Do not confuse pare with pear, or the Spanish for “stop.” That’s not what I’m writing about.
I’m writing about this definition:
Pare-reduce (something) in size, extent, quantity, or number, usually in a number of small successive stages.
Now the title of my post may lead you to believe I’m going to hock some diet at you. After all, if you’re reducing your size, extent, or quantity, aren’t you dieting? We’re not talking the physical here, we’re talking about the mental. We’re talking about being mentally pared down. So what does it mean to be mentally pared down?
Well, I touched on it in my review of the book Divergent by Veronica Roth. Imagine you, this complex person with complex thoughts and desires, being whittled away to one of those thoughts or one of those desires. Sure, we can’t all be cowboy-billionaire-astronauts, but certainly we could be a cowboy and a billionaire? Whose with me on this? Most people like to do more than one thing. There are a lot of people who switch careers over the course of their lives. People carry different interests. Most of us don’t have just one hobby. Egon, God rest his soul, collected spores, mold, and fungus, not just one or the other.
Think about it, what if you liked chocolate and pizza, but somebody told you, “Hey, you’re only allowed to like one thing now. You better chose between chocolate or pizza.” How do you make that decision? How do you throw away one of your loves for something so amazing? No, you don’t get the choice of choosing chocolate pizza. Wouldn’t you secretly still love pizza if you chose chocolate officially? What if someone made you incapable of loving pizza secretly? What if someone flat-out took away your ability to possess a multi-faceted personality?
Imagine someone hands you this card when you’re a little kid and it says this:
You like pizza
You hate math
You will be a dentist
You will marry a woman named Penny
You think Schubert is better than Liszt
Now imagine that’s all you can ever think about these things. You will always like pizza. You don’t get to change your mind about it. You can never get tired of pizza. You will always hate math. You can never develop an appreciation for geometry. You WILL be a dentist. You can’t change your mind and become a science teacher, because dental school is too hard . You will marry a woman named Penny, no, you can’t marry Julie, or Juan for that matter. You will always think Schubert is better than Liszt even though Liszt was a freaking piano genius and kind of good-looking. Wouldn’t all of that suck?
Sure, it would all suck and you know it, but what if you didn’t know you had an option? What if you didn’t know you could choose to like pizza or not like it? Well, you wouldn’t know you were missing anything. If you don’t know you have the choice, you just go along with it. For you, life is good. You go on through life thinking pizza is awesome, math sucks, being a dentist is good, Penny’s not so bad, and Schubert is your man for music. The thought never even enters your head to think any differently. You wouldn’t know, so you couldn’t be upset about any other way of life. You can’t miss what you don’t have.
If someone suddenly told you that you had the option of choosing, you would be ticked off. People lied to you. All this time, and you could have chosen to not like pizza.
That’s all social conditioning. They’ve brainwashed you into believing a certain way, but they haven’t necessarily taken away your ability to believe a different way, but what if they did? What if somehow they managed by medical means to take away your ability to choose differently. This could be a physical surgery, a chemical restraint, or maybe even selective breeding, we are treading on the edge of science fiction here, so selective breeding and genetic modification are appropriate to mention.
For the most part, in the world of dystopian novels, when someone is pared down mentally, it’s a social conditioning process. They’re simply told things are one way and everyone else believes it, so you do too. This isn’t always the case. In Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, people are genetically engineered to only think a certain way or be a certain way. You will never be anything other than what you were born into. On the inverse of that, we have a novel like 1984 by George Orwell, where people are not engineered to behave a certain way, they are just pressured to behave that way socially. People can wake up and realize that the world is not as it seems.
In Divergent by Veronica Roth, we seem to have a mixture of both. Tris is pressured to be a certain way because of the society in which she lives. She’s pressured to be selfless and constantly-giving because she’s in Abnegation. That’s just social pressure though. She comes to find this out with her desire to become dauntless. She realizes she can act and think differently. But…the world in which Tris uses doesn’t rely on social persuasion alone to keep people in line. Over time, it seems people have lost the ability to choose. Is it genetic manipulation? Is it a strange form of Darwinian evolution? I don’t know. I don’t know why people have seemingly lost this physical ability to choose, but they have. Unless they’re Divergent like Tris, the people in the factions can’t be predisposed to anything else. That’s what they are. Let’s not forget, the book also uses chemical restraints as a means of controlling people physically and mentally.
My point in exploring this whole idea is that dystopian stories tend to pare people down into certain aspects without giving a choice for anything else. The thing is, this isn’t just in stories. This has been done in real life, maybe not in the exact way it’s been done in books, but it’s been done in real life. Consider tyrants. Consider dictators. Consider what they do to their people. Are their people allowed to think freely? Of course not, you can’t say anything bad about your gracious leader. Are their people discriminated against for certain aspects of their personalities or physical being? Yes, big time. During WWII, if you were a Jew, it only mattered that you were a Jew. It didn’t matter if you were a Jew and a world-renowned heart surgeon. The fact that you were a Jew decided your fate. During certain cultural revolutions people who were considered “intellectuals” were locked away to be re-educated. Did it matter that they had accomplished so many great things? Did it matter that they were parents? Did it matter that they were sick? Did it matter that they liked to take walks on Sunday afternoons? Nope. None of it mattered. It only mattered that they expressed themselves through a predominant personality type and that predominant personality type was considered dangerous to the government.
When one entity or organization tries to control another, that entity tends to look at a person as an aspect rather than a human being. If you see a human being, you have compassion, but if you just see someone who likes the color orange, then it’s ok to treat them terribly. They’re an orange-lover and no one likes orange-lovers.