Aldous Huxley – Brave New World

huxley

Orwell and Huxley have given us two infamous dystopian visions; the former presents a society controlled through punishment and pain, the latter through pleasure. In Brave New World the founding concept of the utopian community is quickly introduced as “the principle of mass production at last applied to biology”.[1] Henry Ford and his “T-model” are worshipped for their efficiency, utility and mass production, the same values held by the Huxley’s “World State” which applies them to the creation of humans who are similarly crafted on a production line, intending to mirror production of the automobile.

Huxley explores contemporary fears of eugenics, taking the logic to its extreme and demonstrating the potential of genetic engineering to create a utopian society where every individual is made, in a factory, to fit a certain social need and is given traits suited to that need. Once born, the children are indoctrinated through hypnotherapy to be content with their position in society and to not strive for more. Stability is the overriding aim of all such efforts to manipulate mankind. There are no mothers, no fathers, no families and no meaningful friendships. Promiscuity is openly promoted for the purpose of pleasure, as is the drug “Soma” which stupefies the user. Soma is distributed through the world state and eagerly consumed by individuals who welcome their own stupefaction in order to combat any potentially painful or unwelcome experience. The drug also suspends the body in perpetual a state of youth until the age of around 60 when suddenly the person dies but there is no one to mourn them since the dead have no family or filial bonds. The avoidance of pain runs parallel to the goal of stability because pain causes rupture for individuals and communities, and could act as a lightning rod for social unrest. For similar reasons literature, art, history, philosophy and many intellectual pursuits are forbidden to all but the few World Controllers and “Alphas”.

The only exceptions to this global world order are “reservations”, the last bastions of humanity, living in traditional, albeit rather backward, communities. It is in one of these reservations that we are introduced to one of the main characters, John, who has read Shakespeare, enjoys philosophy and knows the history of his world. When discussing reservations, the “civilised” persons denounced how the inhabitants “still preserve their repulsive habits and customs…marriage…families…Christianity…”[2] It is no surprise that these three aspects of British culture are mentioned, the same three that the international super-state, the USSR, either destroyed or manipulated for the goal of a utopian society. It was in marriage and the particular, protestant, form of Christianity which was entrenched in Huxley’s Britain, that the private life was cultivated. In the same era of Huxley’s novel, D. H. Lawrence was defending the importance of marriage which gave society the best of its freedoms, “a small kingdom within the big kingdom of the state. Man and woman are king and queen with one or two subjects and a few yards of territory. This really is marriage. It is a true freedom because it is a true fulfilment.” Prophetically, he warned “break it, and you return to the overwhelming dominance of the state which existed before the Christian era.”

What Lawrence and Huxley both understood was the fundamental unit of society, outside of the state, which marriage provided. To the Soviet Union and Huxley’s World State such an institution could not be permitted if society was to be totally controlled. Parental and filial bonds needed to be broken so the individual could be dependent only on the state; marriage had to go in order to eliminate privacy and liberty, and religion had to go because it provided an alternate source of authority.

In Brave New World, “civilised” people distinguish themselves from the “savages” who still hold on to some semblance of the old world but to the reader it is the savage, John, with whom we identify with. John is presented as a mysterious character, “Bound by strong vows that had never been pronounced, obedient to laws that had long since ceased to run, he sat averted in silence.”[3] When he goes to see for himself the “civilised” society that had been engineered outside his reserve, he finds little satisfaction in the people he meets, “They stared at him with a blank expression of dull and sullen resentment in their eyes”. Frustrated and losing hope he tries ignite a whisper of passion, “Don’t you want to be free and men? Don’t you even understand what freedom and manhood are?” Unfortunately for John, the genetically and socially engineered people in front of him did not know the meanings of freedom or manhood, they didn’t know the history of the world, of separate nations, of what pain or love was, what it meant to have a family; they did not know what it was to be human. Humanity had been sacrificed for stability.

Only the Alphas, those at the top of society who are given exceptional physical and mental abilities, are allowed certain liberties of reading literature and history, knowing the world as it once was, but only in order to sustain the current world. John finds some relief in these slightly more humane humans but nevertheless they come to loggerheads as the European Controller explains how it is precisely because Shakespeare’s work is “old” and “beautiful” that “Betas”, “Deltas”, and the other social groups below are not allowed such literature.[4] Huxley indulges the reader in the philosophy of the world order, how sinister the logical conclusion of good intentions can be: “stability isn’t nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand.” In order to prevent the toil of emotions humans normally go through, the test-tube humans are a genetic cocktail, “an invisible bottle of infantile and embryonic fixations”.[5] In this world “truth’s a menace” because the truth that humans are imperfect, that they are made of crooked wood, is antithetical to stability.[6]

It is then, Huxley’s world that is more prophetic than Orwell’s, for it wisely perceives that it is through pleasure not pain which the tyranny of the majority seizes liberty and emaciates morality. Our own stupefaction, engendered by the accessibility of pleasure drugs in our modern world, not brutal state oppression, will lead to the greatest tyranny in our world. A harsh state mowing down civil liberties by force will always incite backlash, inspire courage and call for a defence of liberty to which the best of mankind will answer. It is the nascent calls for greater security, the misapprehension of pleasure for happiness and the disregard for culture and tradition which will usher in the greatest and lasting siege on human liberty.

[1] Aldous Huxley, Brave New World p. 5.

[2] Ibid., p. 89.

[3] Ibid., p. 148.

[4] Ibid., pp. 192-193.

[5] Ibid., p. 196.

[6] Ibid., p. 200.

 

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