Wednesday, May 16, 2012

164. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Brave New World (Vintage Books, 1932; 329) by Aldous Huxley - with introductions by Margaret Atwood and David Bradshaw - is a dystopian novel that uses scientific, social and economic developments of the time to describe, through extrapolation, the way life is likely to be if we stick to that developmental trajectory tenaciously. In this book, set in A.F. 632 (the year of Our Ford or 2540 AD), mass production techniques, as developed by Henry Ford when he first built his Ford T Model, and mass consumption are the economic development paradigms. Ford's role in the story or in the life of the inhabitants of this new world was akin to that of God in the AD; for instance people say 'Oh Ford!' and not 'Oh God'. Religion is an anathema and production and consumption are its replacements.

Several years after the strategic war, the World State has been created. This World State, which is a highly-civilised and economically and scientifically developed society, is in sharp contrast to the primitive life of the Indians who were still viviparous, still pray to god, still develop wrinkles, still have emotions to love and feel attachment to one partner and do less consumption. In the new World State, the meanings of these terms are unknown and they are ancient and abominable. Though the old world of the Indians were described as primitive they had some level of science (so they could produce mescalin and they have hotels too).

Science has become the backbone to achieving the World State's  motto of Community, Identity and Stability. Even the successfully implemented economic paradigm of mass consumption rests on a peculiar scientific advancement of hypnopaedia, or sleep teaching. In the World States, people are not naturally born, they are 'hatched' in large test-tubes and are conditioned at specified periods for a certain number of times, which continues up to a certain stage in their lives. Conditioning is meant to make them like what they do; it is meant to make them happy, for in the new world happiness is the ultimate - happiness when serving and when being served. People are conditioned to be mass consumers through 'suggestive' axioms such as 'more stitches less riches', 'old clothes are beastly', 'ending is better than mending', which are repeated to them over and over again so that it becomes part of their lives, oblivious to the fact that they are not the ones thinking of them. People in this new world are therefore automaton consumers and for everything they do, including sports such as obstacle golf, there should be some form of consumption, else it is not good enough. According to the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning:
All conditioning aims at that: making people like their unescapable social destiny. [12]
This is also because there are castes in this World State and foetuses are treated at the predestinators according to their caste assignment. There are the Alphas and Betas who are at the top and who are given the necessary conditions (no alcohol, enough oxygen) to develop. They are followed by the Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons; attached to all these, from Alpha to Epsilon, are pluses and minuses. The Epsilons are the lowest of the low. They are conditioned not to be able to read or think, only follow orders and to love what they do and are also produced using the Bokanovsky's Process. This process creates thousands of individuals who are indistinguishable from each other in terms of facial features, height, size, and every identifiable feature. Basically, they are clones. And they have been conditioned to like whatever they are and do. To prevent people wishing to be like others or maintain the balance, even though they have been conditioned to like what they do, they have also implanted certain prejudices in them through hypnopaedia,  which is 'the greatest moralizing and socializing force of all time'; so that the Betas (those who work in the Fertilising Room and other top places but not positions like a Controller or Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning) are happy not being Epsilons who do all the hard work and the Epsilons are happy not being Betas who do all the hard work. Again, size or physique is a matter of importance and is a direct determinant of one's social status. Finally, stability is created by conditioning the people, in addition to liking what they do, to accept that everybody is important. They are told 
[E]veryone belongs to everyone else. We can't do without anyone. Even Epsilons are useful. We couldn't do without Epsilons. Everyone works for everyone else. We can't do without anyone ... [64] ... [W]hen the individual feels, the community reels [81]
Consequently, in this new world having sex with several people is deemed morality correct and maintaining an emotional, monogamous relationship is considered amoral and obsolete. Men have been conditioned to take any woman they want at any time and the women have been conditioned to accept such offers; in fact, the women sometimes make such advances or offers when it is not forth coming. For those women who are fertile and not freemartins, using contraceptives before sex (and contraceptives are held in Malthusian belts) are a must and this too has been conditioned into them and is practiced with tenacity. The College of Emotional Engineering and another on behaviour engineers the individual's sense of feeling - no love, no sadness, only happiness. Loneliness is also almost a banned word and they are encouraged (and have been conditioned) not to be alone. Love of and for nature is also factored out of their development. But there is a reality-augmented drug which has all the positive effects of a hallucinogenic drug and none of the hangover effects but which also shortens life called soma. Soma are distributed freely to people and are used when one is a bit gloomy or almost about to be sad. People who take this go on soma holiday.

Bernard is an Alpha and a psychologists involved in hypnopaedia, where people are given what to think. Bernard is an enigmatic figure. As an Alpha plus, he is shorter than the average of his caste and that makes him feel inferior. He also has some affinity for nature and knows that people actually do not own what they think they have deeply thought of; he therefore does not regard them when they repeat them to him. Ben also wants to keep his love life discreet. He wants to keep Lenina for himself and hates talking about sex in public, something that is supposed to be casual and amoral. Another thing is that Ben dislikes the kinds of sports which they play; in a word, Ben is a misfit of sorts. Thus, Bernard attracts fewer women and receives less respect and sometimes he is derided by those below his caste.

One day Ben went to The Reservation - those societies not part of the World States - with Lenina, a Beta plus worker at the Hatcheries. There they met Linda, a woman who was once a World State citizen and had gone missing when she visited The Reservation with Thomas, the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning. At forty-four, Linda is wrinkled and old, unlike a World State citizen and had borne a child, John (who became known as Mr. Savage). Linda was considered a misfit in New Mexico because her behaviour ran counter to what the Indians believed in: she had several sexual partners and as a result was once beaten by the women. John was also considered and outsider and was not included into the activities and daily lives of the Indians. Fascinated by what he saw, Ben made a call to Mustapha Mond - the Resident World Controller of Western Europe - who asked him to bring the two to London, which is the World State where the story is set. At the World State, mother and son were instantly famous; whereas Linda was famous (and neglected) for her wrinkles, something they had not seen before - for citizens at the World State keep their soft babyish skin even in old age, John was famous for his eccentricities of having a mother, a father, emotional attachment to the mother, selfish views on sex (because he wasn't going to just have sex with them, which is what they, at least Lenina, wanted), self-flagellation (which he carried out as penance), and his resistance to soma.

John Savage would become an experimental material and would make Ben very famous and lovable,  awhile. In fact, women would sleep with Ben because they want a chance to look at and interact with Mr. Savage. But Mr. Savage would be fed up and would pack his things out of Ben's household and yet he would be followed, not by Ben, but by multitudes of curious people who would want to know more from him. Ben together with his friend Helmhotlz Watson, an Emotional Engineer and another misfit who has passion to write important things, would be sent out of the World State to other locations, such as the Falklands, where people with revolutionary ideas are sent and where Mustapha Mond, himself a physicist and who has in his possession Shakespearean books and the Bible, was almost sent when he was caught as a young man practicing hard science.

Take the science in Oryx and Crake and cross it with the mind control of 1984 and the restricted procreation of The Handmaid's Tale and one gets Brave New World. Like most dystopias, emotions, sex, religion, knowledge, procreation are controlled. Like 1984 people are conditioned to believe what the authorities want them to believe in. However, whereas in 1984 this conditioning is forcefully done, in Brave New World the people are conditioned to think that they thought of it. Again, whereas brutality and the terror of the rat reigns in 1984, in Brave New World the people are able to fulfill all their fantasies to the letter as long as it makes them happy and unthinking. Yet in both stories, knowledge is restricted: books are banned or rewritten or people don't even have the verve to read any more. Except the few leaders who still want to hold on to something.

Brave New World is the last of the trilogy of dystopias I wanted to read.

4 comments:

  1. I've heard 1984 described as a future where man is constrained and controlled by pain and A Brave New World a dystopia where he is boundd by his pleasures.

    I think the latter might be the more realistic.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're right Sel. However, these pleasures were controlled, largely, so that there is no free will to either indulge in it or not.Those who saw through this controlled pleasures were either imprisoned or sent to a different island.

      Delete
  2. this is a I loved (Prefer it to 1984) Huxley also wrote his own answer to this in Island a utopian counterpoint to this book.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Is that so? I think I loved the gloom in 1984. I'd have to read it, I mean the Island.

      Delete

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