Thursday, October 9, 2008

Oct 8, 13, 15 Huxley - Brave New World

Oct 8 Huxley – Brave New World (Ch 1 - 6)
Oct 13 Huxley – Brave New World (Ch 7 - 11)
Oct 15 Huxley – Brave New World (Ch 12 - end)

In writing this blog, I fully intend to address issues, raise questions, and analyze concepts covered throughout all of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. As such, I am a day late for the October 8th blog posting and well ahead of schedule for the two following posts. I apologize for any inconvenience, but in beginning writing, I felt it best to just finish the novel as I had already passed the required portion for the first assignment. This should hopefully provide a more congruous approach to the work and will hopefully not lose aspects I would have addressed in breaking apart the blog into sections based on the assigned chapters.

First, a word on the notion behind this novel – The idea of creating an entire ‘civilization’ which reproduces based primarily upon cloning instead of sexual reproduction seems quite odd at first glance. However, after reading Ridley’s chapter on death, I realize that Huxley drew many comparisons between civil society and a human body. Just as cells must sacrifice for the good of the body and each play a designated role based on some environmental conditioning from surrounding cells, so too must Huxley’s citizens sacrifice certain freedoms for the good of society and accept their conditioning into roles as alphas, betas, deltas, etc. A liver cell has just as much potential to become a kidney cell based on DNA, but signals from the surrounding cells trigger it to carry out its role as a liver cell. Similarly, individuals of Huxley’s novel are all fertilized with the potential to become any normal human being, but through chemical injections and conditioning, the embryos and children develop according to environmental pressures to fill predetermined rolls as deltas or epsilons or gammas or what-have-you. Such may be the reason this fictional account challenges our ethics so strongly, because Huxley’s societal model is so readily seen in any multi-cellular living organism such as ourselves.

Is not the analogy often applied relating a community or civil society to a body; or perhaps this concept is just from my Catholic upbringing and references to the church community as the Body of Christ? What is it then that sets society apart from a human body? What makes people different than individual cells aside from sheer magnitude? Ridley tried to explain the difference in terms of ‘free will’ which he defined in describing how a person may choose when to eat based on their hunger or food availability, etc. but is constrained by a necessity to eat as a fundamental basis of sustaining life. Ridley states, “this interaction of genetic and external influences makes my behavior unpredictable, but not undetermined. In the gap between those words lies freedom.” (Ridley 2006, p.312) This is just the sort of ‘freedom’ that Huxley tries to create in his fictional civilization. People can choose with whom they sexually interact, how they socially entertain themselves outside of work, what clothes to wear (provided they follow the color coordination of their caste), but none of these decisions really affect their overall roles in society so long as they continue to do their jobs.

If this were the extent of his thoughts, I would have a bone to pick with Huxley, but he develops his ‘argument’ further in presenting characters such as Lenina, abnormally content with having only one man for months, Bernard, who abnormally enjoys being alone and thinking about philosophical matters, Helmholtz, who also abnormally seeks solitude and searches deeper emotions than basic sensory feelings. These characters are somehow not content with the social constraints of ‘civilization’ and as such, Huxley is suggesting there could be innately something more to human existence than ‘happiness’ and working for the good of society. The fact that they turn to soma whenever they feel the slightest form of discontent or unease and have their merry little drug trips to cope with unhappiness suggests happiness is merely the product of a false state of reality rather than being truly pleased with your conditions and Huxley uses the idea of retreat through soma to directly challenge contemporary society’s tendency to retreat from their unhappiness to drugs or alcohol or other means of escape from reality. If we continue using such vices, are we not risking falling into a trap similar to that of Brave New World?

Even beyond the suggestions of soma, Huxley challenges us to rise above conformity. John ‘Savage’ played a key part in this challenge. In his upbringing as a societal outcast on the reservation, he longed for conformity and membership in society, but when he reached ‘civilization’ he was disenchanted by its constant communal aspects and conformist upbringings. John’s argument with Mustapha Mond brought religion and emotion and history and passion to the table as one by one Mustapha Mond thrust these aside for the sake of society. If society is to have peace and happiness, his argument was to eliminate reasons for tension and sorrow. These are exactly what Lenina and Bernard and Helmholtz and John all intrinsically sought, even if they did not realize what they were seeking. In the end though, Bernard and Helmholtz head off to an island and Lenina is chased back into the crowd and John hangs himself. How is it then that we cannot equate Huxley’s society with a body – where it flushes out poisons to the liver and embeds abnormal cells amongst so many normal cells that you can barely find them and cancerous cells trying to be selfish turn on a self-destruct mechanism committing suicide just as John did? Herein lies Huxley’s challenge to his readers. It is precisely because of this factor that we must not let such strivings for conformity dictate our lives. We cannot remove ourselves to an island or retreat to the crowd or kill ourselves when we feel individuality, when we feel pain or sorrow, unhappiness; these are the very factors which separate us from cells of a body. Is it better to live in happiness and achieve peace through ultimate conformity or to suffer sorrow and pain and the ills of discontent but live to know the triumphs of joy and cooperation? I would argue for the latter, and I think Huxley’s Brave New World urges us to do likewise.

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