Click Here to Read My Review of 1984
When I reviewed 1984, at least a dozen people told me that I should read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World next. The two novels apparently serve as twin companion pieces in the “negative utopia” genre, where the ideal of a hopeful future for man is turned on its head into a dark dystopian warning for us all.
1984 was published in 1949 as the world was still reeling from the Second World War. Orwell’s totalitarianism was a combination of Soviet Russia mixed with the fear of the kind of power emerging technology would bring. Brave New World first came out seventeen years earlier, in 1932. It was a timely piece written against the backdrop of the rises of fascism and Nazism, and was perhaps even more controversial due to its startling reflections on Hitler’s calls for a superior race.
Between the two, I personally liked 1984 better, merely because I found Orwell’s writing style more compelling. But to focus on that is beside the point. While that book is amazing in its relevance, Brave New World is perhaps more sinister, and I dare say, even more accurate in its depiction of what our future is becoming.
In a letter to Orwell, Huxley himself summed it up best: “Within the next generation I believe that the world’s rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience.”
Orwell’s message was that in a dictatorial future, our evil rulers (Big Brother) can beat us into submission and make us into controlled zombies with enough imprisonment and torture. This is driven home by his protagonist, Winston. Huxley’s novel, on the other hand, is less violent but asks perhaps an even more horrifying question: what if our overlords could simply breed the desire for freedom out of us?
Before I get started, let me offer another spoiler warning: if you haven’t read the book yet, bookmark this page, go read it right now and come right back!
Brave New World starts about 600 years in the future, and from the first chapter Huxley sucks us in with a tour of a “fertility factory.” The nuclear family was banished long ago. All people are conceived via artificial conception from donors and are raised in labs. Through the use of chemical compounds, the government pre-determines all traits: skin color, personality type, intelligence, etc. While growing up, children undergo a combination of torture and sleep-education (called “hypnopaedia”). In one of the book’s most darkly hilarious moments, a roomful of babies is zapped with electric shocks to instill a lifelong fear of books and nature. Society is divided into a very carefully crafted caste system: at the top are the most intelligent and good-looking people and every other lower class are bred to be stupid workers who never question servitude. People also never age; a perfect mix of drugs and surgery keeps them all looking healthy and young, even to the grave.
Huxley brings socialism’s basic principle to a wickedly logical conclusion; not only does everything belong to everyone, but every person belongs to everyone. From a young age, children are taught to frolic naked and have “erotic play.” As adults, all women happily accept any sexual invitation from any man at any time. Of course, pregnancy is forbidden and people are required to use birth control; and if all else fails, free abortion centers are at every street corner.
Strong emotions are a thing of the past. The only feeling anyone can have is contentment. And if “bad emotions”…intense heartbreak, loss, joy, etc…ever arise, the nanny-state government provides a mysterious pill called somma, a hallucinogen that gives instant peace-of-mind.
Huxley does a masterful job of balancing the terrifying and hysterical aspects of his world. No one has believed in God for many generations, but in His place has arisen Henry Ford, the man who revolutionized factory assembly production. People gather in church-like places to sing hymns to Ford, and even utter phrases like “Oh my Ford!” or “Ford forbid!”
The story has two protagonists. Our first is named Bernard Marx (the symbolism in the name is a bit obvious), who like Winston in 1984, is unhappy and questions his place. He is a small, ostracized loner, bullied by his coworkers (with his lifelong struggle with poor eyesight, I can’t help but wonder if Huxley was projecting himself onto this character). He wonders if perhaps there is more to life than work, sex, and somma-induced bliss. Rumors abound that Bernard was the product of an accidental overdose in the fetal labs.
Bernard is the only young man that women reject for sexual activity; however, one of the most gorgeous and popular girls at the lab, Lenina, feels a strange pity for him and indicates some interest. Bernard invites her on a week-long vacation to a “savage reservation,” in the wilderness of North America, a contained compound where man is still left in a primitive state. Just before leaving, his superior warns him that many years ago, he too brought a girl to this strange land, but she was separated from him and lost forever.
Bernard and Lenina travel together to this strange world where Native Americans have been living traditional lives with families, values, and religion. Watching one of their frightening sacrificial rituals, they meet a young white-skinned savage, who like Bernard, is clearly an outcast. After some questioning, Bernard discovers that the girl who had vanished so many years ago (Linda) was actually pregnant, and this is her grown son. His name is John, and he is our second protagonist.
In some ways, John is more primitive than modern society, yet he is also vastly more intelligent. He has grown up reading the works of Shakespeare and has interests in science and religion. Better yet, when Bernard learns by phone that he will be relocated, he sees a golden opportunity, inviting the “Savage” and his mother back to London to see civilization. John is brimming with excitement at what a paradise the modern world must be!
Linda and John are flown back to London, and Bernard’s superior has to resign in shame when it is exposed that he actually fathered a child. John becomes a local celebrity, as people crowd from miles to see this strange specimen, a backwards savage from a long-lost time.
But it doesn’t take John long to realize that modern civilization isn’t utopia. He is disgusted at the overabundance of immoral sex, artificial conception, and drug-induced happiness. He quickly starts to yearn for the freedom of the wilderness again. Lenina, meanwhile, has developed feelings for him. John loves her, but isn’t interested in free-wheeling sexual encounters. She is horrified at his marriage proposal and he is horrified by her attempts to seduce him. Much to her confusion, he reacts with violent rage when she comes to his apartment and takes off her clothes. Both are products of different societies, and neither is capable of understanding what the other wants.
When John’s mother dies and no one shows any grief, he snaps and goes into the streets, stirring up a riot. He and Bernard are both arrested. Bernard will be relocated after all. John, meanwhile, discusses the meaning of life with the leader and controller of society, Mustapha Mond, in his office. Reading it, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Winston and O’Brien’s philosophical conversation amongst torture during the final act of 1984.
Mond, it turns out, was once a hopeless dreamer like Bernard and John. He knows Shakespeare just as well. He was depressed with the lack of meaning in a perfectly controlled society. But ultimately he decided to embrace the control and rose to the ranks of leader, finding purpose in keeping social order stable. He presents John with a choice that is the heart of the book’s message: would he rather stay in civilized society and be content with freedom-less perfection, or live in the wild where he will be free but have to suffer hardships and danger?
John ultimately decides that freedom is worth the burden that it brings. He flees to an abandoned lighthouse in the wilderness. At first a sense of joy and accomplishment overtakes him as he builds weapons and hunts and lives off the land. But it is short-lived; before long, the society that was so curious about the savage finds him and crowds of curious onlookers invade his privacy.
When Lenina shows up amongst the crowd, John snaps. Whether she is there to reunite with him or join in the mockery, he grabs a whip and attacks her, calling her a whore and savagely beating her, much to the crowd’s delight (whether or not he actually kills her is left open-ended). The next day, the crowd returns for more of spectacle, only to find that John has hanged himself from the ceiling of the lighthouse.
Eighty-five years after its release, it isn’t difficult to see the parallels between Brave New World and today. Readers were shocked by Huxley’s descriptions of a sex-obsessed society. Not only did he see the sexual revolution coming thirty years in advance, he warned of its conclusion. In a broken system, people will rarely use sex for reproduction, but as a vain attempt to cover up their own insecurities. The rampant abundance of any kind of pornography you can imagine is only one example of this. The decision to legalize gay marriage has opened a gateway for other depravities to seek validation as morality has given way to feelings. Now polygamists, transgenders, pansexuals, and any other “hyphenated sexual” demand recognition.
Of course, the allusion between somma and the prescription drug epidemic is obvious. But more so, I fear that the principle of a narcotic that keeps a population in check symbolizes a variety of modern conveniences. The internet, perhaps? Social media? Who are we to think that we could ever revolt against oppressive authoritarianism, like our founding fathers, when we won’t even spend five minutes looking up from our latest Facebook status updates? Technology has become a drug that I would be terrified to see this generation deprived of. Karl Marx once said “religion is the opiate of the masses.” Imagine if he’d lived long enough to see the invention of the smart phone.
But the opening chapter is what I find most frightening. To Huxley, an engineered society was one where human reproduction took place in a factory. Social engineering is one of the greatest threats to society. As I said in my blog on the Manchester attack, our overlords are trying to manufacture utopia. Leaders of Europe sit on high pedestals in beautiful mansions surrounded by armed guards, lecturing their citizens about “tolerance” as they force-immigrate buses full of Islamic refugees. This attempt to social-engineer a multicultural utopia is literally blowing up in the faces of average citizens who have to suffer the consequences. And Nero plays his lyre while Rome burns.
But it’s happening in America, too. Why were conservatives at one time opposed to women serving in the military, followed by gays? Because, as we so nobly used to state, the military is not a place for social experimentation. What a quaint idea!
Now the military is a microcosm of how social experimentation has taken over every dynamic of American civilization. The left laughs gleefully while we try to keep up with the latest trends that destroy basic institutions and brings traditionalists to their knees. The result is madness.
The government disapproves of parents raising their own kids. The people who once might have been uncomfortable with men using ladies rooms are now willing to fight, kill and die for it. Children are being taught that religion has no place in school, then told to submit to Islam and praise Allah. People carry “Love Trumps Hate” signs, then brutally beat pregnant women and elderly veterans. Accusations of racism, homophobia, xenophobia, whatever-phobia-they-invent can ruin an innocent person’s life. Leftist crybullies whine about being victims, while gleefully destroying the people they’re accusing.
Welcome to the breakdown of moral society. Brave new world indeed!