Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Brave New World - Analysis

I thoroughly enjoyed this thoughtful, well-written novel by Huxley and I wanted to elaborate on how I think the themes in this book translate into our society today.

The structure of society
Even though America prides itself on being upwardly mobile for most of its citizens it is clear that the caste structure in BNW (alpha, beta, gamma, etc) exists here today. In BNW the caste structure is maintained by controlling genetics and development, and later through conditioning and social conformity. The latter two matter significantly since it requires the state actively manipulating individuals throughout their entire lives. In BNW conformity is induced by controlling media, promoting conformist activities for each caste and by giving caste members drugs (soma) to keep them complacent.

Controlling society
Today I think we are manipulated by state institutions, large corporations and the media. We are taught to conform to a consumerist society where we feel compelled to compare our possessions, lifestyles, careers and other choices to our neighbor's. We don't have "soma" but we have many other drugs to help keep us happy. It could be said that money, alcohol, computer games, reality television and sports are all used to keep us "happy" and easily malleable. The only people who can transcend the caste structure today are those who can resist these temptations and the compulsion to measure self-worth using society's tangible criteria of success.

A society of equals?
Near the end of the book, the "World Controller" Mustafa Mond reveals that there was once an experiment to create a society full of alphas. It was a disaster since not all alphas could be doctors and lawyers, but some had to be factory workers and laborers. The alphas performing menial tasks detested those working in the high profile jobs. The experimental society collapsed into chaos. Mustafa says that society is like an iceberg, where 8/9ths of society must be at the bottom and only 1/9th on top.

I recognize that not everyone can be doctors, lawyers or "world controllers". However, I cannot imagine society would collapse in a world full of equals, assuming everyone is rewarded proportionately to their job. Also, I believe there is more than just genetics in determining what career is most suitable to us and our success. Things such as passion, ambition and work ethic should count for as much as our chromosmes. Likewise, fairness in compensation and rewarding effort with opportunities to move through the social hierarchy would create the best society, in my mind.

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