His book warns us of the dangers of mass media, passivity, and how even an intelligent population can be driven to gladly choose dictatorship over freedom.
- While other dystopias get more press, Brave New World offers us a nightmare world that we’ve moved steadily towards over the last century.
- Author Aldous Huxley’s ideas on a light handed totalitarian dictatorship stand in marked contrast to the popular image of a dictatorship that relies on force.
When most people think of what dystopia our society is sprinting towards, they tend to think of 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale, or the Hunger Games. These top selling, well known, and well-written titles are excellent warnings of worlds that could come to pass that we would all do well to read.
However, one lesser-known dystopian novel has done a much better job at predicting the future than these three books. Brave New World, written in 1931 by author, psychonaut, and philosopher Aldous Huxley, is well known but hasn’t quite had the pop-culture breakthrough that the other three did.
This is regrettable, as it offers us a detailed image of a dystopia that our society is not only moving towards but would be happy to have.
For those who haven’t read it, Brave New World is the description of a nightmare society where everybody is perfectly happy all the time. This is assured through destroying the free will of most of the population using genetic engineering and Pavlovian conditioning, keeping everybody entertained continuously with endless distractions, and offering a plentiful supply of the wonder drug Soma to keep people happy if all else fails.
The world state is a dictatorship which strives to assure order. The dictatorship is managed by ten oligarchs who rely on an extensive bureaucracy to keep the world running. The typical person is conditioned to love their subservience and either be proud of the vital work they do or be relieved that they don’t have to worry about the problems of the world.
Global stability is ensured through the Fordist religion, which is based on the teachings of Henry Ford and Sigmund Freud and involves the worship of both men. The tenets of this faith encourage mass consumerism, sexual promiscuity, and avoiding unhappiness at all costs. The assembly line is praised as though it were a gift from God.
Huxley’s dystopia is especially terrifying in that the enslaved population absolutely loves their slavery. Even the characters who are smart enough to know what is going on (and why they should be concerned) are instead content with everything that is happening. Perhaps more terrifying than other dystopian novels, in Brave New World there is truly no hope for change.
The similarities between the world of today and the world of the book are many, even if our technology hasn’t quite caught up yet.
While the human assembly line described in the first part of the story is still a far-off fantasy, the basic concepts that make it work are already here. Today, people make choices to influence the genetic makeup of their children regularly.
Pre-natal screening has created the ability for many parents to decide if they wish to carry a disabled fetus to term or not. In Iceland, this has resulted in the near eradication of new cases of Down Syndrome in the country. Almost 100% of detected cases lead to an abortion shortly after.
Similarly, testing for a child’s sex before birth is a well-known procedure that leads to a wide gender gap in many countries. Less well known is the process of sperm sorting, which allows for a couple to choose the gender of their child as part of the process of in-vitro fertilization.
The above examples suggest we’re open to soft eugenics already. Imagine what would happen if people could determine their child’s potential IQ before birth, or how rebellious they will be as a teenager. It would be difficult to suggest that the development of such technology would not be hailed as progress by those who could afford to use it. Huxley’s visions of a genetically perfected upper caste might be available soon.
As this article suggests, some choice in baby design is already here and more will be available soon.
The characters of Brave New World enjoy endless distractions between their hours at work. Various complex games have been invented, movies now engage all five senses, and there are even televisions at the feet of death beds. Nobody ever has to worry about being bored for long. The idea of enjoying solitude is taboo, and most people go out to parties every night.
In our modern society, most people genuinely can’t go thirty minutes without wanting to check their phones. We have, just as Huxley predicted, made it possible to abolish boredom and time for spare thoughts no matter where you are. This is already having measurable effects on our mental health and our brain structure.
Huxley wasn’t warning us against watching television or going to the movies occasionally; he says in this interview with Mike Wallace that TV can be harmless, but rather against the constant barrage of distraction becoming more important in our lives than facing the problems that affect us. Given how stressful people find the idea of a tech-free day and how we take our pop culture so seriously that it was targeted for use by Russian bots, he might have been onto something.
Drugs: A gram is better than a damn!
Brave New World‘s favorite pill, Soma, is quite the drug. In small doses it causes euphoria. In moderate doses, it causes enjoyable hallucinations, and in large doses, it is a tranquilizer. It is probably a pharmacological impossibility, but his concept of a society that pops pills to eradicate any vestige of negative feelings and escape the doldrums of the day is very real.
While it seems odd to say that we are moving towards Brave New World in this era when official policy is opposed to drug use, Huxley would suggest we consider it a blessing, since a dictatorship that encouraged drug use to zonk out their population would be a powerful, if light handed one.
While today we have a war on drugs, it is not on all drugs. Anti-depressants, a powerful tool for the treatment of mental illness, are so popular that one in eight Americans are on them right now. This doesn’t include the large number of Americans on tranquilizers, anti-anxiety medications, or those who self-medicate with alcohol or increasingly legal marijuana.
These drugs aren’t quite Soma, but they bear a striking resemblance in function and use.
(For the balance of this article please visit: https://bigthink.com/culture-religion/brave-new-world-prediction-novel/)