Brave New Relaxant?

Here we live in the age of Soma and I didn’t even know it.

For once I get GOOD spam..

The latest ad for cheap meds that appeared in my inbox over the weekend promised the usual assortment of sex pills as well as old favorites like Xanax and Valium…

…and “Soma,” for less than a buck a dose. (No, I won’t link. If you want sugar pills for 88 cents each, you’ll have to search yourself.)

I thought that somebody must be having a good time with a meta-scam, fooling people too stupid to realize that Soma was not a real drug but the fictional happy pill that people take to avoid reflection in Brave New World.

But the joke’s even more meta- than that: unless the spammers are being more devious than usual and creating large numbers of fake web pages, Soma appears to be the real name—a registered trademark, I should note—of a muscle relaxant.

I can think of three explanatory hypotheses, with sub-hypotheses as noted, and I don’t know which is weirdest:

(1) The drug company adopted the name as a joke on doctors and patients, being

(1a) aware of the fact that this stuff is addictive and prone to abuse (no doubt the reason it’s being flogged on the internet), which makes the joke pretty sick, or

(1b) unaware, which makes the irony pretty heavy; or

(2) Some alienated English major in the drug company’s marketing department decided to play a joke on the illiterate corporate types and by the time the latter discovered the joke the drug was too popular to change its name; or

(2a) the corporate types figured that the number of people who read books was so small that the name wouldn’t hurt sales, or

(2b) they figured that so few people who read the book would get its intended point that the name would help sales; or

(3) The name popped out of some drug name generator—human or computer, it doesn’t much matter—and sounded as apt to whoever heard the name (and hadn’t read Brave New World) as it had, independently, to Huxley.

Whatever the reason, we now know where to get “all the advantages of Christianity and alcohol; none of their defects.” For 88 cents. Warning: may be habit forming.

UPDATE: Reader Ganga White (not a pen name, I’m assured) points out that soma is the name of the “nectar of the gods” (apparently also a sometime god him/itself) credited with spawning the Vedas. So a fourth hypothesis is that both Huxley and big pharma knew the Vedas—possible in both cases, for very different reasons—and were making a joke on them. But it doesn’t seem like the best joke in the world to give the name “soma” to a muscle relaxant—wouldn’t it make more sense for a straight narcotic or perhaps a hallucinogen? Finally, there’s the added (apparent) twist that the Vedic meaning of soma has been corrupted in daily usage too: according to a quickly-googled seeker of drug facts, of totally unknown reliability, “soma” in modern Hindi simply means “alcohol.”

Author: Andrew Sabl

Andrew Sabl, a political theorist, is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics and Hume’s Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England, both from Princeton University Press. His research interests include political ethics, liberal and democratic theory, toleration, the work of David Hume, and the realist school of contemporary political thought. He is currently finishing a book for Harvard University Press titled The Uses of Hypocrisy: An Essay on Toleration. He divides his time between Toronto and Brooklyn.