There’s no denying that there are many negative forces at work in today’s society. We have battles in court, battles on soil belonging to neighboring countries’, gang warfare, crazy people walking into local fast food joints and randomly spraying machine gun fire, police brutality, overpopulation, starving people, AIDS, cancer, pollution, dwindling resources, abusive and neglectful families, so many people caught up in material priorities, drugged from crack to Valium, from Ritalin to Prozac. We have destructive emotions like selfishness, fear, misery, envy, depression, jealousy, distrust, hate, racism, and anger. Just thinking about all the negative influences surrounding us is depressing. Pass the Prozac, please. It’s easy to overlook the existence of positive elements in our society. We need to know both extremes in order to have something by which to base our standards. There needs to be a balance. The Yin and the Yang must co-exist. This is not to say that the scales cannot tip toward one side or the other, and in a world where the scales seem to be tipping towards the bad side, who wouldn’t want to add a little weight to the good?
There have been and continue to be visionaries among us. The definition of Utopian is “ideal, but impractical”. The Utopia in A Brave New World boasted physical comfort and “happiness” ensured by genetic manipulation and postnatal conditioning. The inhabitants of this new world were essentially slaves, bound not by literal chains, but by mental ones.
On the subject of happiness John says to Bernard, ” Well, I’d rather be unhappy than have the sort of false, lying happiness you were having here”. The happiness of the new world was not true happiness since it was conditioned. Just as one who has been hypnotized to walk around clucking like a chicken may think he is a chicken, he is not actually a chicken. Similarly, a woman regularly abused by her partner, being told that she is “worthless” and “stupid” eventually comes to believe it, whether it’s true or not. One who is told he is happy often enough to believe it is not actually happy, he has just been brainwashed into believing so.
Based on his research, Abraham Maslow, a Philosopher of Humanistic Psychology, formed the theory of “self-actualization”. He found that in order to obtain happiness, we must first satisfy the “needs” on the lower rungs of the ladder in order to progress up the ladder to the top.
Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” in ascending order: 1) Physiological needs (hunger, thirst, shelter, rest) 2) Safety needs (protected from illness, elements) 3) Love (receiving and giving love, affection, trust, acceptance, family, friends) 4) Esteem needs (esteem, respect of others and self) 5) Cognitive needs (knowledge, understanding, curiosity) 6) Aesthetic needs (art, nature, balance, order) 7) Self actualizing (successful development and use of personal talents and abilities).
In accordance with Maslow’s theory, Brave New Worlder’s don’t have the potential to be happy. They couldn’t progress much past the 2nd rung of the ladder. Love was denied to them due to the “appalling dangers of family life”. Their cognitive needs were not fulfilled. They could be brainwashed, but not actually learn anything. The example given was of the little boy who could recall from his sleep teaching the statement about the Nile river being the longest in Africa, but not knowing which river in Africa was the longest. They did not have independent thought. In fact, they did not have most of Maslow’s characteristics of psychologically healthy people: “an objective perception of reality, independence, need for privacy, empathy, resistance to conformity, democratic characteristics, or the keenness to be creative”.
Today’s society is slowly but surely creeping towards being more and more controlled. Big business and Government are two powerful forces united, driven by money and power. We’re still giving fingerprints as a form of ID; will DNA be next? Our spending is monitored. We have credit and debit cards; even our paper money contains a metallic strip, for tracking. We are constantly being watched by cameras on every street corner, the highway, the park, work, shopping. Animals’ whereabouts are tracked by microchips that have been implanted in their bodies. Are we next? How about cloning?
Like the “orgie porgies”, “feelies” and “soma”, we’re being given distractions to divert our attention from realities such as these. To keep independent thought at bay, Ritalin, Prozac, TV “news”, soap operas, talk shows, and the internet are given to us. Advertising is stuffed down our throats. Catchy tunes reminding us how much we need this or that. The power of suggestion is strong. Mass production needs mass consumption. In A Brave New World the statements “Ending is better than mending”, “I love new clothes..”, “The more stitches, the less riches” were drilled into heads. Another form of distraction in A Brave New World was the constant groups of people, of strangers. This is similar to our city life. Masses of people lose individually, making them easier to lead. Churches have known this throughout history.
In A Brave New World, the Controller spoke to John of their nine year war and of how the masses were “ready to have even their appetites controlled then. Anything for a quiet life”. Are we heading toward a new society? A society slowly and methodically being reformed to better serve the needs of someone in a position of power? Will we soon be willing to give up our freedoms in exchange for physical safety as in the Brave New World?
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by Elle Housman