Brave New World book cover

Why "Brave New World" is actually a utopia

May 02, 20208 min read
  • #books
  • Some time ago, I read Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World." The book made a strong impression on me even though I had already read Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451" and George Orwell's "1984." I noticed a particular difference between this dystopian novel and the other two, but I couldn't put it into words for some reason. Eventually, on my recommendation, one of my friends also read this book, and we had a relatively long conversation about it. In the end, we concluded that "Brave New World" is more of a utopia than a dystopia. So, here are my thoughts on the matter.

    Before we begin

    First, I want to clarify that my thoughts are based on the belief that happiness is subjective. What do I mean? I believe there isn't one universal state where everybody is equally happy and enlightened. Each person relies on his/her own benchmarks while searching for happiness and self-realization. And it's ok; it is how it should be because we all differ.

    If you look around today, you can notice that most of our population doesn't need that much to be happy; they don't require answers to ancient philosophical dilemmas or great scientific discoveries; they pursue consumption, and that's enough for them. A new phone or fancy clothes and some TV series in the evening stimulating dopamine production in the brain - that's all they need. Only a few are busy searching for the meaning of life, for example, or exploring the space in search of new forms of life (I deliberately intensified the colors to illustrate the idea, while in reality, there is also the concept of self-realization).

    If we dive into our own history, we find out that the idea of forcing your own values and beliefs upon other people doesn't have a happy ending. We went through enough ideological wars to understand it, didn't we? And if so, then there is no significant difference between playing video games all day and diligently self-improving in a particular area if a person sincerely wants it (I'm not talking about children because they are too young to independently decide what to engage in without their parents' guidance).

    Finally, this post is intended for people who already read the book. If I were to reveal the exposition here, the amount of text would become unreadable. Moreover, I read "Brave New World" about a year or something ago, and providing the exposition would force me to reread it. In this case, I probably wouldn't have written this post because of my laziness.

    Let's start

    After all that being said, let's finally dive into the thing. From the first appearance, the world of Aldous Huxley is a pure nightmare with the strictest caste system that gives no chances to change anything, with absolute slavery of personality to science, which by itself is under control of the government, and with unprecedented level of consumerism in the society, where literally everything is built in a way to make people spend more money. But is it as bad as it looks?

    If we are to generalize, there are five categories of people in the novel that we are interested in: the majority of the country's population, Bernard Marx, Helmholtz Watson, the savage John, and Mustafa Mond. Are all of them happy so we can consider their world a utopia? Of course not!

    Of course, most people are happy somehow; they are the consumerism society I discussed earlier. They even work only because research shows that lack of occupation leads to greater unhappiness. Each citizen with no regard for his/her caste sincerely loves his/her position in society, so social elevation isn't needed at all. As described above, I don't see any reason to enlighten them or impose external ideals if they don't want that. Therefore, I perceive their grounded happiness as the sought-after, utopian, and ideal state.

    Next, let's consider Bernard; he is undoubtedly unhappy. On the one hand, he belongs to the upper caste, but on the other hand, he visibly differs from the typical representative of that caste, making him an outcast. It's normal for him to be angry, envious, and offended. Despite the general rule that "everyone belongs to everyone," he is displeased when his lover is with someone other than himself. Bernard's differences could be discussed at length, leading to his unhappy state. However, as the author wrote, Bernard is a system error: an incident occurred when he was still in the test tube. Therefore, I am inclined to view our "non-conformist" more as a literary device the author employed to tell his story. Even if that's not the case, we cannot judge the system based on its mistakes without considering their quantity, which is relatively minimal: one flawed, unhappy person among several generations of happy ones.

    Helmholtz's situation is different: he is not a system error, and there were no excesses or anomalies with him while he was in the test tube or elsewhere. He even looks like a typical dandy and holds a reputable position as a lecturer at Emotional Engineering College. Nevertheless, he is unhappy; all he does is propaganda, triggering the required emotions from people while feeling capable of something greater himself. The mentioned self-realization doesn't let him rest. Ultimately, he is sent to the Falkland Islands as a dangerous societal element, far away from ordinary people. He could have perceived the exile as Bernard did, with fear and disagreement, but after Mustafa's explanations, the opposite occurs. What some perceive as hell on earth turns out to be a safe way for the system to meet the needs of the minority of people who find simple consumption unsatisfying. Helmholtz meets complete creative freedom and endless exciting and unconventional personalities on these islands. What could be better? In the end, we see how the system, while providing a solution for the majority, also cares about the minority, offering a compromise that allows both groups to find happiness.

    John, the Savage, is the bastard of the Director and Linda, born naturally in the Indian reservation (the mere existence of a reservation where "savages" live according to their customs is indicative; they are not imposed with high technology, and no one forcibly enlightens them, even if purely for financial reasons). He, alongside Bernard, serves as the reader's eyes into the World State but is introduced into the plot much later than the buggy Alpha-plus Bernard. Each is close to the reader in their own way: Bernard exhibits familiar traits as described earlier. At the same time, John seems like our contemporary transported into the future via a time machine. John doesn't belong to either world, which makes him unhappy. In the end, he seeks to join the islands with his comrades, but Mustafa denies him, leading to John's suicide. Like Bernard, John is undoubtedly unhappy, but his unhappiness is also artificial. He is an infrequent system error, just like Bernard, and, on top of that, he is directly denied the attempt to find peace on the islands. As the author considers his work a dystopia, I think he deliberately chose to end it on a dramatic note, resulting in such unhappy characters as Bernard and John. However, they are not related to the system itself: in a system like this, if it were to manifest in the real world, there would be no need for anyone to tell a story, and hence, there wouldn't be characters like them. If one still considers them part of the system, it can be argued that the system is ready at 99.9%, and utopia will come when no such people are left or a dedicated place is found for them.

    The most "problematic" character from the perspective of my idea is Mustafa Mond. He is just as much a minority representative as Helmholtz, but envying the island dwellers, he sacrifices his ambitions and realization potential to support the system. The system equally makes everyone happy at the cost of its supremacy happiness, as an ordinary citizen simply cannot lead such a system. Only the exact opposite, someone who sees much broader and more profound, can lead a mass of ordinary people. Mustafa cannot be considered a literary device or a system error because he manages it; he seamlessly fits into the overall picture of the world, unlike Bernard or John. The only thing I can hold onto is that such a position is his conscious choice. He chose to sacrifice everything for humanity; he was given the choice of "island or self-sacrifice," and he decided. I would say that such people would, on the contrary, be unhappy on the islands; their altruism would eat them from within. How could they act so selfishly and risk humanity's overall stability and happiness to satisfy their insatiable ambitions?

    The conclusion

    I don't know how exactly Aldous Huxley wrote his novel. I also don't know whether he meant the points I described above or it came up so by itself (probably, all of it is just my imagination anyway). Maybe Bernard and John are more than tricks for reader convenience. But one way or another, if we were to look at the work from a different angle, we would see a system that gives a chance to be happy and to self-realize to everyone and everybody: ordinary people, people with ambitions, and altruists. And isn't a world where everyone is happy called a utopia?