|Fragment from "Brave New World"|
I chose "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley because it is relatively well known and starting from this we will continue with a few others along the way, not necessarily influenced by this book but closely related to it. I have to state the fact that I know it is neither the best nor the first such book, but this isn't a top ten anyway. My advise is to read it in case you haven't already otherwise you won't understand anything I am going to write here. Access the book online here.
The main idea of the novel is that humanity "evolved" into what may seem an utopia where everyone is happy. This happiness has a price however, as Mustapha Mond admits:
Universal happiness keeps the wheels steadily turning; truth and beauty can't. And, of course, whenever the masses seized political power, then it was happiness rather than truth and beauty that mattered. [...] People still went on talking about truth and beauty as though they were the sovereign goods. Right up to the time of the Nine Years' War. That made them change their tune all right. What's the point of truth or beauty or knowledge when the anthrax bombs are popping all around you? That was when science first began to be controlled–after the Nine Years' War. People were ready to have even their appetites controlled then. Anything for a quiet life. We've gone on controlling ever since. It hasn't been very good for truth, of course. But it's been very good for happiness.
- Chapter 16
In order to have security and to be happy, people gave up on their independence and embraced a "bottled world" where all bad and difficult things are eliminated:
[The Savage:] You got rid of them. Yes, that's just like you. Getting rid of everything unpleasant instead of learning to put up with it. Whether 'tis better in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them … But you don't do either. Neither suffer nor oppose. You just abolish the slings and arrows. It's too easy.
- The Savage in reply to the Controller, chapter 17
As you know, the caste society in Brave New World is not dictated by any religion or tradition, but through science, people are cloned and bred to serve a specific purpose, to be a wheel in what seems to be a perfect machine. The people themselves don't feel any sense of claustrophobia because they are not aware that their world is so much limited, evidently, depending on the caste you belong to. Mustapha Mond, the Controller of Western Europe and like all the Alphas from the top, is not restricted in any way, and in fact can be considered free (and maybe not that happy?). But what is freedom? An Epsilon going from one floor to another with the elevator can feel just as free as an Alpha watching the society they created and understanding its inner workings.
If all the brainwashing doesn't make you happy, Soma eventually does. This drug, which is given every day after working hours is presented in the book like having the power to take you in one of the most pleasant vacations. I recommend researching the history of drug use, especially in the West, and to narrow down the list of suspects further, search for LSD. This drug was first synthesized seven years after Huxley had finished writing the book, not surprisingly, he was one of the consumers of LSD, maybe not like Soma but close enough. (1)
Sleep-learning is a fundamental part in the development of children in the Brave New World, messages are repeated over and over again for thousands of times while the child sleeps and eventually he assimilates those thoughts without even knowing why, at least this is what happens in the book. Evidently, before this, the embryo is subjected to other types of conditioning. Regarding our society I'll give you a hint, Disney, this is no conspiracy theory because they got sued for some of their cartoons in which naked women popped up in one of the frames and even had to withdraw from the market a version of the Rescuers (The 1977 version recalled in 1999). This is one simple example, you will find more if you search for subliminal messages.
Once matured the individual is no longer an individual, well, at least not in the sense we "know" to be true. He completely gives himself to others: "Every one belongs to every one else" (Henry Foster tells the Assistant Predestinator in Chapter Three). So, let's recap, from an embryonic stage people are designed for something and as children are integrated into their caste and are taught what to think and to be happy with their situation, never to ask for more. The society in Brave New World is a consumer society, sounds familiar? People are made to want to change old things with new things just because those are old, they are conditioned to want to be in a collective, to be solitary is seen like some kind of madness caused maybe by some errors in their programming. Not one moment they can stop and think (about things), they work and when they don't work they engage in social activities that can include hundreds of people or only a couple, but rarely they are alone.
Yet they are happy. Are we heading towards such a world? I believe we are in such a world in some aspects. The superficiality, the juvenile mentality people show in Brave New World is strangely familiar. At the European Night of Museums, I along with my wife, went to see some museums. The Art Museum is situated next to a very busy and noisy boulevard, yet about twenty people were working the stationary bikes, right there, next to all that traffic and virtually putting their face in the exhaust pipe while listening to some idiotic song and a guy yelling at them and shouting, probably for encouragement. I sincerely found that rather stupid.
Art is discussed in the final chapters and the main idea is that in a perfect, or better said, balanced society, you can not have art, you can not have drama because there is nothing to give rise to drama. There is however a type of art in this utopian dystopia but it is made purely for entertainment, just like most Hollywood movies and pop music. Science is also kept on a leash because it could destabilize the system, the "free" Alphas along with their freedom also seem to have the keys to knowledge and understanding.
Religion is a special topic, because while there is no religion in this "perfect" world, there is a reservation where the "savages" live and practice a mixture of Christianity and paganism. The final chapter shows "The Savage" character in a type of religious fervor that for me has the purpose of undermining religion altogether and it may be one of the reasons that got the book to be banned in some periods in some countries. I should point out the fact that both those living inside the reservation and those living outside of it are conditioned one way or another and in the case of "the Savage", for him Shakespeare took the place of sleep-learning. This makes me question all my beliefs and my thoughts, how free and independent am I, how free and independent are you?