As the discoveries of modern science create tremendous hope, they also lay vast ethical minefields. As the genius of science extends the horizons of what we can do, we increasingly confront complex questions about what we should do. We have arrived at that brave new world that seemed so distant in 1932, when Aldous Huxley wrote about human beings created in test tubes in what he called a “hatchery”
– George. W. Bush (Quoted in Tada, Cameron, 9)
In Brave New World, the twenty-fifth century Earth is a society run by biological engineering and heavy social conditioning which become the central tools in the hands a benevolent dictatorship to bring about social stability and human happiness. New births happen in an artificial setting, under the strict regulation of the state. Implementation of advanced procedures of genetic engineering makes it possible to plan the lives of people right from the stage of conception, en masse.
“Bokanovsky’s Process,” repeated the Director, and the students underlined the words in their little notebooks.
“One egg, one embryo, one adult – normality. But a bokanovskified egg will bud, will proliferate, will divide. From eight to ninety-six buds, and every bud will grow into a perfectly formed embryo, and every embryo into a full-sized adult. Making ninety-six human beings grow where only one grew before. Progress.” (Huxley 6)
The principles of mass production are applied to human reproduction. Even before birth, people are strictly segregated into classes. Alphas, Betas and Alpha Pluses are given the best possible prenatal treatment, as they are programmed to be directors. Lower-level jobs are handled by millions of identical twins possessing inferior intelligence, the “standard Gammas, unvarying Deltas, uniform Epsilons,” all products of massive biological engineering.
In the World State, necessary education, if it can be called that, is imparted through sleep-learning. Right from their childhood and adolescence members of this society are indoctrinated to prefer ignorant bliss in the place of truth or beauty. Hypnopedia is the “The greatest moralizing and socializing force of all time” (p.28). Happiness, by which is meant a vacuous, ‘soulless’ happiness, is the predominant goal of the society, is achieved through unquestioning conformity with the prevailing norms, accepting one’s assigned role and responsibility by virtue the caste one is born into, recreational drugs, and free sex. People get what they want, contentment is ubiquitous, and what cannot be achieved is not desired.
The people of this genetically engineered utopia are never sick or afraid. It’s an affluent world, free from poverty and want. There are no conflicts and wars either, things that have always characterized human society in the long history of human existence. Crime is, of course, absent too. Thus, this society of future has certain key characteristics that mark an ideal human society which visionaries have longed for from time immemorial. Is this then the glorious fruition of humanity’s age-old dreams and aspirations?
Far from it, this is the realization of some of the worst nightmares that can be possibly conceived. It is obvious right from the beginning that the utopia as it is realized in the World State is based on extremely sick and sickening notions, the very possibility of which terrifies free-thinking human beings.
In human history, all revolutions, whether they have been forces of good or evil, have come at heavy price. But the utopia of Brave New World comes with a price that is simply not acceptable — this price is nothing less than the human soul itself. “What profiteth it a man if he gain everything but lose his soul?” proclaimed Jesus (Mark 8 :36). In the mock utopia of the Aldous Huxley’s grim satire, though, in fact nothing is gained except a false sense of security and mechanical experience of happiness, in return for which everything of real value is given up, everything that human heart has always cherished — freedom, creativity, individuality, love…
Indeed there is not much room for heart, or hope, in this genetically programmed, mechanized, sex-crazed, thoroughly drugged and hypnotized paradise of the future. Nazi concentration camps of the Second World War must have had more human aspects to them than the purported utopia of Brave New World. The dirt and squalor of “the Reservation” are a thousand times more preferable to the mind-numbing happiness and drugged ecstasy of this strange world. There is nothing utopian or even remotely likeable about the Brave New World, on the contrary, it is the very stuff that some of humanity’s most dreaded and sinister nightmares are made of, it is the archetypal dystopia.
Huxley’s utopia possesses a completely rigid class structure (to ensure perfect social stability), is biologically and chemically engineered, and on top of all that is out and out psychologically conditioned. The members of the World State’s ruling elite are honestly convinced that they are doing a great service to humanity by making everyone “happy,” even if it is only a kind of sickening happiness that is devoid of meaning and substance, a happiness estranged from love and freedom. Not only does this happiness ring hollow to our human sensibilities, but the kind of pleasures favored by people in this society are quite abhorrent to our general moral attitudes.
The society of the Brave New World is a simple and one-dimensional hedonistic society that obtains pleasure from promiscuous sex and drug use; it is also society that is free from any literary or artistic inclinations, and safely distanced from all scientific, philosophical and religious pursuit. Most importantly, and alarmingly, there is no pursuit of any kind, any sort of ambition and striving in the people of Brave New World; and this is only to be expected, because in a society where happiness, contentment and living for the pleasure of the moment are prized over and above everything else, there can be no scope for aspirations or longings of any kind. The Brave New World portrays a society of the future which itself has no future except more mechanization, more social conditioning and more dead efficiency.
Utopias are supposed to inspire us with a vision of future. But the only thing that is inspiring about Huxley’s novel is its name, though his brave new world is entirely opposite in spirit to these words as they were originally uttered by Miranda of Shakespeare’s Tempest:
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t!
– The Tempest (v,i, 182-186)
And John the Savage, the protagonist of the story, realizes this quickly enough. John is brought from the Malpais Reservation in New Mexico, which is essentially a surviving relic of the ancient society, but efficiently fenced off and kept at bay by the World State, right into the middle of the ‘utopian’ society in London. It does not take much time for the John’s initial fascination (Oh, brave new world!) to evaporate into thin air, and the horrors and nightmarish excesses of the reality that he is witnessing to crush whatever optimism and enthusiasm that may have been left in him.
The horror of Aldous Huxley’s novel is, however, greatly relieved by the deliberate or unintentional use of facetiousness that pervades its entire length, though it may not be seen as such by every reader. The new world is a world according to Ford. Regarding Ford as Lord and God, and making him the presiding deity (though through no fault of his) is neither utopian nor dystopian, it sounds plain silly. For example, “There were those strange rumours of old forbidden books hidden in a safe in the Controller’s study. Bibles, poetry – Ford knew what”(p.35) Or, ““Oh, Ford, Ford, Ford.” He would have liked to go up to them and hit them in the face – hard, again and again” (p.46), or, “”Ford, how I hate them!” Bernard Marx was thinking” (p.53) That is to say, most of us today would neither be shocked nor pleased to read about this futuristic incarnation of Henry Ford, the great industrialist and entrepreneur that we know of — we could only be mildly amused, at the most. There could be a similar reaction in the readers of this book regarding quite a number of other contexts it deals with; by today’s standards, right from the word ‘bokanovskified egg’ to the entire concept of the Brave New World, much about Huxley’s novel sounds like overly-simplistic caricature about a vapid ‘out-dated” dystopia than a truly and profoundly chilling vision of the evil things to come.
Yet, at the same time, ironically, the Brave New World is insidiously closer to reality than it may appear on first impressions. It is true that some horror stories evoke more mirth than dread, but the Brave New World is in no way one of them. Because of its focus on the possible misuse of advances in genetic engineering and mind-control technologies, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World has more relevance today than ever. It is on par with a much earlier book of H.G.Wells, Dr.Moreau’s Island, in its ability to warn us of horrendous nightmares that are possible with the biological engineering technologies. It also remains one of the greatest classics of dystopian literature along with Orwell’s Ninteen Eighty-Four, and Zamiatin’s We (Gottlieb 56)
Besides that, Huxley’s dark satire provokes some very disturbing questions in its more thoughtful readers regarding the essential nature of human beings, the concept of happiness and progress. The people in this brave new world are unfamiliar with true happiness. Their happiness is controlled and false one. The most fundamental truth of our existence in this world is that here opposites co-exist. There cannot be good without evil. There cannot be virtue without sin. There cannot be happiness without sorrow. Because, in order to know and appreciate a thing, a certain contrast is needed. This is a very basic necessity in the context of human cognition and perception. Without the experience of sorrow to serve as a contrast, all our experience of happiness would necessarily become dulled and blunted within a very short duration of time. Therefore the truth remains that however much scientific progress we may make, we cannot succeed in establishing a utopia ever which can liberate us from all suffering and misery, however much we may like such a thing to happen. We can and should strive to constantly better our world, at the same time we must humbly recognize that a utopia, that is, a perfect ideal society, is not simply possible in the very nature of things. Also, we have to reckon with the possibility that our efforts to bring about a utopia can end up in creating a dystopia instead.
Huxley demonstrated the flaws of a controlled world where great sacrifices were made for a false happiness. Politically, he foresaw and warned against a government-contolled society in which people led dehumanized lives. (Hyde, Setaro 8)
Gottlieb, Erika. Dystopian Fiction East and West: Universe of Terror and Trial. 2001.
Quebec City : McGill-Queen’s University Press
Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. 1998. New York : HarperCollins Publishers
Hyde, Margaret O., Setaro John F. Medicines Brave New World: Bioengineering and the New Genetics. 2001.Brookfield, Connecticut : Twenty-First Century Books
Tada, Joni E., Cameron, Nigel M. De S.. How to Be a Christian in a Brave New World. 2006. Grand Rapids, Michigan : Zondervan