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    I have often thought that George Orwell must be spinning in his grave because what he predicted in his terror-filled dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four has come so true. And by the same token, Edward Bellamy is probably spinning in his grave also, because, sadly, not only has nearly nothing come to be reality from his utopian novel, but in fact, we are quite in the same place, socially and financially, expanded by seven billion people, as he was in 1888. Sad. We've made zero progress.
    Bellamy was born in Massachusetts in 1850 and died there in 1898 at age 48 from tuberculosis. Looking Backward catapulted him to fame and is his best known work. Published in 1888, most of it takes place in the year 2000. I really wouldn't call it science fiction, but it is definitely utopian, and though he claimed it was written as "a literary fantasy", not a blueprint for political action (according to Wikipedia), it became just that, inspiring political movement in Bellamy's time.
    I have never read a utopian novel that particularly appealed to me, perhaps because I am quite anti-social and independent, and so many people's ides of utopia is, of course, based on social interaction. (MY idea of utopia is to just go away somewhere where there's hardly any people and live in peace and quiet with my farm and my animals, but that's just me.) With this one, however, I found very little that was repugnant and if I had to pick a utopia, this would be it! And while I found Bellamy's ideas intriguing—of course they would never work as long as people like Bill Gates and Jamie Dimon inhabit the planet—it was his spot-on description of society in the nineteenth century that knocked me over. Because we are still living in the nineteenth-century social/political/financial mindset! He described the year 2014 to a tee, not in his utopian plan, but in the exposé of his own time!!! I find that certainly jolting, but also pathetic and inexcusable.
    Though the book was written as a novel with utopia as a theme, it was really more a book about an ideal society, in the guise of a novel, and that, perhaps is what I would criticize. I wish he would have written a novel where his visions of the future were incorporated into the action, but instead, the characters and their action were more a background to his commentary on society, and because of this, reading at times became rather dry. Not that his ideas are not interesting—they certainly are. But it read more like a treatise than a novel. But other than that, I really did like the book.
    Julian West was born in 1857 in Boston, son of well-to-do parents, therefore, heir to a life of leisure. The book begins on December 26, 2000, as he is speaking at Shawmut College in Boston of his life in the nineteenth century and the arrogance in which those with money assumed it was their birthright to be better than those who were poor. He compares society to a coach in which those comfortably riding are pulled along by the toil and labor of the lower/working class. But he also points out that, though it is a life of leisure, it is not secure, and at any time, those riding on top may tumble down and become one of those pulling. He says:

"It must in truth be admitted that the main effect of the spectacle of the misery of the toilers at the rope was to enhance the passengers' sense of the value of their seats upon the coach, and to cause them to hold on to them more desperately than before."

    He is engaged to a lovely lady, Edith Bartlett, also of course from a wealthy family, and though the family home is his, it is now in a neighborhood that is no longer fitting for their society. He is in the process of building a new home. But every day, it seems there are new labor strikes, and the construction, therefore the marriage, keeps getting delayed. On this one particular night, when Julian is very tired (he is a chronic insomniac), Edith urges him to return home early to rest. He has built a special chamber below his house sealed in and protected against fire for his valuables, with a pipe for air where he goes to sleep and is undisturbed. No one but his man, Sawyer, and his quack doctor, Dr. Pillsbury, know of this chamber. On this night, Julian sends Sawyer to fetch Dr. Pillsbury to hypnotize him, as usual so he may sleep. Sawyer alone knows how to wake him. But as it turns out, this is Dr. Pillsbury's last night in town as he has been offered a position elsewhere and is preparing to leave that evening. He supplies the name of another doctor, then puts Julian to sleep.
    When Julian awakens it is to the sound of unfamiliar voices, two female and one male. When he opens his eyes, the ladies have left and he learns the man attending him is Dr. Leete. Very slowly he gains consciousness and little by little, Dr. Leete presses him to remember the date upon which he fell asleep, May 30, 1887. As he awakens further, Dr. Leete cautiously reveals to him that it is now the year 2000.
    Of course, Julian thinks someone is playing a trick, but gradually learns that his own house had burned down that night, apparently killing Sawyer, the only one who knew where he was and how to awaken him. The others assumed he was killed in the blaze. As final proof, Dr. Leete takes him to the top of the house where he is able to look out upon Boston. Of course, he now knows what he has been told is true, yet he becomes so fascinated that shock doesn't set in until the next day.
    The remainder of the book is about how society in 2000 functions, and continues to go back to 1887 and make comparisons. Some of it makes one chuckle, for instance, his statement that fashion has not changed much. HAH! I seriously doubt Bellamy could have imagined beyond his wildest dreams that in this century, women would go out in public with boobs so big and tank tops so low cut that they can use their cleavage as a cell phone holder!. (I have seen this in public.) He doesn't really talk details about the way the city looks either, and no mention is made of transportation.
    In this society, the government is the only regulator of industry. Everyone receives a credit card, worth generally more than is needed, to supply what they need and desire for the year. Everyone receives the same amount. Everyone that can, works, but much education is supplied to find the work that each individual is most suitable to do and is most happy doing. There is no differentiation in class or different types of work. People work until age 45, then, still receiving the same credit, are free to live in leisure, pursuing other interests, traveling, or serving in other ways. Housework has been eliminated. Laundry is sent out, and main dining is done at a hall. There are mall-like buildings where shopping is done. An order is put in and sent to a central warehouse through tubes, where the item is packed and received at the person's house. There is no competition, no waste and no middlemen. Throughout the book, Julian has long conversations with Dr. Leete, and also with his daughter, who, like Julian's fiancé is also named Edith.
    I made lots of notes as I read. Because there is so much material here, I could go on and on, but instead, I will pick out a few of my favorite lines to share.
    Chapters five and six are devoted to the labor problems, with Dr. Leete explaining how all the difficulties have been solved. He says:

"And, in heaven's name, who are the public enemies?" exclaimed Dr. Leete. "Are they France, England, Germany, or hunger, cold, and nakedness? In your day governments were accustomed, on the slightest international misunderstanding, to seize upon the bodies of citizens and deliver them over by hundreds of thousands to death and mutilation, wasting their treasures like water, and all this oftenest for no imaginable profit to the victims. We have no wars now, and our governments no war powers, but in order to protect every citizen against hunger, cold and nakedness, and provide for all his physical and mental needs, the function is assumed of directing his industry for a term of years."

    Then later on he says:

"Nowadays, on the contrary, society is so constituted that there is absolutely no way in which an official, however ill-disposed, could possibly make a profit for himself or any one else by a misuse of his power. Let him be as bad an official as you please, he cannot be a corrupt one. There is no motive to be. The social system no longer offers a premium on dishonesty."

    Yeah, right.
    Another interesting invention they had were "telephones" that piped in live music from different places. You could choose from a program, and adjust it by turning a screw. This could also be used as an alarm clock. Cool and close to right on this one.
    And how about this?

"Another item where we save is the disuse of money and the thousand occupations connected with financial operations of all sorts, whereby an army of men was formerly taken away from useful employments. Also consider that the waste of the very rich in your day on inordinate personal luxury has ceased, though, indeed, this item might easily be over-estimated. Again, consider that there are no idlers now, rich or poor, —no drones."

    And here's another:

The wastes which resulted from leaving the conduct of industry to irresponsible individuals, wholly without mutual understanding or concert, were mainly four: first, the waste by mistaken undertakings; second, the waste from the competition and mutual hostility of those engaged in industry; third, the waste of periodical gluts and crises, with the consequent interruptions of industry; fourth, the waste from idle capital and labor at all times. Any one of these four great leaks, were all the others stopped, would suffice to make a difference between wealth and poverty on the part of a nation."

    Amen, again. And then:

"To secure this consummation as far as circumstances permitted, by killing off and discouraging those engaged in his line of industry, was his constant effort. When he had killed off all he could, his policy was to combine with those he could not kill, and convert their mutual warfare into a warfare upon the public at large by cornering the market, as I believe you used to call it, [still do!] and putting up prices to the highest point people would stand before going without the goods. The day dream of the nineteenth century producer was to gain absolute control of the supply of some necessity of life, so that he might keep the public at the verge of starvation, and always command famine prices for what he supplied."

    Listen up, Monsanto. And Bill Gates. And the auto industry.
    Sadly, this books is about us, now, not the nineteenth century. And while it may not be particularly exciting to read, it is filled with Bellamy's uncanny wisdom and perception, not to mention his vision. Even if you understand all the issues today that are rapidly heading this country and the world toward total collapse, both financially and as society, here's a book that will open your eyes even wider and provide further enlightenment. Highly recommended.


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