Saturday, May 4, 2013

Brave New World of the 21st Century



George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World are possibly the two most compared English novels of the 20th century.  While the stories are similar in many respects, they differ in that while readers tend to agree on the message of 1984, the exact meaning of Huxley’s work is widely disputed.  Most English-speaking people would read 1984 as a condemnation of totalitarianism and communism, the only dissenters being illiterate 60 Minutes viewers who somehow interpret it to be a warning against sleep deprivation, dietary manipulation, and waterboarding.  That’s Orwellian stuff, dude…  On the other hand, opinions on Brave New World are far more diversified.  A considerable number have hailed it as the antithesis to Orwell’s message, arguing that the book envisions a world of capitalism-run-amok, where the people’s dignity is downtrodden by a mega-corporation that sells them junk they don’t need.  Others have sought to frame the novel as a critique of Marxism, and still more have noted it for its cynicism of scientific techniques like cloning.  In my view, Brave New World deals with all the above things to some extent, but it’s primarily a dissertation on the true meaning of liberty and the consequences society incurs when it trades freedom for an illusion of pleasure and happiness.

In the year A.F. (After Ford) 652, all of earth’s governments have united under one World State presided over by 10 Controllers.  This futuristic civilization, guided by the ideals of community, identity, and stability, idolizes physical pleasure and communal unity while eschewing philosophy, religion, disease, labor, unpleasant virtue, and all other potential causes of discomfort.  Children are grown and “decanted” in factories rather than born to a married mother and father, terms which have become indecent and obscene. Many women, dubbed freemartins, are genetically engineered to lack reproductive capabilities and those women who can produce offspring are strictly disciplined to use contraceptives.  Although marriage is forbidden, casual sex is strongly encouraged, even mandated, and stands as one of the prime facets of life in the World State.  Children fresh out of kindergarten are educated to participate in “erotic play” and ultimately bred to satisfy different partners every week as adults. Virginity and “monogamy” are viewed not as virtues but as perversions of the gravest nature, being violations of each human’s communal duty to share his or her body with every other member of society.  Although it never gets overly graphic, Brave New World delves on incredibly disgusting but timely subject matter which is all the more relevant in an age of moral relativism, taxpayer-funded abortions, and a culture which glorifies promiscuity at every turn.  When citizens aren’t “having” each other (like all good science-fiction, this book has a strong application of euphemisms) or executing their assigned societal position, they enjoy the reprieve of recreational, often lewd games, the excitement of 4D porn flicks called “feelies”, and the euphoria imparted by the state’s official narcotic, soma.  Huxley envisions a nation which has eradicated any semblance of moral boundaries and given itself over to animal impulses, a path that American residents seems to view more favorably with every passing generation.

Further parallels to modern America are manifest in the way that the World State rears its citizens, shaping their minds through repetitious sleep-teaching called hypnopaedia which “conditions” them for their specific employment in the grand community, be it an elite or servile position, and fills their heads with meaningless drivel encapsulated in simplistic, 3rd-grade sentences like “Progress is lovely,” “A gramme is better than a damn”, “Even Epsilons are useful”, “Was and will make me ill; I take a gramme and only am”, “Every one belongs to every one else,” and the oft stressed “Everybody’s happy now.”  These empty catch phrases mirror the mindless “debates” of modern politics which so often are driven not by logic or evidence but by meaningless, feel-good sound bytes.  Candidates often pepper their campaign speeches with hypnopaedia to win over the more fickle elements of the masses: e.g. “the same, top-down policies that got us in the mess in the first place”, “sustainable energy”, “we are in this together”, “our gay brothers and sisters”, “put two wars on a credit card”, “asking people like myself at the top to do a little more”, “military-style assault weapons of war”, “doing a fair share, getting a fair shot”, “taking a balanced, responsible approach”, and a host of other tired terms and phrases permeate the dialogue of modern Americans, purely out of gross repetition on the part of political celebrities.  Government school education/indoctrination techniques are disturbingly similar to the hypnopaedia envisioned by Huxley.  By the time the average high schooler graduates, he’s been taught to love progress “five hundred times once a week from thirteen to seventeen”.  Self-perceived college radicals make robotic demands for social justice and equality because the state has conditioned them since childhood to believe that America is unfair as founded; the Occupy Wall Street and homosexual marriage riots are direct results of hypnopaedic teachings in public schools, which promote such simplistic ideals as tolerance, diversity, and equality over more meaningful values such as liberty and virtue.

Brave New World also addresses socio-economic issues like class separation.  In the World State, citizens are divided into different castes upon birth and are henceforth raised though distinct conditioning to fulfill their assigned duties to the rest of society.  Alphas reside at the top of the social ladder and live a life of relative ease, while Deltas and Epsiolons are forced to execute the most menial and toilsome tasks for the state.  However, far from envying their superiors in rank and intellect, the state’s lowest members shun the high lifestyle and embrace their slavelike status, having been conditioned and brainwashed throughout childhood to love none other than their own occupation.  “Only an Epsilon can be expected to make Epsilon sacrifices, for the good reason that for him they aren’t sacrifices; they’re the line of least resistance.  His conditioning has laid down the rails along which he’s got to run.  He can’t help himself; he’s foredoomed.”  The caste system and its enforcement in Brave New World not only call to mind the way in which African-Americans were once conditioned for the walk of slavery, but also reflect the way that modern governments, including America, raise large segments of the population to become a permanent underclass, ever dependent on government elites and a productive overclass for their welfare and survival.  The country’s underclass does not loathe its own inferiority, but rather celebrates mediocrity, dutifully eating up state handouts, worshipping their compassionate leaders/caretakers, and casting a vote for “Fairness” and “Democracy” every election cycle.  America’s Epsilons never strive for a greater destiny because they’ve been brainwashed by the state to revile prosperity and individuality; such concepts are ruthlessly savaged as selfish, unpatriotic, unequitable, and racist.  The curse of the World State, like that of modern America, is state-sponsored immobility and class stigma, a system under which is everyone is doled out a societal role and no one has the freedom to pursue his own ambitions.

Although Huxley’ works examines a broad array of political issues, the book is primarily a dark and satirical critique of a secular, liberal utopia, where virtue is nonexistent and “liberty” is respected only in one’s freedom to have pointless fun and amusement.  In the World State, people have a right, nay a requirement, to lead a life of sexual perversity, drug addiction, and service to the community.  Most individuals in this society, including the ditsy Lenina Crowne, embrace this model unquestionably and take delight in indulging their baser impulses.  Only a minority of the population’s Alphas, represented by the physically dwarfish and ideologically rebellious Bernard Marx, finds discontent with the state’s pleasure-driven system.  “Don’t you wish you were free?” he asks Lenina, who answers, “I don’t know what you mean. I am free.  Free to have the most wonderful time.”  Freedom in the Worse State is only valued in so far as it brings pleasure, comfort, and security to people, while the “right to be unhappy” is admonished and those claiming it are ostracized to tribal islands.  The 2nd half of Brave New World is told mostly from the perspective of an islander named John the Savage, a God-fearing man and Shakespeare scholar who is introduced to civilization by Lenina and Bernard.  The Savage is naturally disgusted by the behavior he witnesses in society, and eventually his strident attempts to sell people their liberty win him an earnest conversation with the World Controller of Western Europe, Mustapha Mond.  The Controller himself acknowledges the moral depravity of his state, but argues that ethical conduct is incompatible with social stability, the critical component to all civilizations.  “Chastity means passion, chastity means neurasthenia.  And passion and neurasthenia mean instability.  And instability means the end of civilization.  You can’t have a lasting civilization without plenty of pleasant vices.”  As a result of his idolatry for “stability”, Mond bans religion, artistic expression, scientific research, and all natural rights that might cause unrest in his utopian community.  The World State upholds happiness as the highest value for a functioning society, and thus it subordinates freedom and ethics to the people’s contentment.  “Our world is not the same as Othello’s world,” Mond muses, explaining prohibition of Shakespearean drama.  “You can’t make flivvers without steel – and you can’t make tragedies without social instability.  The world’s stable now.  People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can’t get… You’ve got to choose between happiness and what people used to call high art.  We’ve sacrificed the high art.  We have the feelies and the scent organ instead.”  So-called high art, he argues, can only be written in an unstable environment, for true art requires conflict, and conflict requires instability.  As an extension, nobility and chivalry are possible only in an imperfect state, for acts of heroics are prompted by perilous, unstable conditions; in Mond’s mind, the ideal state is not the one traced out by heroes and legends but the one where heroes and legends cannot exist.  “In a properly organized society like ours, nobody has opportunities for being noble or heroic.  Conditions have got to be thoroughly unstable before the occasion can arise.  Where there are wars, where there are divided allegiances, where there are temptations to be resisted, objects of love to be fought for or defended – there, obviously, nobility and heroism make some sense.  But there aren’t any wars today.  The greatest care is taken to prevent you from loving any one too much.  There’s no such thing as a divided allegiance; you’re so conditioned that you can’t help doing what you ought to do.  And what you ought to do is on the whole so pleasant, so many of the natural impulses are allowed free play, that there really aren’t any temptations to exist… And there’s always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering… Anybody can be virtuous now… Christianity without tears – that’s what soma is.”  This is the main question that Brave New World poses: is the ideal society based on “Christianity without tears”, on communion and harmony without God, on pleasure without virtue, on stability without sacrifice?

Analysts often compare modern states to 1984’s Oceania, whose Inner Party uses terror and violence keep the citizenry in check, but few people have noted America’s similarities to the Brave New World envisioned by Huxley, wherein people are suppressed not by force but by their own passions, enslaved not to others but to themselves.  The only “rights” respected in the status quo are purely hedonistic in the nature: the right to promiscuity without pregnancy, the right to have sex with whomever and however you please, the right to consume powerful narcotics, the right to immunity from criticism over this conduct, and the right to financial reimbursement by the state for whatever consequences you incur by these godless practices.  However, those who defend religious liberty and the freedom to decry sinful behavior commonly endure hateful attacks, often accompanied by calls for censorship, from the mainstream media, which accuses them of “bigotry” and obstructing human rights.  So far have we regressed as a country that the United States’ very president takes it upon himself to personally console vocal sex addicts and to congratulate “courageous” homosexuals simply for being homosexual.  O brave new world that has such people in it!

2 comments:

  1. You write incredibly well. Thank you for sharing this in depth summary of the book. I know for certain I do not wish to read it. Do you post book reviews at Good Reads?

    I hope your day is fantastic. I'm sorry about the SAT mess up on Saturday. Can you believe that you will be in college soon?

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  2. Well done. I am impressed. I think you should ask Ryan T. Anderson if you can write for Public Discourse/The Witherspoon Institute.

    ReplyDelete

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