Death of Ethics in Brave New World
The year was 1932 and Aldous Huxley, a British writer, released a futuristic novel entitled Brave New World. In it he describes a dictatorship that maintains supreme control over society through sinister means involving genetic and pharmaceutical manipulation. Coined a “satirical novel,” of which Huxley did write a few, Brave New World became a critical success and was praised for its unique imagination. No one, including the author, truly realized how close to reality a great many of the book’s technological devices and developments would come. Their eerie reverberations are still felt eight decades later.
“Visionary writing,” a label best suited to ecclesiastical subject matter, is uncomfortably attached to books such as Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s 1984, primarily due to future historical and/or scientific circumstances that lend an aura of fortune-telling to the work. A zone of uneasiness opens when zealous admirers begin to link creative literature to astounding feats of “prophesy.” These claims are better understood as extensions of fan-club hyperbole than mystical messages emanating between pages. Neither interpretation does the art nor the author credit. The facts compiled regarding the lives and views of such “prophetic” writers dismiss new-age nonsense with unequivocal dispatch.
Huxley and Orwell were already respected writers before major success entered their lives. They had no reputation for hucksterism of any kind or much regard for organized religion and spiritual matters. These were simply men of tremendous talent and conscience deeply concerned about the world’s state of affairs. I declare that any prescience emerging from their work is derived from natural creativity and honest investigation.
The very thought of some vainglorious attempt at stargazing should be put to rest. It serves only to devalue their intentions and mythologicalize manuscripts whose sole purpose is to cause reflection upon an often-cruel world. The superstitious among us may rest safely in the knowledge that history records no dictator ever able to see into the future. Their predictions are forever bound to be products of predatory self-interest; not special insight. If forces in the universe exist to grant temporary glimpses into the future, those revelations seem to be restricted to people of good will.
THE DICTATORSHIP established in Brave New World is uniquely original in the annals of politically inspired fiction. The average thinker assumes fascism must punish and deprive in order to successfully control its population. It’s a fair wager that Huxley understood this and sought to create a new fascism that stripped humanity of its freedom by allowing it to indulge in formerly forbidden vices. The foundation for this brave new world was based upon first genetic manipulation. Test-tube fetuses were selected and altered into genetic castes programmed for specific societal duties. Three groups were developed: Betas, Alphas, and Alpha-Pluses. This biologically predestined process guaranteed society had adequate supplies of upper, middle, and lower class specimens. The second ‘foundational’ fascist principle was daily conditioning of the groups through sleep teaching, gratuitous entertainment, and doses of soma, a drug that produced thoughtless joy.
Huxley obviously possessed a keen understanding of human psychology. For humans naturally assume freedom is pleasurable thus never question the illusion of freedom carefully orchestrated in the brave new world. It’s also important to note my disagreement with lazy commentators who casually write off Brave New World as merely a sophisticated stepchild of Dostoevsky’s “bread and circuses” philosophy.
This poor analysis neglects core social truths Huxley has played upon. Dostoevsky’s scenario is an either-or situation wholly dependent upon the masses accepting gross restrictions of their liberty for decent supplies of food and frolic. The Dostoevsky masses are aware of the opposite; forced to choose between the two. The Huxley masses were tampered with before they even left the womb. They have truly been robbed of any choice; their intoxication is artificial whereas the Dostoevsky masses are drunk with the necessities of life provided by the State. Dostoevsky could not have imagined, as Huxley did, the creation of a perfect fascism through scientific technology: a future society of babes born without choice and given drugs to eliminate any remaining curiosity.
Science had not made any serious technological leap since the airplane in 1932. Einstein’s theories were found interesting but not applied until nearly a decade and a half later. So it should surprise no one why critics found Brave New World to be unique and interesting, as if they were reviewing a new breed of science fiction novel. In 1932, humanity had nothing to fear regarding Huxley’s freedom-less brave new world. In 1958, Huxley followed up with ‘Brave New World Revisited’, a short but powerful collection of essays that examined his fictional brave new world through the eyes of real-world 1958 technology. Twenty-six years later in his Revisited collection Huxley’s ideas were beginning to be taken very seriously. His concepts of sleep teaching were all the commercial rage in the 1950s. Phonographs with pillow speakers played records purported to teach people how to be successful, speak a foreign language, etc. LSD trials were common in testing human reactions to this mind-altering drug.
A new field called “psycho-pharmacology” exploded throughout laboratories promising the eager public ‘elixirs’ to cure depression, madness, and so forth. His cursory but informative examination of Hitler’s propaganda tactics convinced many of the horrible future role technology will forever play in a dictator’s quest for power. Brave New World’s notion of genetic manipulation was not lost upon a Nazi scientific community that regularly experimented upon prisoners in the immoral pursuit of perfecting a “master race.” Those notions don’t cause a chuckle today, eight decades later, when test-tube babies are as common as chicken soup.
BY REVISITING the Brave New World with a book of non-fiction essays, Huxley forced his readers to look beyond the fiction and into the realm of definite possibility. He aptly described world ills that still plague us today such as overpopulation, pollution, and poor education, and pointed out these grave problems could be potential catalysts for ‘brave new world’ implementation of evil technological methods promoted to “improve” the planet. In various regards Brave New World Revisited did much to provide the world with keen insights and vital information intelligently laid out to help restore individuality. Huxley felt the erosion of individuality was the first warning sign of a coming dictatorship. His criticism of democracy and its commercial propaganda hubs of television and radio accurately points out what today’s average citizen feels when sampling the news and commercials—wondering what has been left out.
While acknowledging their economic usefulness in promoting products that keep the masses employed, Huxley warns us not to bet on the proverbial ‘farm’ upon messages purposely drawn up to reach the common denominator. The super-rich commercial corporations have great influence in democracies; thus it is not always in their best interests to admit error, truth, or manipulative pacts with a government designed to be people-represented. The novel Brave New World packed with colorful methods of the gluttony of pleasure has its literary polar opposite in the 1949 novel 1984. George Orwell, its author, felt it necessary to approach the dictatorial society in the traditional form taken throughout the centuries, which almost always involves ruthless control by means of strict curtailment of liberties and various forms of punishment. I briefly touched upon how Huxley’s world created the illusion of freedom as its road to total control.
In the most ironic of terms Huxley’s world is the more positive of the dictatorship management styles. Excessive pleasure is pumped daily in the lives of the population overriding any sense of thought, discontent, or dissent. The masses are distracted by feel-good processes. Like animals born in a zoo they soon become accustomed to their surroundings and do not fear handling. This society though a scientific pseudo-Garden of Eden, devoid of free choice, is not as terrible as dictatorships come. George Orwell’s Oceania in his novel 1984 marches the ugliest face of fascism down the sentimental streets of unprepared readers. Oceania is a super-modern police state most secure when its population is the least secure. It enforces this universal insecurity through psychological and sexual tension. Thoughts against policy or about sex are crimes punishable by torture and re-education. Information is tightly controlled and consistently revised to fit the most current mood of the State. The population is on an eternal war footing with two other continent-states on the planet. Food is severely rationed, and universally installed two-way video screens watch the movements of the people. The differences between Brave New World and 1984 are too numerous to describe in detail.
BUT A FEW significant ones stand out to expound upon: Brave New World’s fascism relies upon internal manipulation through technology while 1984’s is clearly an external use of technology that merely aids in mass suppression. Brave New World is a scientific-based police state that requires no police. The people have been converted into their own watchdogs. 1984 is a classic political police state wrought with spies honeycombing society, cameras watching daily and enemies in need of extermination. The leadership in Brave New World depends upon empty-headed smiling people in order to maintain their control. The leadership of Oceania must exercise brutal iron-fisted punishments and propaganda to instill fear in the masses to maintain control. In simple-minded political parlance it may be accurate to label 1984 as right wing in nature and Brave New World as left wing. Extreme examples in both cases; yet their outcomes are essentially the same.
THOUGH entirely different philosophies, Huxley and Orwell operating their fictional fascist states arrive at vital fundamental factors in the human condition: pain and pleasure, the duality of stimuli running its course through our lives. Call it what you may—night/day, right/wrong, good/evil, love/hate—these competing forces are at the very heart of humanity. A humanity that tries ever so hard to reach godlike status by designing technology capable of great pleasure or destruction. The deep strain of vanity, one of our myriad collective character flaws, seems intent on abolishing one or the other of the duality. In the foolish hope that singularity, be it political, racial, or scientific may yet be the key to world domination. This tragic error continues in parts of the world today. Idiotic dictators reign terror upon the innocent, ignore history, and somehow expect eternal victory. Mankind is aware of how easily police states are able to break the human body; yet breaking the human spirit is a far more difficult task. Huxley understood that tomorrow’s builders of Utopia could extinguish free will at the fetal stage. Persons born through such a process are nonpersons to be used and thrown away like a disposable diaper. They learn what they “need-to-know” to complete a menial, possibly dangerous task. By utilization of super advanced reproductive technology the fascist State does not need to proclaim itself God, Supreme Ruler, or High Royalty—it shall become a Parent; imbuing a far deadlier meaning to the term, child abuse, than has ever been known.
The Future belongs to the Youth. Or does it?