Updated on May 24, 2015
4. ‘Brave New World’ by Aldous Huxley
How do you control an entire population, without risking uprisings, rebellion and anarchy? Make it love its servitude. Never mind ruling with an iron fist, in Brave New World Huxley presents a society ruled with kid gloves, and drugs to take away your troubles…
This isn’t the first time I’ve read Brave New World. I remember reading it as a teenager and being absolutely blown away. For me it was a much scarier, more sci-fi version of Orwell’s 1984, and I much preferred it to that book. In fact, the differences between the two novels are perfectly summed up by this infographic and, it seems, Huxley’s creation may be closer than Orwell’s to the modern condition.
The novel opens with a man giving a tour of a factory. In this factory they produce humans. Nobody breeds normally any more – everybody is either sterile or on strict birth control – and all the people alive are made in test tubes, created on a production line and fed various hormones and chemicals to turn them into productive members of society, depending on what ‘class’ they will be. The Alpha Double Pluses are made to be intellectuals, and the scale goes all the way down through Betas, Deltas and Gammas, to Epsilon Semi-Morons who are physically and mentally stunted, bred for menial labour.
The horrors extend further than physical manipulation, though. From the minute they are born (‘decanted’), all the test tube people go through social conditioning. They are made to fear anything that will not make them functioning consumers (such as flowers: you don’t have to pay to appreciate nature), and during their sleep they are played repeated mantras to make them love their place in society.
Throw into this scenario a man called Bernard Marx, who had a little too much alcohol put into his test tube as a foetus and thus doesn’t feel like he quite belongs. Marx goes on a trip to a Savage Reservation where (horror of horrors) the people still have mothers and fathers and religion and mud huts, and there he meets a savage called John who he brings back to his world. Suffice it to say, John does not like what he sees.
Essentially this book examines human nature, and the right to suffering. The people in Brave New World are like children, free to enjoy any pleasures they want, and never wanting anything damaging because the desire has been conditioned out of them. Any troubles that come their way can be forgotten by taking soma – a hugely effective drug that brings sheer happiness and forgetfulness. There’s no need to ever be sad here, but that’s exactly what the Savage thinks we need. If we’re not suffering, ever, how can we even consider ourselves alive?
Brave New World is an absolutely brilliant book and – whilst the science might be outlandish – the idea that the best form of stability is trivial happiness, at the cost of art, science, progress and freedom, is chillingly possible.
“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.”
Want to read this? You can buy the book here.