A Brave New World

Brave New World [1932], by Aldous Huxley is a dystopian novel set in futuristic London. On our calendar it would be AD 2540.

The story opens in the year 632 A.F.—”Anno Ford” or rather 632 years since the year of the first Model T production. This future world is founded entirely on “Fordian” methods of mass production and consumption.

The events transpire in The World State, a benevolent dictatorship headed by ten World Controllers over a stable global society.

brave new world 2

It is to all appearances a successful world in which everyone appears to be content and satisfied. It is a world of advanced technology and science, peaceful and stable. However, upon closer inspection, this stability is only achieved by sacrificing freedom in its true sense. Progressive efforts to eliminate any sorrow or disharmony have also eradicated any individual identity or responsibility.

We are introduced to Lenina Crowne and Bernard Marx, members of the Alpha caste. They both work within the Hatcheries where human embryos are raised artificially. Bernard oversees the hypnopaedic process, a system of subconscious messaging to form growing children’s self-image.

Children are bred to fit into ranked castes with Greek letter names, from Alpha (the highest) to Epsilon (the lowest) each with different economic roles. The lower castes are bred for low intelligence and conditioned not to think but the more intelligent upper castes are socially conditioned by taboos.

Art and culture has ceased to exist, literature is banned as subversive, as is scientific thinking and experimentation.

Shallow and hedonistic lifestyles are promoted; recreational sex rather than emotional ties are celebrated. Any pain is reduced by the freely accessible hallucinogenic drug soma. Moreover, to maintain the World State’s economy, citizens are conditioned to promote consumption and hence production, reciting platitudes such as “spending is better than mending

 

soma

Bernard disapproves of society and is vocal about his differences and he is threatened with exile because of his nonconformity. On an outing to a Savage reservation outside of civilisation, he encounters Linda, a woman who has a biological son John. She had become pregnant by the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning, a societal taboo which leads her to hide away with shame.

Linda has taught John to read, although from only two books: a scientific manual from her job in the hatchery, and a Collected Works of Shakespeare. John, naive to the world, can only expound his feelings in terms of Shakespearean drama.

book cover

It is John’s desire to see the “brave new world” which inspires Bernard to take them to the Director of Hatcheries. Presenting him with his unknown son and past lover, Bernard humiliates the Director who resigns in shame.

Bernard and John are then brought before Mustapha Mond, the Resident “World Controller for Western Europe”. They are told they are to be punished for antisocial activity.

Mond outlines to them the events that led to the present society and his arguments for a caste system and social control. While Mond’s words are designed to convince,  John rejects them and Mond sums up the dilemma by stating that in demanding freedom, John demands “the right to be unhappy“.

John concurs.

huxley

Huxley said that Brave New World was inspired in reaction to the utopian novels of H. G. Wells, especially, A Modern Utopia (1905).  He rejected the enlightenment view that science and technology would progress society only onward and upward. Having lived through the First World War and observing concerning trends in his own industrial and modernist society, he posits a futuristic society grounded in these elements.

The prognosis is grim.

Huxley uses the irony in Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, to make his point. He cites the passage in which Miranda exclaims:

O wonder!
How many godly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t.

— William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act V, Scene I, ll. 203–206

 

The excerpt is drawn from when Miranda, like John raised in isolation, sees other people for the first time, is overcome with excitement and utters the famous line above. However, what she is actually observing is representatives of the worst of humanity, traitors and manipulators.

Like other dystopian novels such as “The Giver” or “1984,” Huxley’s novel explores the relationship between advances in technology and the [in]credibility of creating a utopian society. He highlights concerns for the direction of his own society and hypothesises about the the controls necessary to manufacture a world without pain and suffering.

Freedom, individuality, relational ties, the arts, the ability to question. All of these are linked to feeling pain and suffering. Perhaps the “right to be unhappy” as John, steeped in Shakespeare, realises,  is the greatest freedom we humans have?

poem

How not to be ‘bourgeoise’

In Karl Marx’s “Communist Manifesto” [1848], the class struggle between proletariat, bourgeois and aristocrats is examined.

Marx, an economic determinist, explored the nature of society and politics, almost entirely in terms of class struggle. He observed that as the bourgeois [middle class] emerged, they gained economic and political power. However, instead of wielding this power, they found it more expedient to tolerate a despotic aristocracy which did not work against their interests. Instead of siding with the growing proletariat [working class] to overthrow the aristocracy, the bourgeois preferred to compromise with the dwindling aristocracy.

bourgeois 2

 

In doing this the bourgeois refuse to acknowledge the rising power of the proletariat. By establishing themselves as enemies of, rather than allies of the proletariat, the bourgeois frustrate true social progress. France post-revolution was a case in point. Marx observed that the bourgeoisie realised that they had been better off under the monarchy (1830-1848) than during the brief period when they wielded power themselves (1848-1851) since they now had to handle the subjugated classes without mediation or protection by the crown.

The term “bourgeois” has largely been dropped from vernacular now as Marx’s theories have fallen from grace in western nations. However, early 20th century modernist literature is peppered with the sentiment:

Don’t be so Bourgeois!

In literary use, the phrase means, “don’t be so crass or vulgar!” Or “don’t have aspirations to aristocracy,” or “don’t be a brown noser.” In cultural terms, the expression is wielded against artists or citizens who do not embrace their full humanity, who look up to power holders to grant them financial endowments or validate their existence. In economic terms, it caricatures the wealthy middle class always keeping up appearances – trying to seem richer than they are with materialist tastes and faux totems of grandeur.

bourgeoise 4

Marx has a point – that the middle class are surprisingly powerful as owners of means of production. They [we] hold the power to right injustices and fight for equality of resources and opportunities to be distributed to the working class.

If the middle class defer this responsibility by always looking the aristocracy, and indeed by seeking to mimic the aristocracy by guarding up privilege for the self in order to “look like blue-blood” or to seek alliances and privileges and to shore up position, the proletariat are only more seen as enemies and a problem.

bourgoise 4

The solution hasn’t been found in economic or social reforms as our current capitalist climate would attest. However, I believe the answer lies in reading more narrative, listening to more songs, looking at more paintings and art, in playing more sport.

Art and games are the great levelers – kings and queens look to art forms and celebrate the humanity made noble. In them the human voice is made strong, the nobility inherent in living is celebrated, no matter class, creed or colour.

banksybanksy 2

If the bourgeois loose their inclination to “look up” for validation, but instead “look down” to the humans around them, their inherent value and see the injustices they face as their own, the world would be a more equitable place.