Conditioning Brave New World Essay

Contents

1. Introduction

2. The various forms of conditioning in Brave New World
2. 1 Biological engineering
2. 2 The use of psychological conditioning
2. 2. 1 Behaviourism
2. 2. 2 Sleep-teaching and hypnopaedia
2. 3 Chemical persuasion

3. The essential role of conditioning in the “utopian” world

4. Conclusion

Bibliography

1. Introduction

Unquestionably, Aldous Huxley‟s Brave New World, written in 1931, is one of the most fascinating dystopian novels. His description of a world state in the future, in which people are conditioned and manipulated from the cradle to the grave is meant to be a warning of the danger of dehumanization. Huxley draws a picture of a future including the misuse of political power, economic control, sciences and technology, biological engineering, mass consumption and the loss of ethical values. More precisely, Huxley‟s Brave New World could be regarded as a kind of “leisure dystopia”1 which is defined as an “utopia [that has] gone wretched or failed paradise-engineering projects.”2 The fine line between utopia and dystopia becomes visible. In leisure dystopian societies like in Brave New World, all problems have officially been abolished and the people are living in wealth and happiness. But this state is only achieved by eliminating intellectualism, values or individual freedom.3 Therefore, the state rulers need means of control. One of the most powerful tools is conditioning in various forms.

This study is meant to focus on the three types of conditioning prevailing in Brave New World. According to the order in the novel, the biological engineering in the pre-natal status will be discussed at first. Thereafter, the use of psychological conditioning with the methods of behaviourism, sleep-teaching and hypnopaedia is an essential theme. To complete it, the last type of conditioning, the chemical manipulation will be looked at. The different aspects will be combined with the motto of the World State in Brave New World: “Community, Identity, Stability”4. Furthermore the loss of individuality caused by biological and psychological conditioning is an important component within the analysis.

After this closer examination of the various forms, the paper tries to give an answer to the question of the essential functions of conditioning in Brave New World which will be concluded by analysing the term happiness in the novel with regard to manipulation and with a comment on how relevant Huxley‟s ideas are today.

2. The various forms of conditioning in Brave New World

2. 1 Biological engineering

At the very beginning of the novel the reader is confronted with the misuse of science in Brave New World. 5 Instead of protecting family life and natural birth, humans are industrially bred in bottles on assembly lines in huge laboratories. The knowledge of biochemistry, genetic engineering and cloning enables the production of the required number of people. Overpopulation would lead to economic insecurity and social unrest.6 A World Government bureau, the “Predestinators”, determines the requirement and then, individuals with special qualities are produced artificially and industrially. The ovaries from females are surgically removed, kept alive in incubators, inspected for abnormalities and after that, artificially fertilized in glass boxes. Whereas the ova of the Alphas and Betas, the most intelligent caste in the World State and on top of the special society‟s hierarchy, remain in the incubator, the Deltas and Epsilons, the less intelligent and underprivileged, undergo the “Bokanovsky Process”. In this process ninety-six identical embryos with the same genetic structure are produced, which we would call cloning nowadays.

The genetic structure of the DNA is furthermore manipulated by adding alcohol, chemical additives or by depriving the embryos of oxygen, in order to determine the basic inherited characteristics of life. The Delta and Epsilon embryos, for example, are made nearly stupid by adding a high amount of alcohol to their blood surrogate, which causes brain damage. Not only the intellectual capacity of an individual is influenced by genetic engineering, but also the outward appearance. Hence, the lower castes in society are smaller and apelike.

It becomes clear that human beings in this world are biologically conditioned to have certain capacities in order to fulfil their prescribed functions in society. Obviously, genetic engineering and the “Bokanovsky Process” work as two pillars in the World State. Community is formed by the production of identical clones (later - on each caste in the hierarchy will wear identical clothes, by which a feeling of togetherness and identification is created). Stability can be kept, because behaviour, skills and the grade of intelligence are conditioned and simultaneously predictable. In the words of the “Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning”: “All conditioning aims at that: making people like their unescapable social destiny.”7

The term identity, the third part of the World‟s motto “Community, Stability, Identity”, should actually be the nucleus and the wonder of the creation of new life, but in this world it degenerates to nothing more than a propagandistic motto or, if it exists, then only in the form of identification with the caste someone belongs to and as a result of genetic engineering.

This conditioned identity furthermore ends in a kind of „perfection‟ in one‟s lifetime by psychological conditioning, which will be demonstrated in the following.

2. 2 The misuse of psychological conditioning

How extensive the psychological conditioning is and how deep it is rooted in the minds of the individuals illustrates an expression by the “Director of the Hatcheries and Conditioning”:

“Not so much like drops of water, though water, it is true, can wear holes in the hardest granite; rather, drops of liquid sealing-wax, drops that adhere, incrust, incorporate themselves with what they fall on, till finally the rock is all one scarlet blob. `Till at last the child‟s mind is these suggestions, and the sum of the suggestions is the child‟s mind. And not the child‟s mind only. The adult‟s mind too – all his life long. The mind that judges and desires and decides – made up of these suggestions. But all theses suggestions are our suggestions! “8

From the moment of being born in the World State, the citizens are under the heel of the state‟s conditioning methods with contents according to their class. By “Pavlovian-style behavioural conditioning”9 and hypnopaedia, the World Rulers are able to form the identities of their dependents as required.

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1 http://hem.passagen.se/replikant/

2 ibid.

3 cf. ibid.

4 HUXLEY, ALDOUS: Brave New World. London: Vintage, 2007, p. 1.

5 see for the following explanation HUXLEY (2007: Chapter I, set at the “Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre”, p.1-14)

6 cf. HUXLEY, ALDOUS: Brave New World Revisited. London: Triad Grafton Books, 1988, p. 24. Available at: http://huxley.net/bnw-revisited/index.html

7 HUXLEY (2007: chapter II ) Availablet at: http://www.huxley.net/bnw/two.html

8 ibid.,p.23.

9 PEARS, DAVID: “Brave New World? – a Defence of Paradise Engineering”. BLTC research, 1998. Available at http://www.huxley.net/

"Progress is lovely" (Huxley 98)

The world in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World has one goal: technological progress. The morals and aspirations of the society are not those of our society today - such as family, love, and success - but instead are focused around industry, economy, and technologic growth and improvement. The citizens are not concerned with themselves as individuals; they have been conditioned to see the world as a collective and technologically oriented. This society is one which Neil Postman, the author of Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, would consider a ‘Technopoly.’ But Postman also perceives cultures in the world today to be nearing this socio-technologic status. What can be seen about Brave New World and its comments on technological advancements as well as their effects in society, when we examine it from the perspective of Postman’s Technopoly? The medical advancements in Huxley’s novel and its concepts of educational standardization carry drastic similarities to society today as well. Sir Ken Robinson’s discussions on education elucidate these congruencies. Through these scholastic perspectives it can be seen that the novel is a dangerously accurate prophesy of technology’s capacity to dominate society, and how this domination is silently changing the goals, moralities, and values of our culture.

The most prevalent themes in Brave New World are centered around the industrial and economic systems in novel, and how technology has brought the advancements of these themes to fruition. The mentality of the society is that progress, through invention, is the key goal of mankind. Consumerism and productivism are the purpose of life in Huxley’s industrial utopia. The consumerist ideals of the society can be captured by one of the hypnopaedic proverbs demonstrated in this quote from the novel: “‘But old clothes are beastly,’ continued the untiring whisper. ‘We always throw away old clothes. Ending is better than mending, ending is better than mending, ending is better than mending.’” (Huxley 54). All the citizens of The World State in the novel are conditioned since birth to maintain that buying new is proper and repairing is immoral. They are taught to conform to the consumer-oriented mentality of the culture. Postman provides an example for the means of how this transition in society is taking place today and suggests how Huxley may have imagined it happening: “Along with [the idea that if something could be done, it should be done] there developed a profound belief in all the principles through which invention succeeds: objectivity, efficiency, expertise, standardization, measurement, and progress. It also came to be believed that the engine of technological progress worked most efficiently when people are conceived of not as children of God or even as citizens but as consumers” (Postman 42). This perspective describes with pinpoint accuracy how Huxley’s society functions. The people are no longer oriented to believe in god, but instead only believe in the principles of consumption.

In the novel all religion has faded away and been forgotten by the citizens of the World State. The only deity-like or religious principles that people follow are that of Henry Ford, inventor of the Model T. Society’s closest acknowledgement of a “god” is Ford. As Postman states, “the great narrative of inductive science takes precedence over the great narrative of Genesis, and those who do not agree must remain in intellectual backwater” (Postman 50). In fact, the dating system used in the novel is based upon A.F. and B.F. which is the abbreviated form for After Ford and Before Ford, which Huxley clearly used to parody our current dating system of B.C. (before Christ) and A.D. (anno domini). God is not merely second to technology - as is the paradigm of society today, which Postman calls the ideals of a ‘Technocracy” - but God has completely been stamped out and forgotten, replaced by paradigms of God being progress, which is the ideal of a Technopoly.

Postman describes the cause of this to be that “the greatest invention of the nineteenth century was the idea of invention itself. We had learned how to invent things, and the question of why we invent things receded in importance” (Postman 42). By constantly inventing, replacing, and consuming, a society loses its ties with the spiritual and gains new ones to technology; personal transcendence is replaced with technological transcendence. Progress, technology, and invention become their God. This transition -as Postman puts it the transition of a Technocracy to a Technopoly- is the transition that has taken place in Brave New World. Technocracy did not entirely destroy the traditions of the social and symbolic worlds. Technocracy subordinated these worlds - yes even humiliated them - but it did not render them totally ineffectual” (Postman 45). However, a Technopoly, utterly destroys the existence of these worlds, and this is the state of Huxley’s utopia. “Technopoly eliminates alternatives to itself in precisely the way Aldous Huxley outlines in Brave New World. It does not make them illegal. It does not make them immoral. It does not even make them unpopular. It makes them invincible and therefore irrelevant (Postman 48).

Therefore, from the perspective of Postman’s Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, Huxley’s society in Brave New World is a stunningly perfect example of a Technopoly. In this Technopoly, technology and the advancements of it contain all the principles one needs to live their lives by. A Technopoly is a more radical concept than a technocracy. “The citizens of a technocracy knew that science and technology did not provide philosophies by which to live” (Postman 47) unlike the Technopoly in Brave New World. This is precisely why Huxley’s society is a Technopoly and not a Technocracy; in the novel the citizens know just the opposite, that science and technology does provide philosophies by which to live and moreover is the very pinnacle of their lives and their existence.

The lower castes of Huxley’s society are simple workers; multitudes of drones and one-task thinkers. The mass production of human life is key to the economic structure of this society, but there is another factor that goes along with the workers. Not only are the workers created for the purpose of a simple life of servitude, they are also conditioned to enjoy such a meager life. They are content with this lifestyle in every sense, and therefore, they are stable. Like biological machinery, constantly working, working, working; satisfied with every minute of their day. This resembles our world today as Sir Ken Robinson elucidates in his RSA Animate on education. Robinson speaks about the “culture” of education and how children are conditioned to think that there are ‘smart’ and ‘dumb’ individuals and that this paradigm limits children. This black-and-white standardization is similar to Huxley’s caste system. A strict organization like these contains the similarities of making society believe that society is best if it operates on the modern principle that there is a cultural split in education: the split of high and low intelligence. These two examples also share the similarity that they neglect how certain individuals may be better or worse at different tasks or subjects and that in reality this kind of standardization actually limits society. This is a postmodern idea, currently growing in popularity.

In society today there is the idea of ADHD being an epidemic in America. Sir Ken Robinson points out that there is not really an epidemic and that children are being medicated carelessly. they are given Ritalin and Adderall so they can be focused in school. A non-medical problem is being cared for with medication (RSA). This strongly resembles the Soma in Brave New World. If someone isn’t happy, they simple take Soma, and suddenly they’re content again. This reliance on drugs is a parallel between Huxley’s novel and Sir Robinson's video. As Huxley’s proverb goes, “a gramme is better than a damn” (Huxley 156).

The similarities between how our education system puts children in groups by age and has them taught to think that there is only one answer. Robinson points out how students are taught linearly instead of divergently (RSA). This standardization of education reflects the caste system in Brave New World and how each caste is conditioned to be only able to do the job their caste demands. Each caste is conditioned through hypnopaedia to only think one way, this resembles the culture of our education system and how students are taught to think only in terms of if one score high on tests, one is intelligent and will have a good job and if one scores low, the person is unintelligent and must have a laborious job.

Another significant parallel which can be seen through the ‘lens’ of Robinson’s video is the similarities between the "production line mentality" of America's education system, and the biologically mass-produced citizens of the World State in Brave New World. The students in America go through this process of classes organized by age, yet as Robinson elucidates, age does not necessarily dictate a student’s aptitude or discipline with a certain subject (RSA). This resembles the caste system in the novel and how everyone is conditioned from pre-birth to maturity to only be intelligent enough for their caste's jobs.

The democracy of individual growth and personal spirituality is eliminated in Huxley’s Technopoly. By analyzing the novel from the perspectives of Postman and Robinson, it becomes clear that Huxley’s work is a prediction for the future that hits all-too close to the bone. The transition from the Technocracies of today, to the Technopoly in Brave New World is one that seems to be growing nearer, dauntingly. When do our advances in technology begin to do more harm than help? No one can predict when good-natured intentions can bring about unfortunate ends, yet Huxley provides a profound guess. How long before the ever-sharpening claws of technology latch around our own society, and grip us away from the morals we hold to be valuable? Should we fear this threat? Or embrace its benefits? “Progress is lovely, isn’t it?” (Huxley 98).


References

Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World: And, Brave New World Revisited. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2005. Print.

Postman, Neil. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. New York: Vintage Books, 1993. Print.

RSA Animate - Changing Educational Paradigms, 14 October 2012. Youtube. Web. 11 November 2012.

References

Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World: And, Brave New World Revisited. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2005. Print.

Postman, Neil. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. New York: Vintage Books, 1993. Print.

RSA Animate - Changing Educational Paradigms, 14 October 2012. Youtube. Web. 11 November 2012.

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