Brave New World is a profound literary work that encompasses themes of philosophical discourse, projection of societies in the future, the impact of technology on human relations, etc. The major theme in the novel, however, is the link between dystopian societies and an underlying technocratic socio-political order. Huxley uses conflict and control in the realms of politics, human relations, culture and technology to showcase all the malefic aspects of a technocracy. This essay will flesh out this thesis in detail.
One of the constant undercurrents in Brave New World is the dehumanizing effects of technological progress. It would be simplistic and false to blame technology per se for the situation, for there is a political angle to it as well. In other words, if sophisticated technology is wielded by powerful political institutions for vested gains then the results can be disastrous for humanity. Eugenics and scientific planning are two good examples of technology exceeding its optimal usage. The twin biosocial concepts of Eugenics and scientific planning of population growth are not self-evidently evil. In fact, at the time of the writing of Brave New World, they were seen as progressive ideas. Huxley’s own essays from the period show the author to be more sympathetic to these concepts than commonly believed. Hence it is fair to make a claim that Huxley’s veiled objections in the novel were against a politicized use of technology. In this regard, the conflict being deliberated by Huxley is a political one. Brave New World “offers a sophisticated critique of how scientific knowledge emerges from and in turn serves the social, political, and economic agendas of those in power” (Congdon, 2011)
Although the novel suggests that advanced science poses a great threat to human welfare, its major critique is directed against political ideologies that purport to exploit it. The conflict being played out is one between democracy (in its most liberal sense) and technocracy (in its most oppressive manifestation). Given Huxley’s ambiguous stance on the bioengineering and planning, one can see the novel as “an imaginative engagement with the contemporary scientific debate surrounding the role of eugenics and scientific planning in the future of society”. (Congdon, 2011) The five layered caste society of the Brave New World is a troubling example of abuse of high technology. The Alphas are the social and political elites. The other four castes (Beta through Epsilon) play a role subordinate and subservient to the designs of the ruling caste. The pity is that those unfortunate enough to be born into lower castes have no way of climbing up the social order. Their range of possibilities are limited – not after their birth through mental conditioning – but even before they were incubated through genetic engineering. Further,
“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 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 …” (Chapter 2, p.16)
Sadly, some of Huxley’s apprehensions regarding technocratic society have already become true. There is a well recognized correlation between political oppression and sexual escapism. The ever growing pornographic industry of recent decades hints at the decline in political freedoms across societies. Pornography is a social revolution of sorts and it has grown to a $10 billion industry of late. Receipts from pornographic video rentals offer a sobering illustration of this: “In 1985, rental of hardcore smut videos generated an estimated $79 million; by 2001, that figure had increased nearly tenfold, to $759 million…approximately 25,000 video stores in the United States now rent and sell hard-core films.” (Grigg, 2003)
The explosion in pornography is eerily reminiscent of the sexual promiscuity prevalent in Brave New World. Just as “everyone belongs to everyone else” in the novel, porn is an egalitarian enterprise at one level. One could celebrate the liberty, fraternity and equality witnessed in porn if only one could momentarily forget the commercialization and gender oppression that is intrinsic to it. In the novel, promiscuous sex, intoxicating drink ‘soma’, and mock religious orgies were devised to adapt the population to accept the social order they’ve inherited. The masterminds of society, the technocrats, who are mostly from the highest caste, do not want the population to engage in critical thinking or independent action – “When the individual feels, the community reels” (Chapter 6, p.78) These offerings of hedonism are an easy substitute to confronting real issues, be they political, cultural or interpersonal. But access to unlimited pleasure of this form is actually a mechanism through which the population is controlled and made to serve the established order. In this respect, one could see why porn, despite its appeal to an individual’s sense of liberty, choice and equality is actually a force mitigating these values. As World Controller of Western Europe, Mustapha Mond, chillingly observes
“The world’s stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can’t get. They’re well off; they’re safe; they’re never ill; they’re not afraid of death; they’re blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; they’re plagued with no mothers or fathers; they’ve got no wives, or children…they’re so conditioned that they practically can’t help behaving as they ought to behave. And if anything should go wrong, there’s soma.” (Chapter 16, p.220)
By allowing a citizen to realize his fantasies in the pornographic world, he/she is distracted from attempting meaningful changes in the real life. Hence conflict and control is at the core of the rampant hedonism of Brave New World and the porn culture of real contemporary world. The lines of conflict are drawn between the individual and the ruling elite in both cases. Superficial pleasure is offered as a bait to keep the individual’s attention away from the reality of his/her own existence. Huxley endorsed this role of sex in his preface to the 1948 edition of the novel. He wrote,