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Brave New World is a novel written by Aldous Huxley, which he used to express his concerns about society’s direction through satirical writing. Recent times make his fears, as illustrated in the novel, more critical and realistic than before, and call for a more in-depth look at the meaning behind his work. In his novel, Huxley implements social manipulation through consumerism, shows a society controlled by its need for stability, references technological advancement as well as the ethical issues involved in them, brings up Utilitarianism and its apparent problems, and addresses the importance of high art and the consequences of its destruction, all to show his belief that happiness is not as essential to humanity as individuality is.
Huxley believed that these things can either lead towards individuality and freedom or on the other end of the spectrum, lead to the lack of individualism in the pursuit of stability and happiness of society.
Huxley was a true literary scholar, and used his writing abilities to write this satirical novel.
He based the book on his fears, like many other dystopian novelists. Peer reviewed papers will be used in this paper as tools to understand and evaluate Huxley’s argument and fears about humanity’s desire towards happiness versus its greater need for individuality. This paper will also reference real life examples as a means to put different aspects of Huxley’s argument into perspective as well as compare reality to the fictional world of Brave New World.
Society’s want for stability is a main part of Huxley’s argument, as shown in the beginning of the novel by the phrase ‘Community, Identity, Stability’.
(Huxley, 1932, p. 1) Huxley uses advances in technology and in other methods of control, such as hynopaedia, to show that they lead to a more stable society due to mass communication and involvement in the community. However, stability does not guarantee genuine happiness or individuality and, in turn, freedom. In his journal, “Huxley’s brave new world – and ours,” Bülent Diken states that happiness through stability is just another form of totalitarianism, which is what Huxley tries to make apparent. In his novel, Huxley consistently upholds his belief that the lack of individuality in society makes the happiness and stability null and void since it is not produced genuinely. Diken posits that “permissiveness is what guarantees Brave New World against destruction.” (Diken, 2011, p. 156) In other words, the lack of freedom is unknown, and due to the lack of knowledge that something is being withheld from them, the people of the society have no reason to rebel, thus guaranteeing the social structures continuance. Huxley believes such a world would be the bane of humanity, in the aspect that it obliterates individuality.
Huxley paints this idea by bringing to the fore society’s unrelenting advances in technology, The Bokanovsky Process described in Brave New World brings about ethical questions about biotechnology, which can be related to similar issues found in today’s scientific discoveries such as those of cloning and fetus manipulation. The “Bokanovsky’s Process allows the World Controllers to maintain the population at levels necessary for their continued overlordship, while at the same time managing that population so as to stem any potential revolutionary tides.” (Morgan, Shanahan, & Welsh, 2005, p. 132) This is to say that any new technology has the potential to be used as a form of control. While this process is used as a means to stabilize the society in the novel as well as maintain control by creating classes, it is hard to say if the real world could implement such a method, and if it could what the repercussions of such new means would do. Also, the society in Huxley’s novel maintains control over what advances are allowed to happen. The controller, Mond, even says ‘We can’t allow science to undo its own good work.’ (Huxley, 1932, p. 227) This is to say that it is a form of control that also must be controlled. It is hard to say if such control is possible. In the actual world, however, it can still be said that if used improperly, such technology could be used to similarly influence and split up newborns in similar ways to Huxley’s novel. This issue has been addressed in real life, albeit rarely, with the arguments against using technology reflecting similar views to those of Huxley. These views mainly state that the biggest issue, besides those brought about by religious defenders, is the immorality of control associated with the act. In essence, the act itself is not evil or wrong. Further, neither is the technology, but rather that the use and purpose being control is the center worry of social scientists. Lastly, Huxley’s use of more than just technology and his novel itself has brought about some concern in recent times, which have led to a deeper questioning of these scientific discoveries and their possible effects on humanity, adding legitimacy to Huxley’s concerns, as well as adding validity to the statement that individuality is essential to humanity.
Huxley further argues his point by referencing social manipulation and methods that destroy individualism in a society. Among the references are sex, drugs, and social structure that can be compared to real life patterns along similar lines. Among the methods, the most prominent is consumerism. For example, Soma can be compared to numerous drugs, and is used to escape reality and stress at any time by numerous characters throughout the novel. ‘A gramme is better than a damn.’ (Huxley, 1932, p. 89) Pleasure and seduction are used to put society into a cyclical pattern of consuming and apathy in order to maintain control, and further to deindividualize. Huxley’s society is one in which “people are invited to step into the ready made dream world of the shopping zone, forget worrisome reality and spend timeless time in the space-less space of the consumer paradise.” (Spierings & Houtum, 2008, p. 902) In his novel, the escape of reality and the avoidance of stress mixed in with the consumerist world lead to a world of empty bliss, but alas a false and synthetic world, lacking individuality and genuine pleasure.
Another point Huxley makes in this area is that too much government control leads to less individuality, and inevitably less humanity. For instance, Mond says “Murder kills only the individual-and, after all, what is an individual? … We can make a new one…-as many as we like. Unorthodoxy threatens more than… a mere individual; it strikes at Society itself.’ (Huxley, 1932, p. 148) The controller of this world himself says individuality means nothing, and in doing so shows a simplistic summary of Utilitarianism, in which everything is done for the society at large, even at the cost of an individual. Huxley disagrees with this view because of the philosophical argument against Utilitarianism. The example most commonly used as a counter is known as “chop up chuck.” A summary of this example is as follows: the most important advances that will lead to the greatest good for the society are all being discovered by dying persons. A living, healthy man named chuck has organs that would match perfectly with the dying discoverers and save their lives, but at the cost of his own. Utilitarian beliefs would say to kill chuck to save the other people for the good of society, but our intuition says that murder of an innocent is wrong, and as such is a moral that is part of human nature. (J. Lee, personal communication, April 28, 2015) In essence, Utilitarianism as the controlling system leads to lack of individuality and unethical acts, and is a system that dehumanizes.
Another main argument Huxley points out is the destruction of high art. Mond says to “the savage” John, “expecting them to understand Othello! … Of course [Othello is better than those feelies]. 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.’ (Huxley, 1932, p. 220) Huxley believed that to be an individual, we must have things that generate as many emotions as possible. He references the large amount of negative emotions involved with high art in his novel, which is why the society of Brave New World banned it. Hence why John says he has “the right to be unhappy.” (Huxley, 1932, p. 240) However, Shakespeare was not the only reference to high art that Huxley makes. “Huxley translates Gray’s Elegy in a Country Churchyard into the terms of Fordian society” by referencing similarities between Huxley’s novel and the poem. (Grushow, 1962, p. 42) Huxley’s admiration for high art is more than just the obvious quotes by John, but rather the situation John has being similar to that of different characters in The Tempest at different points in time. Other characters in Huxley’s novel reflect The Tempest characters as well, such as Bernard being similar to the creature Caliban, and Lenina being similar to Miranda. The title Brave New World comes from a quote from the play, and is even repeated by John multiple times. The whole purpose being that high art is important, and is interwoven into the novel itself, as well as into our own morality, as reflected in John’s character. It is a means to genuine emotion, and as such, part of individuality.
Thinking too much of the past and future were similar to high art in the way that it easily brings about ‘destructive’ emotions. He believes that society concludes happiness to be found in the present, while identity dissipates. Huxley shows that identity is more important by demonstrating the lack of reality in the novel as well as painting a ridiculous society clearly designed to reflect society’s faults, all of which have some link to individuality. Lack of genuine emotion derived from the banning of high art, and the avoidance of past and future both point towards a pleasure pursuing, synthetic-happy society with no individuality.
Contrary to Huxley’s belief, Psychologist Dan Gilbert on Ted Talks revealed a study showing synthetic happiness is just as real as ‘real’ happiness. The study showed many statistics done by surveys and other examples, one being brain readings that determined that the synthetic happiness showed the same chemical reactions as ‘real’ happiness. The people who were given the situation of synthetic happiness gave just as much value to their happiness as they did ‘real’ happiness when given that situation, with the knowledge of which happiness they experienced being unknown. This can used to argue that happiness is key, whether real or not, contrary to Huxley’s belief that happiness used in his novel is not as important as individualism. One thing to note is that Huxley makes society create happiness rather than have genuine happiness rule, which appeals to our intuition that it is not as valuable, but also being contrary to Gilbert’s findings. However, whether real or not, Huxley argues simply that happiness of any kind is not as essential to humanity as individuality.
Huxley’s novel is an instrument through which he argues, through satire, that identity/individualism is more essential to humanity than happiness. He argues this by use of reference to society’s need for stability, and further points out the absence of humanity if stability is the main goal. He asserts that to have stability, controlling society would be the end result. He then posits that scientific discoveries and social manipulation are a form of control that, while they may lead to happiness, ultimately destroy genuine happiness and even more importantly, individuality. Next, Huxley posits that Utilitarian ideology is invalid, and that high art is important as a tool for morality, as seen in John’s case, and as a way to become more of an individual While there is a scientific study showing that synthetic happiness is just as valued or real as ‘real’ or genuine happiness, Huxley’s argument still stands, albeit not as strong in the area of the type of happiness, that individuality is more essential than happiness to humanity.
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