Oh Brave New World That Has Such People In It
by Ian R Thorpe.
CREATIVE COMMONS: Attribute, non commercial, no derivs.
KEYWORDS: science, scientists, Huxley, Orwell, Thought Police, politically correct, authority, authoritarian, government, social, revolution, consoumption, drug, genetically engineered, sex, nature, human, tyranny>P>
Since I started to write to write satirical blogs on the frequent reports and studies about breakthroughs in cloning, transhumanism, creation genetically modified humans and the mandating of drug use (most worryingly anti - depressants) that are thrown at us every day, the misinformation and disinformation that comes out of certain branches of the scientific community I have often been told us ordinary punters "cannot understand science because you are not scientists." It has occurred to me several times as I wrote of plans to put anti–depressants in water, to withhold medical treatment from those who self harm by having a cheese sandwich containing demonised but nutritionally essential saturated fats and a beer replete with the demon alcohol rather than Big Pharma approved happy pills and to fiddle about with the genome to produce a race of perfect beings, that I ought to do an article on Brave New World, Aldous Huxley’s 1930s novel of a technological utopia.
In common with Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four, forever imprinted on the minds of my generation because of the cover image of a military boot grinding on a human face, Brave New World was a novel that changed the way we viewed the world we lived in. In many ways it inspired aspects of the social revolution of the 1960s as people shrugged off the social controls that had imposed such restrictive conventions on western society.
Now of course the bright young things of the sixties are just boring old farts and people are tricked into conformity by promises of ever improving material benefits if they will only sustain constant economic growth. Consumerism has replaced patriotism in binding us into slavery.
Having become famous in the Nineteen Twenties with his witty and intellectually provocative novels Aldous Huxley was still highly rated when his death on November 22 1963 was somewhat overshadowed by the assassination of President J. F. Kennedy. The Kennedy story filled news and comment columns for weeks and Huxley's reputation was denied the boost that would have launched his posthumous career as a writer ranking alongside the giants of twentieth century literature such as Stein beck, Hemingway, Lawrence and Orwell, to name a few.
In the years Huxley was at his peak, the world 'liberal' had not been hijacked by politically correct authoritarianism and public debate featured a wide range of opinions. This worked in Huxley's favour because his novels and stories became conversation pieces due to the challenging nature of the ideas he expressed. Most of the characters practised the arts or aspired to do so and while some were standard Liberals others flirted with fascism and communism. Often several scientists would feature among Huxley's cast, giving the writer opportunity to explore the contradictions of science, such as the ethical questions surrounding eugenics (which was not invented by the Nazis, but by well intentioned liberal democrats).
The interest in science was not surprising, the gulf between the arts and the sciences had not at that time grown so wide and Aldous Huxley was the grandson of T H Huxley, an evangelist for Charles Darwin's theory of evolution and known as Darwin’s bulldog.
Even if Huxley's death had not been eclipsed in news coverage, his popularity might not have survived the social revolution of the nineteen sixties, we have moved on from the issues that inspired him, his prose can seem wordy and pretentious and his characters twee.
One book from his oeuvre has survived as a twentieth century classic. This is Brave New World the vision of a dystopian future under a benign but dehumanising oligarchic scientific dictatorship, which Huxley regarded as something of a throwaway. Brave New World was written in the space of a month, but is now compared to Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, the writing of which exhausted Orwell so much it is said to have led to his early death. Both are visions of a future under totalitarian governments.
Orwell saw a world dominated by three superstates, engaged in permanent warfare, with populations kept in line by constant surveillance and a brutal secret police, The Thought Police. Huxley offered us a world government (The Controllers) who keep a largely infantilised population in line by supplying all needs plus rations of a happy drug Soma. Certain territories designated as reservations for “savages” who think, feel and behave like people of the 20th century, in other words they are still recognisable human beings. They quarrel, fight, women menstruate and give birth and they must struggled through life relying on their own devices without the protective embrace of Nanny State.
In Huxley's world the population is divided from before birth (through in - vitro gestation in baby farms where each individual foetus passes along a conveyor belt and in programmed and fed controlled doses of nutrients appropriate to each of the five castes and their sub castes (from Alpha+ down to Epsilon- semi moron), everything is geared to contentment; every individual is conditioned to be satisfied with his or her lot.
Families – the breeding grounds of cultural values, love, aspiration, and conflict – have been abolished. Sex is recreational, without emotional commitment (much as 'liberals' in the education system are now teaching pupils it ought to be) and the people are empty and emotionally disconnected. The drug "soma" induces a mind-state of empty bliss.
Modern readers are likely to confused by the prominence Huxley gives to the motor manufacturer Henry Ford (Our Ford, Ford's in his flivver and all's well with the world), the presiding deity of the Brave New World. Ford was the pioneer of assembly-line manufacture in Detroit, they conveyor belt in the baby factory bears more than a passing resemblance to the lines where Fords from the Model T to the Mustang and onwards were built. Huxley was not "anti - progress" as many people today are dubbed when challenging the notion that everything new is better than what existed before, but he was not alone in being alarmed by the directions in which science and technology were taking humanity; think of Chaplin’s film Modern Times.
It is no coincidence that what Ford wrote in his autobiography of "the nature of the conveyor belt labour force" is strikingly coincidental with Brave New World’s Alpha-Epsilon caste system”. Huxley did not foresee the human feeders of the conveyor belt monster being displaced by robots and becoming a vast unemployed or semi employed underclass. But when one thinks of the depersonalised nature of call-centre work, those sales bots who all day, every day, answer customer calls by reading out a script from which they may not depart on pin of dismissal, one may be inclined to say, "plus ca change, plus c'est le meme chose," (the more that changes, the more this is the same thing).
Huxley's Brave New World with its compulsory drug doses, genetic engineering to produce social classes from A to E (Epsilon semi-moron aka chav) so reminiscent of toady’s ABC1 social classifications that have replaced the old aristocracy, and upper and lower middle classes although in depicting the lower classes as brutish and ignorant, Huxley makes the same mistake as many social scientists have done in overlooking the rich and varied sub cultures of the working classes. Ignore those details and how like the world in this first decade of the twenty first century Huxley's vision sounds with a level of sexual liberation that deems it bad manners to refuse to have sex with anybody who offers, it’s genetically engineered “pneumatic” women, psychological manipulation, constant pressure to consume and deep suspicion of any sign of individualism.
The portrayal of the dystopic utopia is accurate though. We do seem to be blundering towards a version of that society. Messing about with nature is never a good idea.
"Oh brave new world that has such people in it" is a line from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. One of Shakespeare's later plays (probably his last), The Tempest is often said to be they text in which Shakespeare abandons his gift for writing as he senses his talents will wane, but is also interpreted as an extended metaphor for the replacement of the old, easy going, humanistic values of England's pastoral society by the much more dogmatic attitudes of the protestant reformation (anyone who knows a little about English society before the rise of Puritanism is permitted a wry smile at this notion). Either interpretation could be correct and probably both are because Shakespeare was nothing if not multi-layered and we can only guess at what was in his mind.
“The theme of BNW,” Huxley himself wrote in a foreword to the 1946 edition, "is the advancement of science as it affects human individuals, the application of the results of future research in biology, physiology and psychology." This application, he concluded, would lead to "totalitarianism… in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude". Scaremongering? The idea of a Scientific Dictatorship was not new even then, having been first suggested by British author H G Wells in the closing years of the nineteenth century and taken up by others including mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell and businessman Vannevar Bush, social scientists Herman Kahn and numerous others.
Surely this is the stuff on conspiracy Theorists you might well complain. Perhaps. But then when you think of the rise of China: Community, Identity, Stability, Nazi Germany, eugenics and the creation of the perfect race, The Soviet Union with its Five Year Plans and social engineering projects ...
Huxley also commented that some features of his "happier and more stable world are probably only three or four generations away" and said “ nor does the sexual promiscuity of BNW seem so very far distant. As political and economic freedom diminishes, sexual freedom tends compensatingly to increase.”
It is perhaps comforting that neither Huxley nor Orwell anticipated the irresponsibility of global corporations, the incompetence of the political establishment, the ability of academics and scientists to alienate public opinion or the possibilities for sharing information offered by the internet. These things in combination seem poised to derail the process of establishing a global government that Our Ford and others set in train. Dystopian vision are alarms triggered by current trends. There is enough truth in Huxley’s vision to put us on our guard. Community, Identity and Stability are all words bandied about today as in the centuries AF (“After Ford”), the drug culture and sexual licence are rampant. And yet, in the English speaking world at least, intellectualism is despised. It may be fine to describe a fashion designers latest attempt to mock the human for as "ironic and subversive" but people shy way from those who express ironic and subversive ideas. So Huxley’s legacy is more alive than that of the man whose death overshadowed his. Ars longa, vita brevis as the saying goes.
But you don't have to take my word for any of this, read Huxley’s novel of benign totalitarianism,the kind that might buy complicity from an increasingly docile population by supplying drugs and material benefits according to status so that to misquote the book, the lower orders came to love their servitude.Brave New World for yourself.
Because some people feel recent blogs have painted a very negative picture of the sciences, I have promised to set the record straight by writing a post showing that I am quite a fan actually (as you would expect from someone whose career was in computers) It is the arseholes who approach science like a zealot approaches religion that get up my nose.
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