We came before Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984, and Yevgeny Zamyatin proved himself a master of the dystopian novel so popular today. The novel tells of the protagonist D-503 coming-of-age, becoming more and more aware of his desires, imagination and individuality, until the Operation returns him to the collective.
In We, the One-State removes its citizens’ individuality by assigning alphanumerical designations to them and so it dehumanizes them more than the governments of 1984 and Brave New World their citizens. The mathematical-speak throughout the narrative adds to the sense of alienation. For example, the spaceship is called the Integral. “Integrating the grand equation of the universe: yes. Taming a wild zigzag along a tangent, toward the asymptote, into a straight line: yes.” This is poetic science.
D-503 dreads the square root of –1 because the imaginary number doesn’t relate to any quantity in real life and it symbolizes the imagination, as opposed to facts and analyses that one can grasp and control.
Throughout the journal, D-503 mentions Frederick W Taylor and his Scientific Taylorism in which he applies mathematics to production (ex. linear programming to achieve operation efficiency) and Behaviorism to management (X style of management). The One-State guarantees its citizens’ “happiness” by removing their desires and imaginations but turning them into means of production and cogs in the bureaucratic machine, no longer humans but robots that follow the Table of Hours and repeat the tasks day after day.
Yevgeny Zamyatin reveals to us a possible future where efficiency and precision trump creativity and emotions, a future that haunts us to this day.