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10. 02. 2017. Aldous Huxley * utopija / distopija
Aldous Huxley

Brave New World


Huxley identifies these as causes for personal unhappiness (in random order):

  • lack of material prosperity
  • material inequality
  • lack of health
  • fear of death
  • lack of role and fulfilling purpose within a society and acknowledgement of that role (by the society)
  • complicated (exclusive) interpersonal relationships (family, friendships)
  • sexual frustration as a result of sexual inhibitions
  • inability of venting out the frustrations

He then goes on to imagine a future society that does away with all those causes:

  • society is more or less egalitarian (at least within the casts)
  • quality food, accommodation, transport and other commodities are plentiful
  • everyone is healthy and ageing is arrested until the age of 60, and after that people quickly diminish and die
  • death is accepted as something normal from an early age and it is not feared
  • there are no families - children are engineered and manufactured instead of being born; as a result all children are treated equally (within their casts)
  • children are conditioned from an early age to accept and enjoy their roles in the society
  • sexual promiscuity is stimulated as well as social life while individualism is discouraged
  • a perfect drugs is available, that helps people relieve their tension whenever their conditioning fails to do that for them

In Huxley’s future society there is no fear, pain, jealousy, there is no racism, sexism or any other form of discrimination (except for casts, but even there it is not discrimination in today’s sense) and people are generally content.

Perhaps the most objectionable thing about this future is the cast system. As mentioned, people of this society are not conceived, born and raised by parents. Instead, they are engineered, manufactured and raised by the state. Heredity of eggs and spermatozoa is controlled, and the (artificial) environment in which the zigot grows is manipulated in such a way to produce individuals of various characteristics, the main difference being stature and intelligence (where stature generally corresponds to intelligence - taller people are more intelligent). For example, the lowest classes destined for menial and manual labour are engineered by adding substances in certain stages of the the development of fertilized egg, that damage and diminish intelligence but increase tolerance to hostile environments. These individuals do not need high intelligence for the tasks they will do, and higher intelligence would hinder their ability to be happy with their place in society.

The other problematic thing is the conditioning. It is an unconscious process of implanting modes of behaviour into children during their growing up (by playing subliminal messages while they sleep). The purpose of these messages is to make certain behaviour instinctive in individuals (for example it stimulates hygiene, social behaviour, etc).

There are some contradictory facts about this society.

  1. While individual persons have purpose and place in this society, I could not see a purpose of the society as whole. It just seems like a perfect gigantic ant hill, locked in its development, no longer changing and evolving, just constantly perpetuating itself. Even the top rulers and overseers of this society - the controllers, seem to be no more then benevolent managers interested in nothing more then keeping the status quo.

  2. What is the point of having (a stable population of) 2 billion people? Why not 200 million or 2 million? Since people are manufactured, it is fully within the means of the World state to control the numbers.

  3. The need for the lower casts in the World state comes form the level of technology that Huxley has imagined, that is very much similar to early 1930s when the novel was written, and requires lots of menial and manual labour, in factories, mines and on conveyor belts. But, later in the book when the Savage talks to the Controller, it is revealed that technology and science are locked and frozen on purpose, so that people would not loose their jobs. That makes no sense at all, since the state controls number of people (of each cast). Even the technology on today’s level would allow for a society consisting only of small number of egalitarian Alphas, where the machines and robots would take over jobs of Epsilons, Deltas, Gammas…

  4. The economy of this world is not very clear. It seems to be a sort of consumerism, the production and consumption are stimulated, people get wages, pay for tickets, etc… But that does not fit very well in the society described.

Free will and happiness

What is happiness, and is a person whose all immediate needs are met through no action of his, a happy person? Can you be happy if you do not know unhappiness as a concept because you have never seen it? Is a struggle needed for happiness? Huxley does not provide answers to these questions and I don’t have them either.

Three men in the novel stand up against this system, and each one of them seems to have different reasons.

John the Savage suffers a cultural shock after he arrives into the World state, and has problems to adjust to the casual ways in which sex is consumed, recreational drugs consumption, the dominant “art” forms (“feelies”) or the attitude towards death and process of dying. This shock is comparable to the one a person from Europe would have when witnessing “burial” ceremony in the Himalayas, where the corpses are served to the vultures, or a patriarchal and conservative rural person immersed in a liberal environment of a big city. These behaviours are just different from those he was accustomed to, and it would be hard to qualify them as either better or worse (in fact, the society he came from is described as much more brutal, harsher and less fair).

The final thing that triggered him to action, was an attempt to “free” the Deltas, but even that was not truly a revolt against the society and the main principles it lays upon - subversion of the free will, but rather a revolt against an inequality of casts.

Bernard Marx is a misfit, shorter and uglier then other alphas and he is very much conscious of that and suffers because of it. As soon as his status within the society temporarily rises after he brings back the Savage, he seems to embrace the society, which makes him a hypocrite.

Helmholtz Watson on the other hand is more gifted, handsome and intelligent then other Alpha-Plus citizens. He is unfulfilled with his job of writing the subliminal messages and he is the only one that truly questions the society and the foundations it is built on.

Utopia or dystopia?

In the world of Orwell’s 1984, the citizens are controlled by fear and pain by small elites that rule the world. These elites have a motive to keep the masses in check, so that they could provide to themselves whatever they want. 1984 is clearly a dystopia. In Huxley’s world there are no such elites, no-one benefits from controlling the people other then the people themselves. But the masses are not aware of this, in fact only a dozen of controllers know the full truth. Is this a dystopia? Or a utopia maybe? I would say that it is too unrealistic to be taken seriously as anything more then a thought experiment. This society is portrayed as super stable and super stagnant, but I can not see the forces that would keep it so stable. There is no social contract, no philosophy or morals, the masses are just “brainwashed” (much too harsh term) into behaving well with only a dozen people or so in the whole world knowing the whole truth (people with access to history and all literature). I can not see such society being stable for centuries…

The book raises some very interesting questions. It tries to provide some answers, I guess, in last two chapters and this was a part of the book that I least liked. Somehow the plot was artificially guided towards such an end, so that the author could explore those questions. The Savage with an upbringing (or lack thereof) that he got in Reservation could in no way participate in such philosophical discussions with the Controller (Shakespeare or no Shakespeare). Why did the Controller want Savage brought to London? What did the Savage want to achieve with the uprising of Deltas? He was long enough there to see that it would not work.

The last chapter is even worse. The Savage went mad, decided to punish and torture himself, went away but remained close enough within the society’s radar, and finally hang himself? It’s as if the author did not know how to finish the book but he had to somehow…

Huxley got some science wrong, and was off in some of his predictions of the future, but I did not mind that at all.

All in all, I liked it, liked thinking about the ideas it introduced me to and I am going to read Brave New World Revisited and Island soon.
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