Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Deltas and Epsilons Among Us

"How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in't!"

-The Tempest

Each day when I disembark at the Brickell Ave metro station I encounter one or more unusual men making their way to work. I group them together for several reasons. For one thing, they obviously know one another and are often traveling together in groups of two or three. They get off at the same stop each day and presumably go to the same destination, so I assume they work together. And then there are the other things they have in common ...

They tend to be large-bottomed, dumpy figures with a tendency to waddle when they walk. They favor pants with elastic waistbands instead of belts. They wear t-shirts with company sponsor logos or event announcements. Their speech is slurred. They have the unselfconsciousness of children. They speak in short sentences, shorter words. Like Benjy in The Sound and the Fury. In fact, they are Benjy.

My fascination with them is not that of a journalist. If it were, I would be concerned to find out where they worked, what sort of "program" was helping them find their place in the world, how it was funded, what their medical maladies were, and what their prospects were. I'd want to know what percentage of the population they represent, and whether their segment is growing, and if so how fast.

Instead, I prefer to wonder what their lives are like, and if in some odd wordless way we are all like them. I can certainly relate to their air of worn out innocence, that of children who have grown old without growing up, who in fact will never grow up. Don't I still sense that kid within me, the same one I used to be and still am? How different am I because I've learned all my skills and can express myself in big paragraphs?

Then, too, I find myself thinking of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, in which people are purposefully bred into graded subspecies to fit them to different niches in society -- from the Alphas and Betas who run everything, through the Gammas who can do skilled labor, down to the Deltas and Epsilons who are suited only for menial tasks like assembly lines and cleaning.

This book used to be science fiction. Now it often seems ever closer to reality. A high-school teacher I know was shocked to find that his students could not see any problem with this dystopian vision, especially its use of the wonder drug called Soma to make everyone placid and cooperative if not downright happy. Now the prospect of memory and learning enhancement chemicals, and computer augmented intelligence, makes it possible we will create a caste of hyperintelligent beings among ourselves, while the mass of third-world humanity is left behind to shift for itself.

Meanwhile, the Deltas and Epsilons are already here, swabbing our floors and emptying the trash. We ask nothing more of them but to keep quiet and out of the way, maybe to watch a little TV, and remain content.

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