Thu. Apr 18th, 2024

Recurring Motif

Aldous Huxley explores how bioluddites use the 20th-century dystopian genre in Brave New World as a means of instilling fear. While some bioluddites take a provocative approach, their message is consistently conveyed through the recurring use of the phrase Brave New World in various techno-social contexts, often suggesting unfavorable outcomes. However, it is important to approach Brave New World primarily as a literary work of science fiction that critiques the future utopia it imagines as the World State and reflects Huxley’s concerns during the mid-20th century.

Additionally, a more constructive perspective on Brave New World challenges the notion frequently raised by readers that the novel possesses prophetic qualities. While Huxley did predict various intriguing developments, such as advancements in technology and the increasing acceptance of drugs, as well as shifts in sexual values, readers need not fixate on the novel’s accuracy in depicting the present to appreciate its value. In her introduction to her important novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, acclaimed science fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin emphasizes that science fiction is not intended to predict the future but rather to describe possible scenarios. This shift from prediction to description allows us to interpret Brave New World from a different perspective than that favored by bioconservatives. It repositions the novel’s focus on us and helps us grasp that Huxley’s work reflects the anxieties of a mid-20th-century writer. Furthermore, its enduring appeal among readers today underscores its timeless relevance.

Conditioning and Social Stratification

The story opens in the Central London Hatching and Conditioning Centre, where a group of young boys are given a tour by the Director of the Hatchery and his assistant, Henry Foster. During the tour, they explain the Bokanovsky and Podsnap Processes, which enable the Hatchery to generate thousands of almost identical human embryos. These boys are subjected to conditioning to fit into one of five social castes: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, or Epsilon. The Alpha embryos are intended to become the leaders and intellectuals of the World State. At the same time, each subsequent caste is conditioned to possess progressively lower levels of physical and intellectual prowess. Subsequently, the Director guides the boys to the Nursery, where they witness Delta infants undergoing reprogramming to develop aversions to books and flowers.

The Director explains that this conditioning helps make Deltas docile and eager consumers. He then introduces the boys to the “hypnopaedic” methods used to teach children the morals of the World State. The Director shows the boys hundreds of nude kids playing sexual activities outside the Hatchery. One of the ten World Controllers, Mustapha Mond, presents himself to the boys and starts to give them a history of the World State, emphasizing its accomplishments in eradicating strong emotions, wants, and interpersonal ties. Bernard is informed by Lenina, a worker at the plant, that she would be delighted to travel with him to the Savage Reservation in New Mexico. Bernard, who is ecstatic but also ashamed, takes a chopper to meet Helmholtz Watson and talks to him about their displeasure with the World State. The Director, Bernard’s boss, permits him to go to the Reservation when Bernard requests it.

Lenina and Bernard are horrified to see the elderly and sick people of the Reservation watching a religious ceremony in which a young man is beaten and find it repugnant. After the rite, they see John, a young guy with a pale complexion who lives alone in the village. Bernard learns of John’s upbringing as the son of Linda, a woman who was saved by the locals 20 years prior. Bernard invites John and Linda back to the World State, but John breaks into the house where Lenina is lying intoxicated and unconscious. As the finder and protector of the “Savage,” Bernard gains fame and exploits his new position by having sex with several women and holding dinner parties with prominent visitors. Bernard’s social position declines when John declines to greet the visitors, which includes the Arch-Community Songster, one evening.

Exile and Farewell

After Bernard introduces John and Helmholtz, John reads Helmholtz parts of Romeo and Juliet. A serious chapter about love, marriage, and parents, however, makes Helmholtz laugh out loud since these concepts are absurd and borderline scatological in World State society. Lenina rejects Henry’s offer to see a feely because she becomes fixated on John. She visits John at Bernard’s flat with Soma in tow in an effort to entice him. With expletives, punches, and Shakespearean quotations, John reacts. He learns that Linda is about to die, and he watches her die while lower-caste boys wonder why she is unattractive. After Linda dies, John tries to convince a group of Delta clones to revolt by throwing Soma out the window, leading to a riot. Bernard and Helmholtz rush to John’s aid, but they are arrested and brought to Mustapha Mond’s office. Mond argues that stability and happiness are more significant than humanity, whereas John claims that the policies of the World State degrade its citizens.

John protests that without these things, human life is not worth living. Mond offers them exile to distant islands, but Helmholtz accepts the exile and follows him. They talk about religion and how Soma is used to maintain societal peace and regulate unpleasant emotions. After saying farewell to Helmholtz and Bernard, John withdraws to a lighthouse in the countryside to cleanse himself. Residents of the Curious World State catch him in the act, and journalists swarm the lighthouse to record news stories and a feely. People demand that John whip himself after the feely. John responds to Lenina coming at him with her arms outstretched by brandishing his whip and yelling, “Kill it!” The intensity of the spectacle induces an orgy, and John wakes up the following morning distraught at his deference to World State culture and filled with rage.

Accurate Predictions vs. Fictional Truths

While Brave New World often receives praise for its accurate predictions, such as the use of drugs to manipulate human moods and the emergence of free love and genetics in modern society, it is crucial to remember Le Guin’s reminder that science fiction is ultimately a form of fiction. It is created by artists who convey truths through their storytelling. Huxley himself acknowledges the shortcomings of his work as a piece of art, particularly noting the significant flaw that John the Savage is only presented with two choices: a primitive life in an Indian village or madness within the utopian society. Similarly, the prospect of leaving the world in a primitive state, as satirized by transhumanist figures like Mustapha Mond, who leads the ultra-technical future society, poses a dilemma. It represents the most ironic aspect of the novel. The techno-scientific issues that distort the world were seen as madness by Huxley. However, the World State and its highly organized society are just one aspect of the novel’s problems. Nevertheless, this is the area that bioluddites focus on. Therefore, it is important not to forget that John the Savage’s primitive, non-technical world is just as problematic as the fully organized World State.

Conversely, we should also consider how Huxley’s critique of utopian science fiction remains relevant in contemporary discussions of transhumanism and post-transhumanism. For instance, the most esteemed and fortunate individuals in the World State have lost their passion, a fundamental aspect of being human, as they are conditioned to become stable and perfect citizens. As Mustapha points out, beauty, truth, religion, science, and art are all viewed with suspicion in this world where traditional roles such as motherhood, viviparous birth, and family have been replaced by technological means.

Brave New World should be approached in today’s context not only as a critique of utopian ideals but also as a critique of transhumanism. It embodies principles aimed at improving humanity’s quality through technology and illustrates the shortcomings in achieving this goal. Moreover, the novel fundamentally serves as a condemnation of human frailty. Consequently, it earnestly seeks advancement at the expense of human freedom. To illustrate, in the latter part of the book, when Mond justifies the beliefs of Brave New World, John the Savage asserts the right to be unhappy, representing the prevailing voice of resistance. It stands as the price of human freedom that the World State cannot tolerate. Additionally, the novel explores other repercussions, such as the pursuit of a comfortable life filled with unrestricted sex and euphoria-inducing drug use. Ultimately, it questions the price of success in implementing what is later termed transhumanist techniques.

Character Depth and Transformation

However, how does Brave New World function as a critique of transhumanism? Initially, we should regard it as a novel rather than solely as a social warning. The novel received mixed reviews from the start, initially facing widespread criticism. According to Harold Bloom, he presents early excerpts from the New Statesman and Nation, offering compelling and still relevant criticisms of the novel as a work of literature. Bloom argues that Huxley was more interested in the realm of ideas, already finding them stimulating.

Furthermore, he criticizes Huxley for transforming an essay into a novel, a weakness Huxley himself acknowledged. He correctly identifies this as a significant literary flaw in his work. Moreover, the novel’s failure as a literary work is primarily due to its main characters, who are mostly one-dimensional. Despite some minor transformations, the characters lack psychological depth. Bernard Marx is an outsider, marginalized and corrupted by the other flawless Alphas. In his pursuit of Lenina Crowne, he exploits John the Savage to boost his popularity, ultimately leading to his downfall and betrayal of his friends. More importantly, John’s primary transformation, from believing in the idealized new world similar to that described by Miranda in her speech in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, turns into horror when he discovers the truth about the World State. In the end, Huxley leaves us with the image of John the Savage, once full of hope, swinging back and forth under the arch. However, this transformation seems secondary compared to other world-building elements in the novel. Bloom concludes that the novel could be more readable and argues that it is futile to consider it solely as a novel.

Therefore, Bloom observes that Brave New World is a dual-cultured work, blending literature and science in a manner expected from someone with Huxley’s legacy. The fact that Huxley’s final book, Literature and Science, delves into this topic further reinforces this notion. Nicholas Murphy suggests that Huxley serves as a bridge or conduit between the highly intellectual world of the Victorian era and the unpredictable 20th-century world of non-meliorist, progressively-minded individuals.

The recognition of the debate surrounding it, as well as the historical background of the two cultures involved, was subsequently challenged by F. R. Leavis and C. P. Snow. This alignment occurred within a broader intellectual discussion that pitted idealist or vitalist thinking against materialism in both culture and science. Murray noted that Huxley’s final work delves into this debate between two cultures. Additionally, Robert Firchow identifies the influence of humanist ideas from Bertrand Russell and J. B. Haldane on Huxley, suggesting that an ancient conflict was also in motion. Much like Russell and Haldane, Huxley was acutely aware of the cultural and societal repercussions stemming from the ascendancy of Science Triumphant and the potential creation of a desolate world jeopardizing fundamental humanist values, such as individual freedom.

What hangs in the balance is the spiritual well-being of humanity in a world increasingly dominated by the pursuit of knowledge and a pragmatic and rational society. Technology serves as the driving force behind this emerging world, and in terms of its impact on humanity, the novel offers the most incisive insights. Readers must recognize two key points in our examination of Brave New World within the context of transhumanist discourse: firstly, it is a work of fiction, and secondly, it belongs to the science fiction genre.

Evolution of Science Fiction

At the time of its publication, contemporary science fiction had surpassed the science fantasies of H. G. Wells and the extraordinary journeys portrayed by Jules Verne, which were subsequently fully developed in American pulp magazines. Huxley’s literary critique, challenging utopian fiction, bears no connection to scientific concepts like those of Hugo Gernsback, who employed storytelling as an educational tool to enlighten a society increasingly influenced by ideas and technology, much like John W. Campbell. By envisaging a future society profoundly shaped by science, Brave New World explores ideas akin to those envisioned by Golden Age Science Fiction luminaries such as Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov, as well as the authors of the New Wave. In this regard, the novel helps us reinterpret themes from the mid-20th century within the contemporary discourse of transhumanism.

A pivotal voice in this discourse, philosopher of science Nick Bostrom, significantly influences the mapping of the transhumanist terrain. In his work In Defense of Posthuman Dignity, Bostrom challenges the bioconservative stance of Leon Kass, who exerts control over human nature to the extent that altering it would result in complete dehumanization. Kass employs Brave New World as an illustrative example of what could occur if everything were to go awry as if Huxley’s novel were truly prophetic in its portrayal of a fully structured society established from the outset according to principles applied to the public. Bostrom provides his interpretation of the novel and comments on its characters, yet he acknowledges that they do not attain a posthuman state. Huxley has not transformed them to a significant degree; they have crossed a threshold, evolving into something beyond Homo sapiens. Nevertheless, Bostrom recognizes that the characters in the novel undergo emotional and physical alterations as they manipulate individual potential within a rigid caste system. Bostrom’s standpoint is essential because he argues that Brave New World serves as a warning against allowing science and technology to degrade human dignity.

Anti-Humanism

Despite highlighting significant disparities in the definitions of transhumanism and posthumanism, careful consideration is necessary. Broadly interpreted, anti-humanism encompasses various alternatives to traditional Western humanism. Since modernity disappointed the West, humanity has faced criticism and attacks on cherished beliefs. For instance, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, desire is negated, or prophetically in Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, where man is presented as something to be transcended. Even Michel Foucault, in The Order of Things, suggested that humanity would vanish like a drawing in the sand beside the sea. The concept of humanity has been reevaluated in numerous discourses within the humanities, regardless of the many elements in Brave New World that suggest the collapse of traditional humanist values, from the constrained freedom of thought in which World State citizens are conditioned to adore specific aspects of their caste to the faltering freedom of active individuals who comprehend. However, the filter is less explicitly articulated to eliminate the conceptual framework, and the literary elements of the novel represent transhumanism.

Additionally, it is important to consider how Brave New World distorts the discourse of posthumanism, which is rooted in anti-humanism. The cultural critic Theodore Adorno famously criticized the Enlightenment Project for its failure to rescue us from inhumane capitalism and wrote about issues that represented forms of dehumanization brought about by Americanization. He also posited that the novel is a manifestation of panic, or more precisely, its rationalization.

In addition to criticizing the way new immigrants were living in America, Adorno specifically identified the inhumane Americanization process as a threat, especially to humanistic concerns, which were overshadowed by concerns about plastic. It underpins Huxley’s novel. However, the key element for emigrants to Brave New World is survival. According to Adorno, acceptance of this new form of cultural industry marks the end of a process that blinds individuals to their authentic selves. Regardless, it was not technology that created posthumanism; instead, it was this kind of dehumanization that, for Adorno, gave rise to anti-humanism.

Indeed, his criticism of Brave New World reveals horror in the mass production applied to biology at its core, conditioning humans through scientifically organized societal mechanisms. What we discern through Adorno’s analysis is that the novel serves as a representation, in a reversal of its transhumanism, of its examples of anti-humanism and post-anti-humanism. Brave New World is not isolated but rather serves as a key element in the larger chorus of Modern Crisis literature, as Adorno would like us to recognize.

Dystopian Literature and Mechanized Modernity

From the horrors imagined by Franz Kafka, for example, in the short story In the Penal Colony, where prisoners’ crimes are inscribed onto their bodies by a machine, to the entire existential literature of Albert Camus, depicting humanity in an absurd world dominated by soulless modernity, dystopian representation embodies not only the disappointment of humanist workers in themselves but also the mechanized and bureaucratic mechanisms of science as their perpetrators.

Finally, the reading of Brave New World interprets transhumanism as the transformation of humanity through advanced technology. Other aspects of this definition include the recognition of existing risks and steps to avoid them, as well as an acknowledgment that other forms of emotions will emerge and that rights need to be granted. However, the book serves as a novel that challenges the potential dangers inherent in the biotechnological revolution while also recognizing the need for progress.

We can discern that Huxley, by establishing a rigid caste system within the World State, introduces distinctions among individuals. In contrast to the natural inhabitants of primitive villages, only the highest caste, known as the Alphas, demonstrate the kind of enhancement associated with transhumanism. Genetically, the Alphas are engineered to possess superior health and intelligence, while the lower castes exhibit diminishing mental capabilities. Notably, the lowest caste, the Epsilons, serve solely as laborers designed for menial tasks, intentionally impeding their development—a departure from transhumanist ideals. The novel incorporates transhumanist elements, evident in the initial two chapters, which serve as an introduction to Huxley’s envisioned world.

Satirical Critique of Transhumanism

The narrative commences with Bernard Marx challenging the World State’s promiscuity and emotional shallowness as he embarks on a quest to find the pneumatic Lenina Crowne and encounters John the Savage, an individual engrossed in Shakespeare. The story evolves from Bernard’s dissatisfaction as a flawed Alpha to John’s ambition to witness the ideal world his mother spoke of, culminating in a startling realization of the world’s true nature. The human drama reaches its zenith with Bernard’s exile, Crowne’s rejection, and John’s tragic suicide, all aligning with Huxley’s core theme of a scientifically organized society leading to the erosion of human freedom.

These chapters lay the foundation for the intricate world inhabited by the characters. The first chapter initiates with a depiction of artificial development, featuring the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning guiding an enthusiastic group of students through facilities where incubators are seen involved in modern fertilization processes. Here, we gain insight into the upbringing of the majority of World State citizens. The castes are meticulously designed for specific functions, and this process promotes social stability and progress by effectively applying the principles of mass production to biology. The most inhumane outcome is the creation of individuals experiencing stunted growth, primarily intended for performing pointless labor.

The revised text showcases how Huxley employs satire to critique the future aspirations of contemporary transhumanists. While optimists like Bostrom view transhumanism as an assessment of opportunities to improve the human condition and human beings through technological progress, Huxley’s novel portrays a loss of freedom as a result of the ultimate affront: the manipulation of the biological development process to fashion machine-like individuals tailored for specific societal roles. The Epsilon lift operator exemplifies the most extreme instance of dehumanization. However, the most harrowing occurrences unfold in the second chapter within the Infant Nurseries and Neo-Pavlovian Conditioning Rooms. Through a sadistic yet effective conditioning process, books and roses are employed to instill aversion in infants towards reading and nature. A line on the floor alternates between bowls of roses and bowls of books, each opened invitingly to display brightly colored images of animals, fish, or birds. The minuscule Delta caste infants crawl forward to touch the rose petals and gaze at the pictures in the books. An alarming sound precedes a mild shock. The World State controllers intend to safeguard young Alphas from books and botany. Huxley apprehends that intellectual learning and affection for the natural world will wane in a future characterized by Taylorization and Fordism, reflecting the humanist desires evident in the novel.

No Clear Solution but a Call to Action

Furthermore, other fundamental facets of the traditional human experience face challenges. Motherhood and viviparous birth are deemed obscene. Additionally, sex is communal, preventing the emergence of individual love and passion that might disrupt social stability since everyone belongs to everyone else. To ensure the efficacy of this approach, the slogan “history is bunk” becomes a mantra because it represents the history of human individuality and all the negativity associated with it, which must be eradicated. To facilitate the suppression of human instincts, the drug soma is introduced; its purpose is to erect an insurmountable barrier between the real world and the minds of citizens. This tool grants the World State’s citizens a form of artificial freedom to experience the most pleasurable existence. Once again, in the novel, the satirical elements underscore the losses incurred through its implementation. This pivotal critical element of the novel, the transhumanist techniques applied to its citizens, unequivocally contradicts the aspirations found in documents such as the Transhumanist Declaration or, to cite the work of an individual thinker, Bostrom’s In Defense of Posthuman Dignity.

Ultimately, Brave New World transcends its role as merely a warning about the adverse consequences of a scientifically organized society. It also serves as a reminder that life prior to modern science was brief and brutal, necessitating improvement. When viewed through the lens of contemporary optimistic transhumanist discourse, Brave New World becomes a humorless satire that employs exaggeration to great effect. Its most potent impact lies in illustrating the consequences when our enhancements achieve precisely what they were intended to do. The concept of humanistic freedom becomes a subject of contention, and Huxley advocates for the use of science and technology with a humanizing purpose in our struggle against our vulnerabilities. Brave New World, his most widely recognized commentary, does not provide a solution. However, its warnings should not be interpreted as an encouragement of passivity. Instead, it should be seen as an encouragement to employ science and technology in a humanistic manner as we confront our weaknesses.

Bibliograpy

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