After a first overview on Brave New World it would be interesting to focus on what it is, perhaps, the most interesting part of the book: the method by which each and every individual accepts his own place in a tightly compartmentalized society, doing it willingly and even managing to be happy… somehow…
(Read the first part of this article here)
Born and conditioned to be happy
One of the main characters on the book utters a key phrase rights at the beginning the novel: “[…] that is the secret of happiness and virtue-liking what you’ve got to do. All conditioning aims at that: making people like their inescapable social destiny.”
Indeed, the secret of this “brave new world” is basically its resemblance to a highly-specialised social insect society, an environment in which each individual is conceived and predestined to occupy a given role within the group that cannot but accept and even enjoy.
The methods are varied, but the essence relies on reproductive technology because, and as already explained, children are created in assembly lines, in large laboratories and incubators where foetus are subjected to various treatments to determine which of the five major castes the future individual will belong to, with everything this represents both physically and mentally. What is more, this genetic predestination is enhanced during the period of raising by conditioning techniques. In the absence of the family as institution (its place is taken by incubators), it is the qualified personnel of these centres the ones responsible for bringing up youngsters from an early age by repetitively applying a wide number of mechanisms, such as inculcation of positive and negative reflections based on Pavlovian techniques as well as countless training sessions, social interaction and games in which kids get used to accept certain values, behaviours, roles and principles in harmony with the social set of their specific breed. Moreover, at bedtime every child receives several years of endless sessions of “hypnopaedia” during which a voice repeats a series of moral ideas that slowly sweep into their subconscious while they sleep.
During adult life there are also a wide number of indicated and contraindicated behaviours that continue to be strengthened: In general, critical or subversive thought is deterred stressing the idea that all individuals are happy and that there should not be any concerns. While lower castes are commonly alien to such issues due to their low intellectual condition, higher castes, beyond their own profesional performance, are encouraged to spend their spare time on superficial, frivolous or even hedonistic activities focused on mere physical or sensory satisfaction or rampant consumerism, becoming essentially some kind of intelligent adults with obvious childish and immature features. Intellectualism and culture are absent, and the importance of consumerism is such that any kind of leisure activity might be available or acceptable based mostly on whether or not it serves to stimulate mass consumption of a certain good or service.
Same fate shares individualism, considered unproductive, nefarious, unsupportive and undesirable, every subject being encouraged to participate in collective activities of all kinds, such as religious sessions, sexual orgies, sports or spending time with friends and acquaintances, while solitary behaviour, as well as exclusivist or possessive feelings such as romantic relationships, especially strong friendships, marriage, family, natural childbirth or sexual fidelity, are commonly repudiated.
For those cases in which glimpses of existentialism, malaise, nonconformity or dissatisfaction may rise, derived perhaps from such a suppression of individualism, it is a standardized and free practice to dispense universal and free small doses of an hallucinogenic drug commonly known as “soma”. In lower doses than everyone can conveniently self-administer this “soma” reduces anxiety and banishes concerns, while in slightly higher amounts it helps to participate in collective activities in which total commitment to the group is essential, such as orgies or cults.
Names are another element that helps to reinforce this strong sense of community. Individuals receive their own name after they have been conceived in laboratories in a random manner, and the number of options and combinations available is limited, since only 10,000 names and surnames have been preserved. Toponymy is also different, completely new and functional, without any possible reference to historical meanings since, in fact, history has been virtually eradicated after it was viewed as a potential method of building opposite identities that could struggle with the current communal harmony.
Understanding of sex is undoubtedly one of the most interesting aspects of Brave New World. Being family eradicated, natural childbirth prohibited, and romantic or exclusivist relationships penalized, citizens are strongly encouraged to practice free sex without taboos or complexes and with the sole purpose of obtaining pleasure. Promiscuity and hedonism are, in fact, acceptable and desirable behaviours, and so it is to participate in collective events in which generous amounts of “soma” are ingested, such as orgies. In the case of women with reproductive capacity (differentiated from those freemartins cited above) all types of contraceptives are generously and compulsorily distributed.
As if all this was not enough, repetition of certain mantras is also common, all of them initially learned through “hypnopaedia”. Thus, it is common to hear different characters pronounce phrases such as “everyone is equally important”, “Ford loves children”, “community is stability”, “everyone belongs to everyone” “ending is better than mending”, “a gramme (of soma) is better than a damn”, “when the individual feels, the community reels”, “cleanliness is next to fordliness” or “civilization is sterilization”.
All these elements turn this “world state” into an eminently ultraconservative society despite of its apparent liberalism, little tolerant towards criticism and sedition. Although racial, social or age differences are of no relevance, and even if there is an absolute freedom to discuss any kind of issues, behaviours that significantly deviate from the average, although lightly, are immediately censured by common citizens, who rarely question the veracity or adequacy of those ingrained values they dedicatedly obey.
Since the pre-programmed state of happiness of this society lies largely in indefinitely maintaining this balance, while most of the population never experiences any problems with the pre-established order, those who are or feel like outcasts are often highly intelligent “alpha” individuals who become maverick due to certain reasons and who are often willing to accept a magnanimous exile.
The Sorrows of Bernard Marx and John the savage
The novel itself is structured in a kind of choral work where a wide number of characters appear and where it is difficult to identify a single protagonist. It is through those wanderings that we discover, step by step, Huxley´s proposed dystopia.
The initial protagonist is a man called Bernard Marx, psychologist at an incubator centre in London, an “alpha-plus” (and therefore one of the most intelligent exponents of society) who suffers, however, from some social adaptability problems arising largely from a shorter-than-established height and a superior intelligence that, somehow, allows him to escape mental conditioning. His friend and confidant is Helmholtz Watson, professor at the College of Emotional Engineering, another “alpha-plus” who shares Bernard´s same feeling of detachment despite being an individual both physically and intellectually gifted. While this is happening, Bernard starts getting into trouble and is threatened with exile in Iceland by his boss, Thomas Tomakin. In this situation, Bernard decides to invite for a holiday a youth girl of his work he feels especially attracted by, Lenina Crowne, a beautiful and attractive, popular and promiscuous young “beta” adapted without special problems to society.
Bernard chooses a “savage reservation” as their holiday destination, located in the middle of a wild desert, in New Mexico. There he studies natives’ behaviour with special interest, which greatly disgusts Lenina. Their story, however, takes an unexpected turn when they find a woman named Linda, an old citizen of the “world state” who got lost in the reserve some decades ago. During her waywardness one of his companions left her accidentally pregnant, and due to the shame she experienced (it is to be remembered that natural conception is morally vanished) she decided to stay among those “savages” and have and bring up her child in the traditional way, an intelligent and handsome young man called John. She and her progeny, however, were always unable to properly adapt to life on the reservation, so Linda promptly asks Bernard whether he can bring them back to London. Bernard, meanwhile, discovers that John’s father is none other than his boss, and so he creates an elaborated plan that could put an end to his threats of exile. This being the case, he obtains permission to bring them back to civilization, and there they head back.
Events after their return occur at a great speed: Bernard’s boss is forced to resign given the public scandal caused by the arrival of Linda and John. The latter soon becomes a celebrity and his fame and social recognition also reaches Bernard who, for a while, thinks he can finally adapt to society after all. However, John soon disdains a world he considers empty and puerile, refuses to attend social events and begins to get into a series of troubles that end up involving both Bernard and his friend Helmholtz Watson, causing them to be exiled. Parallel to this drama, John and Lenina are attracted to each other, but John, educated in traditional human values, and influenced by Shakespeare, can not get along with Lenina’s behaviour, which results in a series of emotional outbursts that eventually make him retire to a secluded place, trying to follow an ascetic life. The persistent attention and curiosity he inspires on people, however, and also the strange influence he has on Lenina, spoil his plan, tragically ending his days.
The world that could be someday
There is not, on the book, any particularly elaborated or detailed explanation of the process humanity would have followed to end up becoming what it is on the novel. This is told just by diverse pieces of brief information leaked here and there from dialogues and brief descriptions.
The year in which the story is set would be 632 “after Ford”, meaning the year 2540 AD. In 2049 a horrendous world war originated in Europe would have taken place, devastating the entire world due to intensive use of biological and chemical weapons, destroying cities and countries and causing a global economic collapse. Due to this disaster a series of political movements aimed at changing the way humans behave would have followed, which were the seeds of the new society described in the novel. This project, however, would have found great social resistance at first, which would have led to the creation of a global super-state with the necessary authority to apply those changes everywhere, the origin of what eventually became the “world state.”
The kind of changes gradually applied were such as the closure of museums and libraries, the removal of all literary or intellectual work previous to the year 2058 and the destruction of all historical monuments and national symbols that had survived the catastrophic 2049 world war. Anyway, for the time in which the novel is set, it is understood that this new social order is fully established worldwide, with the only exception of the “savage reservations”.
A truly “happy” world after all
One should not be fooled by the apparent harmony of Brave New World. Although this is a friendly version, Huxley´s proposed system is as totalitarian as Orwell´s, since it also controls each and every aspect of individual´s life. Yes, it is true, Orwell focused on violence and terror, maybe touched by his own historical reality, while Huxley was carried away by his imagination and took a more subtle and perhaps much more unreal tangent considering what seemed feasible back in the 30’s.
Time, however, appears to give greater credit to Huxley´s vision, probably above his contemporary compatriot, which would be a very good reason to take a look at his work. If this is not enough motivation, however, perhaps fascination could make it, considering that all those methods applied on Huxley’s book are, by far, much more effective than the ones applied by the Big Brother, and also way more suggestive.
(Interview with Aldous Huxley, 1958)
(Lee este artículo en español aquí)