part 3, Chapter 3)

The powers in Brave New World smother citizens to maintain power.

“You’ve got to choose between happiness and what people used to call high art. We’ve sacrificed the high art. We have the feelies and the scent organ instead.” (Brave New World, Chapter 16)

  1. “In 120 days from now the building of the INTEGRAL will be finished. Near at hand is the great, historic hour when the first INTEGRAL will lift off into space. A thousand years ago your heroic forebears subjugated the whole of planet Earth to the power of OneState. It is for you to accomplish an even more glorious feat: by means of the glass, the electric, the fire-breathing INTEGRAL to integrate the indefinite equation of the universe. It is for you to place the beneficial yoke of reason round the necks of the unknown beings who inhabit other planets—still living, it may be, in the primitive state known as freedom. If they will not understand that we are bringing them a mathematically infallible happiness, we shall be obliged to force them to be happy. But before taking up arms, we shall try what words can do. In the name of the Benefactor, all Numbers of OneState are hereby informed of the following: Everyone who feels himself capable of doing so is required to compose treatises, epic poems, manifestos, odes, or other compositions dealing with the beauty and grandeur of OneState. This will be the first cargo transported by the INTEGRAL. Long live OneState! Long live the Numbers! Long live the Benefactor! (Zamyatin, Yevgeny Ivanovich. We. New York: Penguin Books, 1993.) 

  2. Plato, and Allan David Bloom. The Republic of Plato: Transl. with Notes and an Interpretative Essay by Allan Bloom. New York: Basic Books, 1991.