When we think of the alpha to delta grading system of the Federation we tend to think back to Aldous Huxley's "Brave new world", but few people are actually familiar with this book. There the people were cloned and gestated in test tubes, the chemical environment modified for each foetus to fix its intelligence and physique to suit its station in life. As they grew up they were conditioned in their sleep, not only to accept their status, but also to believe that theirs was the best grade to be in. "Alphas work much harder than we do, because they're so frightfully clever. I'm really glad I'm a Beta, because I don't work so hard. And then we are so much better than Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid. I don't want to play with Delta children". Although an individual's position is fixed, with no possibility of change, the government is basically benign. No one must ever feel frustrated, no-one's impulses are thwarted, and everything wanted is provided. But no one can ever want anything that is not suitable for them. Society has stagnated and any change, any progress, would destabilise the situation and cause the government to fall. An event that those in power will act to prevent. The situation in Brave New World is incompatible with the Federation, both prevent freedom of action for their citizens but by opposite methods.
It was actually Chris Boucher, not Terry Nation, who introduced the grading system in the episodes "Shadow" and "Weapon". In "Shadow" he needed a reason for Vila to be more familiar with the Terra Nostra than Blake. His method was to have Blake as part of a privileged elite who would have had no contact with the Terra Nostra and Vila part of an underclass bullied by them. "Look, he was an Alpha grade on Earth. A highly privileged group, the Alphas. Wouldn't last five minutes among the Delta service grades where I grew up. And it's the service grades where the Terra Nostra really operate. Without anaesthetic, usually." We see more of the gradings in "Weapon" where a Beta invents something, much to his superiors' surprise. This gives an excuse for the resentment of the inventor and a cause for his flight from the research base. "They were trying to take the credit for my work. They were going to steal it right in front of me. As though I were so unimportant or stupid they didn't even have to pretend it wasn't happening. That's what really made me angry -- the contempt they had for me. Well, they can think again now. Just wait till senior echelon hears about this. They'll remember my name then." It also shows that the gradings are not infallible and are not inbuilt. But then "Brave new world"'s methods could not be used by the Federation, while they might have the conditioning skills they do not have cloning. They have to negotiate with the Clonemasters to obtain an occasional clone, but the Clonemasters do not agree with Federation values. The Auronar could provide more but they are outside Federation control. So has anyone other than Huxley given thought to a graded society to help provide insights as to how such a situation developed?
Michael Young's book "The rise of the meritocracy, 1870-2033" gives a starting point. This satirical essay written in 1958 by one of the founders of The Institute of Community Studies in Bethnal Green can provide us with many useful ideas. At the time it was written education was debated as vigorously as it is now. A generation of children had passed through the school system set up by the 1944 Education Act. This act opened up secondary education to all children according to aptitude and ability and led to the 11+ and the tripartite system of schools (grammar, technical, secondary modern). In the decades since we have gone down a route of abolishing the 11+, opening comprehensives, raising the school leaving age and encouraging as many as possible to attend college to gain degrees, as a way to a fairer society. But we might not have followed this path. There have been those who have argued that not everyone is suited to an academic education and that if everyone is a graduate who will empty the dust bins?
Young pointed out that all classes of people have a full range of intelligence, but that the poor are prevented from taking advantage of their abilities by the costs of higher education. He suggested that by educating all children according to "aptitude and abilities" over the years society gradually stratified as the intelligent rose to the top and the slower to learn were left behind. Eventually the strata almost became fixed. But only almost. The system recognised the natural variation in ability and accepted that intelligent parents can produce slow children and parents from the lowest levels of society may have intelligent offspring, so they developed ways of testing children while they were still quite young, and allocating them to their correct place in the world. Off course, top people will bribe their way through their children's tests if there is any chance of them failing. And bright but poor children are easily missed if the tester does not believe that they can be that good. The one development that he misses is the social progress of women; he allows them equal education but then expects them to stay at home to ensure the optimal care of their children. By the end of his satire top people are adopting the intelligent babies of low intelligence parents and bribing lower grade families to accept high status stupid children to prevent them suffering the shock of demotion from a comfortable childhood to adult penury. It finishes with the lower classes beginning to agitate for better conditions led by upper class women who do not want to be restricted in their lives.
So to return to the Federation. We can imagine a system where children undergo an initial test and preliminary allocation to a grade aged about four or five, with a confirmation of their grade at fourteen or fifteen, (SATs tests with extreme consequences.) Deltas would leave school at this point after a very basic education fitting them for unskilled work, with rising leaving ages for the other grades to suit them for their more complex occupations. A school would mostly cater for one grade, but could contain an advanced class for those who were expected to rise a grade above their parents, and another class for those who were expected to fall. This would become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the curriculum is different in each class (some of us can remember primary school in the 1950s with an 11+ class who might pass to the grammar school [30% of the class passed, but two classes never even sat the exam] and a class where many of the pupils could barely read). But what if a child tested two grades different from its parents? The local school would not be suitable, so the child would have to be removed from its home and placed with a family of appropriate standing to be raised with the correct social skills.
How would this affect individuals?
So imagine there is a scruffy little delta boy, dark hair, fair skin, bright dark eyes looking everywhere, interested in everything, going for his initial test. His mother sees him off, "Do your best son and you might be good enough to become a gamma. I'll have a nice tea ready for you when you get home" But they never see each other again. Later that day an officer visits the family, "Your son has been allocated to another family, dispose of his things. It'll be easier for you if you regard him as dead"
And there is another family, less ambitious than the first, who send their bright mischievous child to the test a few months later. "Today's just another day at school, I suppose you'll muck about as usual. (I couldn't bear for them to take you like they did that one last testing, his family will never recover from the shock)"
Ten years pass.
For the first child ten years of "Don't do that, only deltas do that" "Do it this way, this is how alphas do it" "Speak nicely, you don't want people to think you're a delta, do you?". He knows he's not with his birth family, but has been told that they didn't want him and gave him away. So he grows up mistrusting people and finding it difficult to make friends. Then comes the time to confirm his grade and again he goes for testing and again he looses a family. He is a potential genius and is to go away to a specialised school for high ability youths.
For the second child school is too easy, he is a troublemaker in class when he bothers to attend. He discovers he can get away with mischief if he doesn't draw attention to himself. But he falls in with bad company, older youths who take advantage of his love of fun and his cunning and encourage him to steal. So he never sits the final grading test, he is already in prison.
Over the next ten years of advanced education the first begins to think. His second family hadn't wanted to give him up; maybe his first family had lost him in the same way. He tries to find out about his past, but there's no access to his early files. Computer systems and research projects take up most of his time and his skills develop. Every now and then he tries to hack into the old files to find out who he was, but he has no memories of that time only the occasional dream of having been loved.
The second has no more formal education but his mind is too active for him to sink into apathy as many deltas do, he picks up information as he picks up other people's property. If something takes his interest he will puzzle over it for a while. He reads forbidden books and learns things his companions cannot imagine. Over the years these bits of knowledge coalesce to make him the best thief there is. He avoids work as much as possible, but does spend time in other prisons where the authorities try to condition him into honesty, but fail.
And after another ten years we meet them on a prison transport heading for exile on Cygnus Alpha. The one's hacking attempts have led the authorities to suspect his loyalty, and when he made a move on the banking system they couldn't take the risk of keeping him on Earth. But all he had wanted was to find his parents and discover who he really was. The other had failed to retain conditioning once too often and was becoming a danger to the upper echelons who feared he might be gaining blackmail material. It was safer for them if he was off Earth.
Back up to Essay index
Back up to Blakes 7
Last changed on 26th of June 2004