Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is a compelling novel depicting a future society dominated by a single World State. One of the most striking features of this text is its depiction of industrialised biological and psychological engineering of human beings, designed by the World State to assist it in centrally planning the socioeconomic roles of its citizens. The author describes in detail the artificial fertilisation and incubation of embryos and subsequent ‘decanting’ by which all members of society are produced. This mechanical process features the “Bokanovsky process”, a fictional procedure which enables a single ovum to produce “eight to ninety-six embryos” and a single ovary to yield up to fifteen thousand people (Huxley, Brave New World ch. 1). Furthermore, Bokanovskified embryos grow into individuals with near identical physical traits. Through this radical biological program, the World State maintains a rigid caste structure featuring biological ‘tiers’ of human beings with differing levels of intelligence and physical abilities. Individuals are ranked from Alpha to Epsilon, with lower castes receiving prenatal chemical conditioning to ensure physical and intellectual inferiority. The Bokanovsky process is applied to Gamma, Delta and Epsilon castes to produce large ‘batches’ of identical humans, with further chemical and psychological conditioning being used to determine their social roles from conception. The World State’s artificial reproduction programmes, including the Bokanovsky process, are used to uphold its fundamental ideological principles of consumerism and socioeconomic stability, at the expense of dehumanising its citizens. A lifestyle of pleasure and instant gratification for all members of society is made possible by artificial reproduction, which discards natural reproduction and family structures. Stability is also guaranteed by the Bokanovsky process, which optimises the global labour force to the production needs of the economy. However, this artificial process results in a profound dehumanisation of individuals, as reflected by the drastic social uniformity and erosion of authentic human relationships in the novel.
The World State’s ideology is primarily based on a hedonistic conception of happiness in Brave New World. Individual happiness is inspired by values of comfort, pleasure and contentment and fuelled by consumption, instant gratification, drug use and promiscuity. In the novel, Huxley portrays Mustapha Mond, a world controller, as a spokesperson for the World State. Through Mond, the reader discovers the ideological world view promoted by this civilisation. While interviewing Bernard Marx, Helmholtz Watson and John ‘the Savage’, a trio of dissenters imprisoned for beginning a riot, Mond outlines this notion of happiness as the new sovereign good in society. He then describes the influence of Henry Ford, an quasi-religious figure in the World State, on the new dominant ideology, explaining that “our Ford did a great deal to shift the emphasis [of social ideology] from truth and beauty to comfort and happiness” (Huxley, Brave New World ch. 16). Biological engineering and artificial reproduction play an important role in the pursuit of these values. Firstly, the abolition of ‘viviparous’ reproduction supports a lifestyle of promiscuity, where sexual relations are commoditised. An important hypnopaedic proverb repeated by a variety of characters is that “everybody belongs to everybody else” (Huxley, Brave New World ch. 12). Furthermore, monogamy and long-term relationships are social taboos in this society, as is highlighted by the criticism Lenina receives from Fanny for her prolonged relationship with Henry Foster (Huxley, Brave New World ch. 3). As a result, contraception closely accompanies this polygamous lifestyle, while the reproductive needs of society are managed industrially. Furthermore, the nationalisation of human reproduction, growth and education is designed to do away with conventional family structures and rules surrounding sexual relationships. Mond describes in bleak terms the misery of old-word inhabitants who were made to submit to “prohibitions they were not conditioned to obey” (Huxley, Brave New World ch. 3). Indeed, inhabitants of the World State are taught to pursue pleasure and satisfy desires immediately. For example, a young man expresses the strong discomfort he experienced, when a girl delayed his sexual gratification by four weeks (Huxley, Brave New World ch. 3). In this context, biological engineering serves the purpose of liberating sexual desires from the constraints of natural reproduction, in order to facilitate an ideology of instantaneous and unrestricted indulgence.
The World State also promotes the use of the Bokanovsky process to guarantee socioeconomic stability. Stability is of paramount importance to Mond, who describes is as the “primal and ultimate need” of civilisation (Huxley, Brave New World ch.3). Indeed, this fictional society arose from an intense period of war, civil unrest and famine which lead to over a billion deaths across the world. According to him, the World State was first instigated when the people surrendered their rights in exchange for a guarantee of peace. Mond highlights this attitude by arguing the pointlessness of truth, beauty and knowledge “when the anthrax bombs are popping all around you” (Huxley, Brave New World ch. 16). He compares civilisation to a machine which must never stop turning, as “it is death if it stands still” (Huxley, Brave New World ch. 3). In this context, Biological engineering, especially Bokanovsky’s process, are used by the State as “one of the major instruments of social stability” (Huxley, Brave New World ch. 1). Through a centralised planning process, the State produces humans with the necessary features for their predestined social roles. For example, embryos destined to become chemical engineers are conditioned to become tolerant to various substances such as lead and chlorine. The caste structure is itself designed to ensure that humans with various degrees of intelligence, free choice and responsibilities are matched with their social role. Mond argues that Alpha class men would “go mad, or start smashing things up” if they were to take on the work designed for Epsilon class men (Huxley, Brave New World ch. 16). On the other hand, Epsilon individuals have the capacity to endure their less favourable social roles due to their inherent conditioning. Furthermore, the Bokanovsky process enables the State to standardise the work force by selectively reproducing and conditioning identical individuals. For example, a single egg subjected to this process, is said to be capable of staffing a small factory (Huxley, Brave New World ch. 1) with identical and adequately conditioned workers. The artificial creation of humans is also a formidable tool used by the State to optimise the global work force to specific economic needs of various industries. Huxley outlines the economic incentive for using the Bokanovsky process by outlining the value of tuning workers to the specific needs of the factory (Huxley, Brave New World Revisited ch. 3). As such, the caste system and Bokanovsky’s process, are tools which enable Mond to reach the optimal distribution of human abilities across society. This distribution is said to be “modelled on the iceberg – eight-ninths below the water line, one-nine above” (Huxley, Brave New World ch. 16), in reference to the proportion of Alpha and Beta castes compared to Gamma, Delta and Epsilons. Huxley therefore highlights how a society can use eugenic biological control to establish a socio-political equilibrium.
The reproductive and biological practices of the World State however also serve as catalysts for mass dehumanisation. This fictional civilisation, despite its social harmony and abolishment of discomfort, fails to endow its members with dignity as individual human beings. This is best illustrated by Bokanovsky’s process, which results in the commoditisation of the humans in Brave New World. By continuously producing batches of biologically identical humans, the State erodes the individuality and uniqueness of its lower caste members, in favour of economic usefulness. Indeed, Huxley admits that this novel takes “the attempt to recreate human beings in the likeness of termites” to its logical limit, so as highlighting the dehumanising effects of excessive social organisation (Brave New World Revisited ch. 3). From this perspective, the Bokanovsky process serves as a satirical analogy for contemporary social pressure towards uniformity and collectivism. The author argues that tools designed to create social conformity, such as the Bokanovsky process, “suffocate the creative spirit and abolish the very possibility of freedom” (Brave New World Revisited ch. 3). This phenomenon is however not limited to the lower castes in the novel. Members of the Alpha and Beta castes are also impacted by dehumanisation. Like the lower castes, these individuals are artificially conceived and subjected to psychological conditioning in order to carry out predetermined social roles. The State’s policy of unrestrained pleasure leads to an “illusion of individuality” (Huxley, Brave New World Revisited ch. 3). This is achieved through the subtle manipulation of hypnopaedia, instant gratification and promiscuity, which erode authentic emotion. Women are particularly dehumanised by the separation of sexual relations and procreation in the novel. Intimate relations are referred to as “having” a partner, while women are described as “pneumatic”, an adjective also applied to items of furniture (Huxley, Brave New World ch. 4). These eugenic methods used by the World State are used to portray the loss of uniqueness, dignity and humanity of the characters regardless of caste, qualities which are sacrificed on the altar of a consumerist ideology.
Eugenics and biological engineering play a prominent role in Brave New World. In this novel, Huxley explores the social implications of centrally planned, State-controlled and industrialised artificial reproduction, including the establishment of a biological caste system. The Bokanovsky process, a fictitious procedure designed to ‘produce’ humans in large batches of identical twins, is particularly important to the author’s depiction of this world. However, these radical social policies serve subtler ideological purposes. The World State, which subscribes to a consumerist world view, promotes hedonism and social stability as sovereign values, which eugenics and reproductive control are designed to serve. By abolishing viviparity and conventional family models, a social equilibrium based on gratuitous indulgence, consumption and a nationalised identity is established. Stability is also promoted through the artificial selection and conditioning of humans for predefined social roles. The caste system, supported by the Bokanovsky process among lower castes, optimises the global labour force in order to uphold a stable economy, while removing social tension through the manipulation of psychological and physiological ability. However, these supposed social benefits incur a very heavy cost to the dignity of individuals. In applying a eugenic philosophy aimed at ensuring social integration, building a collective biological identity and freeing sexual desires, the World State fails to uphold the dignity of it citizens as free human individuals. Bokanovsky’s process particularly degrades individuality in this text. These biological realities in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World have become less incredible and more plausible to contemporary readers. Despite its satirical style, Brave New World is a profoundly relevant text which echoes the ideology and social trends in contemporary global consumer culture.
Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. Toronto: Harper Collins, 2014. EPUB file.
—. Brave New World Revisited. Toronto: Harper Collins, 2014. EPUB File.
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