Saturday 29 May 2010

Community, Identity, Stability

In the week following scientists' announcement of the development of the first living cell controlled by synthetic DNA, I finished reading Aldous Huxley's anti-Utopian novel Brave New World. A coincidence or a mere destiny, I was inspired to think about genetic engineering, technological development, and the advancement of science as it affects the life of human beings.

In the latter half of the 20th century two books have attempted to cast their predictions on our future. While George Orwell's 1984 portrays a form of hard brutal mind-controlling state of Totalitarianism, Huxley proposes a different, softer view, where technology helps achieve the three logos of the World State "Community, Identity, Stability"

Far in the future controllers have created the ideal society through genetic engineering, brainwashing and recreational use of sex and drugs. The standardized citizens are not born, but grown in hatcheries, where under careful hypnopaedia they are divided into a caste system and programmed to love their predestined social role. The inhabitants are beautiful, free, and secure from any diseases and worries, and if anything ever goes wrong, they have the drug soma to help them take a holiday from reality. Knowledge is limited to serve only the social role predetermined to the different caste systems - Alpha Plus individuals are prepared to be the future World Controllers, while lower classes such as Gamma and Delta are happy being servants and workers.

Huxley portrays a society of happy consumers, pleasure-seekers, and promiscuous conformists . Using brainwashing and genetic engineering since infancy individuals are programmed to love the virtues of passive obedience and limited knowledge and to enjoy a uncomplicated life, where everyone belongs to everyone else, where everything is available, but nothing has a real meaning. Sex and drugs are recreational and to commit to monogamy and fidelity is considered unnatural and ingeniously selfish. The only other alternative Huxley presents is living among the Savages, who live in terrible conditions of dirt, fear, diseases, anguish, blood, sweat, but still marry, love, worship, and have FREE WILL AND FREEDOM. The Savage, John, dreams of this "Brave New World", where people are happy and untroubled, but upon seeing it he realizes the artificiality, simplicity, and elementariness of this new world older.

Huxley ingeniously understands that in order to secure a stable totalitarian regime, people must not be forced, but instead programmed to love what they are doing. The Communist regime in Russian and the Nazi take over both began as Utopian visions but failed to create stability through coercion. In Brave New World Huxley offers community, identity, stability and eternal happiness but at what cost? Individuals are standardized to enjoy the limit of their knowledge, the pleasure of sex and drugs, and the carefree and untroubled life. Instead of fighting issues, pain, and anguish World Controllers simply eliminate them. Individuals do not have a free will, but the biggest issue is that they do not want a free will, do not dream of change, do not desire something different because they have been carefully programmed not to.

As scary and extreme as this sounds, one can inevitably question: "Are we that far from that state of life". As the recent scientific invention of artificial cell will allow the creation of good genetics and bad genetics, society will have the chance to design individuals in the way it sees fit. In his novel Huxley presents the inherent ambiguity of human kind: we indeed dream of eternal happiness, health, and sexual pleasures. In the same time, individuals still believe there is some meaning of life beyond simply enjoying it, that knowledge, worship, love, pain, and disease in their real sense contribute to making us really human. Because even though the Brave New World is perfect, it is far from human, as it deprives its members from the possibility of free choice, of real feelings, not constrained by drugs, and of real connection to another human being.


  1. I will definitely have to read that book then. What is worrying is that apart from the point about genetic engineering (and even it is coming true at least in terms of acquiring the necessary skills and knowledge to do it as you point out), quite a lot of the 'social engineering' towards such a world has taken place. I don't think we have Alpha Controllers merely because human complexity is beyond the ability of a single mind to understand it and control it, but in numerous other aspects the postmodern consumer society of fun is organised along similar ideas.
    - Ivo :)

  2. I strongly recommend reading it and especially comparing it to Orwell's 1984 as the two novels present opposite views about a controlled society. I don't know whether in the beginning of the 1930s Huxley knew how applicable his predictions are going to be in the 21st century. Indeed we are turning into a society of happy consumer and I am afraid that the advancement of technology will not bring about more freedom in terms of communication and possibilities, but will in fact result in a deepening human isolation. Not to mention that control will be facilitated. Who knows what life might be in 50 years...

  3. very interesting Lora