Brave New World and our dystopian society

Critical masterpiece Brave New World by Aldous Huxley outlines the components of a complicit society — one of pleasure and beauty and a drug called soma. Do we share anything in common?

Have you ever done drugs?

Let me dial back a few notches — what is a drug? Is it a substance that alters a state of consciousness? Something that shimmies around your brain chemistry and makes you feel good?

Are drugs something to be wary of? Like a thief in the night, coming to steal your body’s vitamin C supply, which is a common side effect of smoking?

In these strange times, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and its depiction of the drug soma is more relevant and frightening than ever. Our society enjoys drugs in the same way the citizens of the World State do, which is the governing society of Brave New World. This got me thinking: seeing as we are on the brink of complete societal collapse, what is the root function that drugs serve in both of these societies?

Whenever a citizen of the World State has a moment’s pause, or an unpleasant experience, they pop a “gramme” of soma and go on “holiday.” This leaves people with no opportunity or reason to sit and think. It preserves world order.

In present-day North America, we often go on “holiday” like the people of the World State, except in our case, it’s on a screen. We don’t even go number two without zoning out on “holiday” to Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, or Youtube. These days, we don’t think critically about our society’s conventional wisdom and we don’t assess our own thoughts and opinions. Did I think of this idea myself, or did I hear it somewhere? Where did I learn this information? Is this source peer-reviewed? Who conducted this research?

Our soma is literally called Crave, could the message be any clearer? What do you call it when you’re up all night binge watching a show — a bender?

According to the digital Harvard Library, in the 1950s, British neuroscientist John R. Smythies researched the stroboscopic effect on “normal individuals.” According to literary scholar and philosopher Anthony Peake, the stroboscopic effect is when flashing lights create a “flicker effect” in front of the eyes — in other words, what a screen does every time it’s on, whether it be a cellphone, tablet, or computer.

In concluding his research, “Smythies compared the strobe’s “power of addiction” to the powerful drug [mescaline].”

News has become reality television and reality television is now scripted. Thirty-minute Netflix series now end in the middle of the story, and we end up in bed watching marathons instead of running them. Is it all a coincidence?

The hard lines of fact and fiction, of journalism and propaganda, of documentary and reality television, are fading. It’s a dangerous thing that, as more content becomes more accessible, more of our time is spent accessing this content. Commercials are now tied right into the series, as the protagonist breaks the fourth wall and nudges to the audience the shameless product placement.

Is this the holiday soma promised?

I’m left with more questions than answers, but maybe that’s a good thing. It’s important to be critical of our surroundings. How is it that a cellphone plan is now an easy $50 a month? I remember making my first budget when I moved out, and there it was, a $50 cut in my broke-berry pie. When did this become an essential cost of living?

This concept that we need our cellphone is a conventional wisdom of our time. You see the little note taped to your door that reminds you what you need before leaving: “Phone. Keys. Wallet.”

Do I need my phone? Or am I experiencing an addiction to the millions of lights flickering on the screen every time I check it for the time, or get a really well-timed targeted ad.

Isolation has only exacerbated the issue. For those of us fortunate enough to have the option to stay home and self-isolate, most of our communication is taking place on a screen. Hell, I’m writing these words on a screen, and you’re reading it off one. We’re now working from our screens, meeting people from our screens, taking exercise classes from our screens, even having essential services like doctors appointments from our screens.

With all this time spent staring at screens, it would be a good idea to screen the content once in a while. Consider the addictive nature of these devices and take a day off. Since the lights off our phones impact our brains like Mescaline, does that mean you’re getting high right now reading this? Soma promises the people of the World State a holiday, but all my screen promises me is a vitamin C supplement for $29.99, and yours can too if you act now.


Graphic by Taylor Reddam


The ongoing epidemic of stimulant abuse

How student addictions are influencing academic successes at universities

In 1929, American doctor, Gordon Alles, changed modern medicine and academia forever. Dr. Alles, a researcher for pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, on a mission for an allergy cure, had a colleague inject 50 mg of a chemical compound into the doctor’s arm in an attempt to test his remedy. Within minutes, Alles’s nose had cleared and amphetamine took the world by storm.

Alles noted an increased heart rate and as he wrote, “a feeling of well being“. He described feelings of alertness, euphoria, decreased appetite, and better working memory. Within years, amphetamine use exploded––soldiers in World War II used it, and companies marketed it under the brand Benzedrine for women in a “mild psychogenic depressive state.”

Amphetamine is a stimulant––a class of medications primarily used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Research studies have demonstrated stimulants improve quality of life by increasing underproduced neurotransmitters in the brain of those with the disorder. Modified forms of amphetamine, such as Adderall, Concerta and Vyvanse, can provide relief for those with ADHD and give them a life of normalcy.

Misuse of stimulants is not only detrimental to the user, but also to society––particularly in the academic and professional world. Without the supervision of a doctor, and more importantly the medicinal need; stimulant medications are addictive. Their short-term benefits can entice further abuse: less sleep is required, focus and energy are increased, and working memory improves.

In academia, stimulant abuse is an epidemic. A 2018 Yale University study found that between 25 per cent of students in Rocky Mountain colleges and 40 per cent of students in New England colleges reported stimulant drugs as one of the most commonly abused drug on campus. Research on Canadian abuse is far more limited, but a recent estimate is around six per cent.

And the problem is only getting worse; The Globe and Mail reported prescriptions have increased by over 30 per cent in the last five years. If this trend continues, the advantage between those who abuse stimulants over their au naturale peers will continue to become more pronounced and pose a serious risk to the meritocracy modern day academia is built upon.

Action must be taken or the devastating consequences will continue to grow for students and professionals to come. In order to acquire stimulants illicitly, a pill-seeking student needs two things: money and a drug dealer. As rates of stimulant abuse continue to rise, many students who otherwise would not abuse drugs may feel compelled to do so in order to compete with their pharmaceutically enhanced peers.

It’s no coincidence that amphetamine and methamphetamine vary by a single molecular group. When stimulants are taken incorrectly or in massive quantities, an unexpecting student may suffer anxiety, panic attacks and in extreme cases, heart attacks, psychosis or death. The normalization of recklessly pill popping before exams could seize bright students and enslave them to amphetamine. Those prone to addiction may develop a tolerance and potentially deadly addiction.

There are numerous potential solutions to prevent a grotesque marriage between “study drugs” and academic success. Doctors should screen patients rigorously before diagnosing ADHD and consider prescribing non-abusable alternatives like Wellbutrin. Other proposals are cognitive behavioural therapy and the development of coping mechanisms for less severe cases. When medications are necessary, the lowest effective dose should be prescribed and dispensed sparingly. This allows pharmacists to detect if a patient is potentially abusing their own medication or selling pills.

Education and healthcare are both pillars of an equitable and civilized society. Finding a balance between treating students with conditions like ADHD and protecting others from medications they don’t need is a delicate task. Multiple parties working in tandem can find a solution to this epidemic growing within our universities.

Graphic by Ana Bilokin


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