Monday, March 2, 2009

Happiness in The Brave New World

I'm confident Alanis Morrisette would agree as to the awful irony that I made it though high school and college (and even seminary!) without ever reading Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. How could I miss this classic tome on such great themes as human freedom, societal niche, the role of "rational" science and technology as it relates to and yea, "debunks" history, religion, family, emotion, and other "irrational" aspects of human life? Huxley's prophetic vision draws out the logical outworking of a world that has removed these latter nuances of our existence in order to create a "utopia" where people only feel strongly about the World State motto: Community, Identity, Stability. (Makes me wonder if Huxley was a premillennialist).

But "progress" is what Brave New World is all about, with an aim to make everyone happy. "Everyone's happy now," is a mantra that members of society tell themselves, only because they've been conditioned to think so through sleep-education, or hypnopaedia. Happiness is the goal. Happiness defeats suffering. Happiness eliminates war, crime, and selfishness. The sentiment is brought to bear by one of the Controllers, Mustapha Mond. Mustapha is one of ten people in charge of the brave, new world. In order to keep people happy, Mond and others have created this so-called utopia by eliminating history, the Bible, Shakespeare, families, monogamous relationships, and other traditional forms of society.

First, the reason for this is that if people "feel strongly," says Mond, about their families, then this would create a disjunct in the World State motto of Community. In other words, people's allegiances would be divided between family and state. Secondly, if people feel strongly about Literature, the Bible and history, they would be encouraged to think individualistically. This would lead to a disruption of the World State motto concerning communal Identity. Finally, for people to know history and the Bible, and to love Literature, they would know something about their origins, as well as their purpose, morality and destiny (to borrow from Ravi Zacharias). In this latter case, Stability is eliminated from the progress toward the sought-after utopia because individuals would have divergent theories upon how community and identity are defined. Where does one get his or her identity--from the Bible, from a different history, from the sonnets of Shakespeare? With these things eliminated from the world, and replaced with one, true story, the people have solidarity--they have Stability.

Contentedness, in the Brave New World, is wrought by means of artificial happiness. Instead of choosing a career, people have it chosen for them. Instead of having freedom of choice, people are conditioned to think a certain way about who they are and the work they do: "I'm really awfully glad I'm a Beta, because I don't work so hard." Mustapha Mond, in his justification of the lack of freedom and conventions of society long-held throughout history ("History is bunk!" he says), affirm to the Brave New World's antagonist and romantic poet John the Savage,

"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 the window in the name of liberty, Mr. Savage. Liberty!"
Mond's realism is that man is a helpless person capable only of submitting to his heredity and environment. He therefore adjusts the nature and nurture of man to produce a Utopian state of affairs where everyone's "needs" are met, hence why he can affirm the ubiquitous happiness of all. We should key in on Mond's last comment of soma. Soma is a drug that aids people to escape from the stress and care of life, with no hangovers. Soma is taken daily, in order to keep happiness at its prime level, and it never fails. Almost never...
In addition to soma, other means of "happiness" are Solidarity Groups which culminate in orgy porgy sex romps, casual, elicit sex with whomever one likes, sports, and...feelies. Feelies are a type of movie in which all five senses are stimulated: aromatic spices fill the air as one sits in a chair with both hands on silver knobs which emit electric impulses. A film is seen, and music fills the air along with the aforementioned herbs and spices. It is a virtual reality. With all five senses in tact it makes for perfect entertainment after a carefree, stress-free, leisurely day at work. Top it off with a gramme of soma and some casual sex, and life is good.
The price for all of this of course, is an objection to which John the Savage points abjectly. Referring to the feelies, and supporting Shakespeare's Othello as superior, John says, "But they don't mean anything." In other words, the feelies are films with "nothing to say." They are meaningless. Soma is meaningless. No family means meaninglessness. Not thinking independently means conforming to mindlessness and simply "giving up." Savage retorts, "But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin...I'm claiming the right to be unhappy."
Huxley's vision of the future is one where people would freely give up their own freedom for the sake of comfort and happiness. Differently, in the Brave New World, people have their freedom taken away, but they are placated of this crime with the grand purpose of personal happiness in mind. Happiness and comfort the goal, it is pursued by means of enjoyable work and physical pleasure. Both of these fall under the category of Experience. In Huxley's dystopia, human existence finds its meaning in fulfilling personal experience through the senses. The life of the mind is absent: there are no books, nor is there a need for one. The life of the body is extravagant: there is soma, there are feelies, there are Solidarity Groups with orgy-porgy, and there is perfect contentedness in work and social status. But, according to John, there is no meaning in all of this. There is no poetry, no religion, no family, no danger or strife or sin. John would rather have the problem of pain--per C.S. Lewis--along with the joys and happiness of life, than to have pure comfort but no freedom.
Huxley has much to say to us today. We Americans chase so many idols of comfort: the constant barrage we engulf oursevles in--mass media entertainment in tv, movies, internet, ipods, cell phones, and whatever hand-held devices we have. When was the last time you sat in silence? How often do you need a drink or a smoke? "Everything in moderation," but "I will not be mastered by anything." Must you have the tv on at home, or is sitting with a good book sufficient? Are you John the Savage, or Mustapha Mond?

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