Having been sick in bed with the flu for the past 2 weeks, I amused myself with some movie distractions. My first one is the 1980 movie version of “Brave New World”. This is originally a sci-fi novel originally written by British author Aldous Huxley in 1932 in the middle of the great depression, about a dystopian future earth society set in London 500 odd years in the future.
Unfortunately it’s dated as movies were in those days before modern cinema. Compounded by the characters being shallow without much personality which is obviously part of the story. But it’s nevertheless a well told story about a man named Thomas who is the assistant director of the hatching and conditioning department, who travels from an advanced “civilized” society with a woman (Linda), on holiday to a New Mexico Indian reservation (called savageland as its uncivilized). While there Linda falls off a cliff and being presumed dead is left behind. Years later an awkward semi-outcast boy (Bernard ) on a similar holiday to the same place with a woman (Lenina), finds Linda and Lindas son John. John was born on the reservation to Thomas the man Linda went on holiday with. All four travel back to civilized London. At first John is curious and in awe of the new place/world that is technologically much more advanced, but then is repulsed by it. After starting an unsuccessful riot in a drug dispensing room John agrees with the Leader/controller of the area to go to an isolated island. But he becomes a sideshow as people come to stare at him and ends up hanging himself.
How could such an advanced society that had eliminated birth, sickness, doctors, hunger, senility, hard work, poverty and wealth inequality be so repulsed by John? Because it was a heavily controlled totalitarian society that had also eliminated the concept of "parents" and "couples", music, movies and books, free thought, questioning and emotional expressions especially love. In addition to this, everyone is on multiple daily doses of a drug called Soma to combat the alienation, boredom and lack of freedom and be happy with it. No one in the society could see how wrong it is. While there were a few unfulfilled citizens (Bernard and Hemholtz), it took someone from outside (John) to see how wrong and inhuman this future society had become. Which poses two trick or enigma questions - is it better to be drugged and happy but not free or free but not happy as John was and secondly, what is freedom? This theme is repeated in the movie ”Matrix” by the traitor Cypher who says “ignorance is bliss" when he justifies his decision to betray his friends and reenter the Matrix. All three of course get banished to “free” islands of their choice. On these islands they are not run by London’s advanced civilized state and you are allowed to read any books poetry and think and discuss and do whatever you like. But John is said to be unable to either go to back to the reservation or a free island as he knows too much. His questioning nature is too ingrained in him, implying he is untrainable/unbrainwashable and needs be isolated . This implies that those on free islands aren’t that free which raises the other question of what is freedom?
The society Huxley has envisaged in brave new world is unlike most modern movie depicted dystopian societies, as most, except for the movie “Gattaca”, show dystopian societies as controlled by terror. Whereas brave new world citizens are merely controlled by brainwashing and hiding of truth. They also combine this with a daily dosage of soma which placates their depression and misery and questioning, creating a “stable state” all the while monitored by alpha stability monitors.
While there is no story as to how society got to where it is in the movie, and it’s not clear what exact type of economy brave new world is, I think it’s a combination of Capitalism, Fascism and Stalinism. Huxley obviously disliked authoritarianism /totalitarianism system of which communism had come to be under stalin by that time. The movie is littered with references to Russian communism with one of the main characters called Bernard Marx referencing Karl Marx the writer of the communist manifesto, and another called Lenina referencing Vladimir Lenin one of the major players of the Russian revolution. The egg splitting/fertilization assembly line process was given a Russian sounding name. The riot police are called solidarity forces. Huxley just as obviously didn’t like the capitalist system and where it may end up and took it to its logical conclusion in his book. There is no distinction between the state and private business, and there is no mention of profit or buying and selling , possibly another reference to communism. But Part of the alpha graduation film is “which has given us the perfect endless assembly line for more things, for more wants, in perfect balance for more wants, for more things”, this being a right wing saying that there is no distinction between needs and wants and everything has a price and is for sale at a price. Further this is continued in the main reinforced goal of the society to be efficient at producing and consuming. Consuming and consumer products being a capitalist ideology and method of obtaining profit.
In the brave new world society they worship Henry Ford . The western controller is called your Fordship. They have a radiator grill from a Ford Model T as a podium stand in alphas induction room, where as part of the graduation they say “of sanctified life thoughts and holy works of our ford whose divine inspiration came the “. There’s a Ford monument. Everyone in a higher position is called sir. Their symbol when they meet is a crossing similar to the old catholic sign of the cross reminiscent of a army master/subordinate salute supposedly from the model T. The ultimate assembly line is used to remove human ovary eggs and split and fertilize them with a process called Bokanovsky's process to make up to 93 identical humans . These babies are given shock treatment to learn to hate nature and books to keep them in the city to help reinforce producing and consuming. There is an emotional engineering institute. There's no art or poetry, instead being replaced by short jingles which are propaganda carefully written to not alter ideas and status quo.
In real life Henry Ford invented the assembly line and revolutionized production with his model T in 1913 and was also a fascist and big admirer of Hitler. Even selling and supplying motors and other parts to Hitler’s war effort, thou that came after the book was written as Hitler hadn’t been elected to parliament in 1932. In brave new world embryos are assigned a future role in society and educated to that level creating distinct classes of humans and roles with different knowledge, ie a class system which is a strong element of fascism. Being divided into alphas (top class), beta, delta , epsilon (workers). The brainwashing is blatantly evident in the screening of the short film on ford’s history to alpha graduates being given as a synto culture lecture “ as select alphas conditioned to believe without knowing and to know without believing you have been chosen to view the surrogate revelations”
Huxley postulated god is eliminated by science and soma and to a lesser extent substitution of Ford by eliminating the need for the comfort of god and that the brave new world scenario is possible .
Huxley was a pacifist and a humanist which tend to go together, and basically means we should be nicer to each other and offer no violence - both fatal flaws of democratic parties in a world controlled by money power and violence . This may be what gave his story a non violent control aspect.
My conclusion is, that I think capitalism will never reach utopia where class war is eliminated to any extent to produce such a society that could be merely controlled by brainwashing, science and drugs because capitalism is too exploitative and unstable. Brave new world is a satire that is still applicable to modern society where govt uses terrorism and other scaremongering tactics to install itself as desired and necessary by the voting public all the while limiting freedom as voters who are workers produce more for less wages and consume endlessly. Meanwhile voters lap up unquestioningly, the lies and mistruths told at the govt education system - the schools . This is carried on by the media and government itself . With not only drugs but also religion, music, TV, video games, celebrities and consuming, distracting the citizens and voters into a self reinforced coma to live their lives and carry on voting producing and consuming as powerless individuals. Its foreseeable in the future that corporations and government who are already dangerously too big, get to where big corporations who already direct and manipulate government policy, simply just become government in the future.
Huxley’s riot squad is extremely prophetic – given that its method is to simply play calming music and speech over loud speakers and spray the pacifying happy drug soma in the air to rioters. The A riots only started by drugged out workers who prefer the drug to reality, because John destroys their current day’s dose. A very astute telling of society 500 years in the future when you can already see that today humans are acting like trained, subdued wild horses or dogs with the fight gone out of them compared to huxley’s time when by protesting, striking and fighting most of the population had just won workers and voters rights from the capitalists and the government that we still mostly enjoy today.
I am puzzled thou by the fact that huxley living in a time having just been thru a big economic bubble and large amount of hedonism and then a crash and in the grip of the world’s biggest depression when the book is written, does not mention it in the story as part of a possible future. I can only conclude that not having read Marx, Huxley failed to see the inherent problems of capitalism and perhaps didn’t attribute the great depression to capitalism, but only assigned other minor or symptomatic problems to capitalism to be solved ?
Thou not covered in the book, in a 1958 interview in north america where Huxley had moved, he described the citizens in brave new world controlled by a drug called soma. But he thought in future autocratic societies, citizens would be controlled not by terror by say Hitler or by drugs, but in order for dictators to preserve power indefinitely, dictators would need to get consent of the ruled by propaganda. Huxley thought the biggest danger to democracy was that democracy depends on intelligent and rational choice for voters enlightened self interest. He thought that propaganda bypasses this by persuading voters to vote for a candidate we don’t know, persuaded below level of choice and reason. This would bypass the rational mind and get citizens to like their slavery, appealing to their subconscious and deeper emotion, happy with their new slavery all the while they ought not to be, and therefore by passing democracy. He was of course talking about the propaganda of political parties which was just emerging, and in that way political campaigns merchandised themselves as if soap or toothpaste, using recent examples saying it would only get greater (worse). And it has come to be today.
While Huxley still thought the brave new world scenario would come to North America, he had no answer for its coming. His quote “It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one's life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than try to be a little kinder” tells us, like others, while he knew of Marx, he remained ignorant to it as he hadn’t read or understood it. Yet he knew the answer to the brave new world happening would be to break society down into smaller parts of decentralization. Which is a very Marxist view and goal of a possible outcome of a workers revolution and that is to eliminate the class war and thereby make government smaller and even redundant.
Malcolm-Daniel Freeman SA
Brave New World 1980 Directed by Burt Brinckerhoff based on Aldous Huxley's 1932 novel of the same name.