Brave New World
By Aldous Huxley
Harper Perennial Modern Classics
'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness ...' The opening of Charles Dickens' 1859 book, A Tale of Two Cities, finds an echo in Aldous Huxley's 1932 novel, Brave New World.
Huxley set his story in London in the year 2540. In this futuristic age, technology is able to create 'artificial' babies without the need for a mother or any pregnancy.
Humans are manufactured like commodities and assigned various intelligence levels according to social needs.
At the core of the book is the idea of elitism. A state designer believes it is best to let the elite rule instead of democracy.
Babies are marked by their intelligence in descending order: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon. Mustapha Mond, the Resident World Controller for Western Europe and an Alpha Plus, likes to manufacture mostly Gammas and Epsilons who are the most simple-minded of the human race. As a result, they can be controlled easily and made to perform their low-skilled factory jobs without complaint.
The World State's motto - Community, Identity, Stability - reveals the ultimate purpose of every policy in this totalitarian yet seemingly pleasurable city.
'Community' suggests that everything is communal and there is no way you can retreat from the crowd or society for self-reflection. If you display a tendency to be anti-social, a senior will put you in a community centre to do an ecstatic 'orgy porgy' dance or give you some pellets of the drug soma. 'Everyone is happy now,' a popular slogan assures people.
'Identity' means everyone should know their caste and social responsibility. Yet any trace of individuality has been eliminated by the manufacturing of people in batches. A lot of them even have the same surname, like Lenina Crowne and Fanny Crowne.
The system also discourages independent thinking. People are hypnotised while they sleep and bombarded by commercials everywhere while they are awake.
This non-stop conditioning leads to a society of 'robots' who do what they are told - with no questions asked.
Stability is the top priority. The state employs all-round surveillance and the threat of severe punishment to maintain stability. Meanwhile, it cleverly influences people with fancy distractions, including physical pleasure and material goods.
John the Savage is not part of this world. He is the love child of the Director and lives on a reserve. He soon becomes a celebrity just because he is different.
A critical reader will easily spot connections with our own world.
Brave New World's brainwashing echoes government commercials and political propaganda. The intelligence levels reflect our knowledge-based society where white-collar people enjoy higher living standards than blue-collar ones.
Mindless materialism does not seem out of place, either: we, too, are obsessed with fleeting delights.
At the core of the novel is a simple question: can a world be perfect without freedom?