The underlying assumption of the book is that humans are biochemical algorithms, that science can hack the human algorithm, and that technology can then be used to manipulate not just individuals but entire societies. In Huxley’s brave new world, the World Government uses advanced biotechnology and social engineering to make sure that everyone is always content, and no one has any reason to rebel. There is therefore no need of secret police, of concentration camps, or of an Orwellian Ministry of Love. Indeed, Huxley’s genius consists in showing that people can be controlled far more securely through love, pleasure and consumption than through violence, fear and austerity.
In Nineteen Eighty-Four, it is clear that Orwell is describing a frightening, nightmarish world, and the only question left is “How do we avoid reaching such a terrible state?” Reading Brave New World is a far more disconcerting and challenging experience, because you are hard-pressed to put your finger on what exactly makes it dystopian. The world is peaceful and prosperous, and everyone is supremely satisfied all the time. What could possibly be wrong with that?
When Brave New World was published in 1932, both Huxley and his readers knew perfectly well that he was describing a dangerous dystopia. Yet many present-day readers could easily mistake Brave New World for a utopia, and our consumerist society is actually geared to realizing Huxley’s vision. Today, happiness is the supreme value, and we use biotechnology and social engineering to ensure maximum satisfaction to all citizen-customers.
You want to know what could be wrong with that? Read Brave New World. The climactic dialogue between Mustapha Mond and John the Savage is among the most profound discussions of technology, happiness and the meaning of life in modern Western philosophy.
Extracted from Brave New World by Aldous Huxleypublished by Vintage Classics on February 24 with a new introduction by Yuval Noah Harari