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Aldous Huxley's Brave New World: A Critique of Modern Society
The Brave New World - Book Overview and Thoughts
“Brave New World” was one of those books that my father always insisted I read when I was a child. This would happen if I was bored or couldn’t just enjoy the moment, as if I needed to be continually stimulated and entertained.
For years, I refused to read it, primarily because the copy we had at home was an old version given to him by his mother, and thus, it was unappealing to me as a child.
That being said, I recently realized that I had read this book a few years ago without realizing it was the same book that my father had insisted I read, mainly because my father had a Spanish translation, “Un Mundo Feliz” or “A Happy World” in English.
I must say that the Spanish name is significantly more accurate than the English one, and I’ll explain why today.
“Brave New World” is an iconic dystopian novel written by Aldous Huxley, that was released in 1932. The novel is set in a future world that is entirely controlled by the government and is founded on the ideals of “Fordism,” a mass production and consumption system named after the automobile entrepreneur Henry Ford.
The novel takes the concept of mass production from capitalism and applies it to biology. People in this society are divided into different groups based on genetic predisposition and manipulation by humans from birth. Manipulation is only reserved for the lower classes; the gammas, deltas, and epsilons, who are the lowest class and frequently work as servants. These lower classes are unaware of their limitations and are pleased with their duties. This process’s principal purpose is to stabilize society and establish predetermined hierarchies.
Another crucial aspect of this story, which I would want to highlight, is that it shows a world in which pleasure and consumption are prioritized over spiritual or intellectual pursuits.
If I had to choose between “1984” and “Brave New World” to compare our present culture, I would unquestionably choose the latter.
Some may say that it is similar to “1984,” with its lack of privacy and suppression of opposing views. However, while there may be instances of censorship or suppression of certain ideas, it is not entirely correct to suggest that our current reality is entirely like “1984.”
While some people, mainly conservatives, may argue that certain views are being suppressed, it is important to acknowledge that all ideologies have the potential to become intolerant. The goal of those advocating for more diversity of ideas, however, is not to permanently repress opposing viewpoints, but rather to make room for a broader range of opinions, including those that were historically suppressed and have always existed. This may involve temporarily prioritizing certain voices, but the end goal is to create a more inclusive and open society that reflects humanity’s diversity.
As for the privacy concern, I acknowledge it is an important issue that we may discuss another time, but it is not, in my opinion, as crucial as the one I am about to point out.
The reason I believe “Brave New World” is more relevant, and the Spanish term is significantly more appropriate, is because our current late capitalism, as stated by Slavoj Žižek, requires surplus-enjoyment for survival. Given that the system is predicated on the maintenance and creation of capital, the only way it can continue to exist is through the creation of new needs and desires beyond the satisfaction of basic needs.
In “Brave New World,” people are controlled by pleasure and distraction rather than propaganda or fear, as in “1984”. This is done through the administration of a drug known as Soma, that induces feelings of happiness and contentment in citizens while keeping them submissive and under control.
Consumption and hedonism are not mandated or enforced in our modern world, but rather offered as an “option” via highly sophisticated marketing methods, social norms, and economic systems that sublimely push capitalism’s consumption demands in order for the system to continue. In some ways, the government does not enforce it, but the system does, making it harder to realize and oppose.
To explain this, Žižek uses Coca-Cola as an example in his documentary film, The Pervert's Guide to Ideology, where the bottle becomes a desired and sought-after item; an object desired by people who come to see it as a magical and sublime object. The Coca-Cola bottle comes to symbolize the ultimate object of desire, a thing capable of providing infinite pleasure and joy.
For Žižek, this demonstrates how ideology tends to disguise the reality of our social and economic conditions. The Coca-Cola bottle represents a fantasy of enjoyment, one that is not based on reality but rather on ideology. The bottle is viewed as a magical thing capable of providing infinite joy and happiness, despite the fact that it is merely a mass-produced commodity used to keep the system operating.
People nowadays aren’t genetically predisposed to be constrained to certain duties or tasks, but we may argue that the system itself needs unemployment and actually seeks unemployment and low-level skill workers to keep wages low and maintain a competitive labor market.
If there were no unemployment or low-level jobs, workers would have greater bargaining power, and companies would have to give higher wages and better working conditions to attract and keep employees. In this view, a certain level of unemployment and low-level work is desirable, since it maintains workers in a more vulnerable position, making them more willing to accept lower wages and less than ideal working conditions.
In a sense, our system isn’t genetically predisposing people, but it provides the conditions for this to happen and seeks these imbalances in order to reduce costs, push profits and keep the system operating the way it should. This is why machines are frightening to the working class, but that is a discussion for another day.
What’s more, people nowadays are pushed to seek pleasure and happiness through material possessions and instant gratification rather than intellectual pursuits or other sorts of inner fulfillment. And any time spent not working or consuming is considered weird or inadequate.
Like, why aren’t you hustling? Why haven't you gotten the latest iPhone? Why?
We may argue that the only difference between this story and our world is that we have more control over what we do. We can consume if we so desire. This, however, does not change the fact that the system must operate in this way in order to stay in place. It needs lower wages, a certain level of unemployment and it needs people to consume.
In certain ways, we are being subliminally encouraged to take Soma and enjoy ourselves.
While many people have awakened to this, the vast majority of them remain, and will remain embracing this “Happy World.” Looking for and consuming from the “invisible” Soma that governs our present reality.
I encourage everyone to read this book and make some observations.
What else could we learn from it?
What else could it be said about it?
Would you agree that “Brave New World” is more relevant than “1984”? Or does our preference for one book over the other merely reflect our political views and beliefs?
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