“But I don`t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”
At first glance, Aldous Huxley`s Brave New World appears Utopian: war, hunger and unhappiness are unknown, and people enjoy the full benefits of youth until they die. But delve into the social and cultural undergrowth and you begin to see the hollow, soulless hypnotic persuasion which governs the empty lives of the future. State totalitarianism controls and manipulates by subtle means to ensure conformity, through engineered bottled babies, and the cult of consumerism and media celebrity and entertainment. The Bread and Circuses of the Caesars has been updated to be more in tune with the modern psyche: promiscuity is encouraged to eradicate sexual frustration, and disenchantment with life, coupled with a well ordered, pre-ordained caste system ranging from the intelligent, educated elite, down to the dullard, servile serfs, whose manual labour keeps the wheels running smoothly. The cult of consumerism ensures that everyone remains “on message” and more interested in what they want, rather than what they actually need: and then there is soma, a state sponsored drug which allows instant bliss without the side effects of mental crash and burn if you decide to forgo the pleasure every now and again…………but who in their right minds would wish to live in “reality” when you have access to a pill which gives you instant paradise?
“Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat, the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.”
There was a long silence.
“I claim them all,” said the Savage at last.”
During the Cold war it seemed as if Huxley`s view would lose out to the grimmer, Orwellian nightmare of 1984 and all that: but the Berlin Wall fell, the totalitarian old world collapsed with it; free spending consumerism seized the day and the credit card propelled society into a new future. The modern consumer society was born with a vengeance on that historic day in 1989: Orwellian darkness was pushed back into the shadows as people spent money they didn`t have like a tidal wave of expenditure which was forever receding into the distance. Life felt good: consumerism fueled a social media, technological and entertainment boom; spending money we didn`t have on “things” we didn`t need. Who cares what the government gets up to when you`re feeling so damn good about things? So what if they`ve started to use that very same technology used to entertain us to spy on us, and subtly monitor and control our behaviour? We`re having too good a time to care.
The spend-o-rama we were on seemed infinite; Brave New World appeared to be heading for the finishing line an easy winner in the possible future world stakes……………Then came the Twin-Towers, and the State began to overtly monitor us, with the ready made excuse of fighting a war on terror to protect our way of life. So the Ministry of Love has made a comeback, alongside thought-crime: Orwellian dystopia isn`t done with yet it seems. Even though it received a massive hit in the solar plexus in 2008 with the world financial collapse, Brave New World hit the ropes hard, but slowly limped back into the centre of the ring and has come out fighting and is back in contention.
All the gears and levers which govern the happiness of modern life never really went away: is it possible for Orwell and Huxley to co-exist side by side into a future world where the state uses every weapon at it`s disposal to control it`s social drones?
“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.”
Could Orwell`s bleak prediction of the future come true? Huxley gave us a far more subtle suggestion of what might be. But both views already co-exist: the hard and the soft are there for all to see; the state keeps it`s subjects sweet by providing the environment for consumerism to exist and prosper, while C.I.A redaction , and other unsavory exercises in the art of de-humanizing perceived “enemies of the state” show us that the Ministry of Love plays a significant part down in the under growth.
I first read Huxley`s Brave New World while still at school, and though I didn`t fully comprehend it`s language and arguments, I knew an important book when I saw it. What do I mean by important?
Huxley`s writing skills were amazing, his ideas protean in their complexity and visualization from the page to the imagination: the idea of having sex with whoever you like, whenever you like, with girls wearing “Zippicamiknicks”, that undid down the whole front and shed like a second skin for action in the sexual arena………….
“Zip! The rounded pinkness fell apart like a neatly divided apple. A wriggle of the arms, a lifting first of the right foot, then the left: the zippicamiknicks were lying lifeless as though deflated on the floor.”
It would be impolite not to have sex, otherwise, one could seem selfish and self-contained: after all, civilized and normal behaviour is merely an artificial social construct of a society at any given time; normal is what we make it. Some will tell us that Satan already makes the rules in our world, but if the Prince of Darkness really did exist as an earthly Imperator of taste, decency and public morals, then the social mores of our world would seem strange and deviant.
Huxley`s perception of subtle control of who, and what we are, already exists in the consumer and surveillance society we are enmeshed by: Lenina Crowne`s attempt to seduce John “the Savage”, who, as his name implies, has been brought up beyond “civilized” society, believing in chastity, the sanctity of monogamous marriage, religion and romance, shows that there are two sides to every coin; one man`s utopia is another man`s dystopia.
So, Huxley`s Brave New World is neither one nor the other: Lenina Crowne lives in a world where everyone is beautiful, vibrantly healthy, and without worries, but it`s also a place of sterile intellectual debate because every element of human life is part of a systematic whole; a huge machine designed to homogenise existence. There is no place for deviancy in the genetic gene pool: complicit acceptance of all pervading utopian values means giving up the right to question the moralities of right and wrong.
“Sleep teaching was actually prohibited in England. There was something called liberalism. Parliament, if you know what that was, passed a law against it. The records survive. Speeches about liberty of the subject. Liberty to be inefficient and miserable. Freedom to be a round peg in a square hole.”
“Utopia” is sometimes said to mean “no place”, from the Greek ou-topos, or from eu, found in “eugenics”, roughly meaning something like “good place”. But just maybe it`s the good place we`re all striving to be, only to find it doesn`t exist.
Of course, in a perfect world for the ruling elite, everyone would sing from the same hymn sheet, so what to do with dissenters, and those who idle away their time actually thinking and questioning the system? Although it depends on how vociferous and hard hatted the protests are, Huxley`s utopia expels social miscreants from the New Jerusalem to Iceland, where political free-radicals can sit around debating among themselves to their heart`s content, their contagion isolated and contained. Orwell`s Big Brother offers rats in the eyes for anyone showing an original thought process. In the long term, which is more persuasive, the boot in the face without end, or life as an intellectual couch potato in thrall to the happy pill of modern consumerism?
“Do you wish you were free Lenina?”
“I don`t know what you mean. I am free. Free to have the most wonderful time. Everybody is happy nowadays.”
Huxley wrote Brave New World while still feeling the psychological and cultural shock of a visit to America, and witnessing a mass consumer society first hand: he didn`t find it a pretty sight, and felt the need to place his scrambled thoughts into some sort of ordered critique. The vulgarity of the group mentality was particularly repugnant to him: people were now “consumers”, gulping down whole the produce served up to them like an hallucinogenic drug; manufacturers exhorting the public to buy more and more goods-even if they didn`t need them, the drive to produce more, to buy more; to discard the old model and buy the new model; to keep the machine moving, to feed it`s unquenchable appetite. To buy and to own more is the road to happiness: in Brave New World everything is available, but nothing has any meaning: all books except technical manuals have been banned, because the god of this great utopian world can only be one man…..Henry Ford. “History is Bunk” is the mantra by which everyone lives: so books which relate to a past, which offer alternative world views are junked and put on the fire. Books threaten with ideas and opinions, they offer up more than one answer, one god. John the Savage wants the old world back, with all of it`s disease, dirt, anguish, and fear; even crime is a by-product of the free will he craves for back in his life. Of course, he is made to pay for his beliefs; like all systems, Brave new World ultimately exists through the acquiescence of the people.
“The world`s stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can`t get. They`re well off; they`re safe; they`re never ill; they`re not afraid of death; they`re blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; they`re plagued with no mothers or fathers; they`ve got no wives, or children, or lovers to feel strongly about; they`re so conditioned that they practically can`t help behaving as they ought to behave. And if anything should go wrong, there`s soma.”
The Savage shook his head. “It all seems to me quite horrible.”
“Of course it does. Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison to the over – compensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn`t nearly as spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune………..Happiness is never grand.”
80 years on, and Brave New World is still as fresh as a daisy, with it`s vapid, slack jawed, pleasure seeking citizenry tripping on instant, self-gratification offered by the consumerist/media society just the press of a button or a key board away. Ultimately, Brave New World is a masterpiece of ambiguity reflecting the infinite ambiguities of it`s subject – humanity. Within it`s pages are seen the glorious contradictions, dreams, pleasures, pretensions, imagination and limitless potential of every one of us. John the savage demanded the right to be unhappy, but there are others who demand the right to be happy……………..
“Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp`d tow`rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”