To what extent is the "new world" of Huxley's Brave New World present in our modern world?
It is alarming how close society is to Brave New World. In his forward to the novel, Aldous Huxley wrote,
This really revolutionary revolution is...the one that takes place in the souls and flesh of human beings.
He also wrote that by "means of the sciences of life...the quality of life can be radically changed." Certainly, modern society has witnessed dramatic changes as a result of the advancement of technology, some of which are beneficial, many not.
Since one must always look for the metaphoric meaning when reading works of science fiction, it is this figurative meaning that we must weigh in evaluating how close society is to Huxley's New World. For instance, as a dark satire (which by definition is an exaggeration) Huxley's novel is a warning that if science is used as an instrument of power, it can be applied to human beings in the wrong way.
One example of how the technology of the news media is exploited to influence people is in its misrepresentation of reality or its bias by omission of certain facts, or in its presentation of others. Photographs of groups of protesting people, for instance, can be shot from certain angles to make them appear larger, thus giving their existence more import.
The use of drugs to alter behavior as in the New World is not unknown in contemporary society. How many millions of people are on anti-depressives, for instance? This thinking that everyone should always be happy has become so prevalent that one man has written a book in defense of unhappiness, pointing out that all great changes in history have been effected after man's discontent with his conditions. In Brave New World, soma is modeled after a sacred etheogenic plant in India used for meditation. The plant, now lost, contained hallucinogenic properties that produced a euphoric state not dissimilar to anti-depressants. So, how preposterous is it to compare modern society's use of anti-depressants to that of soma?
The feelies of the New World are not so different from the many music videos, movies, etc. that are watched today. Many an advertisement and television program has sexual overtones or the suggestions that sexuality is of paramount importance. The Bible has a line--"When a man's mind turns to lust, he forgets all else"--that offers the reason for the use of sexual activity in Huxley's work: it is a distraction for the people and keeps them from thinking of important things.
Truly, there is a revolution taking place in people's souls and minds; they "just want to be safe" and allow legislators to take more and more control of their lives as witnessed by the enlargement of government controls. People are desensitized to violence as they watch films, play video games, etc. They lose the sense of the value of abstract qualities such as freedom, ethics, love, personal responsibility, and individualism as they place value only in material things through their obsessive consumption of goods.
In most ways, Huxley’s new world does not exist in our own world. It would be more accurate to say that we are moving towards that world in some ways and that in other ways we have the problems that the “brave new world” was supposed to get rid of.
In the brave new world, essentially everything that makes people human has been done away with. Through conditioning and through soma, people no longer have the sorts of feelings that real human beings have. As Henry says to Lenina in Chapter 5
"Anyhow," he concluded, "there's one thing we can be certain of; whoever he may have been, he was happy when he was alive. Everybody's happy now."
This is clearly not the case with us today. We have moved in some ways towards the society that Huxley envisions. We have become very consumeristic. We often seem to try to fill our lives with mindless entertainment (as they do with obstacle golf). We in the US seem to want to look and act young forever. Some people would argue that we are excessively promiscuous.
But all of this is just window dressing. The main point of Huxley’s world is that people have stopped having feelings. They have done away with their emotions so that they can have lives that will seem easier and so that they will not have conflict. We have not gotten anywhere close to this. We are still all too human and our human frailties lead to various sorts of conflicts.
If anything, we are living in a world that is full of the problems that made people want to create the “brave new world.” We have antagonisms between the rich and the poor that might be solved by the creation of genetically engineered castes. We have problems with nationalism and religious conflict that might be solved by the conditioning and other factors that make everyone in the World State essentially the same. We have not created the “brave new world.” Instead, we are living in the conditions that would theoretically cause people to want an engineered utopia where the problems would go away.