Today, the American Dream is on its knees. Inequality is at staggering levels and only increasing. Class mobility is withering by the day. Corporate consolidation threatens our markets. Opioid addiction and chronic depression besiege our hearts, minds, and families. High culture has been laid low by Michael Bay and the Frankenstein’s Monster that is the Walt Disney Company. Meanwhile, low culture is steadily replacing religion as what Marx called the “sigh of the oppressed creature… the opiate of the masses.” As for the state of God himself: Jeff Bezos is doing just fine biding his time until imminent climate disaster by building phallic rockets that would make Freud blush. We live in a “Brave New World” indeed.
Many high school students today read George Orwell’s most famous works of dystopian fiction, 1984 and/or Animal Farm. The novels respectively depict the hopeless oppression and creeping tyranny under authoritarian communism as seen in various regimes of the 20th century. Aldous Huxley, however, chose a decidedly different frame through which to construct his own dystopia.
The one-world government in Brave New World is not one of bleak oppression or colorless tyranny. It exudes happiness, luxury, comfort, free love, and the utter elimination of the unpleasant. In the context of our own brave and new world in 2019, it’s difficult to ignore the striking degree to which the London described in the novel resembles the reality we have arrived at in our corner of history.
Every aspect of life in the book has been revolutionized by mass production. In fact, the only god-figure to speak of is Henry Ford — or as he is referred to in the story “Our Ford.” However, Huxley’s warning seems to have fallen on deaf ears, and your correspondent fears that it may be too little too late to keep the ‘dys’ out of our utopia.
In Brave New World everything revolves around production and consumption. All work is optimized to achieve maximum efficiency, and in turn, all recreation is constructed to revolve around the consumption of what is produced. Mass production is so key to the society that even the people themselves are not born but incubated in an assembly line. This removes the need for what they refer to as viviparous reproduction and thus the structure of the family unit. One added benefit: no need to waste time on maintaining a family! All the more time for work and play.
One is reminded of our own contemporary predicament. Today, many of us are working longer hours for lower wages to barely get by. Divorces — or the structural decay of the family unit — are mounting in no small part due to financial stress. Shopping has transcended its status as a household chore and evolved into a leisure activity now executable from the comfort of your own home. The steel age has been gone for decades. Products today are constructed cheaply and intended to be replaced rather than repaired.
This market of redundant replaceability echoes another acute moment in Brave New World, in which a woman trapped in the uncivilized world is recounting the horrors she’s suffered all these years among ‘primitive peoples’. This stranded woman says, “Besides, it never used to be right to mend clothes. Throw them away when they’ve got holes in them and buy new. ‘The more stitches, the less riches.’ Isn’t that right? Mending is antisocial.” Commerce and socializing are one and the same in Brave New World much as they are for many of us. Consumption for consumption’s sake is considered noble, and moreover a crucial aspect of the social contract.
Replacement over repair isn’t merely a social norm, but mentally conditioned. The Hatchery and Conditioning Center — where the new members of society are mass-produced — subjects sleeping children to what’s called hypnopædia in which slogans are repeated continually in the ears of sleeping children. These budding members of the workforce are given such pithy sentiments as:
“The more stitches, the less riches.”
“Civilization is sterilization.”
“When the individual feels, the community reels.”
“Cleanliness is next to Fordliness.”
“A gram is better than a damn.”
It doesn’t take a genius to arrive at hypnopædia being a thinly veiled analogy for subliminal messaging. Our advertisements which coat every building, bench, bus, webpage and television screen are communicating value statements to us about consumerism all the time. How you should look, what you should buy, what makes you valuable, what you might buy to make you more valuable…
We all, your correspondent included, like to believe that we are smarter than billions of dollars of consumer research and nefarious ad-men and women who are attempting to massage our consciousness into submission — both to their corporate clientele and our shining consumer-culture itself. But we aren’t. By the way, RED ROBIN! See. Like it or not, we are the products of the endless firehose of messaging being beamed into our every sensory experience. Staaanley Steamer makes ——— ——— ————. Sorry. Our society has some idea of the aftermath of years of sustained subliminal messaging, but it isn’t hard to imagine us internalizing more than just the snack that smiles back! (Okay, that was the last one.)
Additionally, sleeping children are sleep-taught “Elementary Class Consciousness”, which solidifies the caste system in their minds:
“Alpha children wear grey. They work much harder than we do, because they’re so frightfully clever. I’m awfully glad I’m a Beta, because I don’t work so hard. And then we are much better than the 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.”
I’m reminded of impoverished children in our society who are taught to settle. Settle for poverty. Settle for subpar schools. Settle for chemical dependence. Settle for their disadvantages because this is a meritocracy after all. If things aren’t working out for you, your lot in life is what you deserve. The so-called “captains of industry” — those who Tom Wolfe coined the “masters of the universe” — live fabulous, lavish lives because they work harder than you. Because they’re smarter than you. Because they’ve done something to earn it outside of their positions of privilege predetermined at birth.
And your correspondent points this out from a position of the whitest, male-est, economic privilege, lest I sound bitter over my own situation. I did not work harder than my friend who can’t afford tuition and now fixes phone batteries, yet my life is materially easier.
Huxley articulates to us how we often justify class divides as natural, inherent to one’s talents. In reality, this narrative shields us from structural inequities between classes — often with metaphors about bootstraps. And those who find themselves on the bottom of that ladder are encouraged to indulge in self-medication and resign themselves to the benevolent meritocracy that failed them in the first place.
The slogan mentioned above, “Better a gram than a damn,” refers to a fictional drug in Brave New World called soma. So far as it’s described, soma is like a cross between LSD and antidepressants, with the kinks worked out. If at any time a character finds anything displeasing, objectionable, stressful, or in any way not to their liking, they are actively encouraged by everyone around them to take a gram of soma and escape discomfort until it subsides.
In the modern-day in which 1 in 6 Americans are taking psychiatric drugs and the entire nation is in the throes of an opioid epidemic, it requires little imagination to picture a world of chemical escape. From deep feelings of isolation and alienation, to professional futility and lack of existential purpose, a feeling of meaning seems to be slipping away from many of us. This is not to say there is an objective meaning we’re all missing, but rather in its perceived absence many have recoiled into a structure of dependence, be it comfort or chemical.
Perhaps the most critical slogan to understand in Brave New World is “Everyone belongs to everyone else.” This does, in fact, mean what it sounds like: monogamy is non-existent, and everyone is taught to think of it as normal to engage sexually with anyone and everyone. Now, it would be low hanging fruit to make a stand about the breakdown of the nuclear family, premarital sex, and the perils of moral hazard, but I am your correspondent, not your mother-in-law. Quite the contrary, the sexual free-for-all ends up having very little to do with sex, but the removal of self-denial from the public consciousness. As world-controller Mustafa Mond asserts:
“[I]ndustrial civilization is only possible when there’s no self-denial. Self-indulgence up to the very limits imposed by hygiene and economics. Otherwise the wheels stop turning… But chastity means passion, chastity means neurasthenia. And passion and neurasthenia mean instability. And instability means the end of civilization. You can’t have a lasting civilization without plenty of pleasant vices.”
And we have plenty of those, don’t we? Vices. Distractions. We’re so completely surrounded by them we hardly think to consider what they’re doing to us as a culture, as lovers, as friends, as people. How many hours have you spent passively watching something this week? I’m sitting at around 24, and it’s only Wednesday — in case you were feeling attacked. We are encouraged and incentivized to do things that are comfortable and easy. And because of this, large companies who do not love us have found ways to monetize us all.
I do not have a definitive solution to counteract these trends. Each year more money is in fewer hands than the year before. The stock market is at record highs while real wages haven’t increased in 40 years. Some people want revolutions, some want to double down and insist that it’s the breaks on the car which are making the ride uncomfortable. However, your correspondent places Brave New World on his shelf concerned that the die has long since been cast. Perhaps the turning wheels Mustafa referred to — wheels that now have labels like Amazon, Chevron, GE, Kellogg’s — have reached terminal velocity.
I’ve written precious little about the plot of Brave New World. I suppose this is because the actual narrative gives me very little hope for our own predicament. The only three characters who see any problem with the world as it is either are banished to remote islands, or are heinously ridiculed and hang themselves. I suppose I hold onto some small hope that our ship has not truly outgrown its rudder. I hope that perhaps there is still a braver newer world to be fought for and won, if we only knew how.