More on Huxley’s “Brave New World”

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I have been thinking more about the society in Huxley’s New World.  On all accounts, most of his characters are devoid of individuality, creativity, and the hunger for knowledge.  Most do not seek to better themselves or learn anything outside their biological manipulation.  They work, get high on Soma, engage in gratuitous sex, attend mindless entertainment events, and never ask questions.  These people, like computers, cannot move beyond the hand that programmed them.  To most of us, this kind of society would be horrifying.  A true dystopia.  Yet, in Huxley’s world, most of them are truly happy.  They want their world just as it is.  Any other way seems like archaic nonsense to them.  Huxley’s world has not experienced war for generations.  There is no poverty or despair.  No murder.  In fact, very little crime at all.  The police just spray people who “act up” with Soma.  Problem fixed.  So, is this world dystopic?  Or are we, at present, the dystopia?  I know that Huxley refers to his Brave New World as a “nightmare” but, to some people on our present-day violent and unstable Earth, Huxley’s New World would be utopia.  A job, a home, food and medicine, soma, and when the alternative is death, who cares about individuality?  Any thoughts?

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2 thoughts on “More on Huxley’s “Brave New World”

  1. It sounds to me like the dichotomy between the need for security and the need for individuality. I guess it comes down to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In Huxley’s world, all the lower-level needs are met, but they’re prevented from meeting (or even sensing) the higher-level ones. However, as you’re saying, in our world there are lots of people who would love that kind of secure life – in other words, whose lower-level needs aren’t met, and those needs are always paramount. It’s only once those needs are met that we can even start to think about matters such as creativity and individuality. In Huxley’s world, there’s a cap put on the Hierarchy of Needs – we’ll meet your needs *this* far, but no further.

    As a matter of fact, it reminds me of the former East Germany. There, the basic life necessities were pretty much guaranteed – basic food, housing, etc. was dirt cheap, much cheaper than in the West. But anything more than that was unobtainable, including the freedom to travel outside the country. And it was those restrictions that brought on the revolutions of ’89 which toppled the Iron Curtain – because the regime didn’t have Soma at its disposal, I suppose.

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    • Thank you for your post, Amo. I think it’s just what I needed to help gather and expand my thoughts. So, lol, I had to go and refresh my first and second year Psychology for a moment. Abraham Maslow is a long time ago! But actually, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head.

      Maslow talks about human development and needs starting with our physiological needs like oxygen, food, water, etc. Those things that we simply cannot do without if we want to live. But he also includes sex in there, and I have to disagree on that point. Since we cannot reach the next level until we have fulfilled the one before it, to include sex in our first level of hierarchal needs would suggest that someone like Mother Theresa was not self-actualized, so…

      That aside, it goes from physical to Safety–so freedom from fear and personal security. Then to Social–we have love and affection with family and friends, etc. Then to Esteem–we have self-respect and the respect of others. We have attained a “position” in our lives such as a great career or a happy marriage and wonderful kids–depending on our own personal thing. And finally, Self-actualization.

      This is kinda when we have “arrived.” We now are able to explore and achieve from those abilities within us that which bring us joy, wonder, and personal contentment. We have “peak” experiences. For some such peaks may be having the freedom to leave a career and go on Sabbatical to get that Doctorate–not from need, but because such an achievement IS the goal. It is, as Aristotle said, “an end unto itself.” Or writing and publishing a book. Or winning an Olympic gold. Maslow said that only 2 in 100 actually reach this individual “plateau”, and that this “plateau” stretches out before us as far as our eye can see. We are never quite there. There will always be more ways we can expand. As he said, “we are always becoming”.

      So, what does this mean in terms of the people of Huxley’s New World? From our point of view they must, according to Maslow’s pyramid, be mostly trapped between “Social” and “Esteem”, depending where they are in Huxley’s caste system. Certainly, the Alphas and Alpha Pluses are fully at the “Esteem” level, while the lowest caste of Epsilons are permanently between “Safety” and “Social”. Yet, these people do not see life as we do. They are like a new breed of people, and their needs are completely different.

      Here, we are considering a society that is 500 years ahead of us. We look out across the gulf of centuries between us, and regard each other as Barbarians. We see them as pre-programmed, under-developed, and limited automatons. They see us as unclean, viviparous savages–just out of the cave, but barely able to walk upright. And they wonder, looking at our “backward ways”, how we managed to survive as a species. It’s similar to how we consider ourselves of 500 years ago, dumping our chamber pots out the bedroom window every morning, and spending the day walking through our own sewage, how we didn’t all die of cholera or something like it. But we survived to put flying machines in our skies and land-rovers on Mars. And we’re a little proud of ourselves now, and possibly, a little arrogant too. How can we be so superior when our efforts and results are so inferior?

      We’re still fighting over fossil fuels instead of turning our energy and time to the sun and ocean water. We are poisoning our fat bellies instead of focusing on feeding everyone on earth. We fight over religious beliefs and politics. We can’t even live in our own communities without road rage, and unnecessary rudeness. Our children still purposely hurt each other on the school yard. Global warming, super bugs, elder abuse, diseased food, blah, blah, blah. It just goes on like an endless river of doom. Even the few who are self-actualized, can still be mugged and murdered at the interact machine. Or hit by a drunk driver. Or blown to pieces by a terrorist’s bomb. What is the good of being self-actualized in a society where there is always someone or something hunting you–stalking you from the shadows?

      Aldous Huxley saw the world through the eyes of a white, educated, English male in the 1930s. He was surrounded by success and self-actualization. He had a Nobel Laureate in his family. He was raised in wealth. But he was also a man of conscience, and saw things in the world that set his teeth on edge. He wrote a book–a bloody awesome book–that not just satirized what he saw, but took everything to an absurd degree. To his mind, that is. But Huxley was still a man before luxury airbuses, before computerization, before DNA, and before global warming. “Brave New World” was published before the Holocaust, nuclear weapons, and actual government surveillance in the free and democratic West. I think Huxley, if he could see us now not quite 100 years later, would say that a dystopian future was already realized in the “us” of 2014.

      It’s just that we are all so entitled. We WANT everything. Nothing is good enough. But if we had to deal with a global ecological crisis coupled with a devastating world war, and if a few of us managed to survive all of it, I wonder how we would be changed–because we surely would be changed. Huxley imagines a world on the other side of global upheaval in his novel. I am not saying that Huxley’s world is better than ours, at least, not altogether. I am not saying that I would like to take up residence in such a society.

      I think what makes Huxley’s vision of the future so disturbing is that the society has “finished” there. There is no endless plateau to explore. That is what they have sacrificed in favor of peace, happiness, and stability. It is the terrible stagnation and sheer waste of human genius that is so “dystopic.” Well, my opinion anyway. If there was any hope that they would grow, then Huxley’s New World would be a great place to start over again.

      However, there is still the question of “Mustapha Mond”, one of the so-called World Controllers. He is self-actualized. He can quote Shakespeare also, but he has abandoned the past in favor of a future that he truly believes in. I suppose he has become self-actualized through power–but he is still an Alpha Plus biologically manipulated person although his personal ideology meets with his society–he is still a person within his world.

      Hmmm. I need to think about this some more.

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