The novel Brave New World by Aldous Huxley tries to show us the extreme consequences of social planning. As Huxley makes it, it is a project begun in philosophy, and ending in a few philosophers exercising control over larger society in order to suppress philosophy among the generality. The remnant of philosophers has earned the wisdom that thinking is deleterious to human happiness and social stability. Therefore the overriding goal of the 27th century world community is to suppress the natural human inclinations.
In effect the community is only of the small coterie of philosophers at the helm, for the rest of humanity is maintained at a bestial level of existence by their machinations. They are bred artificially, and then raised through constant conditioning, all designed to make them function on their animal instincts alone, and so that they abhor the least tendency to reflection. All are made sexually sterile, and then encouraged to dwell on the sexual act with promiscuous abandon.
Care is taken that the promiscuous partners do not fall in love, for love arouses the noble tendencies, and theses are dangerous to the status quo. Otherwise, any substantial thought in nipped in the bud, for the inhabitants of this society are encouraged to take the soma drug at the least onset of a serious thought process. It has been worked out that a hierarchy is necessary for this society to function, and according a five-fold caste system has been applied to the make-up of this society – from the alphas and betas at the top, to the deltas and epsilons at the bottom.
The breeding and conditioning takes place according to this scheme. It is a triumph of logic, and yet it is also the death of the human. This conflict is the central theme of the novel. The opening section of the novel presents to us this theme variously and in poignant fashion. This essay carries out a linguistic analysis of the opening chapter, which sheds light on the overall theme. The general impression given is that society has progressed very far, so that logic and science have completely prevailed.
The Director of the Hatcheries is describing to some students the process of artificially breeding the citizens of this society. His account tells us that it is a highly advanced process, and the machinery seems to be functioning flawlessly. As he enters the fertilizing room, there are fifty Fertilizer staff immersed in their work, and so the group is met with a “scarcely breathing silence, the absentminded, soliloquising hum or whistle, of absorbed concentration” (Huxley 2004, p. 16). All the clues point to a highly sophisticated society working on the factory principle.
The factory principle is so esteemed years are counted from the year that the industrialist Henry Ford brought out his first mass-production car, the model T, which was in the year 1914. The present year is said to be 632 A. F. – the latter stands for “after Ford” (Ibid 15). But the factory is producing human beings. The cold calculation that is involved in this process reminds us of death rather than life. The suggestion is that the genesis of human being is also a process whereby humanity dies. Therefore, the general atmosphere painted is deathly, cold and uninspiring.
“A SQUAT grey building of only thirty-four stories” (Ibid, p. 15). describes the Hatcheries Central, and defines a drab setting, to juxtapose it against its momentous function. Winter conditions are maintained to preserve the eggs and the sperm, and winter is also intimated in a symbolic sense. “Wintriness responded to wintriness. The overalls of the workers were white, their hands gloved with a pale corpse-coloured rubber. The light was frozen, dead, a ghost” (Ibid). The general impression is that this is not a place of life, but of death.
The conflict is also between knowledge and ignorance. We are privy to a society where the excess of knowledge has begotten its antithesis, which is a will to ignorance. The society is based on a highly philosophical design, and yet the philosophy behind it is not supposed to be known by the citizens, because the entire object is to eradicate thinking. Thus the motto of World Society is emblazoned on the top of the entrance to the Hatcheries: “COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY” (Ibid). The only possible way for the entire world to live as one community is to suppress thought.
Individuality is encouraged, but only in so far as it pertains to action in particular, and eschews all generalizations that stems of thinking. “Not philosophers but fret-sawyers and stamp collectors compose the backbone of society,” we are told by the narrator (Ibid). “Identity” here means that one is able to fulfill one’s own immediate inclination or instinct. Stability is the result of this non-thinking and instinct-driven existence. In short, the plan is for a bestial existence, and one acquires stability just as a species of animal is stable in its jungle abode.
Yet the highest philosophy must coexist with this manufactured ignorance, because the ignorance must be manufactured by someone. The Director of the Hatcheries is among the tiny group of citizens that must know exactly what is going on, for they must process and maintain it. He is part of the highest caste, the Alphas, those who are privy to all knowledge. But the second highest caste, the Betas, must also have a working knowledge, because they take on the high supervisory roles of the running of this society. “Just to give you a general idea” (Ibid 16).
the Director is wont to say as he provides instruction to the Beta students. They are not supposed to know, yet they must be able to do their work properly, and with a modicum of intelligence. The knowledge that they are provided is just enough to keep them happy. They apply the knowledge towards the particular work that they have to do. If they do their work proficiently they have job satisfaction and financial reward, and ask for nothing beyond these. But the danger is that the knowledge is applied generally, and beyond the confines of the particular situation.
Such application of knowledge disrupts the whole pattern, and defeats the object of society. “For particulars, as every one knows,” the narrator tells us, describing the logic of the Director, “make for virtue and happiness; generalities are intellectually necessary evils” (Ibid). The last observation is told from the point of view of the Director, and it is significant that he describes generalities as “intellectually necessary evils”. This is admitting that evil has not been eradicated from this society. It is present in the process, especially in the thought process that engenders the entire system.
But the intellection that takes place is necessary, so it is not the philosophers at the helm who are evil. There is no indication in the novel that the World Controllers abuse the power that they have appropriated. They are portrayed as selfless, and as having no concern but the greatest good of society. They hold the secret knowledge that thought is evil, but the evil does not touch their own person, while they proceed with their intellectual designs on society. The evil is instead diffused throughout the system. The evil aspect of this society is the aggregate loss of humanity.
Happiness has been bought, but the price paid for it has been essential humanity. The gift of humanity is the greatest gift, and thus the price paid is the ultimate one. For all its apparent contentedness, this society is intrinsically inhuman, and the descriptions of the process taking place in the Hatcheries Central point towards an inhuman existence. “I shall begin at the beginning” (Ibid). This is how the Director begins his instruction, trying to manufacture a solemnity in keeping with the enormity of what is taking place, which is human genesis on a massive scale.
But his effort falls flat, and it seems nothing more than a facetious pun. We notice the same effort towards solemnity in all his words and gestures. But solemnity is not possible in the presence of such mundane processes, no matter that the object is human genesis. He tells them about the operation that removes the female ovaries, which are then kept functioning artificially in order to provides the human eggs. We are told that the donors act voluntarily, but we know that it is actually a hefty bait of “a bonus amounting to six months’ salary” that induces them (Ibid, p. 17).
Both sperm and egg cells are maintained at the right temperatures, before arriving at the fertilizing room, where cylinders containing the eggs are manually dipped into the sperm to effect fertilization. We are shocked to witness human conception under such a shabby process as dipping cylinders is seminal fluid. The calculation is relentless. Not all the fertilized eggs are not all treated the same. Those embryos that are destined to become Alpha citizens are accorded the best treatment. All other embryos are deliberately maltreated, to various degrees, so that they form the lower hierarchies, from beta to epsilon.
The “Bokanovsky’s Process” is the euphemistic term to describe this crime. The deliberate damaging of embryos in indicative of the inherent inhumanity of this society. It is one human being maiming another who is at the most defenseless state of existence. The evil is thus inherent in the process itself. Not just on the philosopher at the top, the indictment somehow falls on society at a whole. References Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited. London: HarperCollins, 2004.