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Brave New World and the Human Condition: the Cost of Stability

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Introduction

Although written over eighty years ago in 1932, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World still maintains its relevance to society today. Huxley’s vision of a static dystopia which altered what it means to be human is as terrifying as when this novel was first published. The subversion of religion, trivialization of art, and the alteration of attitudes towards death to guarantee this demand for stability, fundamentally affects humanity. Through various techniques of biological and behavioural conditioning, there is a successful debasement of the human condition. Huxley himself described the novel’s theme as “the advancement of science as it affects human individuals”. This is hardly the hopeful Brave New World voiced by Miranda in The Tempest. Instead we have a world where scientific methods to ensure stability have the effect of dehumanization: a reflection of the changes that were transforming Huxley’s world such as growing consumerism, promiscuity, and changes in popular culture at the novel’s writing and a warning to his generation of what may ensue if this path continued. Thus in my essay, I will explore to what extent in its determination to achieve a stable society does the World State subvert religion, trivialize art, and alter attitudes towards death thereby debasing the human condition?

During my reading, I was struck by how the characters of the novel are so utterly different from myself and what we consider normal in society. They seemed mannequins, caricatures of what it means to be human, like programmed robots in our modern world. Hence in choosing a question, the focus was firstly why the characters were so lacking in humanity. The answer was the adulteration of ideas of family and love, art, religion, and even death. Secondly, the reason and justification for this deterioration of the human condition. Upon analysis, this was the determination for stability no matter the cost. It was only through the creation of a monstrous version of contemporary man would there be guarantee that the dystopia would not be endangered.

Stability

In Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, stability is the central goal and the raison d’être. War, poverty, social and class conflicts have been eradicated. But to achieve stability, the leaders believe in a process of dehumanization because natural man is volatile, passionate, and inherently individual. Because of this, the World State’s maxim is, “Community, Identity, Stability”. One of these efforts at dehumanization is the Bokanovsky process. Through this, numerous clones are created to contribute to mass production. The World State wish all citizens to be the same so that there are no conflicts. The Director says, “Standard men and women; in uniform batches. The whole of a small factory staffed with the products of a single bokanovskified egg. Ninety-six identical twins working ninety-six identical machines”. No longer were babies born from mothers, no longer would there be babies. For that was in the past when “humans used to be viviparous, ” quotes the Director, “And when babies were decanted. Born”. The destruction of the family unit is one major step toward leading a stable society and so they despise the idea that there used to be parents, a father and a mother. “Mother ‘These, ’ he said gravely, ‘are unpleasant facts’” stated by the Director shows how they view it as being harmful to their society, describing it as “smutty”. Huxley uses irony here to emphasize the difference in attitudes between the New World and our society. What our world views as normality is taboo in the dystopia. The World State has divided people into castes determined by biochemical technology, producing identical human beings contented with their status. “Hasn’t it occurred to you that an Epsilon embryo must have an Epsilon environment as well as an Epsilon heredity?” says the Director. Not only do the leaders create identical clones, but individuals who think and act alike. This is accomplished through hypnopaedia, a form of sleep teaching used to condition individuals. The indoctrination through hypnopaedia and the whole Bokanovsky process of designing people to suit particular roles in society means that people no longer suffer. As John points out, it is the fate of humanity to feel pain and suffer – it is central to the human condition. By conditioning their citizens they deny the natural man. Diversity has been replaced by conformity and free choice has been lost in favour of imposed and strictly monitored conformity. The government strongly believes that to maintain a stable society, individuality must be eradicated. Hence, they make everyone look, think, and act the same. For this reason, strong emotions such as love or an attachment are unnecessary. “We condition to thrive on heat, concluded Mr. Foster. ‘And that, ’ put in the Director sententiously, ‘that is the secret of happiness and virtue – liking what you’ve got to do. All conditioning aims at that: making people like their inescapable social destiny’”.

Hence stability is achieved. Individuals who accept their social position will not complain and cause problems: the end of class conflict. The consequence of this destiny is the aptly described image of swarming “maggots” that swarmed over the body of the savage’s mothers dead body which are also referred to as a “khaki mob”. At this point, the irony of John the Savage’s cry of “Brave New World” is more than just irony at the horror the world has become, but despair at the fate of mankind. The New Worlders are also conditioned to accept promiscuity, “everyone belongs to everyone else”. It is unusual for one to be loyal to another, monogamy is non-existent. When Fanny finds out that her friend, Lenina was only seeing Henry Foster, she says, “it’s not as though there were anything painful or disagreeable about having one or two men besides Henry. And seeing that, you ought to be a little more promiscuous…”. It is ironically the opposite of the morality of our world and illustrates that it is the norm in the World State. Although this eliminates conflict that people may have because of love, it also ends passion, an emotion that humans feel naturally. At moments where they face discomfort or confusion they find escape with soma which makes people relaxed and happy, effectively negating their sadness. This can be seen clearly when Lenina treats herself to soma after her experience on the Reservation, “after this day of queerness and horror she swallowed six half-gramme tablets of soma and embarked for lunar eternity”. Soma and sexual promiscuity provide the escapism necessary to ensure happiness and social stability. The eradication of love and jealousy also ensure stability. Without passion for a specific someone, everyone can have everyone else and continue to be with new people, never learning concepts such as love and loyalty. These emotions lead to instability, but they are two of the most human of all experiences. As a consequence, the reader senses that many characters in this society “are simply automations- they are simply living and breathing, nothing more”. By sacrificing family, individuality, choice, passion, love and loyalty on the bonfire for the quest for a stable unchanging society, the New World has created a monstrous version of what it means to be human. John proves to be the antithesis of this new man and is antagonistic to these main beliefs of the New Worlders with his belief in family, idealization of romantic love and disgust at conformity.

Traditional Religion

Huxley paints a picture of a society devoid of religion and true spirituality. In doing so, he issues a warning of a society awaiting us with a “soulless utilitarian existence, incompatible with our nature and purpose”. In place of a deity, there is now Ford, in place of churches and prayer, there are the community singing and soma-induced orgies. The Christian cross has been replaced by the symbol T, representing Henry Ford’s Model T and his assembly line for mass production. Similarly, the Bokanovsky process that the New Worlders are built on is also an assembly line. The stability of the collective society demands the sacrifice of these practices and icons. The rationale for this subversion is that if different paths to spirituality are allowed, this activity will make individuals different, causing dissension, breaking the control of the social collective. World controller Mustafa Mond makes this clear when he says, “It would upset the whole social order if men started doing things on their own”. That the path to spirituality is personal, and any individual activity will destabilize society. In this discussion with John, it is argued by Mond that the need for religion has disappeared, “God isn’t compatible with machinery and scientific medicine and universal happiness”. He argues religion is no longer necessary because they have ended suffering. In response, John argues, “But isn’t it natural to feel there’s a God?”, that it is part of our very humanness to have spirituality. For Mond, spirituality is conditioning, to which John responds, “it is natural to believe in God when you’re alone-quite alone, in the night”. John is actually discussing the human condition, our ability to rise above the every day, the mundane and consider the transcendent. But the New Worlders, as Professor Birnbaum states, “are never taught religion, and are conditioned so they’ll never be alone and think about the possibility of God”.

John’s eventual response to the lack of spirituality in the World State is an extreme measure to purge not only his own sin but the hollowness of the society. His cries of “Oh the flesh” and “Fry, lechery, fry” as he flagellates himself. In dying, he becomes a martyr to the soullessness of Huxley’s Brave New World. The argument is for the importance of human desire for the transcendent, something above the material. This is evidenced when Huxley depicts the moronic elevator operator euphoric at reaching his building’s roof and encountering “the warm glory of afternoon sunlight ‘Oh, roof!’ he repeated in a voice of rapture. He was as though suddenly and joyfully awakened from a dark annihilating stupor. ‘Roof!”’ This symbolic ascending to heaven reveals a spirituality which survived the conditioning process and indicative of the desperate craving of mankind for something beyond the physical. A need for a spirituality which is part of the human condition: a remnant of our humanity which cannot be conditioned.

Our sense of the spiritual void of the New World is heightened by the author juxtaposing the life and values of the savage reservation. Their religion is a combination of Christianity and Native American beliefs and has a concern for the soul and a spiritual unity with the natural world. It molds John into a different person from the citizens of the New World. Driven from the coming of age ceremony at the Antelope Kivawith, he experiences a vision and “discovered Time and Death and God”. John attains these revelations because he inhabits a world at one with nature and the spirit; one where he can achieve the solitude for such thought. Such a world allows the freedom to question the reason for existence and for man to retain his humanity. In John’s words, “something about solitude, about night, about the mesa laying pale under the moon, about the precipice, the plunge into shadowy darkness, about death” is indicative of the freedom to question. Contrasting this land with the world of Bernard and Lenina heightens our sense of the debasement of humankind. John’s eventual suicide represents his rejection of the spiritual vacuum which exists in this new world. It is the manifestation of a superficial existence dedicated to the stability of society. He becomes a Christ figure and in seeking death he reveals his humanity, the description of his body “turned towards the right; north, north-east, east, south-east, south” is a symbol of a society which has lost morality and a concern for what it means to be human. Only in suffering and death can John maintain his humanity. Like Jesus upon the cross, he dies for the sins of the Brave New World: a world without moral compass or spirituality: a world without religion.

High Art

Rather than cultivating a word of creativity and the imagination, the World State focuses upon the superficial and mundane. According to Professor Zhamurashvil, there has been an effective negation of high art, citing as evidence the scene in the cabaret where saxophones become “sexophones” and numbered couples dance to synthetic music devoid of art and culture. Similarly, they have invented “Feelies” and movies such as “Three Weeks in a Helicopter”, a juxtaposition to Othello, so that people can experience real sensations during the movies. In this film a black man kidnaps a white woman and she is rescued by Alpha males: a parody of Shakespeare’s tragedy of jealousy. Hence art is degraded and replaced by superficial incarnations. Instead of classical music, there is the cabaret, instead of Shakespeare, there is soft pornography. Such transformations of high art into crass commodities of consumerism can only debase the human condition. In Huxley’s nightmarish vision, music, literature, and art are considered to be very dangerous because they evoke emotions. When people have individuality, they tend to express themselves through art such as paintings and poetry. They communicate their feelings in words and pictures that enable people to experience emotion. Mond says, “You can’t make tragedies without social instability. The world’s stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can’t get”. They have conditioned individuals to want what they can have. By not being cognizant of other emotions, they will never have desire which is unobtainable. Because art has the ability to enlighten people, enabling them to be cognizant of their oppression, individuals will feel dissatisfied. This sensation can lead to instability and a breakdown of the social order. Mond says, “Universal happiness keeps the wheels steadily turning; truth and beauty can’t”.

Instead of allowing people to have art and sensations that can make them unhappy, they have removed them. Instead of allowing people to have art and sensations that can make them unhappy, they have removed them. He further explains, “Our civilization has chosen machinery and medicine and happiness. That’s why I have to keep these books locked up in the safe. They’re smut. People will be shocked”. Mustapha Mond believes that something will be sacrificed no matter what, hence they have chosen happiness, the remainder must be either altered or replaced. Although removing these experiences and feelings will make their society stable, Huxley contends that if man loses art and culture becoming something less than human. John having lived on the Reservation serves as a contrast and believes that art can provide solace to those inevitable hardships of human experience. Before being taught how to read by Linda, John feels innate emotions such as sorrow and loneliness. Contrary to Mond’s arguement that art is dangerous and makes people feel dissatisfied, Huxley contends that Shakespeare lightens John’s suffering. Another example made by John that contradicts Mond is that he believes that suffering is worth the recognition of the truth and beauty that can be seen in the dramas of Shakespeare when he says, “something that’s new like Othello, and that they can understand”. Mond states that it is better to rid of the “inconveniences” of experiencing passionate emotions by reading the play Othello and that it is better to have a “Violent Passionate Surrogate” simulated. That it is better to imitate being human – a denial of the human condition. To read Othello is to feel passion, a destabilizing force to society. Contrary to this dehumanization, John argues these “inconveniences” are worth it and Helmholtz Watson agrees that words can have an impact on people and make them feel. He says, “you read and you’re pierced”. Watson begins writing his own poetry describing the process, “that extra latent power I’ve got inside me”. He feels more alive because of art. Although Helmholtz is conditioned there is a part of him that searches for the power to express his feelings and experiences. When the Controller asks what climate he would like to be sent to, Helmholtz rises “from his pneumatic chair” and says he would write better in a “bad climate” with lots of “wind and storms”. This “rising” is symbolic of his independence and rejection of the New World. In John’s opinion, the meaning in life is art being the alteration of suffering into meaning. Huxley tries to convey the idea that a society where people are existing in their own humanity although unstable, can exhibit meaning and beauty in life. Although John and Mond have different views about art in society, both believe that citizens require catharsis which is an emotional release to become happy. However, the two disagree on how that release can be provided: John who credits art; and Mond who thinks drugs, like soma, are the key. In the World State, Mond explains that people do continue to feel pain but in a different way as they, “prefer to do things comfortably”. John of course, chooses the less comfortable alternative at the conclusion of the novel. Huxley’s argument through his surrogate John, sums up the human condition of needing art as an outlet for our emotions and solace for our pain. In Brave New World, art and creativity are seen as essential to humanity, if we are to remain human, not only to express and satisfy our emotional needs, but as part of the human condition.

Death

In Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, people no longer fear death, losing their bond with the natural world. Dr. Gaffney tells John, “Death conditioning begins at eighteen months. Every tot spends two mornings a week in a Hospital for the Dying. All the best toys are kept there, and they get chocolate cream on death days. They learn to take dying as a matter of course”. This conditioning continues through childhood until death loses its traditional impact and meaning. The end of life is portrayed as antiseptic, positive, and without meaning, emphasizing the belief in community, that the demise of one individual is a minor inconvenience. Eliminated are the painful emotions of grief and loss, and the spiritual significance of death. A central component of humanity vanishes. People are not afraid of dying and believe that it is simply a natural process when the human body begins to deteriorate. Upon death, they are transformed into phosphorous. Lenina asks Henry Foster about the smoke stacks around them and he replies with, “Phosphorus recovery, ” informing her the dead can contribute to making plants grow. The New Worlders find it reassuring that once they die they will be recycled and become chemicals that will benefit the collective society. When John’s mother, Linda, succumbs to the high doses of soma, she is sent to the hospital. The appearance of the hospital of the dying as “a sixty-storey tower of primrose tiles” with “gaily-coloured areial heares” represents conditioning towards death. When patients are dying, they lose their identity and the people in the hospital start referring them as numbers because of their conditioning to not fear death, “Number 3 ‘Might go off any minute now’”.

There is no way to remember these people because there is no family, no burial or cemeteries. After a death they are cremated. In the World State, instead of remembering the past, people forget it and look forward to what is in the future. On the other hand, John saw death as tragic because he comes from a world where women give birth to children, have families and feel love for each other. John wished to find ways to keep his mother alive and see her one last time. Unlike the people in Brave New World who forget, he held onto his mother’s hand and called her by her name reminiscing at what she has done and how she had looked after him. The nurse from seeing John’s nervous and anxious unconditioned reactions upon Linda’s impending death makes her ask him, “You’re not feeling ill are you?”.

Meanwhile, a group of children run in and casually look at the dying Linda while they snacked and John shouts at them. The nurse then responds with, “undoing all their wholesome death-conditioning with this disgusting outcry as though death were something terrible, as though anyone mattered as much as all that!”. This shows once again how in Brave New World, people are conditioned to accept death and to not be afraid of it. Because of the children’s lack of humanity, John pushes the child that asks whether or not Linda was dead. The soma that Linda consumes makes her feel happy therefore not caring about her impending death, “Linda looked on, vaguely and uncomprehendingly smiling. Her pale, bloated face wore an expression of imbecile happiness”, one of incomprehension at her fate because of the soma. But even as she dies, when the realisation of her death is upon her, she is “charged with terror”, we see the human condition. John calls the children “disgraceful” while the nurse replies, “Disgraceful? But what do you mean? They are being death conditioned”. Since in their world, families did not exist, there would not be the feeling of “missing someone” and “remembering those who are important to one” because everyone lives their life following rules from their conditioning. Since people can be made quickly and easily, the effect of losing one person is negligible. It is the “community” which matters.

Conclusion

In the final analysis, it is clear that Huxley’s novel is a warning to his generation and future generations of the dangers of technology, science and materialism. In desiring stability, the New World has pushed these pillars of modern society to a dystopia in which mankind has become an abomination. Einstein himself stated, “All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man’s life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom”. Huxley’s Brave New World in trivializing art through the elevation of superficial cultural pursuits and subverting religion through science and technology leads to a civilization where the human condition is so debased that even death itself has lost meaning.

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