“Did you eat something that didn’t agree with you?” asked Bernard.
The Savage nodded. “I ate civilization” (p. 185).
Brave New World, written in 1932 by social satirist Aldous Huxley, is a glimpse into a futuristic society that has successfully given up the painful things in life and has completely embraced happiness and peace for all through a means of biological engineering and Pavlovian conditioning. Babies were literally engineered and born in test tubes (even the term “viviparous reproduction” itself brought out a sense of sickness when mentioned). All children were born into a caste system. Through oxygen deprivation and other means some children were born with less-than-normal intellectual capabilities and thus would be the lower caste of workers, while others who were nurtured more were born into upper castes. Children were raised in state run “Hatchery and Conditioning Centres” and molded through psychological behaviorism into the mindset that was proper of the pre-determined caste– this successfully eliminated most jealousy. And “that is the secret of happiness and virtue – liking what you’ve got to do. All conditioning aims at that: making people like their unescapable social destiny” (p. 11). The state’s motto was “Community, Identity, Stability” and they maintained it so. Huxley’s world is definitely different than reality, but it is a believable and possible route for civilization to take. I definitely recommend this book!
“Everyone belongs to everyone else.” Sexual promiscuity was the norm. Civilization was obsessed with sex. ‘Soma’ tablets were given out to everyone. This is probably comparable to today’s drugs like Ecstasy or perhaps even the rush that people who are addicted to pain medication like Valium get- complete relaxation and an “all your worries are gone” type feeling. Citizens were encouraged to take a Soma “holiday” to get past the relatively few hard times they had to live through. Jealously of social stature was taken away. There was no unemployment because every person was planned and engineered to have a place in society (therefore no money problems). Sexual reproduction was no longer done through natural pregnancy and birth (nobody had any children to raise) there was no need for long term relationships and marriage. The government had successfully taken away most of the stressful things in life. There was still, of course, public humiliation and gossip that people had to deal with- and that was usually forgotten after a Soma holiday, which could last for days.
Civilization had taken to a bizarre facination with Henry Ford. Society’s timeline was actually counted in years after Ford’s death. Like a Catholic would make the gesture of the cross, people would make a gesture of a T, symbolizing model T. Society did not know about Jesus Christ, “Our Lord” had been transformed into “Our Ford.” Although Henry Ford had become a sort of messianic figure, there was no religion involving him, just an infatuation.
Religion was left for those who lived outside of this new civilization, those that lived in the American southwest on a “reservation.” Like the name implies, most of them were American Indian, and many practiced a mixed Native American/Christian religious tradition. Only the highest ranking Alpha caste males could request a trip to the reservation for a vacation. In Brave New World, Bernard and his date Lenina went to the reservation for vacation and ran into some peculiar people. Linda, a woman from civilization who had gotten left behind on a previous trip (having lost her Soma/birth control tablets) got pregnant and gave birth naturally on the reservation. Bernard found John, or Mr. Savage (yes, he was called that because of how he was raised), facinating as a son of civilized English parents brought up in a much different world than his own. The Savage was brought back to London as a basic show and tell specimen for a social experiment. Only things didn’t go as planned.
Linda taught him all sorts of things about civilization while growing up, but being that it was a much different world than he grew up in he didn’t understand much of what she told him. He spent most of his time reading Shakespeare, of which he became very well versed. Brave New World’s title itself comes from Miranda’s speech in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The very powerful words of Shakespeare transformed his world.
“The strange words rolled through his mind; rumbled, like talking thunder, like the drums at the summer dances, if the drums could have spoken… He hated Popé (his mother’s lover) more and more. A man can smile and smile and be a villain. Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain. What did the words exactly mean? He only half knew. But their magic was strong and went on rumbling in his head, and somehow it was as though he had never really hated Popé before; never really hated him because he had never been able to say how much he hated him. But now he had these words, these words like drums and singing and magic. These words and the strange, strange story out of which they were taken (he couldn’t make head or tail or it, but it was wonderful, wonderful all the same) –they gave him a reason for hating Popé; and they made his hatred more real; they even made Popé himself more real” (p. 101).
John was a passionate man, and the new world which he had entered destroyed him. This society looked to the past as a horrible existence of suffering. They could not understand human mentality of wanting the “liberty to be inefficient and miserable. Freedom to be a round peg in a square hole” (p. 34). It was precisely this emotion of separation that destroyed John.
The Resident Controller for Western Europe, Mustapha Mond, played a large role in censorship decisions. A very educated man with access to any peice of literature he wanted. A civilized man that had read the Holy Bible and Shakespeare was in charge of deeming books too dangerous for public consumption.
“A New Theory of Biology” was the title of the paper which Mustapha Mond had just finished reading. He sat for some time, meditatively frowning, then picked up his pen and wrote across the title-page: “The author’s mathematical treatment of the conception of purpose is novel and highly ingenious, but heretical and, so far as the present social order is concerned, dangerous and potentially subversive. Not to be published.” He underlined the words. “The author will be kept under supervision. His transference to the Marine Biological Station of St. Helena may become necessary.” A pity, he thought, as he signed his name. It was a masterly piece of work. But once you began admitting explanations in terms of purpose–well, you didn’t know what the result might be. It was the sort of idea that might easily decondition the more unsettled minds among the higher castes–make them lose their faith in happiness as the Sovereign Good and take to believing, instead, that the goal was somewhere beyond, somewhere outside the present human sphere, that the purpose of life was not the maintenance of well-being, but some intensification and refining of consciousness, some enlargement of knowledge. Which was, the Controller reflected, quite possibly true. But not, in the present circumstance, admissible. He picked up his pen again, and under the words “Not to be published” drew a second line, thicker and blacker than the first; then sighed, “What fun it would be,” he thought, “if one didn’t have to think about happiness!” (p. 136)
Even in a world of science, science had to be censored at times. Science opens consciousness. Consciousness leads to something greater. “That’s another item in the cost of stability. It isn’t only art that’s incompatible with happiness; it’s also science. Science is dangerous; we have to keep it most carefully chained and muzzled” (p. 173).
A good bit of dialogue exists between John and Mustapha Mond regarding civilization and censorship. Some extremely powerful ideas are exchanged and I have to say the author was extremely successful in bringing out emotion from the reader. Huxley is a powerful writer of dialogue.
“But why is it prohibited?” asked the Savage. In the excitement of meeting a man who had read Shakespeare he had momentarily forgotten everything else.
The Controller shrugged his shoulders. “Because it’s old; that’s the chief reason. We haven’t any use for old things here.”
“Even when they’re beautiful?”
“Particularly when they’re beautiful. Beauty’s attractive, and we don’t want people to be attracted by old things. We want them to like the new ones.”
“But the new ones are so stupid and horrible. Those plays, where there’s nothing but helicopters flying about and you feel the people kissing.” He made a grimace. “Goats and monkeys!” Only in Othello’s word could he find an adequate vehicle for his contempt and hatred.
“Nice tame animals, anyhow,” the Controller murmured parenthetically.
“Why don’t you let them see Othello instead?”
“I’ve told you; it’s old. Besides, they couldn’t understand it.”
Yes, that was true. He remembered how Helmholtz had laughed at Romeo and Juliet. “Well then,” he said, after a pause, “something new that’s like Othello, and that they could understand.”
“That’s what we’ve all been wanting to write,” said Helmholtz, breaking a long silence.
“And it’s what you never will write,” said the Controller. “Because, if it were really like Othello nobody could understand it, however new it might be. And if were new, it couldn’t possibly be like Othello.”
“Yes, why not?” Helmholtz repeated. He too was forgetting the unpleasant realities of the situation. Green with anxiety and apprehension, only Bernard remembered them; the others ignored him. “Why not?”
“Because our world is not the same as Othello’s world. 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. They’re well off; they’re safe; they’re never ill; they’re not afraid of death; they’re blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; they’re plagued with no mothers or fathers; they’ve got no wives, or children, or lovers to feel strongly about; they’re so conditioned that they practically can’t help behaving as they ought to behave. And if anything should go wrong, there’s soma. Which you go and chuck out of the window in the name of liberty, Mr. Savage. Liberty!” He laughed. “Expecting Deltas to know what liberty is! And now expecting them to understand Othello! My good boy!”
The Savage was silent for a little. “All the same,” he insisted obstinately, “Othello’s good, Othello’s better than those feelies.”
“Of course it is,” the Controller agreed. “But that’s the price we have to pay for stability. 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.”
“But they don’t mean anything.”
“They mean themselves; they mean a lot of agreeable sensations to the audience.”
“But they’re … they’re told by an idiot.”
The Controller laughed. “You’re not being very polite to your friend, Mr. Watson. One of our most distinguished Emotional Engineers …”
“But he’s right,” said Helmholtz gloomily. “Because it is idiotic. Writing when there’s nothing to say …”
“Precisely. But that require the most enormous ingenuity. You’re making flivvers out of the absolute minimum of steel–works of art out of practically nothing but pure sensation.”
The Savage shook his head. “It all seems to me quite horrible.”
“Of course it does. Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the over-compensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn’t nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand” (p. 168-170).
This is a story of a passionate man who felt suffocated in a world without passion. He was the round peg in a square hole. His emotions were too unstable. His emotions were incompatible with society, and in the end he was utterly destroyed and took his own life.
“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”
“In fact,” said Mustapha Mond, “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”
“All right then,” said the Savage defiantly, “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy” (p. 184).
The government took away art. They took away literature. They took away religion. They ended love. But by doing so they also took away broken hearts and despair, loneliness, jealousy, and depression. By taking away passion they took away the reason to live. They have chained the soul in the name of stability. A person doesn’t know happiness until they have known pain. The perfect balance of Mother Earth is the most beautiful thing in existence. She gives life, and takes it away. It is the good weather as well as the bad that makes our environment ecologically stable. We can have no May flowers without those April showers. The social stability of Brave New World was a farce. People had to be biologically engineered and then drugged for their entire lives for society to remain stable. This world is not a true utopia. From birth until death it was one long Fordian production line, and in the end your life meant nothing and you will not be remembered. Stability takes the individual out of the picture. Each person is just a link in the chain, a stop along the production line of a nation obsessed with mass production and consumerism. Individuality is instability. Mustapha Mond knew this, and thus he made sure that any radical idea wouldn’t reach his masses. Be wary of any attempt of censorship. What are they trying to hide?