In elementary school during some class I don’t really remember, my teacher tried to push The Giver on me, and I adamantly refused to read it. I am guilty of occasionally judging a book by its cover.
With no exposure to the book, I went to see The Giver in theaters after a friend showed me a trailer depicting a dystopian society challenged by a brash teenager. I really liked the movie! Since I didn’t have to compare it to the book, the themes in the movie were novel and interesting takes on common tropes, such as the role and limitations of government.
Now that I’ve admitted I liked the movie, I had some real problems with The Giver universe. Everyday, each character is supposed to run their hand over a drug dispenser in order to get their happy medication to make them happy people in their happy community of happiness. Perhaps happy is the wrong term — how about peaceful or complacent or submissive. Unquestioning subjects are the easiest to govern. Clearly the author of The Giver tried to give her views on the inevitable nature of government. Philosophically, the author might have been giving us her perspective on the sanctity of thought, speech, and expression.
Hold up, I’m supposed to be focusing on science not governmental shenanigans. How in the world do they manage to keep such a large population fed on one tiny island/plateau thing above the cloudline?
I looked it up. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says that “it is realistic to suppose that the absolute minimum of arable land to support one person is a mere 0.07 of a hectare—and this assumes a largely vegetarian diet, no land degradation or water shortages, virtually no post-harvest waste, and farmers who know precisely when and how to plant, fertilize, irrigate, etc.” [FAO, 1993]
If that was too long to read (I struggled with it too), each person needs minimum 7500 square feet and perfect conditions so long as they want to maintain order. Since it seems the community in The Giver very clearly doesn’t have that much space, the dog lady has an interesting question coming up regarding the euthanized babies.
Returning to the drug issue, if the machine can be fooled into administering drugs into an apple, it’s realistic to assume the “dumb” dispenser is giving the same dosage of drugs to everyone. I would imagine that the effects of the same dose would result in some overdosed dead babies and older addicts that are going to struggle with a revolution without their happy injections.
One last thing that bugged me as a neurobiologist, simply touching a mole on the back of Jonas’ wrist passes on the memories of the Giver. At the UCSD Departments of Neurosciences and of Pharmacology, a team was able to erase and restore some memories in mice and you can be sure it wasn’t by holding their paws. You can read the report here. While the study was mostly on fear conditioning, I doubt concepts like love, war, music are going to be able to be induced any time soon if ever by hand holding.