Imagine a world of happiness. Everyone has what they wish for, what they need, what they want. There is no need for food, shelter, security or entertainment.
Picture a society highly divided between high class, middle class, and low-class citizens, every individual being born on their “caste” and not able to, under any circumstances, escape their chosen fate. It might not be too hard to imagine if you’re from certain Asian countries.
The above is basically the premise of “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley. A perfect utopia of well-oiled gears turning without interruptions to make a “perfect” society work, prosper and provide to its citizens, be it the ones born as Alpha Plus or Epsilon.
Brave New World has to be one of the best and most unique books I’ve ever read and one of my all time favorites. It’s filled with ideas and realities that challenge the way we think about the world and how it works. It challenges the whole idea and concept of Utopias and Dystopias.
A Utopian or Dystopian World?
A Utopia, as described by the father of the idea, the Greek philosopher Sir Thomas More, is an egalitarian society which offers highly or almost perfect qualities such as justice, economic stability, prosperity and the fulfilment of needs alongside with a well-perceived freedom. Basically, a society in which its citizens are equal and live a truly good life that leaves no space to worry about a future, for it will be as bright as ever. Something similar to what 20th-century folk thought the 21st century would look like.
A Dystopia, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. A society or world full of discord, inequality, injustice and most importantly the lack of individual freedom. A dystopia offers no way out of the horrors of society, it is purposely built that way by a handful of individuals (usually the government) to control its people and offer an otherwise unthinkable power to the bearers. Exactly as portrayed in George Orwell’s 1984.
Both utopias and dystopias have in common the inability to change how things work, the world is purposely built the way it is and for good or bad it stays that way.
In Brave New World, Huxley describes both a Utopia and a Dystopia depending on each of the character’s views. The society offers absolute happiness to its citizens through different means of reward and punishment (mostly reward). Differently than George Orwell’s 1984 dystopian world which imagines a society controlled by force and fear, where no individual has any real freedom and must obey the government at all costs. Huxley, instead describes a different kind of control, one that is built into every single citizen from birth, you can call it brain-washed individuals.
Every single citizen is conceived through in-vitro techniques capable of conceiving a single, unique individual (as we are now) or thousands of twins with equal features (imagine clones). No woman has given birth for God knows how long.
Before conception, every to-be fetus is labelled with its “caste” and separated from the rest. If the fetus is to become a top citizen in a top caste, ranging from Betas to Double Alpha Pluses, it is brought up uniquely, a single egg for a single individual, special treatments and care to the fetus ensure it will prosper in every sense.
If on the other hand, the fetus is to become a lesser caste, be it a Gamma, Delta or Epsilon, then they are conceived in packs of hundreds or thousands of identical twins. Every single one of the fetuses comes from the same multiplicated egg, same features and physic.
Every single individual, from the top Alpha caste down to semi-moron Epsilons, are heavily conditioned, from it’s conception up to their early adulthood. The conditioning is done in certain ways and using a multitude of methods, the end result is to have citizens that live by certain ideas and morals that instead of being developed freely through the experimentation and experience are ingrained in their brains. No one is really able to challenge this ideas or morals, “we all live for each other”, “society goes first”, “for the greater good” are some good examples of widespread conditioning. This goes on and on, from hate to nature, love to objects and consumption, up to the blind acceptance of a drug called Soma.
An Alpha will be taught that they are the top caste, the best individuals in society and as such their calling is to work with their minds and talents, be intellectuals or artists; writers, singers, professors, psychologists, doctors, scientists. They are taught that being an Alpha is the best possible outcome for an individual, highly intelligent, well rewarded without the need to do any hard physical work.
If you’re a Beta you will be taught the same, being a Beta is the best possible outcome, intelligent but not as much as an Alpha, “oh, how tiring it must be to be an Alpha, always thinking on hard things, I’m happy I’m a Beta”. Repeat this to the other castes. “Being a Delta is the best, I can work hard without having to think so much as those Gammas or Betas, it’s truly is the best”. If you’re an Epsilon, you’re semi-stupid, deformed to fit certain machinery criteria, taught that being so is a great opportunity to enjoy the simplicity of life, or in any case, the simplicity of being an elevator operator for the rest of their lives, “I’m happy I’m an Epsilon, the simplest of jobs are mine”.
You see where this is going?
Every individual is heavily conditioned to be truly happy with their position, their jobs, their calling in life. All of them are taught that Society itself is more important than the life of any particular individual. No one is to challenge the status quo and their minds are simply unable to do so.
How can this different than a Utopia?
Every citizen is granted a peaceful, tranquil and stable life. Every need is satisfied and every desire granted. Everyone uses a drug called Soma which brings glorious happiness and joy without any side effects. Feeling down? Take some Soma.
“..there is always soma, delicious soma, half a gramme for a half-holiday, a gramme for a weekend, two grammes for a trip to the gorgeous East, three for a dark eternity on the moon…”
As an exchange, you could say the whole of society has given up the power to run their own lives.
Who runs this? World controllers. Their job is to ensure that society’s gears continue turning, that everyone is happy and no one challenges how things work. As you find out later in the book, Alphas, due to their high intellects and uniqueness can sometimes challenge these ideas and the status quo, looking for answers or freedom of self. When this happens they are simply granted their wish for freedom and sent to islands around the globe where they can coexist with other free-natured Alphas. Everyone wins, everyone’s happy.
Having sex, or simply “having” someone is second nature. It is expected for everyone to share themselves to others, egoism is not acceptable. Anything you want you will eventually have. Loneliness is fiercely fought as to avoid people having meditative time, entertainment is everywhere as to distract people and bring them constant joy. This sounds like a Utopia to me. Everyone is happy and their lives are taken care of.
Does it sound familiar at all?
Look around you, or at least at your browser tabs, what do you have open? Most likely Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, some of the zillion of news websites or all of them combined.
What are these websites for but to endlessly entertain us? To create a mild but constant eagerness to get more, a soft sense of anxiety that brings us back to it. Social media is our Soma. Half a gramme for a half-holiday, a gramme for a week-end.
We’re constantly being distracted from the world around us. Going to nature is slowly being banned by the news, who wants to go outside when the risk of something happening are so “high”? We’ve launched a total war against loneliness. Being alone is unacceptable, undesired and even punished; if you are alone, you always have your Soma on your phone to check who liked your picture, what new email you received or what new funny picture you can find. Depression is eagerly fought with a “get over it” prescription, because who needs lonely or sad people mixing things up?
Everyone seems to relate Orwell’s 1984 with our current society. Reading Huxley’s Brave New World made me realize that there is no need for hidden cameras or a task force created to intimidate us. It’s far easier and more effective to have everyone happy and distracted all the time.
Am I saying this is a big conspiracy and we’re all being controlled? Of course not. Our nature is to look at shiny objects and what’s more shiny that social acceptance and connection? No matter how false it is.
Do we live in a Dystopia or a Utopia?
It’s all about perspective.
As I always say, everything’s about perspective.
At one point in the book two Alphas go to a natural reserve where American natives live, the earth has no real resources there so the World Controllers just left the natives alone, with their customs and religions.
They end up bringing back a Beta woman who was lost decades ago in an expedition to the reserve and her naturally born son. The native boy suddenly finds himself in a world of sin, women and men freely having each other, consuming Soma without a second thought, without freedom or desire for it. It drives him crazy. Where’s the desire to be better? To be free? How can they just accept everything as it is? There’s no pain, there’s no understanding of suffering!
The native, along with two rebels and freedom seeking Alphas eventually have a conversation with the World Controller of their continent. The native asks “Why not have everyone be an Alpha Double Plus? Why the need to have those horrendously deformed retards and dwarfs Epsilons working all day if you could just automate everything?”.
The world controller explains that they have been able to provide food, medicine, energy and mostly everything the society requires without human labor for decades, but how can a society find balance that way? What are millions of people going to employ themselves on all day? He continues explaining that they tried to reduce the daily work time by several hours, they found that the lower caste citizens were not happier, they instead consumed more Soma and showed higher levels of anxiety. Everyone needed to do something with their lives, be it truly useful or not.
What about having a world full of Alphas?
But where could they employ millions of Alpha citizens? As the world controller explains:
“An Alpha-decanted, Alpha-conditioned man would go mad if he had to do Epsilon Semi-Moron work. Go mad! Or start smashing things up.
Alphas can be socialized-but only on condition that you make them do Alpha work. Only an Epsilon can be expected to make Epsilon sacrifices, for the good reason that for him, they’re not sacrifices; they’re the line of least resistance”.
He goes on explaining that every one of us is doomed to live in a bubble of perception. An Epsilon bubble just happens to be smaller than an Alpha’s bubble of fixated ideas and views. If you’re an Alpha you will suffer enormously if placed in an Epsilon’s terribly small bubble, an Epsilon would find himself completely lost with such Alpha freedom.
“It just happens that our bubbles are incredibly extent”
This conversation goes on and on, tackling subjects such as Religion, Marriage and Love. Mustapha Mond (the world controller) explains that all of those things are great, they can bring joy, but they’re also the main providers of misery. If there’s any highlight in this book, is definitely this conversation close to the end of it.
“Civilization has absolutely no need of nobility or heroism. These things are symptoms of political inefficiency. In a properly organized society like ours, nobody has any opportunities for being noble or heroic. Conditions have got to be thoroughly unstable before the occasion can arise. Where there are wars, where there are divided allegiances, where there are temptations to be resisted, objects of love to be fought for or defended-there, obviously, nobility and heroism have some sense”
A Utopia? A Dystopia? Both.
To the Native, this Brave New World was a dystopia. No freedom, no religion, no Shakespeare to be found, no dreams to be sought, no suffering to be felt and overcome. The Native represents our current view of such a world.
To everyone else, the world was better than ever. No wars, no insatiable needs, pure joy.
We don’t live in a Brave New World, we live in an Ever-Evolving World. Dystopian and Utopian ideas are not far from realistic. For a kid brought up in the poorest of neighbourhoods, by an alcoholic father and an abusive mother the world is truly dystopian, where is justice, equality? Where’s the possibility of change for such a kid?
To a CEO, a Buddhist monk, a happy kid in a good family, the world if truly Utopian. Equality, justice and the possibilities of an even brighter future.
For most of us, the world is a completely different place. My daughter is happy, protected and well taken care of. Her most worrisome thought could be that she’s hungry or sleepy. For the person next door life could be hell.
We aren’t all Alphas, the world is really divided into castes, the difference is our ability to change and to evolve, to move from our current position into a higher one. We have the power to expand our bubbles and experience a better life.
It’s all about perspectives, what is good for you might be bad for someone else. That’s why respecting our fellow men is utterly important. What are the needs for War over disagreements? What makes your God more deserving of life than mine? In a world full of negative news and happy social media let’s think outside our scope and try to expand our bubbles.
We’re not hard-conditioned, the possibilities of changing and improving are always there. Let’s be better and make the world a better place, it can’t be that hard, can it?