Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is a very surface-level type of book. Many different themes are exposed mere moments after they’re underlined, like the conflict between utopia and dystopia, free choice and happiness, conflict and comfort, the list goes on and on. However, there’s something that is overlooked by the book. It’s briefly touched on towards the end in a confrontation between John and Mustapha Mond, and it is that the “Brave New World” may be new, but it’s bravery is fabricated by over-confidence. Those who created the utopian society known as the World State didn’t perfect life, they endangered it to the greatest capacity. They may have solved all problems with the old world, but by doing so they’re now so accustomed to quaint problem-free existence. Once they ran out of complications to solve, they lost their sense of discipline and courage, because all the strifes in current life that everyone must harden themselves to by enduring have been eliminated entirely. So, when the inevitability of new struggles arise, there’s no sense of bravery and experience with strife to motivate them towards action. They may think they’re brave, but it’s only a matter of time before a society like the World State is punished for it’s own hubris.
When John is brought to the World State as a savage celebrity, there’s a conversation between he and a group of doctors that almost contradicts this notion of weakness to unexpected conflicts. One of the doctors speaks about the children raised to be academic elites, and says “…as they’ll be called upon to take responsibilities and deal with unexpected emergencies, it can’t be helped.” (Huxley 161). That alone covers the need for adaptation to struggle, right? These directors and planners have sorted out a small caste of geniuses to handle those future difficulties, so they’ve even prepared for that. However, there’s a difference in “unexpected emergencies” and unknown future conflicts. “Emergencies” are what happens when something somewhat unusual occurs in the World State, like the riots in the Delta soma reception center. Those were both unexpected and solved with a simple ingredient that the book loves to exemplify: soma. Yes, all it took was some “policemen” to operate “spraying machines buckled to their shoulders that pumped thick clouds of soma vapour into the air.” (Huxley 214) They also carried with them anaesthetic water pistols, but that’s not even the bulk of the ridiculousness. What should be underlined in this chapter is the way the Deltas reacted to difference when they were without their soma: riots. These weren’t coordinated fights, either, they were unorganized brawls with combatants “howling… charged with a redoubled fury” (Huxley 213). This is because of what’s called state dependency, a weakened condition of human emotion and temper when addicted or constantly using a certain substance. After they’re deprived of their soma, they can’t even bare to rationalize what’s being told to their faces, they simply panic and attack one another as well as the man who disposed of their life’s key controlling substance. This simple soma dependence is what makes the World State’s definition of “emergency” foreboding of failure in the coming years. If they truly believe that all of their worst-case scenarios can be fixed by a strategic implementation of soma, then they’ve lost sight of what could truly destroy them, not just the simple idea of discontent.
State dependency is a theory very commonly referenced in Brave New World, but the magnitude of it isn’t really addressed on the surface. Take, for example, when Lenina sees a savage in John’s reservation being whipped to death. That’s a gruesome sight many people wouldn’t even care to watch today, but Lenina has a more exaggerated type of reaction. She does not formulate a comprehensive or open minded reaction towards what she’s seeing, she simply reaches for soma, only to find it’s finally unavailable. She then begins to state that they “ought not to have come here” (Huxley 111), and ridicule the scene in front of her as “the most indecent thing she had seen in her life” (Huxley 111). Without her ultimate anti-depressant, there’s nothing to keep Lenina comfortable or responsive to the world around her, she just shuts down. In fact, “antidepressant” doesn’t even do justice to soma, because soma is an escape from sadness, anxiety, discomfort, awkwardness, fear, distraction, and everything the human mind must learn to handle on it’s own in some capacity so it doesn’t lose control of itself. Now, were this to take place in modern society, where people are more accustomed to hardship and struggle, there’s nothing more to it than a little disgust and appropriate acceptance of what’s happening in front of them. Lenina, though, just becomes more and more unresponsive, attempting to channel the comatose state she would be putting herself in the second she got her hands on her soma. During her encounter with Linda, Lenina’s descriptions of Linda are those of an old person, yet in her words they’re describing the creature from the black lagoon. She uses phrases like “the creature was crying” (Huxley 119) and “the blown reek of embryo poison” (Huxley 121) to describe a woman who has simply grown old, but Lenina has never had to deal with an old person. She’s been preconditioned to live among people who stay young forever, and the mere sight of a different type of aged human being throws her into a rude and crass fit only appropriate for someone as mentally immature as Lenina.
Fits aren’t the worst of the World State’s troubles, though. There were problems they had to deal with at first that plagued mankind for centuries, down to the annoyance of mosquitos to sleeping sickness. They’ve harnessed the ability to create human beings in batches upwards of 90, they’ve developed cures for ailments that have plagued humanity for centuries, they’ve even overcome unhappiness, but what they’ve truly done is eliminated resistance and strength. They’ve taken the philosophy of French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery quite literally when she said “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” This is simply a fantasy, though; the idea of perfect is all but feasible. There’s a definite need for removal of diseases, even a reasonable amount of need for an alternative to drugs and alcohol. It was undeniably a benefit to humanity to reduce the frequency of diseases like sleeping sickness so that Lenina’s innocent mistake was “the first case for over half a century.” (Huxley 187) However, when the World State eliminates necessary struggles without replacing them, they weaken the world even more. A modern example would be cars and gasoline. Cars replaced the difficulties in travel with a more luxurious and convenient method of transportation, but rather than handing the benefits of a car to everyone, they must be earned through fiscal responsibility and purchasing gasoline. This balances out the discipline earned through walking long distances to reach one’s destination by replacing it with a value of somewhat equal significance. In the World State, though, problems are eliminated without any form of compensation. There’s just no kind of value or strength to be gained in endurance. One of John’s arguments with Mond was that in his tribe, the respect of women was earned through enduring the painful stings of mosquitoes. Mond’s reply to that lesson on discipline is “In civilized countries, you can have girls without hoeing for them; and there aren’t any mosquitoes to sting you. We got rid of them all centuries ago.” (Huxley 238). However, it is clear that this is not enough for John- it is not the proper direction for his idea of a perfect life. “He wants the old world back – dirt, diseases, free will, fear, anguish, blood, sweat, tears and all. He believes he has a soul…” (Atwood) In Mond’s image, the World State’s problems have been eliminated through trial and error over several years of near utopian status. What he doesn’t understand, though, is that there are numerous other kinds of threats that loom just over the horizon. Tsunamis, earthquakes, asteroids, and, as peculiar as it sounds, even extraterrestrial encounters. This takes place 500 years in the future, and that’s absolutely a possibility. A possibility that could very well destroy this fictional world because it has become far too weakened by its state dependence to comfort.
It stands to reason that the Brave New World has solved what humanity is attempting to solve right now, as far as disease and energy and other such trials. What’s different, though, is that their goal is to sit where they are, where it would be best to take on new trials and challenges. There’s absolutely more potential for the World State, yet they’ve contently sat back and propped up their feet as though they’ve simply won the game of life. Unbeknownst to them, though, they’ve simply stacked the odds against themselves by living a life of pure comfort.
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