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  • Yehoshua Paul

1932 - Brave New World

1932. The world’s leaders are in a quandary. Tens of millions of people around the world are unemployed and hungry. In Britain, Neville Chamberlain cuts the defense budget. In Germany, Adolf Hitler blames the Jews, and in the United States, President Herbert Hoover does next to nothing.

Hoover does not believe in direct government aid to citizens. He advocates for volunteer philanthropists to come forward and help combat the worst effects of the economic slump. After hearing this message for three years, Franklin D. Roosevelt volunteers to come forward and replace Hoover as President. The American people agree, and in 1932 Roosevelt and his New Deal are voted into power.

Roosevelt is just one of many working hard to make a difference. In Chicago, Al Capone operates soup kitchens throughout the entire city -- until he is jailed for tax evasion. And, in Detroit, Henry Ford signs an agreement with the Soviet Union to construct the Gorki automotive plant, resulting in many Americans agreeing to relocate and live under Stalin’s rule. Within a year the factory begins producing the GAZ-A passenger car, and the GAZ-AA light truck, both of which are immediately adopted for military use. Ford’s move is a clear example of a Malthusian decision paying off, making him worthy of deification; something which will take a little over 600 years to accomplish. In the meantime, to get the wheels rolling, Aldous Huxley publishes Brave New World, temporarily canonizing Ford, until the pope reads the book.

Aldous Huxley (1894 – 1963) was an English writer and philosopher who authored more than 50 books in a wide-range of categories: satire, dystopia, utopia, non-fiction, and poetry. Huxley was a humanist and pacifist. His interests included mysticism and universalism, which he addressed in works, such as The Perennial Philosophy (1945), a comparative study on the common ground between Eastern and Western Mysticism; and The Doors of Perception (1954), a book that interprets Huxley’s psychedelic experiences while under the influence of the drug Mescaline. Huxley was nominated for the Nobel prize in literature seven times, and by the end of his life he was considered to be one of the foremost intellectuals of his time.

Throughout his life, Huxley had a love-hate relationship with the United States. In 1918, at age 24, Huxley, predicted that one of the more deplorable consequences of the Great War would be ‘The inevitable acceleration of American world domination’. In 1926, he visited the country for the first time and was almost thrilled to discover that the country with its flappers, ‘barbarous’ jazz, unrelenting pep, and non-stop consumerism was as vulgar and freakish as he imagined; making him even more depressed about the prospects of European civilization. This fear of the spread of the American way of life was one of the original reasons, Huxley decided to write a parody of the future. However, the Wall Street Crash of 1929 changed his perspective. Britain was on the verge of chaos as a result of the mass unemployment and the Parliament’s incompetence in dealing with it. Huxley (and many of his contemporaries) began to believe that it was time to abandon parliamentary democracy and submit to rule ‘by men who will compel us to do and suffer what a rationalist foresight demands’. He called for the implementation of a national plan, similar to the first five year plan that was being implemented in Soviet Russia. In 1931, Huxley organized a second trip to America (six years before he permanently relocates to Los Angeles) to confirm his worst fears: the American takeover was no longer just inevitable, it was also necessary for world stability. Brave New World is Huxley’s satirical interpretation of that future, a future in which after much careful planning we are all genetically engineered and emotionally conditioned to happily adopt a consumerist way of life.

First edition cover

The future described in the book takes place in the World State city of London, in 632 AF (After Ford first mass-produced the Model T-Ford). In this era, the world population is controlled at a fixed two billion. All civilized humans are mass-produced in hatcheries, where advanced in efficiency result in seventy two to ninety six humans produced from each egg. During the fertilization process, the embryos are divided into alphas, betas, gammas, deltas and epsilons -- five classes of human beings, who each undergo a separate form of genetic engineering. The Alphas are the upper classes, given the greatest level of intelligence and physical capabilities, while the epsilons are dumb midgets whose job is to turn the screws in the factories. After being born, the children undergo hypnopaedia (sleep conditioning) to emotionally condition them for their roles in society. It's a society in which nature is abhorred, except as a location for competitive sports, such as obstacle golf; waste and consumption are encouraged for the betterment of society; books, history, and flowers are discouraged (through electroshock therapy administered to toddlers); and erotic entertainment from age zero is a healthy past-time. In fact, abstinence is actively discouraged and considered extremely impolite. Movies have been replaced with “feelies”, and all religious ceremonies to the all-mighty Ford include orgies, in which Soma, a happiness produced drug with no negative side effects is distributed. Women in this society are either born sterile, or conditioned to take regular contraceptives, which they carry in their fashionable Maltusian belts, and all clothes have zippers so that they can be more easily removed. This is a society in which everyone is happy, and those who are not take Soma, until the negative feelings pass.

The story is told through the perspective of several characters: Bernard Marx, an alpha-plus psychologist who suffers from an inferiority complex because he’s shorter than average; Lenina Crowne, a young promiscuous fetus technician who briefly dates Marx; John, a young man accidentally born and raised on a savage reservation who is given permission to return with his mother to civilization; and Mustapha Mond, one of the ten directors who control the world.

Marx is dissatisfied with his role in life. He views himself as an outcast because he’s short, a view which is reinforced by the constant snubs he receives from society as a result of his stature. Marx is openly critical of how society runs, and thinks he is capable of doing things better. He takes Lenina on a vacation to a savage reservation where he encounters John and his mother. John reared on technical manuals and Shakespeare is desires to see what true civilization is like, and his mother is desperate for Soma. After receiving permission, Marx brings the two of them back to London, where his popularity soars as a result of his friendship with the “Savage”. John, on the other hand, discovers that his innocent Shakespearean expectations of society were vastly overrated (see trailer for theatrical adaptation.

The Omer today is eternity in grandeur. Eternity is oddly appropriate considering the futuristic aspect of Brave New World. Grandeur is harder to argue. There are several ways to look at this futuristic world. Many, if not most, will view it as a horrible dystopia, in which everything good in humanity has been corrupted. Others, Mostapha Mond being their champion, will argue that who are we to judge. The world the directors have created is stable and humanity is happy. If in the process, high art, books, and knowledge of history need to be sacrificed, it’s a price worth paying to eliminate misfortune from the world. A world in which all tragedy and suffering have been eliminated is a grand thing indeed worthy of celebrating. For me the grandeur of this story lies in the questions it provokes, the criticisms it raises, and also in the shock it induces. The fact that to this very day, people are still debating whether we are closer or not to becoming Brave New World, 1984 or We shows that the story is still eternal, and worthy of being retold from one generation to the next.

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