Writer’s Wednesday: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is a classic for a reason, because even today, more than 80 years after it’s publication, it is still relevant. Everything still hits a little too close to home, and the future portrayed is not so unrealistic or far away. Huxley might have gotten certain details wrong, things he couldn’t have imagined when he wrote the book, but overall it is uncomfortable to see how capitalism taken to the extreme could change our world.
For those not familiar, Brave New World is set some 600 years from now. That is, some 600 years from the birth of Ford, the God of capitalism. In this not-too-distant future everyone from conception has their place in society, and will have been treated differently throughout their upbringing to ensure they fit the same mold as all their sisters and brothers of the same class. This Fordian society has but one goal; for everyone to consume as much as possible. To ensure maximum consumption a stable, peaceful and passive society is necessary.
Read the book to discover how they go about achieving that, and what happens when we take away art, romance, families and anything else that evokes passion within us. And now I really want to read Brave New World Revisited, written twenty years later on the author’s thoughts about the preciseness of his dystopia.
Primroses and landscapes, he pointed out, have one grave defect; they are gratuitous. A love of nature keeps no factories busy. It was decided to abolish the love of nature, at any rate among the lower classes; to abolish the love of nature, but not the tendency to consume transport. For of course it was essential that they should keep on going to the country, even though they hated it. The problem was to find an economically sounder reason for consuming transport than a mere affection for primroses and landscapes. It was duly found.
‘We condition the masses to hate the country,’ concluded the Director. ‘But simultaneously we condition them to love all country sports. At the same time, we see to it that all country sports shall entail the use of elaborate apparatus. So that htey consume manufactured articles as well as transport. Hence those electric shocks.’
‘Moral education, which ought never, in any circumstances, to be rational.’
Not so much like drops of water, though water, it is true, can wear holes in the hardest granite; rather, drops of liquid sealing-wax, drops that adhere, incrust, incorporate themselves with what they fall on, till finally the rock is all one scarlet blob.
‘Till at last the child’s mind is these suggestions, and the sum of these suggestions is the child’s mind. And not the child’s mind only. The adult’s mind too – all his life long. The mind that judges and desires and decides – made up of these suggestions. But all these suggestions are our suggestions!’
‘And then he spends most of his time by himself – alone.’ There was horror in Fanny’s voice.
‘Work, play – at sixty our powers and tastes are what they were at seventeen. Old men in the bad old days used to renounce, retire, take to religion, spend their time reading, thinking – thinking!‘
The mockery made him feel an outsider; and feeling an outsider he behaved like one, which increased the prejuidce against him and intensified the contempt and hostility aroused by his physical defects. Which in turn increased his sense of being alien and alone.
Bernard blushed and looked away, ‘I meant, alone for talking,’ he mumbled.
‘Talking? But what about?’ Walking and talking – that seemed a very odd way of spending an afternoon.
‘I’d rather be myself,’ he said. ‘Myself and nasty. Not somebody else, however jolly.’
Alphas are so conditioned that they do not have to be infantile in their emotional behaviour. But that is all the more reason for their making a special effort to conform. It is their duty to be infantile, even against their inclination.
‘Particularly when they’re beautiful. Beauty’s attractive, and we don’t want people to be attracted by old thing. We want them to like new ones.’
‘Because our world is not the same as Othello’s world. You can’t make flivvers without steels – 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!’
‘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.
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 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.’
One can’t have something for nothing. Happiness has got to be paid for. You’re paying for it, Mr Watson – paying because you happen to be too much interested in beauty. I was too much interested in truth; I paid too.
‘You remind me of another of those old fellows called Bradley. He defined philosophy as the finding of bad reason for what one believes by instinct! One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them. Finding bad reasons for what one believes for other bad reasons – that’s philosophy. People believe in God because they’ve been conditioned to believe in God.’
‘All right, then,’ said the Savage defiantly, ‘I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.’
‘Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.’
There was a long silence.
‘I claim them all,’ said the Savage at last.
Have you read Brave New World, or anything else by Aldous Huxley? What did you think?
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