Published in 1932, Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" has tantalized readers ever since with its frightening prediction of the future.
In order to keep the masses in line, the totalitarian government of "Brave New World" gives its citizens soma, a chemical designed to provide a calming and euphoric effect. People are urged to take soma whenever they feel any negative emotion, and thus are kept docile. They don't rebel against their tyrannical government because they are too doped up to care.
The soma that Huxley imagined in 1932 bears a striking resemblance to a certain real-world drug today: marijuana.
The increasing legalization of recreational marijuana across the U.S. is a terrible thing. By looking back at "Brave New World," we can see how critical the banning of mind-altering drugs is to keeping a society free.
Smoking weed is often associated with rebellion and counterculture. In reality, it could be a useful method of controlling and oppressing the masses, especially the poor.
In the novel, a rigid class system shapes society. The lower classes do all the menial jobs, and are issued a dose of soma at the end of each workday. Their entire existence consists of waking up, working, getting high and doing it all over again. Does this sound familiar?
The American poor are disproportionally responsible for marijuana use. Their lives are quickly turning into the working, getting high, doing it again the next day cycle. Many Americans use marijuana simply to relax at the end of a hard day, but this still reinforces a cycle that rewards subservience and apathy.
But why is this a problem? Many would say that marijuana and other drugs will never be so widespread in American culture that their use could be compared to Huxley's prediction. But why couldn't they? Humans are lazy by nature. We would rather have our pizza delivered than drive to pick it up. Whenever a person is sad, why would they go out and try to make themselves happy when they are encouraged to take readily available drugs?
The change will be slow, but nearly inevitable. Why would the citizens in "Brave New World" have any motivation to improve their lives? All of their problems are solved with their daily dose of soma. It becomes nearly impossible for them to be upset.
In America, it is up to engaged and caring citizens to hold government accountable. In recent months we have seen unprecedented levels of civil unrest. While many protests were certainly not peaceful, people were rising up and trying to make a change in our society.
Widespread legalization would produce uncaring citizens. Why would they care what was going on? Every time they get angry or upset with their lot in life, they can just smoke away all their bad feelings. No politician would care about anything except making sure citizens were placated enough to not care what they were doing in Washington. It is in this way that the government could systematically take away personal freedoms. We wouldn't even notice as long as we could get high.
While this may sound extreme, it is nearly inevitable we will fall into this trap. Once weed is fully legalized it will only continue to become more prevalent, until it enters our daily lives in a role far greater than alcohol. It will be nearly impossible to go back. In the novel, the chemical reliance becomes so strong that when there is a shortage, the people riot. They are addicted to their own means of oppression.
Once legalized, our society could easily deteriorate into what Huxley predicted in 1932 — a small, ruling minority maintaining power by chemically inducing compliance in the working majority. We won't even know a better life exists, and we will have no inclination to fight for it.
Blaine Cooper is a freshman at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.