Huxley’s 21st century utopia

How does today's consumerist culture compare with the Huxleyan World State?
Emily Watson | Dec 3 2015 | comment  



"Growing up." Mr Leeds / Flickr CC

 

It would be fascinating to have dinner with Aldous Huxley in 2015. To speak to him of life in the twenty-first century, what has become the norm and what has become unsayable, and generally bring him up to speed on how the world has changed since he died in 1963. The author of one of the twentieth century’s greatest books, the dystopian Brave New World, would bring a particularly insightful eye to the practices of modern Britain.

Perhaps he might feel a keen depression, together with a sense of vindication as to how humankind has “progressed” in the last half century. After all, he wrote in his 1946 foreword to the new edition of Brave New World, first published in 1931, “…it looks as though Utopia were far closer to us than anyone, only fifteen years ago, could have imagined…Today it seems quite possible that the horror may be upon us in a single century.”

Huxley came to mind in the wake of the videos released in the past few months, revealing how Planned Parenthood harvests the organs of aborted babies and sells them for profit, all in the name of medical research. The videos contain a number of extremely disturbing scenes, which would not look out of place in a dystopian horror movie. The reaction of any normal person (or “Savage” as the one properly human character in Brave New World is referred to) is revulsion and outrage. Yet the response, or more accurately the lack of response, from the worldwide media is chilling, as are the reactions of people on social media. Hashtags such as #IStandWithPlannedParenthood started trending on Facebook and Twitter, and President Obama, who is on record praising the abortion provider for their “reproductive health services” to women, refuses to strip the organisation of their federal funding, despite clear proof of the illegality of their actions. Articles written by pro-lifers met with the normal predictable spiel about a woman’s right to choose (even in these cases, where the woman was not actually consulted about the use to which her aborted baby’s organs would be put) or the sanctity of medical research which apparently justifies partial birth abortions where a child is killed during delivery.

Such moral blindness is reminiscent of the conditioning which takes place in Great Britain under the regime of the Huxleyan World State. From birth, all members of society undergo an intensive brainwashing course which equips them for their position within the hierarchy and makes them accept without question the life that is ordained for them. They perform the duties proper to their level in society (depending on whether they are Epsilon Semi-Morons or Alpha Pluses), take the required doses of soma and V.P.S (Violent Passion Surrogate) to maintain equilibrium, and dutifully accumulate sexual partnerships without forming any emotional attachments. The big questions of philosophy—about the meaning of life, the purpose of suffering, the existence of God—are never asked because they never have cause to be asked. In his 1946 foreword, Huxley wrote:

“The greatest triumphs of propaganda have been accomplished, not by doing something, but by refraining from doing. Great is the truth, but still greater, from a practical point of view, is silence about truth.”

This goes some way to explain the silence about the Planned Parenthood videos. Conditioned by forty years of sex education, where the primacy of sexual pleasure and the woman’s choice are never questioned, is it any wonder that so many people react only with the same tired old slogans, or if they feel these to be inadequate, with apathetic silence? A bubble of indifference to the genocide of millions of infants has been created through education, indoctrination and trends on social media, where the bien-pensants all echo one another just as the Alpha Pluses heartily parrot slogans to Bernard Marx.

This conditioning is also apparent in other areas. A couple of months ago, an article was published in Vanity Fair entitled “Tinder and the Dawn of the Dating Apocalypse”. The author, Nancy Jo Sales, had researched the dating scene among the beautiful set in Manhattan and across university campuses in America, and her findings don’t look good for romantic minded singletons. Since the 1960s, sex has gradually been divorced not only from its reproductive element, but also, with the advent of hook-up apps such as Tinder, from any vestige of love, commitment, affection and respect. Just as in Brave New World, there is the expectation of no-strings attached sex, where “everybody belongs to everyone else”. Consumption, the greatest good in the World State of Our Ford, is now applied even to our sex lives. As Dan, one of the young men interviewed in the article, puts it “It’s like ordering Seamless. But you’re ordering a person.” The difference is, such attitudes have become so mainstream that there is no longer any need to pay for a brief and impersonal sexual encounter. Both men and women seem to accept that this is the best that they can get, and that they should just go along with it because everyone else does.

Huxley would also recognise the growing destruction of the traditional family. InBrave New World, words like “family”, “father” and “mother” are obscene, not to be mentioned in polite society. The redefinition of marriage to something other than the union of a man and a woman which has the potential to bring forth children has accelerated the use of IVF, surrogates, infants born who will have no tie to one, if not both, of their genetic parents. Children no longer have the right to a mother and a father—love is now all that matters, according to the hashtag #lovewins that trended on social media when the Supreme Court legalised gay marriage. No attention is paid to the increasing numbers of studies and personal testimonies showing the psychological and sociological difficulties undergone by children raised in same sex couples, or those studies that show again and again that children thrive best when they are brought up with their genetic parents. However, political correctness is rapidly taking away the freedom to voice these concerns, as the libertarian commentator Brendan O’Neill has frequently pointed out. Just before the Irish referendum on same sex marriage, a Facebook friend posted as her status that “marriage is between a man and a woman”. For just stating something that has been the norm for thousands of years, she was bullied, insulted, mocked and “de-friended”. The propaganda of Brave New World, which aims to keep everyone in a pleasant state of lethargic contentment, does not take kindly to dissenters, as Marx and Helmholtz find out, and nor does the doctrine of political correctness in 2015.

Euthanasia, which is accepted in many parts of the Western world, though thankfully not yet in Britain, is another instance of how our sensations have become numbed to the value of human life. In those countries where it is not yet legal, there are growing pleas to put people out of their misery, put people down as one would do to animals, and make a quick death the panacea to suffering. In Huxley’s utopia, death holds no horrors—children are taken round the Park Lane Hospital for the dying for their “death-conditioning”, which a nurse describes as “something between a first-class hotel and a feely-palace”, where television is on round the clock and patients lie drugged with soma before they make their final departure from the World State. How similar this is to the story of Jeffrey Spector, who has a jolly final meal with his loved ones, and then takes a painless injection at the Swiss clinic Dignitas, a twenty-first century equivalent of the Park Lane Hospital.

John the Savage, who has escaped the conditioning of the civilised world through growing up on an Indian reservation, reacts with horror to life in the era of Our Ford. He has grown up reading Shakespeare, a work on the State’s Index. In the climax of the novel, John and Mustapha Mond, World Controller, talk face to face about art, science and philosophy, and they discover that each is familiar with Shakespeare’s writing. This leads to the following exchange:

“The Savage was silent for a little. ‘All the same,’ he insisted obstinately, ‘Othello’s good, Othello’s better than those feelies.’

‘Of course it is,’ the Controller agreed. ‘But that’s the price we have to pay for stability. You’ve got to choose between happiness and what people used to call high art. We’ve sacrificed the high art. We have the feelies and the scent organ instead.’”

The essence of a civilisation is captured in the art that it produces. The banality of Huxley’s utopia is summed up in “the feelies and the scent organ”. In 2015, the pornographic novel Fifty Shades of Grey, which originated as Twilight fan fiction, is still the UK’s fastest selling paperback of all time, and the film that came out last February grossed $569 million at the box office. The mass appeal of E.L. James’ books and films are another indicator of the numbness that we feel towards art and literature, how our senses have been dulled and we have settled for badly written, debasing trash. Mustapha Mond replies to the Savage’s embarrassed defence of chastity, “But chastity means passion, chastity means neurasthenia. And passion and neurasthenia mean instability. And instability means the end of civilisation. You can’t have a lasting civilization without plenty of pleasant vices.”

In Mustafa Mond’s world, everyone is in a permanent drugged state of happiness, which knows nothing of sorrow, pain, doubt or fear. Even today, some people might read Huxley and conclude that his utopia doesn’t sound like a bad future, and that they would gladly sacrifice their free will to live a life of ease and luxury. Why should we not all strive to create a society where suffering no longer exists? ‘Everybody’s happy now’ is an oft repeated slogan in Brave New World, where all the members of society have been conditioned to think, as did Our Ford, that ‘history is bunk’.

We might answer and say, well, are those people happy now, who have started adopting the lifestyle of the civilised people in utopia? Are the Tinder addicts happy and “empowered” that sex is just a string of meaningless encounters, with no intimacy or emotional connection whatsoever? The women involved don’t seem to think so: in her Vanity Fair article, Sales senses from the attractive, successful twenty-something girls she speaks to, a sad resignation to the fact that you can sleep with someone for months without ever being able to call them your boyfriend, and that a text message has taken on the same level of excitement that formerly an invitation to dinner would warrant. Even the men, who could be seen as the winners in this scenario, seem jaded with the ease of Tinder, the lack of challenge involved, the lack of an ideal.

Many studies show the lasting damage suffered by women who have had abortions, and no number of romantic comedies like Obvious Child, which tries to make a joke of the procedure, is going to change that. There are many moving personal testimoniesfrom women about the profound psychological transformation they underwent following their abortions. Testimonies like these are not popular with the pro-choice lobby, but they exist and they are real. The prevalence of euthanasia, or physician assisted suicide, points to the fact that more and more people suffer from severe depression, and that the only solution that some can offer to depression is death. Even the number of people who take anti-depressants (our twenty-first century equivalent of soma) is distressing—why, in an age where people are richer and healthier than in the past, are so many so miserable? Could it be that seeking to find happiness in sex, drugs and bad literature does not lead to peace and wellbeing?

Brave New World ends in despair. The Savage, sickened by the casual atrocities of civilisation, hangs himself. The utopia that he finds himself in has eliminated all suffering, has abolished “the slings and arrows” and so it becomes hell. As he says to Mustapha Mond:

“‘I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.’

‘In fact,’ said Mustapha Mond, ‘you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.’
‘All right then,’ said the Savage defiantly, ‘I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.’”

Today, many other “Savages”, who have so far escaped indoctrination, might also be tempted to despair. Britain’s foremost social conservative journalist, Peter Hitchens,said when speaking in Sydney opposite gay rights activist Dan Savage, “you people have won.” In that same debate, Dan Savage—who bears no resemblance to the character in Brave New World whose name he shares—said that he would like to make abortion compulsory for the next thirty years. The many horrors of today’s world—state funded genocide of infants; the legalised slaughter of the elderly, the disabled and the depressed; rampant promiscuity and the death of lasting, loving relationships; a society where one in three people suffer from mental illness and rely on drugs to get by—all of these problems, and the apathy surrounding them, may well seem overwhelming to the idealist.

Yet Huxley was wrong to despair. Many people still cherish Britain’s Christian heritage, and the values that it has instilled over the last two thousand years. Many can see the redemptive nature of suffering borne in a spirit of sacrifice and dignity, and are inspired by those heroes and heroines, in both real life and in fiction, who will lay down their life for a friend. These values have not disappeared. The task that now lies at hand is to remind people why they are important. The vital task is to provide an antidote to the conditioning of today’s society, and this can be done through education, art, music, literature and the power of example. In short, this age calls for men and women, endowed with the creative power and brilliance of an Aldous Huxley, to disseminate truth through literature, art and oratory. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes of contemporary “civilisation”, a renaissance of the aesthetic ideal, upholding forgotten virtues, will awaken hearts and minds numbed by twitter campaigns and soft pornography. The truth—and only the truth—will be strong enough to draw people away from the snares of ease and comfort, the “broad road” that leads to the hell of a Benthamite nightmare.

Emily Watson is co-editor of the UK literary, culture & politics review, Quadrapheme, where this article was first published. It is reproduced here with permission. @watson_eml 



Copyright © Emily Watson . Published by MercatorNet.com. You may download and print extracts from this article for your own personal and non-commercial use only. Contact us if you wish to discuss republication.

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