In Brave New World, what prophecy based on consumerism was Huxley implying for our current society?

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e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One way to summarize the prophecy of the novel: If we do not actively pursue improvements (via science and technology) that are essentially human, we may fall into a trap wherein we instead pursue improvements that are mechanical, materialist and empty. 

In a foreword to the novel written fifteen years after the publication of Brave New World, Huxley offers some thoughts on the commentary made in his book. Here he suggests that the Brave New World society is an example of a misguided, totalitarian social philosophy that fails to harness the power of applied science in ways that will be truly constructive. 

Describing a true Utopia, Huxley suggests that in "this community economics would be decentralist and Henry-Georgian, politics Kropotkinesque co-operative."

"Science and technology would be used as though, like the Sabbath, they had been made for man, not (as at present and still more so in the Brave New World) as though man were to be adapted and enslaved to them."

Huxley goes on to say that the advancement of applied science is inevitable and that societies will undoubtedly be seen to pursue "vast government-sponsored enquiries into what the politicians and the participating scientists will call 'the problem of happiness' - - in other words, the problem of making people love their servitude." 

Through social stability (brought about by means of totalitarian politics, centralized economies and drugs), a marriage of science and government might render civilization as a "welfare tyranny of Utopia."

We can see the tyranny of Brave New World in the way that all dissent is seen as either sickness or subversion (or both). Those who disagree with the system and who refuse to see happiness in soma and a shallow, orgiastic social-ease are expelled and exiled, as Helmholtz and Bernard are exiled. 

"Most of the characters in the world of the novel are neither mentally nor emotionally free to experience anything other than officially sanctioned ideas and values" (eNotes).

These visions of the future are not entirely related to consumerism, per se, but can perhaps be connected to the materialism that underlies the essential values of consumerism.

The novel does not depict an economy of purchases and does not present images of wealth or success based upon riches. Instead, it depicts a systematized social philosophy that rests on a narrowly homogenized sense of norms as the basis of social good. 

In order to be a good person, one has to be utterly conventional, fully conforming to the dictates of the society. One has to want what others want. 

This core precept is closely linked to certain principles of consumerism in that, within a framework of consumerism, desires for products and services are derived from a value system that takes for granted the idea that social status is tied to a desire for an outward display of wealth.

To be a good person (in terms of status), one must have what others want. 

In a free-thinking society, this view of consumerism is largely a relative one, yet pointing to the presence and function of a materialist ethos within the larger ideology of democratic-capitalism is far from a controversial observation.

The question may then become, what will happen to our world if we let our desire for things take ownership of us? What will happen if we serve our stuff, just as the society of the novel allows itself to become a servant of science? 

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Brave New World

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