The dystopian novel “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley is receiving a lot of attention these days because of the similarities between the society depicted in the book and society today. Huxley presents a society controlled with a drug that induces an artificial state of happiness and that is easily controlled because it has been brainwashed into triviality. In an article by Tony D. Sampson titled “Brave New World: the pill-popping, social media obsessed dystopia we live in” he discusses the two primary modes on control in Huxley’s book. First, the widespread use of joy-inducing pharmaceutical, soma and second, a hypnotic media propaganda machine that works less on reason that it does through “feely encounters” (Sampson). These are components that are present in our society.
Sampson refers to Huxley’s belief that it is easier to sidestep intellectual engagement and to appeal instead “to emotional suggestibility to guide intentions and subdue nonconformity.” The article draws a parallel between the use of the drug soma in the novel to induce happiness and the drug Prozac, a neuro-pharmaceutical that is widely used to create a sense of happiness. He also points to the use of Ritalin for ADHD to control behavior. As Neil Postman describes it in “Amusing Ourselves to Death, “In Brave New World they are controlled by inflicting pleasure” (Postman). It is as though Huxley had the ability to peek into the future through a when he described that by taking soma would allow you to “Take a holiday from reality whenever you like, and come back without so much as a headache or a mythology” (Huxley) which is the case with some of the drugs available now
The article compares Huxley’s College of Emotional Engineering with contemporary social media such as Facebook and Instagram. Interestingly, in the novel, the Bureaux of Propaganda is housed in the same building suggesting that individuals’ emotions can be controlled through advertising and promotion. The Bureaux focuses on emotional suggestibility and produces feely scenarios, and propaganda for the masses. To illustrate the manipulation that can be done by social media, the author discusses a 2014 experiment done by Facebook to elicit approval or disapproval with a thumbs up and thumb down on news feeds. The goal of this experiment was to prove that social media could have positive and negative influence by manipulating the emotions of the recipients of the news. As frightening as it sounds, this manipulation is already happening with the use of social media. The current political climate shows that the emotions of unhappy voters can be influenced by “joyful encounters with celebrity politicians than those experienced with the dry intellectual elites of conventional politics” (Sampson).
The impact of social media on society is in a vast scale as it involves billions of people around the world who use it constantly to the point that it is like an addiction. The last presidential election is an example of how negative information about certain candidates was used to influence the voters impression about the candidate and even to incite violent behavior. Tweeter and Instagram are pervasive in that everyone can express and opinion and create false narratives. The news cycle keeps getting shorter and shorter because every second of the day comments are made in cyberspace and devoured by a receptive audience.
The rise of social media has created society obsessed with following “celebrities” that have no talent and may have done nothing more than be on social media showing off their designer goods, travels, mansions, relationships, makeup, or any other insignificant aspect of their lives. Social media has made Huxley’s fears come true that “we would be become a trivial culture preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy” (Postman). In sharp contrast, people do not read books, just trivial articles in the internet. Although “What Orwell feared were those that would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one” (Postman). Sadly, this prediction has come true.
Sampson describes the society in “Brave New Word” as a “dystopian society that is not controlled by fear, but rendered docile by happiness. The mantra of this society is “everybody happy now.” Everyday people are conditioned to think that their happiness depends on consumer goods and if they are feeling sad there are drugs that can make their troubles disappear. The mantra about consumerism in Huxley’s novel “Ending is better than mending”(Huxley) forewarns us of the future when people will buy more and more goods with the belief that they will bring them happiness and status, and will work constantly in order to afford to pay for them.
The novel “Brave New World” although first published in 1932, is contemporary as it reflects many aspects of how our society is today. We should be careful not to completely be lost in trivial pursuits and drugs that keep us from living a more meaningful life and in the end cause us to give up control of our destiny to those who want to take it away from us.
- Huxley, Aldous, Brave New World. HarperCollins Publishers, 2006
- Postman, Neil, Article From Amusing Ourselves to Death
- Sampson, Tony D. “Brave New World: the pill-popping, social media obsessed dystopia we live in.” http://theconversation.com/brave-new-world-the-pill-popping-social-media-obsessed-dystopia-we-live-in-72511
- Stonestreet, John, Rivera. Roberto. “Trump, the NFL, and Us, America’s Descent into Triviality.” https://www.christianheadlines.com/columnists/breakpoint/trump-the-nfl-and-us-america-s-descent-into-triviality.html