At the behest of one of my high school English teachers, who has become a great friend, I began reading Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. I was warned that this was going to be a strange book, and it most definitely was. The story followed a “defective” human born into dystopian England, where everything is highly controlled and individuality is crushed for the greater good. True emotions don’t exist, and so this human, named Bernard, finds it increasingly difficult to feel at home in society. Rampant sexual promiscuity and immense conditioning mean that people are almost always satisfied, even if artificially. Eventually, Bernard brings back a “savage” from New Mexico after vacation there, who proceeds to disrupt the order after increasing alienation. This tension culminates in his suicide, as his individuality and his restraints against merging into the crowd of uniformity both break down, breaking him down in the process.
What is interesting is that this shatters the archetypal antagonist role, as the World Controller responsible for this dystopia is revealed to be a sympathetic, yet unyielding personality. He is accepting, even encouraging of science, and believes in God. However, discussion of both of these topics is quashed for the sake of universal contentment, as he believes that these concepts cause passion, which results in instability and the degradation of the orderly society. As the introduction put it, it would introduce entropy into a system with none of it.
Another interesting concept that I’ve been taught to look for in high school is the concept of complexity, where binary opposites are broken down. Here, the savage brought over from New Mexico happens to be the son of a key figurehead in this dystopia, indicating that the lines between “civilization” and “savagery” are not so taut. In addition, this savage, named John, is in quite the dilemma. Although he was physically roughhoused in “savage” New Mexico, retention of his individuality and the ability to access books enabled him to feel comfortable where others wouldn’t expect it. While he was admired (superficially) in London, and his physical being was never compromised (by the people around him, of course), he couldn’t stand the inability to access knowledge, and the deprivation of the right to experience real emotions. In this civilized society, he feels especially out of place, and less than comfortable. This further blurs the lines, and also reinforces a concept I’ve learned from my urban planning course, and my experiences with a resilient grandmother in India: that what Westerners universally believe to be paradise and ideal isn’t necessary or desirable for other parts of the world.
A huge part of the repression stems from access to soma, a hallucinogenic drug that sends the users into a perpetual state of satisfaction and bliss. This drug is distributed as currency and used for leisure, and also serves as an antidepressant in low doses. As such, it serves to tame the more aggressive impulses of humans (which already have been suppressed at the embryonic stage), and it largely responsible for the uniformity and low levels of rebelliousness found in society. The drug mimics a modern-day epidemic, such as those with opioids, as addictions build and withdrawal seems to be incredibly difficult. The concept of suppressing a mass with this kind of drug is reminiscent of the introduction of crack and other such drugs into Chicago and other cities, almost as a way of quelling resistance from those communities and ensuring that improving socioeconomic status is halted. In this way, while this book was meant to reflect the society of the 1940’s, it reflects problems that we see today, as Huxley was known to incorporate ideas of the time (such as Ford’s recently established transcontinental factories, and the Mullerian discovery of cancer-inducing X-rays) into his novels for impact. This book was incredibly strange, and did not leave me with a sense of satisfaction. However, it presented a vast set of ideas that have left me much to reflect on, and whether happiness is truly better than overcoming tragedy in places that cannot afford to deal with hardships as of yet.