O Brave New World!
Hmm, I’m not sure how to react to this book. I don’t think that I had the proper reaction to it. I think it was supposed to be a warning about how we’re not really human beings unless we experience both good and bad in the world. In this book the world population is not allowed to feel bad. If they begin to, they take a drug that makes them happy. Happiness is everything in this book. Anything that brings happiness is done in excess (i.e. sex and drugs). Anything that could possibly interrupt happiness is abolished (i.e. families and information).
In this book, babies are not born, they are decanted, grown in glass jars in laboratories. The word mother is extremely offensive in this society almost pornographic. Children are grown for a specific social class (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta or Epsilon). They are genetically engineered for survival in a climate, intelligence and size specific for their social class. For example Epsilons are engineered to be so stupid that they cannot read. They do a lot of the manual labor in the society. Children are then conditioned (having subliminal messages playing to them while they sleep) to enjoy their social class, “I’m glad that I’m a Beta. Betas don’t work as hard as Alphas.” They are also conditioned to be promiscuous, love the wonder drug soma (likened to cocaine with none of the bad side effects), and hate solitude. Happiness is stability, and society is built on stability.
The book then takes a “savage” who was actually born on an Indian reservation to a white mother (long story, explained in the book) and drops him in the middle of this society. He likes it at first, but soon grows to hate it. He wants the right to be unhappy. He wants to be able to feel guilt, sorrow, anguish, physical pain, among others. The most interesting part of the book is when the savage, John, is speaking with the leader of the society, Mustafa Monde. John talks about how necessary passion, self-denial and religion are, while Mustafa counters that they only create an unstable society where people aren’t always happy. In the end, most people are supposed to agree with John, but I actually felt myself agreeing with Mustafa because people are really bad at making decisions for themselves.
Anyway, I liked this book, and I almost believe in it. Looking around our society today, people are taking drugs, being promiscuous and being selfish on a regular basis in the name of their own happiness. The society created in this book allows for all those things on a regular basis. By making people happy all the time, they weren’t rude. They had manners. They weren’t only out for themselves, “everyone belongs to everyone else.” Sure, choices are taken away, but happiness is always preserved. I don’t have a lot of faith in the intelligence of the general public, but I do believe in the end we are selfish, spoiled people. Some people would do anything for their families, but they’d sooner let a stranger die than be slightly inconvenienced. When was the last time you saw someone go out of their way to be kind to another human being without expecting anything in return? Parents are now suspicious of teachers, instead of trusting them. People call our president “a liar” instead of supporting him. People tell their children that the only thing they can count on is their family because the world is such an awful place. What does that create, but a society of people that are rude, selfish and downright nasty to others? I see it every day when I talk to a parent that believes that it’s my fault their child acts out or the person who cuts me off in the grocery store parking lot just so they can beat me to a space that I was waiting for.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that Aldous Huxley was showing us the dangers of this kind of society. Depth of feeling was eradicated, love and passion were nonexistent. These are all the things that bring out the best feelings in a human being, but you have to admit they also bring out the worst. Depth of feeling can lead to obsession, love can lead to jealousy and passion can lead to murder. I do wonder if dumb happiness is the middle ground. Of course, in the end being able to experience this range of emotions is partly what makes us human. I suppose it is a little Hitler-esque of me to deny things to the population because they aren’t responsible enough to make the right decisions for themselves. I wish there was an answer that I was satisfied with. I wish there was a way to force people to care about others (even people they don’t know). Then, perhaps, the world could be a better place. Unfortunately, I just don’t see that ever happening in my lifetime.