**Warning. Long post ahead**
It’s quite odd to write about a book that was written nearly a century ago, 1932 to be exact, and it still be very much relevant today, and possibly, increasingly relevant as we continue on into the future.
And, you might ask, what do I mean? Well, one thing I’ve found out as I’ve been reading more and more, many of my peers, and even those older than myself, reading hasn’t had a very strong presence in their lives, especially after they’ve left their academic years. School and college were the only places where they had spent a fair amount of time reading, and even at that, read at the bare minimum requirements.
And why I bring this up is because, like the statement I made in the first paragraph, there have been people in history, such as Huxley, who’ve, more or less, predicted the future, and accurately, to an extent. His book, A Brave New World, is a good example of that.
I’m not exactly going to give a detailed summary like I’ve done for some books, but more so, give my ideas of what the message Huxley is trying to convey.
So what is that message? I’ll let you decide for yourself by asking you a few questions.
At what cost should we attain ultimate happiness? Should we sacrifice our free will if that meant no more suffering?
Is it justifiable to put an objective and even discriminatory value on a human life? Is it okay to actually value one group of people over another group, if that meant there could be unfaltering stability within society?
And last, is it wrong to suffer, even if it was just for the sake of suffering, but nothing else? If we had everything we could possibly want, sex, pleasure, euphoria…. unending happiness; what’s to say that will give us meaning in our lives?
Do we need meaning in our lives?
And those questions were not first asked by Huxley. What he did though was, he took those questions and he constructed a powerful argument, in the form of a novel, that addressed both sides.
And, while reading the book, I would say there are three characters, and then a fourth, that particularly stand out. Those would be Bernard, Helmholtz, the Mustapha Mond, and then finally, the Savage, respectively.
So if you haven’t read this book, let me give you a brief description of what it’s like in the “Brave New World”. If you have read it, this will just be a refresher.
All new babies are specially engineered and grown in a lab, the Hatchery. Of the babies born, there are 5 castes of people: Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons. Of those classes, there are sub-classes like alpha-plus, alpha-minus, beta-plus, beta-minus, and so on.
Each class is responsible for different types of work. The alphas do most of the high level “intellectual work”, and the epsilons do the “grunt work”, so to speak. But here’s the thing, through biological, social, and, what he calls, hypnopaedic conditioning, each class has a different inherent value placed on them. Alphas being the top, Epsilons being the bottom. It’s systematic prejudice but constructed in a way that is fair and just, if such a is thing is possible.
It’s this phrase right here: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” – Karl Marx.
But like I said, each class is biologically designed, and even stunted in prenatal development by means of genetic engineering. Therefore, Alphas not only are the dominant class but, in turn, look the part. They’re the most attractive, the tallest, the smartest, and so forth, and at the bottom, Epsilons, they’re short, ugly, dumb, and generally unable to do more than simple, low cognitive demanding tasks.
But here’s the problem in that. How do you actually make people believe that they’re worth less than the class above them, especially if you’re at the bottom, say, the Epsilon group? Through hypnopaedic conditioning, that’s how.
But what is hypnopaedic conditioning? It’s essentially sleep teaching. While the infants are asleep, they teach their moral lessons at the unconscious level.
So, by shaping their belief system all the way from infancy, and unconsciously, it’s not really teaching, but it’s indoctrination, that’s what it is.
So what does a hypnopaedic lesson look like? Here’s one for the Beta group:
Alpha children wear grey. they work much harder than we do, because they’re so frightfully clever. I’m really awfully glad I’m a Beta, because I don’t work so hard. And then we are much better than Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid. They all wear green, and Delta Children wear Khaki. Oh no, I don’t want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They’re too stupid to be able to read or write. Besides they wear black, which is such a beastly color. I’m so glad I’m a Beta.
And here’s a quote from the Director of the Hatchery himself, “They’ll have that repeated forty or fifty times more before they wake; then again on Thursday, and again on Saturday. A hundred and twenty times three times a week for thirty months. After which they go on to a more advanced lesson.”
Well, as you can see, there’s a certain level of absurdity about this message, right? It’s prejudice all the way to the core, but because they’re all taught a lesson similar to this one, and specific to the particular class they’re in, nobody questions it, and even believes it to be true, and, in a way, it is!
So, back to my point, the four characters, why are they important?
It’s because, being at the top, the Alpha group, there’s nothing more to look up to. They’re at the top of the hierarchy, but each particular character, they feel as if there’s more, that there’s something that transcends the hierarchy. They’ve become conscious. Not only that but self-conscious.
They’ve, in a sense, broken they’re indoctrination. They’ve realized that there’s more to life in this world than a life of endless instinctual pleasures, endless sex, drugs, and happiness.
What they’ve found out is, through suffering and pain, life becomes more meaningful. That’s because, in a way, all of them had experienced some level of pain, which, in the “Brave New World”, is forbidden. Huxley implicitly suggests that meaning in life is discovered through pain and suffering.
That’s why all painful experiences must be treated with Soma, a drug that, taken at different doses, alleviates different levels of pain and induces a euphoric experience, and at high enough doses, triggers, what they call, a soma holiday.
All right, so starting with Bernard, he represents the naive, arrogant one. He’s become aware, but not only that, looks down on everyone who hasn’t. He, in a sense, feels he’s above them, or at the very least, smarter than all of them. But that’s only because he’s different, literally. In the lab where he was being engineered, through some accident, his development was stunted to that of an Epsilon. Although being as intellectual as an Alpha, he was as short and weak in appearance as an Epsilon. Thus, in turn, he was rejected by all the Alpha girls, which caused him to be isolated and depressed. In the Brave New World, everyone is supposed to be accepted, but he wasn’t, and that’s painful.
Helmholtz was the opposite. Being nearly perfect in every way, he had no trouble sleeping with as many girls as he pleased, in fact, exponentially more than any other member of the Alpha class. He was adored by all men and women, though quickly found this all to be superficial. Also being incredibly smart, he worked in the Emotional Engineering department, which in that he was allowed to be creative, to some extent, to craft new messages that play with emotions. What that meant was he had some degree of “free will” given to him, but under a very controlled manner. Though that didn’t stop him. He began to “experiment”.
He puts a line right here in the book,
“I’m thinking of a queer feeling I sometimes get, a feeling that I’ve got something important to say and the power to say it–only I don’t know what it is, and I can’t make any use of the power. If there was some different way of writing…or else something else to write about….”
With the pain of feeling that his life was not living up to its full potential, he, too, started to question the society they were all living in.
Mustapha Mond is the last one. He’s the Controller, the ruler of the whole society, at least in that particular region. He was brilliant, a true man of curiosity and intellect. Ah, but you see a pattern, don’t you? His curiosity led him to, in his own words, “a bit of cooking on my own. Unorthodox cooking, illicit cooking. A bit of real science, in fact.” With that, it gained attention to himself. He was subject to being thrown out because he was “different”; because he was trying to disrupt the stability of their society. He became aware that there might be different ways of perceiving the world, and if so, was the current perception he had, what necessarily meant it was the right one?
And then, that brings me to the final character that is introduced, the Savage. The Savage was from the “The Reservation”, similar to that of a Native American Reservation, in a sense, in that, the people were allowed to “live like people of old”. They were allowed to have “free will”, practice whatever religion, ultimately, they were allowed to experience pain and suffering.
But the Savage was unique. Although very complicated to explain, he was born from one of the people in the “Brave New Word”, though was raised in the Reservation. So, in a way, he wasn’t accepted into that culture and thought, maybe if he could go back to a civilized society, he’d finally be accepted! Oh was he wrong, very, very, wrong.
Through a series of events, the Savage was allowed to come and see what the New World was like, but, with one exception. He was not indoctrinated by the hypnopaedic messages all people were subject to. In my own opinion, he represents the opposite of Mustapha Mond, the Controller, though, not a direct opposite.
The Savage sees the utility of what complete, unending pleasure and happiness shields against: pain. But, he also thinks that people need to experience pain, that way they can appreciate what they have and, in turn, live a more meaningful life. Mustapha, he argues for the opposite, that, in the course of human history, for as long as we can recall, the ultimate goal was to end human suffering, and that’s what’s happened! No more suffering, no more pain, just total happiness. Was this not the Sovereign Good?
The Savage argues for God, though. And not “God” in the sense of the Christian God, exactly, but God in general. It was the God above everything, the thing that transcends human suffering.
The Savage he puts a statement right here, “It is natural to believe in God when you’re alone–quite alone, in the night, thinking about death….”
But this was countered with, “But people never are alone now. We make them hate solitude; and we arrange their lives so it’s almost impossible for them ever to have it.”
And still, the Savage tries to strengthen his point by saying, “But I like inconveniences. 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.”
So Mustapha brilliants counters with, “In fact, you’re claiming the right to be unhappy. 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.”
And that right there, that’s a powerful argument against God, in fact, it’s the very thing that God stands for. Heaven is described as the perfect place, where there is no more suffering, but what’s to say, if you had the choice right now to go to heaven, would you not take it right now? What if you could? In the Brave New World, you can.
So that makes one wonder, what’s more important, Heaven itself, or, the process of getting to Heaven? What’s more important, the destination or the destination? What more important, having a goal or fulfilling the goal?
I think it’s always the latter. We don’t want perfection. We want the idea of perfection, and those are two VERY different things. We don’t want heaven, but the idea that one exists.
And you see this everywhere! The rich, wealthy man who finds his life unfulfilling. The perfect, beautiful woman with every possible thing she can imagine. The spoiled, ungrateful kids who can get anything they could possibly want, just by asking.
On the opposite end, you see the starving, poverty-stricken child who walks 10 miles just to get a mediocre education in a one classroom school. The single mom who works three jobs just so her baby doesn’t have to suffer. The countless and countless people who believe that what they’re doing, what they’re suffering through, it’ll all be worth it in the end.
But I ask you, will it all be worth it in the end? Or will you find another way to suffer again?
thanks for reading,