What Is Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World? — Post by Michael J. Findley

BraveNewWorld_FirstEdition

BraveNewWorldRevisited

Aldous Huxley called his Brave New World, “The nightmare of total organization …” As one of the most widely read books written in the 20th century, many people, like myself, read it as an English requirement without spending much time thinking about it.

“The nightmare of total organization, which I had situated in the seventh century After Ford, has emerged from the safe remote future and is now awaiting us, just around the next corner.” Brave New World Revisited 1958 (Aldous Huxley, about Brave New World, 1932)

When Aldous Huxley contrasted his fantasy world with Orwell’s 1984, he believed that his fantasy world, Brave New World, was more likely to become reality.

“The society described in 1984 is a society controlled almost exclusively by punishment and the fear of punishment. In the imaginary world of my own fable, punishment is infrequent and generally mild. The nearly perfect control exercised by the government is achieved by systematic reinforcement of desirable behavior, by many kinds of nearly non-violent manipulation, both physical and psychological, and by genetic standardization.” Brave New World Revisited 1958 Aldous Huxley

“We who were living in the second quarter of the twentieth century A.D. were the inhabitants, admittedly, of a gruesome kind of universe; but the nightmare of those depression years was radically different from the nightmare of the future, described in Brave New World. Ours was a nightmare of too little order; theirs, in the seventh century A.F. [After Ford], of too much. In the process of passing from one extreme to the other, there would be a long interval, so I imagined, during which the more fortunate third of the human race would make the best of both worlds – the disorderly world of liberalism and much too orderly Brave New World where perfect efficiency left no room for freedom or personal initiative.” Brave New World Revisited 1958 Aldous Huxley

Both 1984 and Brave New World are fantasies of total government control. Only the methods are different. The question Aldous Huxley raised is “Which method is more effective: fear of punishment or desire for acceptance and reward?” “In the light of what we have recently learned about animal behavior in general, and human behavior in particular, it has become clear that control through the punishment of undesirable behavior is less effective, in the long run, than control through the reinforcement of desirable behavior by rewards, and that government through terror works on the whole less well than government through the non-violent manipulation of the environment and of the thoughts and feelings of individual men, women and children.

“Punishment temporarily puts a stop to undesirable behavior, but does not permanently reduce the victim’s tendency to indulge in it. Moreover, psycho-physical by-products of punishment may be just as undesirable as the behavior for which the individual has been punished. Psychotherapy is largely concerned with the debilitating or anti-social consequences of past punishments.” Brave New World Revisited 1958 Aldous Huxley

I, and many others, am not too certain that Brave New World Revisited is not an entirely accurate view of the fantasy nightmare published in 1932. Brave New World ends with John, also called the Savage, hanging himself. John certainly viewed that civilization as an inescapable nightmare. The very terminology of Brave New World is the language of a nightmare. Yet if Aldous Huxley did not believe these principles to be good and desirable, he seems to at least believe that they were inevitable. “…impersonal forces over which we have almost no control seem to be pushing us all in the direction of the Brave New Worldian nightmare; and this impersonal pushing is being consciously accelerated by representatives of commercial and political organizations who have developed a number of new techniques for manipulation, in the interest of some minority, the thoughts and feelings of the masses.” Brave New World Revisited

It certainly shows a lack of understanding to deny the influence of evil spirits. It seems odd, even hypocritical, that Huxley believed representatives of organizations are impersonal.  Yet the justifications for total organization spoken by Mustapha Mond, Resident World Controller of Western Europe [one of ten throughout the world], when talking to John, Bernard, and Helmholz in a private meeting to banish Bernard and Helmholz, seem to represent what Aldous Huxley believed in 1931. “Because our world is not the same as Othello’s world. You can’t make flivvers without steel—and 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’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.” Mustapha Mond Brave New World p. 245

This view, expressed by World Controller Mustoapha Mond, is very similar to the written goals of Secular Humanism. They believe it to be a good goal. Plato’s Republic uses very similar, though not identical, goals for his ideal government. It is similar to the stated goals of the French Revolution, Karl Marx, and even Fascism. All of these found that the reinforcement of desirable behavior through rewards failed to control enough people and turned to force as in the 1984 fantasy. These governments believed in control first and foremost. While reinforcement of desirable behavior was preferred, control was essential and whatever methods were necessary were used. This was historic reality.

Aldous Huxley believed that the tools to manipulate desirable behavior would be improved and become more pervasive. However, even in the total fantasy of fiction, Mustapha Mond had to lie, perhaps even deceiving himself to make his case. The phrase (sentence actually), “they’re not afraid of death” is a lie. It might be that citizens of the Brave New World are too busy and too conditioned to face or even think about death. But the death of John’s mother Linda shows death when they actually faced it. She returned to civilization after living for decades on an Indian Reservation in New Mexico.

“At forty-four, Linda seemed, by contrast, a monster of flaccid and distorted senility.” p 223 She choose to escape reality and live entirely in a drug (soma) induced wonderland until her death shortly after her return.””Every one belongs to every …” Her voice suddenly died into an almost inaudible breathless croaking. Her mouth fell open: she made a desperate effort to fill her lungs with air. But it was as though she had forgotten how to breathe. She tried to cry out-but no sound came; only the terror of her staring eyes revealed what she was suffering. Her hands went to her throat, then clawed at the air–the air she could no longer breathe, the air that, for her, had ceased to exist.

“The Savage [her adult son John] was on his feet, bent over her. “What is it, Linda? What is it?” His voice was imploring; it was as though he were begging to be reassured. “The look she gave him was charged with an unspeakable terror—with terror and, it seemed to him, reproach.  “She tried to raise herself in bed, but fell back on to the pillows. Her face was horribly distorted, her lips blue.” pp. 227,8

They were conditioned to believe that death ended everything. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. The individual existed solely to support the community. Solitude and independent thinking were heretical. It was a society with no moral purpose or even reason for existing.  Any attempt to obey any form of tradition outside of society’s conditioning was wrong and produced a guilty conscience. Huxley uses the third person omnipotent point of view to explain this.

“In the taxicopter he [John] hardly even looked at her [Lenina]. Bound by strong vows that had never been pronounced, obedient to laws that had long since ceased to run, [marriage and chastity] he sat averted and in silence. Sometimes, as though a finger had plucked at some taut, almost breaking string, his whole body would shake with a sudden nervous start.” p. 186Mustapha Mond shows that this moral vacuum is the result of rigidly enforced choices.

“”The author’s mathematical treatment of the conception of purpose is novel and highly ingenious, but heretical and, so far as the present social order is concerned, dangerous and potentially subversive. Not to be published.” He [Mustapha Mond—Resident World Controller of Western Europe; 1 of 10 world controllers] underlined the words. “The author will be kept under supervision. His transference to the Marine Biological station of St. Helena may become necessary.”

“”A pity, he thought, as he signed his name. It was a masterly piece of work. But once you began admitting explanations in terms of purpose-well, you didn’t know what the result might be. It was the sort of idea that might easily decondition the more unsettled minds among the higher casts-make them lose their faith in happiness as the Sovereign Good and take to believing, instead, that the goal was somewhere beyond, somewhere outside the present human sphere, that the purpose of life was not the maintenance of well-being, but some intensification and refining of consciousness, some enlargement of of knowledge. Which was, the Controller reflected, quite possibly true. But not, in the present circumstance, admissible.

“He picked up his pen again, and under the words “Not to be published” drew a second line, thicker and blacker than the first; then sighed. “What fun it would be,” he thought, “if one didn’t have to think about happiness!”” p.195

The fantasy nightmare Brave New World government exists solely to produce happiness. This happiness can only be brought about by conformity “”Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the over-compensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn’t nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, one of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrown by passion of doubt. Happiness is never grand.”” [Mustapha Mond]  p. 246

Like the very real European Dark Ages, the greatest crime is novelty, something new. The established religion of government declares itself to be infallible. “Every change is a menace to stability. That’s another reason why we’re so chary of applying new inventions. Every discovery in pure science is potentially subversive; even science must sometimes be treated as a possible enemy. Yes, even science.” [Mustapha Mond]   p. 250

“Yes,” Mustapha Mond was saying, “that’s another item in the cost of stability. It isn’t only art that’s incompatible with happiness; it’s also science. Science is dangerous; we have to keep it most carefully chained and muzzled.” p. 250

Is this so different from today? Today, people today also claim to believe in science. “”Yes; but what sort of science?” asked Mustapha Mond sarcastically. “You’ve had no scientific training, so you can’t judge. I was a pretty good physicist in my time. Too good-good enough to realize that all our science is just a cookery book, with an orthodox theory of cooking that nobody’s allowed to question, and a list of recipes that mustn’t be added to except by special permission from the head cook. I’m the head cook now.”” p. 251

“Helmholtz laughed. “Then why aren’t you on an island yourself?” “Because, finally, I preferred this,” the Contoller answered. “I was given the choice: to be sent to an island, where I could have got on with my purer science, or to be taken on to the Controllers’ Council with the prospect of succeeding in due course to an actual Controllership. I chose this and let the science go.” After a little silence, “Sometimes,” he added, “I rather regret the science. Happiness is a hard master-particularly other people’s happiness. A much harder master, if one isn’t conditioned to accept it unquestioningly, than truth.” He sighed, fell silent again, then continued in a brisker tone, “Well, duty’s duty. One can’t consult one’s own preference. I’m interested in truth, I like science. But truth’s a menace, science is a public danger. As dangerous as it’s been beneficent. It has given us the stablest equilibrium in history…” p.253 Brave New World, written 1931, published 1932

This mythical “stable equilibrium” has never existed and never will exist without God. Aldous Huxley observed the advances the ruling elite have made. “why has the nightmare, which I had projected into the seventh century A.F., made so swift an advance in our direction?” Brave New World Revisited 1958 Aldous Huxley

For those who deny God and claim that His purposes cannot be known, the warnings of Brave New World are the best they can do. They understand the results of certain forms of evil. They understand that this vision of the future is a nightmare. But without God, their solutions are only other nightmares of various forms. Without God, there are many other possible nightmare scenarios besides a totalitarian 1984 verses a manipulative Brave New World.

“But as it is written, No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined the things that God has prepared for those who love him.” (I Corinthians 2:9 quoting Isaiah 64:6 ISV)

“You cause me to know the path of life; in your presence is joyful abundance, at your right hand there are pleasures forever.” (Psalm 116:11 ISV)

“And since I’m going away to prepare a place for you, I’ll come back again and welcome you into my presence, so that you may be where I am.” (John 14:3 ISV)

“Dear friends, we are now God’s children, but what we will be like has not been revealed yet. We know that when the Messiah is revealed, we will be like him, because we will see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2 ISV)

“For everything that is in the world–the desire for fleshly gratification, the desire for possessions, and worldly arrogance–is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world and its desires are fading away, but the person who does God’s will remains forever.” (1 John 2:16, 17)

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