How does the society described in “Brave New World” compare with today’s society?
Note: I apologize for the somewhat sloppy writing as this post was taken, with little editing, from a paper I wrote for an undergraduate political theory class in 2016 (keep this year in mind when you are reading the statistics) and thus it did not benefit from all the writing experience and knowledge I have since gained in my studies and work life. Additionally, I previously posted a version of this post to Quora.
In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, the citizens of the World State are all happy (or at least claim to be) and they pursue their happiness in a materialistic and sexual way. Socializing is highly encouraged and compulsory, as is drug use. This society resembles a strange mix of communism (in the way things are organized and everyone is controlled through propaganda), but also capitalism (in the way that consumerism is encouraged to a large degree and the way that people are still grouped into classes (castes), albeit through genetic engineering instead of jobs).
In this new society the people are extremely materialistic, to the point where they buy new things instead of fixing the old ones. After all, “Ending is better than mending” (Pg. 58). This extreme economic consumerism keeps the society running and stable. The World Controllers will not approve of new games that do not require a high level of consumption. They are even open about this and everyone is aware of how much they spend, although they do not have much of a choice in acting like this, because this behavior, as well as most others, are sleep-taught to them from youth so that they become second nature.
They are also a highly sexual society. In this society, promiscuity is the norm and monogamy is a nonexistent artifact of another time. Fanny even mocked Lenina for staying exclusively with Henry Foster for too long. People are programed and encouraged to have sex often and with many partners. “Every one belongs to every one else” (Pg. 48), so it would be selfish to hog a sexual partner for too long. Kids are also encouraged to be sexually active and taught to experiment from a very young age. Take this example from page 38, which appears strange to us, but the Director, Controller, and students found it normal. “…A little boy of about seven and a little girl who might have been a year older, were playing … a rudimentary sexual game.”
Being alone is also discouraged, with people encouraged to be highly social. Reading, thinking, and other forms of self-entertainment are no longer in use. “If our young people need distraction, they can get it at the feelies. We don’t encourage them to indulge in any solitary amusements” (Pg. 150). Being alone may result in subversive thoughts, lower amounts of consumption (economic spending is encouraged and needed), and a lack of socializing.
In the society of the World State, if people are unhappy they solve their problems with the fictional drug, soma, because “One cubic centimeter cures ten gloomy sentiments” (Pg. 60).
This seems very strange and foreign, however it should not seem all that abnormal. This society is a very strange one to us; however, what it really is is just a very advanced, slightly changed, and extreme version of modern American society. The society in the book has been modified in ways such as manufactured and programed kids, however, the culture of materialism and sexualization is clearly relatable to the way modern Americans currently seek pleasure, the book’s society is just further along in developing the material and sexual culture than we are. If given as many years as the World State had, it is possible that our culture may develop like theirs (I am not speculating on any possible technological advances or human engineering, only on the culture and the way they pursue happiness and pleasure.)
First, America is a large consumer of drugs and alcohol. In 2014, an estimated 27 million Americans were current users of an illegal drug, the most common drug being marijuana (Drug Use Estimates). Soma is described as a mild hallucinogen that is non-habit forming that does not give you a hangover and has no real side effects, unless it is heavily abused like was the case with Linda. For those reasons, you can live a productive life and use it in your spare time. Soma is used to cheer people up and to cure boredom. Marijuana, while not a hallucinogen, is also not habit forming and has very few side effects (although it certainly is not free of all side effects). People frequently use it in order to cure their boredom, allow them a temporary reprieve from their mundane lives, and use it in a social setting. Marijuana can be considered a primitive Soma.
Alcohol use is high in America. Almost 90% of adults have consumed it, with over 55% using it monthly (Alcohol Facts and Statistics). Alcohol is habit forming and has many adverse effects, but is better than marijuana at releasing people from their lives. As these statistics show, American culture includes the use of drugs to solve problems, similar to the World State.
Secondly, similar to the book, we are also a highly social society with people increasingly choosing social contact to alone time. Even activities that we consider solitary have taken a social turn. People now play video games online with friends, either directly in a group or competing through leaderboards. Browsing the Internet now involves blogs and comment sections, to say nothing of social media. People are now constantly attached to their cell phones, constantly texting or on social media. Though nowhere close to the World State, we discourage being alone, labeling people as “loners” and judging people on their amount of friends. Our society is highly social, in a way that can be considered a primitive form of the way they are in the World State.
Thirdly, America is a highly sexual society. America is no where near as sexual or promiscuous as the World State, but Americans still pursue a great deal of their pleasure in a sexual way. One in five searches on a mobile phone are for porn. There have been approximately 3 billion searches for porn since 2015 alone. Americans of all demographics consume all types of porn (Covenant Eyes). Americans engage in sex more and more frequently than in the past as well. They also average more than five partners in a lifetime and engage in more “creative” sex than the “normal” sex of the past (The Kinsey Institute — Sexuality Information Links — FAQ [Related Resources]).
Americans also start having sex at a young age. While nowhere near as young as in the book, and sex with and among children is discouraged and often even illegal, sexual activity among adolescents has become more and more “normal.” The average American loses their virginity at 17 and less then 15% of men and women are virgins between the ages of 20 and 24 (The Atlantic).
Fourthly, and perhaps most importantly, Americans pursue happiness in an extremely materialistic way. This is evident all across our society. Americans line up in large numbers for Black Friday sales or to buy the newest IPhone. Our worth in this society is based on how much we make and whether or not we possess the newest gadget, the best home, or a good car.
Spending on entertainment has been increasing. Americans spend significant amounts of their income on entertainment, alcohol, and other leisure activities. They also spend a large amount on housing, more than is necessary (How Much The Average American Spends on Entertainment).
The average American home has over 300,000 items and most homes with two car garages no longer have room to actually park their cars in said garages. The average American throws away 65 pounds of clothing on a yearly basis. Americans buy their kids way more toys then they use, spend more on jewelry and shoes than they do on higher education, and purchase way more goods than 50 years ago. There are more malls in America than high schools and most households have more television sets than they do people (16 Facts About Consumerism That’ll Blow Your Mind). It is evident that America is a highly consumeristic and ultra-materialistic society. Yes, it is no where near as bad as the World State, but it is ultra-materialistic nonetheless.
America is a materialistic society that contains a lot of drug use, sex, and social behavior, albeit nowhere near the levels contained in Brave New World. A lot of parallels can be drawn between the World State and today’s America. The ways in which Americans seek happiness and pleasure are very similar to the World State. This shows us that Americans seek pleasure in very similar (but less extreme) ways as the citizens of the fictional World State. The ways Americans seek happiness are more similar to Brave New World than they are to Locke or Aristotle. Americans live and act in a less extreme form of the way citizens of the World State do, especially in the way they pursue pleasure and happiness.
“16 Facts About Consumerism That’ll Blow Your Mind.” Baba-Mail. N.p., 02 June 2015. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.
“Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” Alcohol Facts and Statistics. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.
The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.
“Covenant Eyes.” Porn Stats. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.
“Drug Use Estimates.” Welcome to Drug War Facts. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.
“How Much The Average American Spends on Entertainment.” How Much the Average American Spends on Entertainment. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.
“The Kinsey Institute — Sexuality Information Links — FAQ [Related Resources].” The Kinsey Institute — Sexuality Information Links — FAQ [Related Resources]. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.