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Anthony Burgess’ novel, A Clockwork Orange, is a cutting social satire comparable to Huxley’s Brave New World. Both books address the issue of individuality. Howshould the needs of society weigh against the rights of the individual? Does society exist for individuals, or should individuals submit to society? In Brave New World the society portrayed subjects individuals completely to the needs and desires of society. In Huxley’s novel, a caste society engineers several different ‘models’ of humanity, selecting a child’s destiny before he is even conceived. Most individuals in modern American society would abhor such a caste system; it goes against the most basic values in American culture. Because his example was so exaggerated, Americans have difficulty relating to Huxley’s characters and setting. Burgess’ work is in this way superior. Crime exists, as do criminals, in modern American society. Each day Americans are faced with the failures and successes of the American criminal justice system. Americans, as well as most people in ‘first world western democracies’ can very easily relate to the characters in A Clockwork Orange. The issues addressed by Burgess run parallel to the most pressing and divisive issue of American justice: capital punishment.
The social contract is an unwritten set of guidelines that embodies the most basic laws governing a society. Included in the social contract are such topics as courtesy, theft, murder, and tolerance. American society is unique in the world because it was founded by people with strong feelings of individuality, independence, and freedom. While oppressive societies such as Nazi Germany, the Peoples Republic of China, and Iran very clearly value society(read the ruling class) over individuality, Americans are forced to constantly consider to what extent individuality is more important than the welfare of society. Americans must ask themselves, "Is refusal to pay a tax a crime or a form of protest?" "Is a military draft morally just?" "Does society have the right to execute individuals?" Burgess forces the reader to weigh society’s well being against an individual’s free will.
Before further discussing ‘free will,’ the term needs a definition. Two ‘value systems’ exist. The first, instinct, is possessed by every living being. Dogs, lions, frogs, and other animals, all operate on an instinctual level. They rely upon instinct to guide them in hunting, mating, and interaction in an animal community. A dog chases prey on instinct but never questions the morality of killing. Birds select mates by the qualities inherent in their instincts. The instinctual value system values survival and procreation without ever addressing the morality of actions.
The second value system is morality. Humans have both the instinctual value system, hardwired into their brain at birth, and the moral value system, which they learn as they grow into adults. Humans instinctually feel a need to mate, eat, and survive, but also feel bound by the moral values instilled in them by their society. In American society, for example, rape is considered morally ‘wrong,’ and Americans must weight the instinctual desire to mate against their moral concept of right and wrong. Humans, in general, judge their actions on the basis of morality.
Free will grows from the moral value system. An animal never considers the fairness of its actions; it merely reacts to stimuli. An animal is incapable of choosing to sacrifice its own life for a cause. Animals trained to perform acts contrary to their natural instincts still never make a ‘free’ choice. Their training has rewritten some of their instincts, perhaps using pain or pleasure to teach a behavior by appealing to basic fears or desires. In this manner the animal will behave a certain way to avoid punishment or receive a reward.
Considering the role value systems in common communities leads to three examples:
1>Animal Communities. Social animals are capable of working together. Ants and bees are, perhaps, the most easily understood examples. In a hive society, social interactions are guided by ingrained instinctual guidelines. Mating, feeding, and working behaviors are all hardwired into the brains of each member. If a worker bee sacrifices herself in defense of the queen, she does this because she was instinctually compelled to, not because she loved, admired, or respected the queen bee.
Other animal communities such as wolf packs, or herds of antelope, live in general harmony within their groups. The social order is determined in a manner decided by instinct: size, fighting ability, hunting abilities. Though not guided by a hive mentality, these creatures still submit to this social order without ever considering the issue of justice.
Yet these animals are not mindless. All of the above examples are capable of problem solving and innovation. The creatures listed above are all capable of communicating with others of their kind and developing strategies for hunting and the defense of the community.
2> Machines/Computers. Machine communities are rapidly becoming more commonplace. The most visible example is the Internet, but examples are as local and common as a Local Area Network(LAN) in a school or a series of connected machines in a factory. These machine communities are guided by the instinctual value system. These computers react to stimuli as programmed. Computers could easily initiate a nuclear war, manufacture a car, or print books without ever considering the morality of their actions.
The concept of instinct is easily applicable to both machines and animals. Just as animals are born with instincts, machine are created with certain abilities and limits. Just as animals have a natural tendency for self preservation, computers and machines are often designed with safety features to prevent over-heating or power surges. Computers have the potential to have their instincts rewritten.
Computers are capable of problem solving, and may have the ability to create. A computer can take a thousand variables involved in demolition, chemical quantities and the like, and develop a better bomb. Computers can reroute data around downed phone lines. Computers, with the proper programming, can even compose poetry.
But computers can never judge their actions on a moral level. Computers can not pick the instinctual urges they submit to. Computers have no morality.
3> Human/Sentient beings. Humans have instinctual feelings. A roaring predator, falling out of a tree, and the sight of food all cause instinctual reactions. Humans also possess morality. During a human’s life, he or she develops a concept of right and wrong. Some moral values are absorbed from society at large, others are taught with religion. People also draw their moral values from life experiences; a doctor who treats rape victims may have a stronger aversion to sexual assault than a teenager just developing his or her sexual morality.
A human’s life is a constant struggle between instinct and morality. Humans must each day make choices involving the natural desire to mate, survive, and kill. Abraham Maslow developed a hierarchy of human needs. His hierarchy was, in a way, a board game of life. At the first, most basic, level were the requirements for life: food, shelter, physical safety. These are the requirements for all life. These needs are embodied by our most base instincts. Before humans can develop as sentient beings, they must first satisfy their animal needs.
Further along the hierarchy are needs such as emotional stability, love, and acceptance. Morality enters human existence after the instinctual needs are met. In many ways this is reflected in the societies of modern day. In countries where food is scarce people are far more preoccupied with survival than fairness. In countries where the instinctual needs are met, people develop concepts of justice and fairness. Often countries faced with widespread starvation quickly accept oppressive governments because, "the rumble of a hungry stomach is louder than the tolling of the Liberty Bell."
Even in times of disaster, humans have the ability to conceptualize morality. Unfortunately this ability may never be realized in a society where generation after generation is raised scrounging for food. In many ways people who live under such harsh conditions are amoral. To someone from a very primitive and poor society, killing for food may be an acceptable means to survive because the conditions of the individuals life have strengthened the instinct value system and stunted the development of morality. Arguably, the killer in this scenario committed no crime because he or she had no concept of crime. This killer didn’t murder, this killer killed. The act was without malice because the killer was incapable of understanding the morality of murder. To a wolf, sheep and rabbits are both just sources of meat.
Freedom of will stems directly from the moral value system. An individual with both value systems is capable of evaluating the justice of any action. An individual may choose to go hungry for a day, rather than steal. The same individual may choose die for a cause, or remain celibate, entirely on the basis of his or her moral beliefs. Freedom of will is the fine line that separates a creature that is enslaved by its instincts from a creature who chooses its actions.
Freedom of will is absolute. No individual can ever be forced to act in a manner other than the one they choose. A guard at a Nazi death camp is responsible for his actions; the guard decided to help kill others rather than be killed. A person who acts on a blackmailer’s orders is responsible for his actions. If an individual chooses to spare his own life by sacrificing someone else’s, he is responsible for the consequences of his actions.
Certainly society may at times forgive immoral acts when they are done under duress. Perhaps society would forgive a guard at a Nazi death camp because he acted out of fear for his family. Regardless of how society may judge the guard, he is still responsible for his actions.
The protagonist of A Clockwork Orange is a criminal. His morality is radically different from the morality of his society. He values basic pleasure above what his society would call justice. Alex is anti-social. He commits acts that he knows to be illegal. While his society defines justice as the antithesis of rape, theft, and murder, Alex considers any action that makes him happy to be just.
Two types of criminals exist. Some are merely criminals who commit acts which are illegal. These criminals may share the same concept of justice as their society, and even feel remorse for their actions. These are criminals who can reintegrate into society. The second group of criminals are those who don’t just violate the social contract; they don’t believe in the same social values. These criminals are far more dangerous than the first group because they see nothing wrong with their actions. If returned to society, they will continue to commit crimes because they don’t accept society’s definition of right and wrong.
Society has a right to defend itself. With law, people codify and fortify the most basic values of their society. If nine out of ten members of a society believe that theft is wrong, they are justified to act in defense against the tenth member who believes theft is morally acceptable. The question then posed, "What are the limits on a societies actions in defense of the social contract?"
American society values individual liberty. Most Americans believe in the sanctity of an individuals right to think and believe as he wishes. In such an individualistic society, the community is always balancing between anarchy and oppression. Americans might accept an individual’s belief that murder is morally acceptable, so long as that individual doesn’t act upon the belief. When this same individual does act on that belief, is society just in imprisoning the murderer? Is it just to execute this murderer?
The social contract is the glue that holds societies together. A community may have great diversity in culture, religion, or ideology but still remain tranquil if the overwhelming majority of its members accept some basic universal values. American law, and most American values, have grown from the texts of Judeo-Christianity. The basic values that Judeo-Christianity embraces are, however, not unique. Many religions and ideologies include similar rules governing social behavior. Though communities have, from time to time existed with less regulation of interpersonal relationships, humans invariably grow tired after a while and return to more binding rules. A teenager may fully support the break down of social institutions such as law, but years later that teenager may become a parent and shift to favor a more controlling and safe society for the good of his or her children. Society without inclusive bonds are weak and dangerous; people revert to their instinctual values of survival.
Societies have the right to defend themselves from threats. A military aggressor and a social dissident are alike because they both represent a threat to the society’s values. The extent to which a society is justified to punish a criminal becomes not just a matter of deterring crime but of defending social values. When Americans consider capital punishment, they must ask themselves if they have the right, as a society that values individuality, to take an individuals life because the individual has radically different social values. Certainly society is justified in imprisoning dangerous individuals, but is execution just?
The punishment portrayed in A Clockwork Orange is frightening in that it goes beyond execution or imprisonment. When Alex is conditioned to associate certain acts with unbearable pain he is like an animal being trained. Alex’s moral values are vague. He viewed the world from an ego-centric perspective. He was capable of making choices, he could choose his actions. That choice, and his ability to evaluate the morality of his actions, set him apart from animals and machines.
When Alex’s training is tested he doesn’t choose his actions with the scale of morality. He still possesses the urge to hurt and rape. Alex learned nothing on a moral level. He was trained that anti-social behavior would bring punishment, but he never was capable of understanding why his acts could be wrong.
Brainwashing is an immoral punishment. A person who remains locked up is not a threat to society. An executed criminal will never harm another being. These two options are far more morally acceptable because in both the criminal remains a human being. Alex’s brainwashing removes his ability to choose his actions. Alex remained a human being, but in body only. In his mind he became no different than an animal which freezes in the headlights of a car on instinct. His loss of free will reduced him to an animal being.
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