manufactured contentment

In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, the reader is confronted with freedom as a means to an end. If happiness is immediately available, then the valor in the pursuit of freedom seems suddenly hollow.
The London of A.F. 632 is arranged so that only fulfillable desires are felt by its people, as a result of genetic tampering, sleep-hypnosis, and Pavlovian conditioning, and so that the fulfillment of those desires is never denied. This projection of Huxley’s is his reflection on the trends of consumerism, sensationalism, and systemization that were being expressed in American society in the 1930s. The fully controlled environment in which Brave New Worldian children are reared seems to abstractly exaggerate the then-new television that was beginning to invade living rooms and take the socialization process away from parents. A television, a technological system, can tend to the children all day long whereas the emotional squalor of human upbringing can be inconsistent and damaging. These early socializing processes largely determine what the adult product will want from life – the World Controllers ensure that it is nothing unattainable, and insistently encourage its continuous consumption. Psychedelic soma, collective shamanic spiritual release, wanton sexual frolicking, and polysensory Feely productions are all administered by the State, and with the exception of the occasional Alpha misfit, they don’t want anything more. The gladly pacified inhabitants of Brave New World are named in mockery after failed revolutionaries, thinkers, and innovators.
Savage John knows a life of comparative freedom before arriving in the city. What little media he consumes at Alpais is in book form and demands personal interpretation and empathy. Choice is permitted, though poor ones are met with floggings. None of the tribal functions in which he partakes are without rich semantic context. Choice, belief, and interpretation are important to human society in the pursuit of happiness, hope, and meaning. But as he begins to experience the novel reality of a Brave New World with such people in it, he finds that happiness has been stripped of its mystique, enumerated, and prescribed en masse. In such a society, hope and meaning are irrelevant, and freedom of choice would actually inhibit the achievement of satisfaction. Unable to condone such undeserved joy, John makes an island of himself, and, as a final act of personal freedom, chooses to commit suicide.
Maybe Huxley fears that in a capitalist world of increasing amorality, the achievement of happiness will be devalued. Fortunately we have yet to reach Henry Ford’s six-hundredth birthday, and still enjoy the capacity to individually reflect on the intrinsic meaning of freedom and the ends that it serves.


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