BRAVE NEW WORLD - a defence of paradise-engineerin Essay

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BRAVE NEW WORLD - a defence of paradise-engineering

BRAVE NEW WORLD ?
A Defence Of Paradise-Engineering


Brave New World (1932) is one of the most bewitching and insidious works of literature ever written.
An exaggeration?
Tragically, no. Brave New World has come to serve as the false symbol for any regime of universal happiness.
For sure, Huxley was writing a satirical piece of fiction, not scientific prophecy. Hence
to treat his masterpiece as ill-conceived futurology rather than a work of great
literature might seem to miss the point. Yet the knee-jerk response of "It's Brave New
World!" to any blueprint for chemically-driven happiness has delayed research into
paradise-engineering for all sentient life.

So how does Huxley turn a future where we're all notionally happy into the archetypal
dystopia? If it's technically feasible, what's wrong with using biotechnology to get rid
of mental pain altogether?

Brave New World is an unsettling, loveless and even sinister place. This is because Huxley
endows his "ideal" society with features calculated to alienate his audience. Typically,
reading BNW elicits the very same disturbing feelings in the reader which the society it
depicts has notionally vanquished - not a sense of joyful anticipation.

Thus BNW doesn't, and isn't intended by its author to, evoke just how wonderful our lives
could be if the human genome were intelligently rewritten. In the era of post-genomic
medicine, our DNA is likely to be spliced and edited so we can all enjoy life-long bliss,
awesome peak experiences, and a spectrum of outrageously good designer-drugs. Nor does
Huxley's comparatively sympathetic account of the life of the Savage on the Reservation
convey just how nasty the old regime of pain, disease and unhappiness can be. If you think
it does, then you enjoy an enviably sheltered life and an enviably cosy imagination. For
it's all sugar-coated pseudo-realism.

In Brave New World, Huxley contrives to exploit the anxieties of his bourgeois audience
about both Soviet Communism and Fordist American capitalism. He taps into, and then feeds,
our revulsion at Pavlovian-style behavioural conditioning and eugenics. Worse, it is
suggested that the price of universal happiness will be the sacrifice of the most hallowed
shibboleths of our culture: "motherhood", "home", "family", "freedom", even "love". The
exchange yields an insipid happiness that's unworthy of the name. Its evocation arouses
our unease and distaste.

In BNW, happiness derives from consuming mass-produced goods, sports such as Obstacle Golf
and Centrifugal Bumble-puppy, promiscuous sex, "the feelies", and most famously of all, a
supposedly perfect pleasure-drug, soma.

As perfect pleasure-drugs go, soma underwhelms. It's not really a utopian wonderdrug at
all. It does make you high. Yet it's more akin to a hangoverless tranquilliser or an
opiate - or a psychic anaesthetising SSRI like Prozac - than a truly life-transforming
elixir. Third-millennium neuropharmacology, by contrast, will deliver a vastly richer
product-range of designer-drugs to order.

For a start, soma is a very one-dimensional euphoriant. It gives rise to only a shallow,
unempathetic and intellectually uninteresting well-being. Apparently, taking soma doesn't
give Bernard Marx, the disaffected sleep-learning specialist, more than a cheap thrill.
Nor does it make him happy with his station in life. John the Savage commits suicide soon
after taking soma [guilt and despair born of serotonin depletion!?]. The drug is said to
be better than (promiscuous) sex - the only sex brave new worlders practise. But a regimen
of soma doesn't deliver anything sublime or life-enriching. It doesn't catalyse any
mystical epiphanies, intellectual breakthroughs or life-defining insights. It doesn't in
any way promote personal growth. Instead, it provides a mindless, inauthentic "imbecile
happiness" - a vacuous escapism which makes people comfortable with their lack of freedom.
Soma is a narcotic that raises "a quite impenetrable wall between the actual universe and
their minds."

If Huxley had wished to tantalise, rather than repel, emotional primitives like us with
the biological nirvana soon in prospect, then he could have envisaged utopian wonderdrugs
which reinforced or enriched our most cherished ideals. In our imaginations, perhaps we
might have been allowed - via chemically-enriched brave new worlders - to turn ourselves
into idealised versions of the sort of people we'd most like to be. In this scenario,
behavioural conditioning, too, could have been used by the utopians to sustain, rather
than undermine, a more sympathetic ethos of civilised society and a life well led.
Likewise, biotechnology could have been exploited in BNW to encode life-long fulfilment
and super-intellects for everyone - instead of manufacturing a rigid hierarchy of
genetically-preordained castes.

Huxley, however, has an altogether different agenda in mind. He is seeking to warn us
against scientific utopianism. He succeeds all too well. Although we tend to see other
people, not least the notional brave new worlders, as the hapless victims of propaganda
and disinformation, we may find it is we ourselves who have been the manipulated dupes.

For Huxley does an effective hatchet-job on the very sort of "unnatural" hedonic
engineering that most of us so urgently need. One practical consequence has been to
heighten our already exaggerated fears of state-sanctioned mood-drugs. Hence millions of
screwed-up minds, improvable even today by clinically-tested mood-boosters and
anti-anxiety agents, just suffer in silence instead. In part this is because people worry
they might become zombified addicts; and in part because they are unwilling to cast
themselves as humble supplicants of the medical profession by taking state-rationed
"antidepressants". Either way, the human cost in fruitless ill-being is immense.

Fortunately, the Net is opening up a vast trans-national free-market in psychotropics. It
will eventually sweep away the restrictive practices of old medical drug cartels and their
allies in the pharmaceutical industry. The liberatory potential of the Net as a global
drug-delivery and information network has only just begun.

Of course, Huxley can't personally be blamed for prolonging the pain of the old Darwinian
order of natural selection. Citing the ill-effects of Brave New World is not the same as
impugning its author's motives. Aldous Huxley was a deeply humane person as well as a
brilliant polymath. He himself suffered terribly after the death of his adored mother. But
death and suffering will be cured only by the application of bioscience. They won't be
abolished by spirituality, prophetic sci-fi, or literary intellectualism.

So what form will this cure take?
In the future, it will be feasible technically - at the very least - for pharmacotherapy
and genetic medicine to re-engineer us so that we can become - to take one example among
billions - a cross between Jesus and Einstein. Potentially, transhumans will be endowed
with a greater capacity for love, empathy and emotional depth than anything
neurochemically accessible today. Our selfish-gene-driven ancestors - in common with the
cartoonish brave new worlders - will strike posterity as functional psychopaths by
comparison; and posterity will be right.

In contrast to Brave New World, however, the death of ageing won't be followed by our
swift demise after a sixty-odd year life-span. We'll have to reconcile ourselves to the
prospect of living happily ever after. Scare-mongering prophets of doom notwithstanding, a
life of unremitting bliss isn't nearly as bad as it sounds.

The good news gets better. Drugs - not least the magical trinity of empathogens,
entactogens and entheogens - and eventually genetic engineering will open up revolutionary
new state spaces of thought and emotion. Such modes of consciousness are simply
unimaginable to the drug-innocent psyche. Today, their metabolic pathways lie across
forbidden gaps in the evolutionary fitness landscape. They have previously been hidden by
the pressure of natural selection: for Nature has no power of anticipation. Open such
spaces up, however, and new modes of selfhood and introspection become accessible. The
Dark Age of primordial Darwinian life is about to pass into history.

In later life, Huxley himself modified his antipathy to drug-assisted paradise. Island,
Huxley's conception of a real utopia, was modelled on his experiences of mescaline and
LSD. But until we get the biological underpinnings of our emotional well-being securely
encoded genetically, then psychedelia is mostly off-limits for the purposes of
paradise-engineering. Certainly, its intellectual significance cannot be exaggerated; but
unfortunately, neither can its ineffable weirdness and the unpredictability of its agents.
Thus mescaline, and certainly LSD and its congeners, are not fail-safe euphoriants. The
possibility of nightmarish bad trips and total emotional Armageddon is latent in the way
our brains are constructed under a regime of selfish-DNA. Uncontrolled eruptions within
the psyche must be replaced by the precision-engineering of emotional tone, if nothing
else. If rational design is good enough for robots, then it's good enough for us.

In Brave New World, of course, there are no freak-outs on soma. One suspects that this is
partly because BNW's emotionally stunted inhabitants don't have the imagination to have a
bad trip. But mainly it's because the effects of soma are no more intellectually
illuminating than getting a bit drunk. In BNW, our already limited repertoire of
hunter-gatherer emotions has been constricted still further. Creative and destructive
impulses alike have been purged. The capacity for spirituality has been extinguished. The
utopians' "set-point" on the pleasure-pain axis has indeed been shifted. But it's
flattened at both ends.

To cap it all, in Brave New World life-long emotional well-being is not genetically
pre-programmed as part of everyday mental health. It isn't even assured from birth by
euphoriant drugs. For example, juvenile brave new worlders are traumatised with electric
shocks as part of the behaviorist-inspired conditioning process in childhood. Toddlers
from the lower orders are terrorised with loud noises. This sort of aversion-therapy
serves to condition them against liking books. We are told the inhabitants of Brave New
World are happy. Yet they periodically experience unpleasant thoughts, feelings and
emotions. They just banish them with soma: "One cubic centimetre cures ten gloomy
sentiments".

Even then, none of the utopians of any caste come across as very happy. This seems
credible: more-or-less chronic happiness sounds so uninteresting that it's easy to believe
it must feel a bit uninteresting too. For sure, the utopians are mostly docile and
contented. Yet their emotions have been deliberately blunted and repressed. Life is nice -
but somehow a bit flat. In the words of the Resident Controller of Western Europe: "No
pains have been spared to make your lives emotionally easy - to preserve you, as far as
that is possible, from having emotions at all."

A more ambitious target would be to make the world's last unpleasant experience a
precisely dateable event; and from this minimum baseline start aiming higher. "Every day,
and in every way, I am getting better and better". Coue's mantra of therapeutic
self-deception needn't depend on the cultivation of beautiful thoughts. If harnessed to
the synthesis of smarter mood-enrichers and genetically-enhanced brains, it might even
come true.

Of course, it's easy today to write (mood-congruent) tomes on how everything could go
wrong. This review essay is an exploration of what it might be like if they go right. So
it's worth contrasting the attributes of Brave New World with the sorts of biological
paradise that may be enjoyed by our ecstatic descendants.


S t a s i s
Brave New World is a benevolent dictatorship: a static, efficient, totalitarian
welfare-state. There is no war, poverty or crime. Society is stratified by
genetically-predestined caste. Intellectually superior Alphas are the top-dogs. Servile,
purposely brain-damaged Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons toil away at the bottom. The lower
orders are necessary in BNW because Alphas - even soma-fuelled Alphas - could allegedly
never be happy doing menial jobs. It is not explained why doing menial work is
inconsistent - if you're an Alpha - with a life pharmacological hedonism - nor, for that
matter, with genetically-precoded wetware of invincible bliss. In any case, our
descendants are likely to automate menial drudgery out of existence; that's what robots
are for.

Notionally, BNW is set in the year 632 AF (After Ford). Its biotechnology is highly
advanced. Yet the society itself has no historical dynamic: "History is bunk". It is
curious to find a utopia where knowledge of the past is banned by the Controllers to
prevent invidious comparisons. One might imagine history lessons would be encouraged
instead. They would uncover a blood-stained horror-story.

Perhaps the Controllers fear historical awareness would stir dissatisfaction with the
"utopian" present. Yet this is itself revealing. For Brave New World is not an exciting
place to live in. It is a sterile, productivist utopia geared to the consumption of
mass-produced goods: "Ending is better than mending". Society is shaped by a single
all-embracing political ideology. The motto of the world state is "Community, Identity,
Stability."

In Brave New World, there is no depth of feeling, no ferment of ideas, and no artistic
creativity. Individuality is suppressed. Intellectual excitement and discovery have been
abolished. Its inhabitants are laboratory-grown clones, bottled and standardised from the
hatchery. They are conditioned and indoctrinated, and even brainwashed in their sleep. The
utopians are never educated to prize thinking for themselves. In Brave New World, the twin
goals of happiness and stability - both social and personal - are not just prized but
effectively equated.

This surprisingly common notion is ill-conceived. The impregnable well-being of our
transhuman descendants is more likely to promote greater diversity, both personal and
societal, not stagnation. This is because greater happiness, and in particular enhanced
dopamine function, doesn't merely extend the depth of one's motivation to act: the
hyper-dopaminergic sense of things to be done. It also broadens the range of stimuli an
organism finds rewarding. By expanding the range of potential activities we enjoy,
enhanced dopamine function will ensure we will be less likely to get stuck in a depressive
rut. This rut leads to the kind of learned helplessness that says nothing will do any
good, Nature will take its revenge, and utopias will always go wrong.

In Brave New World, things do occasionally go wrong. But more to the point, we are led to
feel the whole social enterprise that BNW represents is horribly misconceived from the
outset. In BNW, nothing much really changes. It is an alien world, but scarcely a rich or
inexhaustibly diverse one. Tellingly, the monotony of its pleasures mirrors the poverty of
our own imaginations in conceiving of radically different ways to be happy. Today, we've
barely even begun to conceptualise the range of things it's possible to be happy about.
For our brains aren't blessed with the neurochemical substrates to do so. Time spent
counting one's blessings is rarely good for one's genes.

BNW is often taken as a pessimistic warning of the dangers of runaway science and
technology. Scientific progress, however, was apparently frozen with the advent of a world
state. Thus ironically it's not perverse to interpret BNW as a warning of what happens
when scientific inquiry is suppressed. One of the reasons why many relatively robust
optimists - including some dopamine-driven transhumanists - dislike Brave New World, and
accordingly distrust the prospect of universal happiness it symbolises, is that their
primary source of everyday aversive experience is boredom. BNW comes across as a stagnant
civilisation. It's got immovably stuck in a severely sub-optimal state. Its inhabitants
are too contented living in their rut to extricate themselves and progress to higher
things. Superficially, yes, Brave New World is a technocratic society. Yet the free flow
of ideas and criticism central to science is absent. Moreover the humanities have withered
too. Subversive works of literature are banned. Subtly but inexorably, BNW enforces
conformity in innumerable different ways. Its conformism feeds the popular misconception
that a life-time of happiness will [somehow] be boring - even when the biochemical
substrates of boredom have vanished.

Controller Mustapha Mond himself obliquely acknowledges the dystopian sterility of BNW
when he reflects on Bernard's tearful plea not to be exiled to Iceland: "One would think
he was going to have his throat cut. Whereas, if he had the smallest sense, he'd
understand that his punishment is really a reward. He's being sent to an island. That's to
say, he's being sent to a place where he'll meet the most interesting set of men and women
to be found anywhere in the world. All the people who, for one reason or another, have got
too self-consciously individual to fit into community life. All the people who aren't
satisfied with orthodoxy, who've got independent ideas of their own. Everyone, in a word,
who's anyone..."

Admittedly, Huxley's BNW enforces a much more benign conformism than Orwell's terrifying
1984. There's no Room 101, no torture, and no war. Early child-rearing practices aside,
it's not a study of physically violent totalitarianism. Its riot-police use
soma-vaporisers, not tear-gas and truncheons. Yet its society is as dominated by caste as
any historical Eastern despotism. BNW recapitulates all Heaven's hierarchies (recall all
those angels, archangels, seraphim, etc.) and few of its promised pleasures. Its satirical
grotesqueries and fundamental joylessness are far more memorably captured than its
delights - with one pregnant exception, soma.

Unlike the residents of Heaven, BNW's inhabitants don't worship God. Instead, they are
brainwashed into revering a scarcely less abstract and remote community. Formally, the
community is presided over by the spirit of the apostle of mass-production, Henry Ford. He
is worshipped as a god: Alphas and Betas attend soma-consecrated "solidarity services"
which culminate in an orgy. But history has been abolished, salvation has already
occurred, and the utopians aren't going anywhere.

By contrast, one factor of life spent with even mildly euphoric hypomanic people is pretty
constant. The tempo of life, the flow of ideas, and the drama of events speeds up. In a
Post-Darwinian Era of universal life-long bliss, the possibility of stasis is remote; in
fact one can't rule out an ethos of permanent revolution. But however great the
intellectual ferment of ecstatic existence, the nastiness of Darwinian life will have
passed into well-deserved oblivion.


I m b e c i l i t y
Some drugs dull, stupefy and sedate. Others sharpen, animate and intensify.
After taking soma, one can apparently drift pleasantly off to sleep. Bernard Marx, for
instance, takes four tablets of soma to pass away a long plane journey to the Reservation
in New Mexico. When they arrive at the Reservation, Bernard's companion, Lenina, swallows
half a gramme of soma when she begins to tire of the Warden's lecture, "with the result
that she could now sit, serenely not listening, thinking of nothing at all". Such a
response suggests the user's sensibilities are numbed rather than heightened. In BNW,
people resort to soma when they feel depressed, angry or have intrusive negative thoughts.
They take it because their lives, like society itself, are empty of spirituality or higher
meaning. Soma keeps the population comfortable with their lot.

Soma also shows physiological tolerance. Linda, the Savage's mother, takes too much: up to
twenty grammes a day. Taken in excess, soma acts as a respiratory depressant. Linda
eventually dies of an overdose. This again suggests that Huxley models soma more on
opiates than the sort of clinically valuable mood-brightener which subverts the hedonic
treadmill of negative feedback mechanisms in the CNS. The parallel to be drawn with
opiates is admittedly far from exact. Unlike soma, good old-fashioned heroin is bad news
for your sex life. But like soma, it won't sharpen your wits.

Even today, the idea that chemically-driven happiness must dull and pacify is demonstrably
false. Mood-boosting psychostimulants are likely to heighten awareness. They increase
self-assertiveness. On some indices, and in low doses, stimulants can improve intellectual
performance. Combat-troops on both sides in World War Two, for instance, were regularly
given amphetamines. This didn't make them nicer or gentler or dumber. Dopaminergic
power-drugs tend to increase willpower, wakefulness and action. "Serenics", by contrast,
have been researched by the military and the pharmaceutical industry. They may indeed
exert a quiescent effect - ideally on the enemy. But variants could also be used on, or
by, one's own troops to induce fearlessness.

A second and less warlike corrective to the dumb-and-docile stereotype is provided by
so-called manic-depressives. One reason that many victims of bipolar disorder, notably
those who experience the euphoric sub-type of (hypo-)mania, skip out on their lithium is
that when "euthymic" they can still partially recall just how wonderfully intense and
euphoric life can be in its manic phase. Life on lithium is flatter. For it's the havoc
wrought on the lives of others which makes the uncontrolled exuberance of frank euphoric
mania so disastrous. Depressed or nominally euthymic people are easier for the authorities
to control than exuberant life-lovers.

Thus one of the tasks facing a mature fusion of biological psychiatry and psychogenetic
medicine will be to deliver enriched well-being and lucid intelligence to anyone who wants
it without running the risk of triggering ungovernable mania. MDMA(Ecstasy) briefly offers
a glimpse of what full-blooded mental health might be like. Like soma, it induces both
happiness and serenity. Unlike soma, it is neurotoxic. But used sparingly, it can also be
profound, empathetic and soulfully intense.

Drugs which commonly induce dysphoria, on the other hand, are truly sinister instruments
of social control. They are far more likely to induce the "infantile decorum" demanded of
BNW utopians than euphoriants. The major tranquillisers, including the archetypal
"chemical cosh" chlorpromazine (Largactil), subdue their victims by acting as dopamine
antagonists. At high dosages, willpower is blunted, affect is flattened, and mood is
typically depressed. The subject becomes sedated. Intellectual acuity is dulled. They are
a widely-used tool in some penal systems.


A m o r a l i t y
Soma doesn't merely stupefy. At face value, the happiness it offers is amoral; it's
"hedonistic" in the baser sense. Soma-fuelled highs aren't a function of the well-being of
others. A synthetic high doesn't force you to be happy for a reason: unlike people, a good
drug will never let you down. True, soma-consumption doesn't actively promote anti-social
behaviour. Yet the drug is all about instant gratification.

Drug-naive John the Savage, by contrast, has a firm code of conduct. His happiness - and
sorrows - don't derive from taking a soul-corrupting chemical. His emotional responses are
apparently based on reasons - though these reasons themselves presumably have a
neurochemical basis. Justified or unjustified, his happiness, like our own today, will
always be vulnerable to disappointment. Huxley clearly feels that if a loved one dies, for
instance, then one will not merely grieve: it is appropriate that one grieves, and there
is good reason to do so. It would be wrong not to go into mourning. A friend who said he
might be sad if you died, but he wouldn't let it spoil his whole day - for instance -
might strike us as quite unfeeling, if rather droll: not much of a friend at all.

By our lights, the utopians show equally poor taste. They don't ever grieve or treat each
others' existence as special. They are conditioned to treat death as natural and even
pleasant. As children, they are given sweets to eat when they go to watch the process of
dying in hospital. Their greatest kick comes from taking a drug. Life on soma, together
with early behavioural conditioning, leaves them oblivious to the true welfare of others.
The utopians are blind to the tragedy of death; and to its pathos.

Surely this is a powerful indictment of all synthetic pleasures? Shouldn't we echo the
Savage's denunciation of soma to the Deltas: "Don't take that horrible stuff. It's poison,
it's poison...Poison to the soul as well as the body...Throw it all away, that horrible
poison". Don't all chemical euphoriants rob us of our humanity?

Not really; or only on the most malaise-sodden conception of what it means to be human.
Media stereotypes of today's crude psychopharmacy are not a reliable guide to the next few
million years. It is sometimes supposed that all psychoactive drug-taking must inherently
be egotistical. This egotism is exemplified in the contemporary world by the effects of
power-drugs such as cocaine and the amphetamines, or by the warm cocoon of emotional
self-sufficiency afforded by opium and its more potent analogues and derivatives. Yet
drugs - not least the empathogens such as Ecstasy - and genetic engineering can in
principle be customised to let us be nicer; to reinforce our idealised codes of conduct.
The complex role of the "civilising neurotransmitter" serotonin, and its multiple receptor
sub-types, is hugely instructive - if still poorly understood. If we genetically
re-regulate its receptors, we can make ourselves kinder as well as happier.

The crucial point is that, potentially, long-acting designer-drugs needn't supplant our
moral codes, but chemically predispose us to act them out in the very way we would wish.
Biotechnology allows us to conquer what classical antiquity called akrasia [literally,
"bad mixture"]. This was a Greek term for the character flaw of weakness of the will where
an agent is unable to perform an action that s/he knows to be right. Tomorrow's
"personality pills" permit us to become the kind of people we'd most like to be - to
fulfil our second-order desires. Such self-reinvention is an option that our genetic
constitution today frequently precludes. Altruism and self-sacrifice for the benefit of
anonymous strangers - including starving Third World orphans whom we acknowledge need
resources desperately more than we do - is extraordinarily hard to practise consistently.
Sometimes it's impossible, even for the most benevolent-minded of the affluent planetary
elite. Self-referential altruism is easier; but it's also different - narrow and
small-scale. Unfortunately, the true altruists among our (non-)ancestors got eaten or
outbred. Their genes perished with them.

More specifically; in chemical terms, very crudely, dopaminergics fortify one's
will-power, mu-opioids enhance one's happiness, while certain serotonergics can deepen
one's empathy and social conscience. Safe, long-lasting site-specific hybrids will do
both. Richer designer cocktails spiced with added ingredients will be far better still. It
is tempting to conceptualise such cocktails in terms of our current knowledge of, say,
oxytocin, phenylethylamine, substance P antagonists, selective mu-opioid agonists and
enkephalinase-inhibitors etc. But this is probably naive. Post-synaptic receptor
antagonists block their psychoactive effects, suggesting it's the post-synaptic
intra-cellular cascades they trigger which form the heartlands of the soul. Our inner
depths haven't yet been properly explored, let alone genetically re-regulated.

But our ignorance and inertia are receding fast. Molecular neuroscience and behavioural
genetics are proceeding at dizzying pace. Better Living Through Chemistry doesn't have to
be just a snappy slogan. Take it seriously, and we can bootstrap our way into becoming
smart and happy while biologically deepening our social conscience too. Hopefully, the
need for manifestos and ideological propaganda will pass. They must be replaced by an
international biomedical research program of paradise-engineering. The fun hasn't even
begun. The moral urgency is immense.

It's true that morality in the contemporary sense may no longer be needed when suffering
has been cured. The distinction between value and happiness has distinctively moral
significance only in the Darwinian Era where the fissure originated. Here, in the
short-run, good feelings and good conduct may conflict. Gratifying one's immediate
impulses sometimes leads to heartache in the longer term, both to oneself and others. When
suffering has been eliminated, however, specifically moral codes of conduct become
redundant. On any utilitarian analysis, at least, acts of immorality become impossible.
The values of our descendants will be predicated on immense emotional well-being, but they
won't necessarily be focused on it; happiness may have become part of the innate texture
of sentient existence.

In Brave New World, by contrast, unpleasantness hasn't been eradicated. That's one reason
its citizens' behaviour is so shocking, and one reason they take soma. BNW's outright
immorality is all too conceivable by the reader.

Typically, we are indignant when we see the callous way in which John the Savage is
treated, or when we witness the revulsion provoked in the Director by the sight of John's
ageing mother - the companion he had himself long ago abandoned for dead after an
ill-fated trip to the Reservation. Above and beyond this, all sorts of sour undercurrents
are endemic to the society as a whole. Bernard is chronically discontented, even
"melancholy". The Alpha misfits in Iceland are condemned to a bleak exile. Feely-author
Helmholtz Watson is frustrated by a sense that he is capable of greater things than
authoring repetitive propaganda. The Director of Hatcheries is utterly humiliated by the
understandably aggrieved Bernard. Boastful Bernard is himself reduced to tears of despair
when the Savage refuses to be paraded in front of assorted dignitaries and the
Arch-Community-Songster of Canterbury. Lesser problems and unpleasantnesses are
commonplace. And appallingly, the utopians come to gawp at John in his hermit's exile and
watch his suffering for fun.

Brave New World is a patently sub-standard utopia in need of some true moral imagination -
and indignation - to sort it out.


F a l s e H a p p i n e s s
Huxley implies that by abolishing nastiness and mental pain, the brave new worlders have
got rid of the most profound and sublime experiences that life can offer as well. Most
notably, they have sacrificed a mysterious deeper happiness which is implied, but not
stated, to be pharmacologically inaccessible to the utopians. The metaphysical basis of
this presumption is obscure.

There are hints, too, that some of the utopians may feel an ill-defined sense of
dissatisfaction, an intermittent sense that their lives are meaningless. It is implied,
further, that if we are to find true fulfilment and meaning in our own lives, then we must
be able to contrast the good parts of life with the bad parts, to feel both joy and
despair. As rationalisations go, it's a good one.

But it's still wrong-headed. If pressed, we must concede that the victims of chronic
depression or pain today don't need interludes of happiness or anaesthesia to know they
are suffering horribly. Moreover, if the mere relativity of pain and pleasure were true,
then one might imagine that pseudo-memories in the form of neurochemical artefacts imbued
with the texture of "pastness" would do the job of contrast just as well as raw nastiness.
The neurochemical signatures of deja vu and jamais vu provide us with clues on how the
re-engineering could be done. But this sort of stratagem isn't on Huxley's agenda. The
clear implication of Brave New World is that any kind of drug-delivered happiness is
"false" or inauthentic. In similar fashion, all forms of human genetic engineering and
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