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2008, Brave New World?

Aldous Huxley talking about "Brave New World" and "1984"




Brave New World is a 1932 novel by Aldous Huxley. Set in London in 2540 AD, the novel anticipates developments in reproductive technology, biological engineering, and sleep-learning that combine to change society. Huxley answers this book with a reassessment in an essay, Brave New World Revisited (1958), and with his final work, a novel titled Island (1962). The world the novel describes is a utopia, albeit an ironic one: humanity is carefree, healthy and technologically advanced. Warfare and poverty have been eliminated and everyone is permanently happy due to government-provided stimulation.

The irony is that all of these things have been achieved by eliminating many things that humans consider to be central to their identity — family, culture, art, literature, science, religion (other than idolization of "our Ford", Henry Ford, who is seen as the father of their society), and philosophy. It is also a hedonistic society, deriving pleasure from promiscuous sex and drug use, especially soma, a powerful psychotropic taken to escape pain and bad memories through hallucinatory fantasies, referred to as "Holidays". Additionally, stability has been achieved and is maintained via deliberately engineered and rigidly enforced social stratification.

Brave New World is Huxley's most famous novel. The ironic title comes from Miranda's speech in Shakespeare's The Tempest, Act V, Scene I:

"O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is!
O brave new world
That hath such people in't!"

From the Guardian: 'Everybody is happy now'

In the latter half of the 20th century, two visionary books cast their shadows over our futures. One was George Orwell's 1949 novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, with its horrific vision of a brutal, mind-controlling totalitarian state - a book that gave us Big Brother and thought crime and news peak and the memory hole and the torture palace called the Ministry of Love and the discouraging spectacle of a boot grinding into the human face forever.

The other was Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932), which proposed a different and softer form of totalitarianism - one of conformity achieved through engineered, bottle-grown babies and hypnotic persuasion rather than through brutality, of boundless consumption that keeps the wheels of production turning and of officially enforced promiscuity that does away with sexual frustration, of a pre-ordained caste system ranging from a highly intelligent managerial class to a subgroup of dim-witted serfs programmed to love their menial work, and of soma, a drug that confers instant bliss with no side effects.

Which template would win, we wondered. During the cold war, Nineteen Eighty-Four seemed to have the edge. But when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, pundits proclaimed the end of history, shopping reigned triumphant, and there was already lots of quasi-soma percolating through society. True, promiscuity had taken a hit from Aids, but on balance we seemed to be in for a trivial, giggly, drug-enhanced spend-o-rama: Brave New World was winning the race.

That picture changed, too, with the attack on New York's twin towers in 2001. Thought crime and the boot grinding into the human face could not be got rid of so easily, after all. The Ministry of Love is back with us, it appears, though it's no longer limited to the lands behind the former iron curtain: the west has its own versions now.

On the other hand, Brave New World hasn't gone away. Shopping malls stretch as far as the bulldozer can see. On the wilder fringes of the genetic engineering community, there are true believers prattling of the gene-rich and the gene-poor - Huxley's alphas and epsilons - and busily engaging in schemes for genetic enhancement and - to go one better than Brave New World - for immortality.

Would it be possible for both of these futures - the hard and the soft - to exist at the same time, in the same place? And what would that be like?

Surely it's time to look again at Brave New World and to examine its arguments for and against the totally planned society it describes, in which "everybody is happy now". What sort of happiness is on offer, and what is the price we might pay to achieve it?

(...) To quote The Tempest, source of Huxley's title: "We are such stuff / As dreams are made on." He might well have added: "and nightmares".

Soma quotes:

"Surprisingly, as every one thought (for on soma-holiday Linda was most conveniently out of the way), John raised objections.

"But aren't you shortening her life by giving her so much?"

"In one sense, yes," Dr. Shaw admitted. "But in another we're actually lengthening it." The young man stared, uncomprehending. "Soma may make you lose a few years in time," the doctor went on. "But think of the enormous, immeasurable durations it can give you out of time. Every soma-holiday is a bit of what our ancestors used to call eternity."


"In the end John was forced to give in. Linda got her soma. Thenceforward she remained in her little room on the thirty-seventh floor of Bernard's apartment house, in bed, with the radio and television always on, and the patchouli tap just dripping, and the soma tablets within reach of her hand - there she remained; and yet wasn't there at all, was all the time away, infinitely far away, on holiday; on holiday in some other world, where the music of the radio was a labyrinth of sonorous colours, a sliding, palpitating labyrinth, that led (by what beautifully inevitable windings) to a bright centre of absolute conviction; where the dancing images of the television box were the performers in some indescribably delicious all-singing feely; where the dripping patchouli was more than scent - was the sun, was a million saxophones, was Popé making love, only much more so, incomparably more, and without end."

"Hug me till you drug me, honey;
Kiss me till I'm in a coma;
Hug me, honey, snuggly bunny;
Love's as good as soma."


"Don't you want to be free and men? Don't you even understand what manhood and freedom are?" Rage was making him fluent; the words came easily, in a rush. "Don't you?" he repeated, but got no answer to his question. "Very well then," he went on grimly. "I'll teach you; I'll make you be free whether you want to or not." And pushing open a window that looked on to the inner court of the Hospital, he began to throw the little pill-boxes of soma tablets in handfuls out into the area."

For a moment the khaki mob was silent, petrified, at the spectacle of this wanton sacrilege, with amazement and horror."


"Because our world is not the same as Othello's world. You can't make flivvers without steel-and you can't make tragedies without social instability. 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, or lovers to feel strongly about; 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. Which you go and chuck out of the window in the name of liberty, Mr. Savage. Liberty!" He laughed. "Expecting Deltas to know what liberty is! And now expecting them to understand Othello! My good boy!"

SOMA
The word "soma" has four distinct meanings:

1. The plant, or the intoxicating juice of the plant, used in ancient Indian religious ceremonies. Inevitably, given the Indian tradition, the plant and its juice were personified as a god, Soma.

2. The imaginary "ideal pleasure drug" in Aldous Huxley's novel Brave New World (1932). Its chemistry and pharmacology are undefined. As described, the drug resembles a hangover less tranquilliser or an opiate.

3. "Soma" is the most common brand name of the muscle-relaxant carisoprodol, otherwise known as N-isopropyl-2-methyl-2-propyl-1,3-propanediol dicarbamate. Soma is marketed by Royce Laboratories, Inc; it was FDA-licensed in 1996. Soma/carisoprodol is broken down in the body into the active metabolite meprobamate. Meprobamate is a Schedule IV sedative-hypnotic, an anticonvulsant and anxiolytic muscle relaxant. It was first marketed in the USA from 1955 under the brand name Miltown as an anti-anxiety agent. The "miracle drug" of its era, Miltown was immortalised by the Rolling Stones as "Mother's Little Helper".

4. the body of an animal or plant excluding the germ cells.

Visions into the Future







External Links


Online edition of Brave New World

1957 video interview with Huxley as he reflects on his life work and especially Brave New World

Scholarly essay/article on Brave New World

Aldous Huxley: Bioethics and Reproductive Issues

A Defense of Paradise-Engineering. A critical review of Huxley's novel by David Pearce.

A Brave New World-themed discussion forum.

Brave New World Revisited





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