How does the novel Brave New World relate to our society?

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amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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In Brave New World, only the Controllers have free will. All others have been conditioned to accept their place in the social structure with no hopes of upward social mobility. This is eerily similar to the current arguments in the American economy where, in 2007, the top 1% of wage earners earned a disproportionate 35% of the country's total wealth. In the novel, we're talking about free will, but in America, the increasingly gross inequality of income levels severely limits the "will" of the people to pursue their goals, dreams, and even basic rights to make their lives better. 

In the novel, technology is the means of controlling and conditioning citizens. While the conditioning in the book is extreme and blatant child abuse in some cases, you can make a comparison with the more subtle ways technology plays a conditioning role in our lives today. In the novel, sex is encouraged but human emotion and love are not. The Controllers want people to feel emotionally and socially detached and therefore they believe people will never become jealous or aggressive towards one another. While social media platforms like Facebook serve to connect people, they physically detach them. Children spend more time with portable video games than social situations. So, while not as extreme as the examples in the novel, there are certainly more human-machine interactions than there have ever been in human history. The effect is a decrease in human to human interaction and in a larger sense, maybe even a decrease in humanism.

I can't help but think of the girl who sued a city after falling into an open manhole. She fell in because she was staring at her cell phone while walking. Technology is a paradox. It can make life better and lead to real progress such as cures for diseases, more efficient energy production, and more global access to knowledge. But it can also be a distraction, not just from a physical danger (like an open manhole) but it can also be a distraction from human interaction and a distraction from the ways in which our society is "controlled" by an economic elite. And in the case with the growing disparity between the 1% and the 99%, this is happening. 

Brave New Worldis also an indictment of communist and capitalist practices, making this novel fodder for the arguments of the right and the left. His dystopic vision is an extreme exaggeration of both but only to make a point. In this extreme vision, society is primary and the individual is just a cog. But, since Henry Ford, a capitalist icon, is looked upon as a God, this novel is equally an indictment on capitalism and mindless consumerism. The drug "soma" is a reference to Karl Marx's notion of religion (and ideology in general) as being an opiate of the masses; soma is also a reference to the notion of a commodity as an opiate. In both cases, ideology and/or commodities distract and pacify people, drug them into submission. 

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