Brave New World Message
What does Aldous Huxley want to tell us about in Brave New World?
Is there any message that he would like to deliver to readers of the contemporary world?
As Huxley was writing this novel in the early 1930s, the stock market crash of 1929 had collapsed the world's economies and totalitarianism was on the rise. The world seemed to many to be falling apart, and many people were turning to authoritarianism to solve their problems.
The novel is a satire of a dictator's, Mustapha Mond's, vision of a perfectly calibrated World State where everyone is "happy" because they are conditioned (brainwashed) and drugged to be so. They have no real power or control over their lives, and their happiness is shallow. It is based on denying their full humanity, which is the capacity to enter into deep relationships with others, suffer, produce art, worship, and ask hard questions about life and meaning. Instead, people indulge in constant consumerism rather than relationship, participate in the group orgies that have replaced religion, take soma rather than ask questions, and accept programmed lives. They do this, Mind explains to the Savage, because after the Nine Years' War they were quite willing to trade their freedom for peace and security.
The question of "what price freedom" remains relevant today. The temptation to embrace an authoritarian government that promises to solve all our problems is still with us. The modern world lures us into a realm of constant consumerism that makes Huxley's brave new world look quaint. People are often accused of having turned from citizens to consumers. Because of how easy technology makes our lives, it is easy to find mindless diversions rather than grapple with real issues. Huxley's message is that we need to hold on to our deepest humanity, even if it makes life harder.
Given that Huxley wrote a book entitled Brave New World Revisited, in which he explicates all that he sought to communicate in Brave New World, he did, indeed, have a message of paramount importance to future readers. This theme is clearly stated in his "Foreword" to Brave New World:
The theme of Brave New World is not the advancement of science as such; it is the advancement of science as it affects human individuals. (BNW, Foreword, xi)
Satire, by its very definition, is "a kind of literature that ridicules human folly or vice with the purpose of bringing about reform or of keeping others from falling into similar folly or vice. As such, Huxley's satire, Brave New World sends a warning of the potential dehumanization of man in a technological world that supersedes him. This very warning has been echoed by others who have analyzed our modern society. Within this last year, for instance, journalist Glenn Beck, who interviewed an author who has written about life in the twenty-first century, asked the author, "Have we now gone past 1984? Are we not, now, living Brave New World?" The author concurred.
The concern of Huxley with technology's potential to remove humans from what is most human--love, friendship, struggle, happiness--is a message for future generations, not merely his contemporaries. If this satiric novel is not of worth for his future readers, how can it even be considered satire, and how is it that it is considered a classic and remains on the canon for high schools and colleges?
Of course Huxley did not have any message in mind for us given that he wrote the book so long before the present. But he was surely trying to send a message to his contemporaries.
To me, the messages of the book are:
- Scientific progress can be a very bad thing if used incorrectly. This is why I first had to read this book in a class about bioethics.
- Consumerism and materialism can corrode the human soul. One of the problems in the book is that people want things more than they want a "life of the mind."
- It is bad to want constant entertainment and "happiness." When we do these things, we are taking away our own ability to think and our ability to feel the full range of emotions that make us human.