This may seem like a strange choice, and you might argue that it’s not even in the right genre, but it’s set in a dystopian future and the key theme of the book is science so it’s in. What makes it unusual is that the science in question is Psychology.
In 1988 I attended an unofficial meeting of the Psychology Society at my university. Unofficial because the purpose of the meeting was watch a bootleg copy of the notorious ‘A Clockwork Orange’. Originally released in the early 1970s, the film was soon withdrawn by its director, Stanley Kubrick, following outcry over the graphic depictions of violence and media reports of alleged copycat incidents. The book was also banned from schools and libraries in America.
It was a considerable time later when I read Anthony Burgess’ novel, and as in most cases it is better than the film. It is the story of Alex, a teenager whose interests include ultraviolence, rape and Beethoven. Much of it is written in ‘nadsat’, Alex’s own way of talking, a sort of youth dialect, which includes many invented words. This makes it difficult to read, a bit like reading the Edinborough dialect of ‘Trainspotting’, although in both books I found that I very soon adjusted to the language. The other thing that makes it difficult to read is the content which, as in the film, includes graphic accounts of rape and violence. The real point of the book is what happens when Alex gets caught. In return for the offer of release from prison, Alex agrees to undergo a series of ‘treatments’. These involve him being shown videos of rape and violence while being drugged and shocked, and the portrayal of this behavioural conditioning is almost as harrowing as the earlier violence.
And of course it is the behavioural conditioning that made it the focus of our psychology meeting. Such techniques have been used in reality and behaviourist techniques remain ethically dubious to this day. And if you wondering if this effects you consider that most social media relies strongly on behaviourist principles of reinforcement.
Consider that next time you get an alert telling you that someone has ‘liked’ your post.