Biology, Culture, and Persistent Literary Dystopias

In justifying this nightmare society [Orwell’s 1984], Winston’s torturer, O’Brien, explains: “You are imagining that there is something called human nature which will be outraged by what we do and will turn against us. But we create human nature. Men are infinitely malleable.” Fortunately, O’Brien, like the Director in Brave New World, is wrong. People are immensely malleable, more so, in all likelihood, than any other species. But infinitely? Absolutely not. And it is precisely such asserted distortions of biological reality that make 1984, as with Brave New World before it, so deeply troublesome. —Barash and BarashBiology, Culture, and Persistent Literary Dystopias (Chronicle)