Brave New World Project, Case Study Example

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Case Study

Abstract

This paper examines two works by Aldous Huxley: Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited. The paper begins with a short summary of the novel, highlighting the plot-points and themes that are most essential for understanding that the novel depicts a dystopian political world. The essay also probes the reasons why Huxley chose to write a novel on these themes and concludes that Huxley’s vision is both accurate in some respects as a predictor of political adn social evolution, but far too alarmist in cynical in other ways, particularly in regard to the dangerous influence of technology.

The paper, in order fully examine Huxley’s position,  explores the way that technology is used in the novel to create a dystopian World state. The paper also examines the way that social classes are created for reasons of political oppression. By looking into the way that social control is used over various social classes, evidence from Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited is cited to show how Huxley viewed the idea of political tyranny and social manipulation both in fiction and in the real world.  Huxley’s ideas, as evidenced in Brave New World Revisited are looked at in relation to historical developments and events in order to suggest that his cautionary themes may be slightly too cynical. The paper concludes that technology can be considered as asset in a democratic society as well as being potentially used to create an oppressive state. 

Summary of the story

Aldous Huxley’s famous novel, Brave New World (1932) is one of the most notable examples of dystopian fiction written in the twentieth century. The novel concerns a futuristic society that relies on technology and a strong caste system to create a hierarchical social order. The use of technology by the “World Controllers” is an aspect of the novel that predicts the detrimental impact that scientific achievement exerts on human society. Simultaneously, the depiction of the caste system in the novel functions as a scathing and ironic commentary on the use of political, intellectual, and economic power. The novel describes ways in which the state controls education and reproduction in a society that is posited to exist in the year “A.F. 632,” where the initials A.F. stand for “After Ford.” This is a reference to Henry Ford, who is widely credited as being the inventor of mass-production and assembly lines, particularly for the making of cars. This is an important factor in the novel because the notion of an assembly line is adapted by Huxley to replace natural biological reproductive processes. The following discussion will delve into Huxley’s positions on the use of technology and its relationship to a dystopian government and will conclude that Huxley’s vision, while very compelling, remains somewhat specious when compared to real-world events.

Various technologies described for the advanced society.

The assembly-line serves as a foundation for many of the principles embodied in the society of the World State. The most important way in which the society envisioned by Huxley echoes the idea of an assembly line is the way that the World State treats human-beings as merely “parts” of the larger whole of the state.  For example, during the opening of the novel when the “Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning” explains the intricacies of “Bokanovsky’s Process,” to a class of students, he explains that the technique enables a single embryo to be harvested many times and this, according to modern science, is an improvement on nature. The Director tells the students that “From eight to ninety-six buds, and every bud will grow into a perfectly formed embryo, and every embryo into a full-sized adult. Making ninety-six human beings grow where only one grew before” (Huxley, 3). The irony that is extended in this passage refers to the way in which technology and science serve as agents of dehumanization.

The description of how new life is created in Brave New World occupies the opening of the novel because Huxley intends the reader to understand that the main themes of the novel were: the oppression of the individual by the state, and the negative or oppressive influence of science and technology on human society.  This basic thematic idea is carried with a great many variations throughout the course of the story. In fact, it is Huxley’s descriptions of the various technologies that are part of society in Brave New World that defines the type of social classes that are part of the World State. The descriptions of technology also provide for the basis of irony in the novel. The main reason that the technologies should be viewed as ironic is because they serve to make life for the people of the World state more shallow and unfulfilling, whether the citizens are aware of this fact or not. Since technology is supposed to be a force of social-progress, the fact that technology in Brave New World actually functions as a method of oppression is ironic and tragic.

Those who are part of the Utopian society in the World State have access to many different types of technologies. In the following discussion, a number of these technologies will be listed, along with the way they are integrated into society. The list of technologies is meant to explain the way in which Huxley utilized science and technology to help create his vision of a dystopian society, so it is obvious that the technologies, on the surface, appear as though they are agents of progress; however, on closer inspection, it will be shown that each one of the technologies in question actually serves to stop progress rather than foster it. One of the best examples is the use of the drug “soma.” This drug is common among those in the higher levels of society in the novel and it is a drug that functions as an hallucinogenic. The characters in the novel take the drug in order to experience excitement and stimulation, remaining unaware that the feelings and ideas that are associated with the drug are actually only illusions. In other words, taking soma helps the citizens of the World state to forget their oppression and to believe that they are happy and excited by life even though many of the natural functions of being human have been removed from their experience.

Soma is used for recreation, but it is also used to stifle any kind of emotional response that may serve to distract the characters in the novel from their state-imposed happiness. For example, when Bernard becomes jealous of Helmholtz’s ability to make an easy friendship with John the Savage, he instinctively turns to soma as a way of dealing with his feelings. Huxley writes that Bernard “was ashamed of his jealousy and alternately made efforts of will and took soma to keep himself from feeling it” (Huxley, 123). The catch-all nature of soma is that it is meant to help destroy the human capacity for feeling. The irony is that it is supposed to be a drug that helps an individual to experience life more deeply. Of course, the fact is that each time one of the characters in the novel takes soma; they are actually stifling rather than increasing their humanity and emotional response.

What are the social purposes of these technologies?

Many of the other technologies that are described in Brave new World function in a similar way. They are used to distract people from their emotions, or to keep them fixated on their state-controlled lives without feeling as though they are being, in any way, oppressed. It would be too simplistic to say that all of the technologies that are described in the novel are aspects of “brainwashing.”  However, the technologies which are described in the novel do serve to prevent the average person from thinking too deeply about their lives.  One example of a technology that helps to keep the population passive and simultaneously stimulated is the “feelies.” A feely is a form of entertainment where a person sits in a special chair, places their hands on special knobs, and then experiences a sensory-rich kind of movie where they can actually feel the things that are happening on the screen. At one point in the novel, Dr. Gaffney explains to John the Savage that books are obsolete, unless they are used purely for reference. He tells John that “If our young people need distraction, they can get it at the feelies” (Huxley, 110). His dismissive tone is meant to assure the Savage that nothing about the Utopian level of society is left to individualism.

Dr. Gaffney goes on to remark that one of the reasons that feelies are offered as entertainment is to promote the idea of group-experiences over those experiences which could be considered independent of society. This means, obviously, that books, which promote a degree of solitude and self-reflection are frowned upon, whereas communal experiences such as feelies, are highly encouraged. Gaffney tells John that the World State does not want young people to “indulge in any solitary amusements” (Huxley, 110). This indicates that in the World state, individualism is perceived as a threat both to happiness and order. The use of technology to suppress individuality is one of the most basic functions of the state in Brave New World.  If individuals are not allowed to pursue solitary pleasures or even solitary thoughts or ideas, then dependence on the state and on social conformity is heightened.

Technology in the book is always portrayed as an outgrowth of state power. The use of technology is not only sanctioned by the state, but the types of technologies and their availability at large are tightly controlled. Another form of self-reflection: listening to music is controlled by technology in the World State. Technologies such as “Scent Organs” provide music that is coupled with intoxicating smells.  “Colour Organs” use light-effects and music together, while massaging-devices called “Vibro-vacs” soothe the listener’s body. In the case of each of the technologies described above, the basic element that is eliminated by the technology is human-to-human contact, along with the capacity for individual reflection of contemplation. Basically, the technologies in Brave new World serve to keep the population stimulated without any actual growth or meaning attached to the stimulation.  This kind of “empty” stimulation only leads to an increased sense of being under the power of the state and – throughout the novel – technology is used as a method for “herding” the population into strictly controlled methods of thought and behavior.

Against the backdrop of advanced technology, Huxley is careful to show the reason for each of the gadgets and products. The use of technology is not only controlled by the World State, but the development of new technologies, some that could change the world for the better, are deliberately stopped. One reason is that the World State wants to keep its citizens busy manufacturing goods.  Another reason that the World State creates and produces only certain kinds of technologies and not others is because any kind of technology that offers citizens a way to have more free time or less work also results in a chance that they will fall back on self-reflection and on cultivating a sense of self-identity. This, as mentioned, is the greatest threat to the World State.

At one point John the Savage, while speaking to Mustapha Mond, expresses his belief that if citizens were allowed to have self-reflective thoughts, they might ultimately find a sense of spirituality. He tells Mond “If you allowed yourselves to think of God, you wouldn’t allow yourselves to be degraded by pleasant vices” (Huxley, 161). This observation states the theme of technology as expressed by Huxley in a deliberately obvious way. Mond responds to the Savage, and his words complete the articulation of the novel’s ironic use of technology. Mond says “It would upset the whole social order if men started doing things for themselves.” (Huxley, 161). The exchange of dialogue shows, without a doubt, that the main purpose of technology in the World State is to dehumanize and control citizens and to prevent them from developing any form of self-reliance or self-sufficiency.

Compare and contrast social control mechanisms between the advanced society and the “Reservation” society

The irony of the use of technology in Brave New World extends beyond the novel’s depiction of an advanced technological society. The novel also describes the “Reservation” society. This society is comprised of people who live in an “uncivilized” state of nature. The character of John the Savage is emblematic and representative of the way that the Reservation society functions. The fact that in reservation society sexual activities still function as method of childbirth rather than merely a form of recreation shows that the “primitive” state of the Reservation society is, in fact, closer to the true meaning of being human than the technological advanced society of the World Government. However, both the Utopian society and the Reservation society remain under the ultimate control of the state.

The way that people in reservation Society are controlled by the state is that they are reduced to living impoverished lives. They lack adequate food, clothing, and medical care.  They have no access to technology or learning. Instead, they lead lives at a kind of tribal level. They are of little interest to the people who live in the advanced sector of society. The Reservation is regarded as an exciting, potentially dangerous tourist attraction. It is understood both by those who live in the advanced society and those who live on the Reservation that the primitive level of society embodied by the Reservation is less desirable than the higher, more affluent society that has advanced technology. In this way technology is used to control the populations of both societies: one by its availability and the other by its absence.

BRAVE NEW WORLD REVISITED

Various dangers to democracy.

Although Brave New World is a work of fiction, Huxley firmly believed, on writing the novel, that the society and technological developments that he envisioned would likely come to fruition as the world continued to evolve.  This is another aspect to the use of technology in the novel. The presence of technology is an extrapolation from the real-world and the exponential increase in technological breakthroughs that happened in the real world in between the debut of Brave New World in the 1930’s and the development of technology in the post World War Two era convinced Huxley that his dystopian vision of human society and politics was essentially correct. In order to reinforce his cautionary story, Huxley returned to the same dystopian themes in his book Brave New World Revisited (1958). This book, however, was non-fiction. In this work, Huxley examined the events of the real world to prove decisively whether or not history was moving toward the bleak vision he revealed in his original novel.

In Brave New World Revisited, Huxley devotes a number of chapters to the range of threats he perceived to democratic societies. The threats that Huxley talks about include the threat of over-population as well as the use of brainwashing techniques by governments. He also describes the dangers of propaganda, drugs, and subconscious programming or subliminal persuasion.  One of the more fascinating ideas that Huxley posits in Brave New World Revisited is that of hypnopaedia. This technique, also known as “sleep learning” is a way that Huxley envisions a government might attempt a “state controlled system of ethical education” (Revisited, 89). Huxley insists that “sleep teaching” is ineffective for creating learning-skills, but that it may have an impact in creating ethical ideas.

Obviously, Huxley’s listing of potential dangers to democracy is connected to the development of modern technologies. For example, radio and television in the twentieth-century providing the ability for mass communication that greatly enhanced the ability for governments to broadcast propaganda. Similarly, the development of psychoactive drugs helped to foster mind-control techniques. The use of sophisticated recording technologies such as records, tapes, and film allowed for the use of subliminal persuasion. In Huxley’s vision, the development of technology is almost always connected with a corresponding threat to individuality and democracy. Of course, many people who are avid fans of television or radio or recorded music are unaware that these technologies could be used to undermine individuality and destroy democratic freedoms. However, just as films and television can be used for the creation of expressive material or informative material, they can also be used as tools of propaganda and government oppression. Huxley’s idea in Brave New World Revisited is, basically, that the degree to which technology was created over the course of the twentieth century indicates the degree of danger to democratic freedoms that exist in the world.

If Huxley’s ideas about technology and oppression are frightening, they are also consistent. Whether writing in a narrative mode and using literary conceits such as soma or feelies, or by tackling the technologies of real-world twentieth century civilization, Huxley maintained the belief that technology and governmental control and oppression existed as two sides of the same coin. In order to examine the strength of Huxley’s argument in this regard, it is useful to consider the way in which a real-life technological advancement such as television or video games actually exerted a constricting or liberating impact on democratic cultures. Of course, it is not only possible, but likely, that any technology that is closely examined will reveal a dual impact on society, partly for good and partly for bad.

Select a technology that has been invented or particularly developed since 1960. Describe the technology; who invented it and when; how does it work; what relationship does the technology have with human behaviors;

The technology of television makes an excellent example to study in light of Huxley’s suggestions. The development of the technology that ultimately produced television was a process of evolution that involved a number of engineers and scientists.  For the sake of simplicity, it is generally safe to say that the first television technology was created by Philo Farnsworth in the late 1920’s. Farnsworth’s invention was improved and refined until the technology of television became widespread      in America during the late twentieth century. The two main features of television that relate to Huxley’s ideas about propaganda and mind-control are television’s capacity for mass-communication and its capacity for mass-entertainment. Although these two capacities may seem like the same thing to a casual observer, there is a significant difference between the use of television as a method of communication and the use of television as a method of entertainment.

Discuss how this technology MAY pose a threat to democracy and imagine a scenario that would bring that about.

In its capacity as a form of mass communication, television works by transmitting pre-recorded (or “live”) sounds and images to receiver “sets” that, in the middle and late twentieth century, became an important part of the average American household. The very fact that television technology became so widespread shows that television carried with it an enormous amount of influence over the people’s daily lives. The relationship between the proliferation of television sets and television stations and the way people’s behavior was impacted is a complex problem which, even in the twenty-first century has yet to be fully recognized or understood. In general terms, television impacted almost every aspect of American life from the way families gathered (or failed to gather) in the evenings, to the way that products were sold and the way that narrative stories were told. Prior to television, for example, books, poems, and stage-plays existed as the main method by which narratives were shared. After television, narrative was transferred from a written medium to a medium of vision and sound.

Broadcasting became one of the largest, most lucrative, and most powerful industries in society. People who regularly appeared on television became “celebrities.” Journalism became associated with the “nightly news” which was broadcast to millions of homes simultaneously. As the technology associated with television continued to develop and evolve, countless stations were created along with countless shows, programs, and other content. In the modern era, television broadcasts exist on hundreds of stations which transmit material 24 hours a day. Entire channels are devoted to cooking, golf, news, sports, or reality TV. Because of the mass proliferation of content and broadcasters, it is almost impossible to state with certainty the primary function of television technology. On one hand, it exists as a transmitter of information; on the other, it exists simply as a medium of entertainment.

Whether or not television poses a true threat to democracy is debatable; however, recent trends in broadcast news indicate that there is a potential for television to be corrupted as a tool for propaganda that masquerades as information. News networks such as Fox and Msnbc exist as obvious agents of propaganda for specific political agendas. If, for example, all of television became co-opted in this way, the potential to destroy democratic institutions and traditions might be increased. However, it seems very unlikely that television could ever pose a serious threat to democracy because its influence over people seems directly connected to the pre-existing capacity individuals have to believe the propaganda that is broadcast. In other words, since people are free to change channels or turn off the television at any point, its corruptive influence is often over-stated.

Discuss how intelligent use of this technology MAY enhance democracy instead of threaten it.

On the other hand, television also carries with it a capacity to facilitate democratic traditions and institutions by offering insight into the issues and policies that drive government and law-makers. By broadcasting debates between candidates and by exploring issues with journalistic integrity, the medium of television can easily be viewed as a method by which participation in democratic society is enhanced rather than diminished.  One scenario that is easily envisioned is where television brings to light a certain issue of civic or social importance that would otherwise remain unknown to the public at large. For example, the television coverage of the war in Viet Nam helped to transform the notion of that war in the mind of the American public by informing the average person about the terrible cost in blood and treasure that were at stake. This is not to say that Huxley’s insistence that technology can be used to oppress is always wrong; it is simply to assert that technology usually carries an equal capacity to facilitate or inhibit democratic processes.

References

Huxley, Aldous. (2006)  Brave New World. Harper Perennial, NY.

Huxley, Aldous. (2006) Brave New World Revisited.  Harper Perennial, NY.

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