“Mathematically infallible happiness” and Zamyatin’s We
by Maud Newton |
In his 2005 book “Picture Imperfect,” social critic Russell Jacoby describes a group of writers he calls “blueprint utopians” — idealists such as Thomas More, Condorcet, Enfantin, Edward Bellamy, and others who devised solutions to the social problems of their own eras by mapping out the future in inches and minutes, giving precise instructions for how men and women should work and live, and not hesitating to prescribe force against dissenters.
The One State described by Zamyatin does bear a close resemblance to these imagined social orders. “We” describes a rigid world of efficiency and perfection, one in which individuals (called “ciphers”) are issued numbers instead of names and are nurtured by Taylorist systems from childhood. The One State is ruled by a Benefactor, who is automatically voted in every year, and watched over by spying Guardians, who ensure that nothing unexpected ever happens; those ciphers who do fall out of step (literally) are whisked away to the Gas Bell Jar.
This state of “mathematically infallible happiness” (as the One State’s official newspaper describes it) is considered by its citizens to be a revolutionary improvement on the chaotic condition of freedom humankind once knew.