Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (http://www.huxley.net/bnw/one.html) is one of those novels which have left a lasting impression on me. Published in 1932 Brave New World describes a global society in which genetic engineering and social conditioning rule supreme. Society is rigidly stratified with those at the bottom of the pyramid being only of sufficient intelligence so as to enable them to perform the most basic of functions, such as operating machinery, while those at the top are endowed with great intellects permitting the elite to govern the lower social classes. Due to genetic engineering, coupled with social conditioning the overwhelming majority of the population is content and lacks the capacity (or desire) to challenge the system.
Child baring has been outlawed with all children being created in facilities such as The Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre. The only exception to this state of affairs are “the reservations” in which “savages” continue to bring forth children in the traditional manner.
Sexual promiscuity is almost universal in Brave New World with lasting relationships being discouraged as they lead, in the view of the world controllers to the evils of attachment which breeds murder and other vices.
A “savage”, John is introduced into Brave New World. At first he is thrilled by the new civilisation and remarks,
“Oh brave new world that has such people in it”.
However, on discovering that his beloved Shakespeare (along with all literature) is prohibited he begins to question the foundations on which Brave New World is built. John’s disenchantment with Brave New World is heightened by his love for a girl who, despite being attracted to him is incapable of showing John the exclusive love which he craves. Lanena is conditioned to desire many sexual partners and can not comprehend John’s desire to have an exclusive relationship with her.
Things come to ahead when John’s mother (a woman from Brave New World who had a baby by traditional means and was abandoned by her then partner, the Director of Hatcheries in the Savage Reservation) is taken into hospital. John is incensed when a group of children undergoing “death conditioning”, to prevent them from grieving when people die, laugh and point at John’s dying mother. John boxes the ears of the children which leads to a full-scale riot requiring the use of Soma (the drug of choice) in Brave New World to quell the disturbance.
On being taken to the controller for Western Europ John begs to be allowed to return to the reservation. However he is told that the experiment to ascertain whether savages can be integrated into society must continue.
Fleeing into the countryside to live the simple life John is pursued by Brave New Worlders. In a fit of anger he whips a girl to death and, the following morning is found hanging in the warehouse in which he has been living.
For me one of the most interesting (albeit minor characters) in the novel is the resident controller for Western Europe. Tasked with upholding the system he admits to John and his 2 friends, to loving literature. He opens a safe showing banned books, his attitude being that as he makes the laws he can break them. The Controller says that he serves happiness, not his own but that of other people. Society is stable now and to allow books and ideas from the past would only unsettle matters leading to the return of jealousy, war and other evils banished by the introduction of Fordism (the philosophy/religion in Brave New World). Art, beauty, all must be sacrificed for the common good. I suspect that behind his smiling exterior the resident Controller for Western Europe is not a happy man.
Brave New World raises a number of troubling questions, notable among them being whether the Resident Controller for Western Europe is right in his contention that the sacrifice of high culture is worthwhile as it promotes universal happiness. With a few exceptions, for example John’s friend, Bernard Marx and, of course John himself, all the people in Brave New World are happy. One can argue, as John does that their happiness is meaningless but perhaps, to the observer everyone else’s contentment is vapid. Undoubtedly the inhabitants of Brave New World are genetically predisposed and socially conditioned to like what they do which leads to almost universal contentment, however almost all crime has vanished from society which, on the whole functions like clockwork.
On reading Brave New World I am revolted by much of what Huxley describes. The crushing of the individual (not through ruthless violence but via genetic and social conditioning, is abhorrent to my liberal sensabilities). Yet I am left feeling uneasy that I have no killer argument to advance against that of the Controller for Western Europe when he states that society is stable, disease has been eliminated and people are content with their lot. How many of us in such a world (assuming we could see beyond our genetic and social conditioning) can say, hand on heart that we would join with John, the “savage” to upturn the apple cart even if by so doing we would loose the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse (my words not those of Huxley).
Having posed the above question I suspect that a society such as Brave New World would be supremely ill equipped to deal with a crisis due to the narrow tramlines which conditioning compels people to traverse. Individuals possess the ability to think for themselves and the lack of this capacity would, I suspect, sooner or later lead to disaster in Brave New World. When Lynda (John’s mother) faces her own personal crisis, death she is ill prepared for it and can only cope by taking copious amounts of Soma. Despite the laughter, the “Feelies” (virtual reality films), at the end the Brave New Worlders come face to face “with that fell sergeant death” who, as Shakespeare says, “is swift in his arrest”. At the end there is no poetry, no family and friends to comfort the dying, only Soma, Soma and more Soma.
(I was prompted to revisit Brave New World by a series of articles in The Daily Telegraph concerning the predictions of Karl Djerassi (the inventor of the contraceptive pill) that by 2050 most sex in the west will be for recreational purposes. Babies will be born from frozen eggs and sperm implanted in women who will, when young arrange for the freezing of eggs and sperm enabling them to pursue careers and give birth at a time of their choosing. This is not Brave New World as there is no state impelling men and women to act thus. Again Djerassi does not point to the destruction of culture. However Djerassi’s predictions have obvious echoes of Huxley’s Brave New World. For the articles please see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/11219735/Well-defy-all-logic-to-make-babies-in-the-traditional-way.html