Every so often, some literary/political science smarty pants will ruminate over who had the more accurate vision of the future — Orwell in 1984 or Huxley in Brave New World. Both are visions of a future dystopia (yes, kids, 1984 used to be the future), just with different varieties of societal degradation. The people who believe that the arc of history is hurtling us inevitably to our doom see a lot to like in both books, and they use them as a template for the shape our doom will take.
One title that doesn’t get thrown into that discussion very often is H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, but maybe it should.
From the Wikipedia summary of the plot:
…the Time Traveller tests his device with a journey that takes him to A.D. 802,701, where he meets the Eloi, a society of small, elegant, childlike adults. They live in small communities within large and futuristic yet slowly deteriorating buildings, doing no work and having a frugivorous diet. His efforts to communicate with them are hampered by their lack of curiosity or discipline, and he speculates that they are a peaceful communist society, the result of humanity conquering nature with technology, and subsequently evolving to adapt to an environment in which strength and intellect are no longer advantageous to survival.
…he is approached menacingly by the Morlocks, ape-like troglodytes who live in darkness underground and surface only at night. Within their dwellings he discovers the machinery and industry that makes the above-ground paradise possible. He alters his theory, speculating that the human race has evolved into two species: the leisured classes have become the ineffectual Eloi, and the downtrodden working classes have become the brutish light-fearing Morlocks. Deducing that the Morlocks have taken his time machine, he explores the Morlock tunnels, learning that they feed on the Eloi. His revised analysis is that their relationship is not one of lords and servants but of livestock and ranchers. The Time Traveller theorizes that intelligence is the result of and response to danger; with no real challenges facing the Eloi, they have lost the spirit, intelligence, and physical fitness of humanity at its peak.
What made me think of this was the recent Elliot Rodger rampage in California. Is this the world we live in now?
We’re not all Eloi yet, but we aspire to be. According to every cultural indicator, that’s the ideal lifestyle. We have, or think we should have, every luxury at our fingertips. Anything that limits access to money or sex or status is condemned as a crime and an affront to humanity. We are saturated in leisure.
But every once in a while, someone realizes that his real life is not the same as the marketing-department-approved, have-it-all life that everyone else seems to be living. He sees that he’s not an Eloi, and never will be. In a futile rage, he becomes a Morlock and devours a few of us.
That’s the price that we pay for our Eloi lifestyle. And apparently, everybody is okay with that.