I’m reading Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, famous dystopian novel. Unlike Orwell’s 1984, where human beings are extensively controlled and coerced by an external power that often acts by brute force, in BNW stability is imposed by a form of social engineering that otherwise leaves people “free” – violence and control are internalized. Sometimes I hear people saying that for this reason BNW is superior to 1984. I think they have to be taken as what they are: exaggerations of mechanisms which in real societies operate all together and on much more subtle planes.
In BNW social engineering is carried through an industrialization (a concept that I’m trying to conjugate in all possible ways) of human activities, such like fertility, affections, intelligence etc. It’s interesting that all characters in the novel have names that mix together people from the industry and a wide spectrum of thinkers that somehow can be assimilated as “social engineers”. Some of them are Marx, Engel, Spencer, along with Diesel, Ford, Hooever, all together, like it or not. In this respect, I was mostly surprised to find that Bernard Shaw appears quite a few times as a central target of polemics. A four-page essay about his relation with BNW can be found here:
(use sci-hub.cc if you don’t have access). The motivations that cast Shaw in that list is that Shaw advocated many forms of sometimes subtle social engineering, including eugenics (which in Man and Superman was supposed to be the technique to create the Superman who would survive a Hell of boredom…); and reports his biography that in later years he was an admirer of a number of dictators.
This said, I’d like to shift the focus from the political format, be it democracy, stalinism, capitalism etc., to the industrial processes that happen quite universality. The most important of the mechanisms portrayed in BNW is that of birth control. It’s indisputable that techniques for birth control and eugenics are now available and they allow social engineering. I don’t have an informed opinion on most of them, but sometimes I have an instinctive repulsion for certain arguments in support of them, that to me sound as catch-phrases from a sterile ideology of a post-human “democracy”. At the same time, with some dejection, I have to admit I find that a certain sacrality of life that is today only argued for by christian thinkers resound with me much better (curiously, in BNW christianity, tradition and morals have been replaced with a scientology-like religion that only tends to a form of voluptuous ecstasy). Paradoxically, they sound more human (but notice that religion itself can be industrialized, I’m not taking a stand in favour of the Church or of blind acceptance of religious precepts at any rate here…*).
It’s out now an interesting documentary called The Swedish Theory of Love; according to its synopsis, it argues that since Olof Palme (social democrat that made Sweden the civilized country that it surely is, hence I should be perfectly atoned to him in principle, right?!) initiated a conscious and active project of social engineering to make people independent one of the other, children from parents, elderly from families, women from men, to the point where now all social interactions are to a minimum – making people lonely and unhappy. That such an experiment, not much different from what happens in BNW, would happen in “the most advanced democracy in the world” tells about how difficult it is for us to see the ideology behind our own reality. Since a long time I’m skeptical with respect to whatever social transformation that is planned from above and doesn’t come from society itself, missing the complexity of human life in some respect and ending up having unwanted consequences.
* Sometimes I think certain forms of faith are there to preserve a form of knowledge about how to live together that is so complex and inextricable that it just cannot be explained rationally, by deconstructing it step by step in a scientific way. So, in a way, it’s in defence of complexity as opposed to reductionism. More on this in the future.