Wed Oct 31 00:03:01 EST 2012

Brave New World

Aldous Huxley's Brave New World is a book I've been meaning to read for quite some time. As I see it, it's the dual of Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, the other well-known constructed social dystopia. The duality is shown well by this comic, and if the original was still up I'd link to that.

Huxley's vision of the future is one where humans are not born, but grown for specific purposes. Society is divided into strict castes, and the lower casts have stunted mental development so their minds fit their assigned menial tasks. The process that produces twins is so well-understood that a factory would be designed to employ fourty-seven identical Gamma-class workers, grown to spec. Children, even before they are decanted at nine months, are conditioned to love their assigned jobs, consumer goods and to drug away any negative emotions with "soma". Even the higher classes, the ones with the most "freedom", are still conditioned from before "birth" to never question the stability of the system. The lower classes remind me of Alpha Centauri's "genejacks":

My gift to industry is the genetically engineered worker, or Genejack. Specially designed for labor, the Genejack's muscles and nerves are ideal for his task, and the cerebral cortex has been atrophied so that he can desire nothing except to perform his duties. Tyranny, you say? How can you tyrannize someone who cannot feel pain?

Chairman Sheng-ji Yang, "Essays on Mind and Matter"

This is the main problem I see with Huxley's world. There's no endgame. The system exists to sustain itself, but all it does is chew up resources. Deprived of any impulse to think or create, human life becomes meaningless. In Ender's Game, Graff tells Ender that "humans are free except when humanity needs them". In Huxley's world, nobody is free because humanity needs everyone, but there is no purpose behind this need. Society exists solely to produce, use, and finally cremate humans who do not even directly procreate. The fear of death is conditioned out of the children, so why do they even live?

The structure of this Brave New World reminds me a lot of Equilibrium. Both examine what society must sacrifice to ensure perfect stability and come to fairly similar conclusions: anything that causes passion must be medicated away, and the arts must be suppressed. In Equilibrium, this is done violently but in Huxley's world few people can even understand the old works. Equilibrium sadly avoids serious discussion of these themes, favouring ridiculous gun battles instead.

Another interesting and horrifying aspect of Huxley's world is that once the new society has been set up, there is no way to tear it down. There is no group that monitors the success or failure of the grand experiment, and all new people are conditioned to believe absolutely in the new society.

I fear that this is the future we are heading towards; a future of consumption, not creation. Long-form essays have been replaced by a stream of inanity, discretised into 140-character packets. A good picture, traditionally worth 1000 words, has been devaluated by the image macro. Unless we are careful, this is the bland horror that awaits us.


Posted by Jack Kelly | Permanent link | File under: readings