A Whole New World
The Implications of a Dystopian Society
"But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin."
This quote ties in with the theme of Brave New World by voicing an opinion that goes completely against the World State. The World State society is only an illusion of "comfort" and "stability." In exchange for a sense of peace that people are conditioned to have, they had to give up religion, poetry, sense of danger, sin, and true individual freedom. This quote makes the reader think, "Is it really worth giving all that up just to safe?" John does not think so because he thinks that genuine happiness only comes if there is some suffering and danger as well.
Today's world has all the characteristics that John Savage wishes for- there is religion, there is poetry and literature (Shakespeare in particular), there is danger, there is the ability to think for one's self (for the most part), there is goodness, and there is sin. So is society today happier than the society in the World State? The answer depends on each person, but as for me I think today's society is much better off than the World State society. I agree with John's quote saying that he wants the unpleasant aspects of life along with the good because people in the World State take their happiness, technology, etc. for granted. They know no sense of despair or agony because the government prevents them from feeling those things, and "happiness" is given to them excessively. However, today there is danger and sin (some might say there is too much of it), but there is also happiness. By having a spectrum of good to bad, people can appreciate life and everything that offers happiness much better than the people in the World State.
Our Society is Not So Far from Brave New World's Society
While reading dystopian books such as Brave New World, it’s easy for the 21st century reader to be horrified at the state of the society that is projected in the book. However, if one looks closely at the society that they live in today, it’s not hard to find aspects that make today’s society similar to the World State society.
One of the biggest aspects of America in the 21st century that seems dystopian is the progressing decline of religious affiliation among Americans. Once a huge part in American’s life (through the first Puritans and Pilgrims to settle in America), religion has been for the last sixty years seen a decline in its role in American culture. “Back in the 1930s and 1940s, the number of ‘nones’ - those who said they were religiously unaffiliated - hovered around 5 percent… That number had risen to only 8 percent by 1990. But since then, the number of people who don't consider themselves part of a religion has increased to 20 percent” (Bindley). In the World State, there is no religion, and the role that God used to take is replaced by soma. Mond states, “’God isn’t compatible with machinery and scientific medicine and universal happiness’” (Huxley 234). In the World State, science and technology provides answers that God used to in earlier times, such as reasoning for diseases, the way humans have evolved, etc. As today’s society becomes more advanced and puts its faith in science like the World State, it has also started losing faith in religion.
While the technology in today’s society is not quite up to par with the World State’s technology, there have been significant gains that make it seem like Bokanovsky babies are not a stretch of science. When the first in vitro fertilized baby was born in July 25, 1978, many people thought that it was the start of a path of society towards the World State society. In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) is “the process of fertilization by manually combining an egg and sperm in a laboratory dish. When the IVF procedure is successful, the process is combined with a procedure known as embryo transfer, which involves physically placing the embryo in the uterus” (“In Vitro Fertilization”). Arguments that IVF “tampers with God’s work” are common when arguing against the IVF process. And while the amount of babies born through IVF (about 200,000 babies per year in America) is nowhere near the number of babies produced by Huxley’s Bokanovsky process, it’s still a way of conception that isn’t “natural” and created by science.
The increasing lack of privacy is something dystopian in today’s society. While one is still allowed to spend time alone and to think independently at home or at a friend’s house, no privacy exists in the internet or out in public life. Every action leaves a permanent imprint. For example, the much debated Patriot Act was passed following the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001 as a way to “strengthen domestic security and broaden the powers of law-enforcement agencies with regards to identifying and stopping terrorists” (Grabianowski). And on May 26, 2011, Congress voted in favor of a four-year extension of three expiring Patriot Act provisions without making any changes, resulting in the Patriot Act to extend until June 1, 2015. The Patriot Act has received great amounts of protest because of the contents of the act, such as “Section 215 of the Patriot Act authorizes the government to obtain ‘any tangible thing’ relevant to a terrorism investigation, even if there is no showing that the ‘thing’ pertains to suspected terrorists or terrorist activities, and section 206 of the Patriot Act, also known as "roving John Doe wiretap" provision, permits the government to obtain intelligence surveillance orders that identify neither the person nor the facility to be tapped” (ACLU).Whatever the intentions of the act are, the fact is that it invades the privacy of all Americans, with many imposing no “threat” of terrorism.
Some might say that society today is still far off from Huxley’s imagined World State. However, is it really? While Huxley might have exaggerated some aspects like the Bokanovsky process, society today is on the path towards the World State. If things aren’t kept in check, everyone might as well take a gram of soma and say goodbye to their freedom.
Theme Song: Au Revoir to John's Expectations
The song "Au Revior" by OneRepublic starts off with an unidentified person addressing another person, most likely his ex, about how he is not who he usually is, but the other person is not who he expected her to be either. The song states, “Today I'm not myself/And you, you're someone else/And all these rules don't fit/And all that starts can quit.” This is similar to John’s realizations during his encounter with Lenina at his apartment when she begins to strip herself in front of him. While she strips, John finally realizes that the pure Lenina he expected does not exist: “He did not answer, but only stared into her face with those mad eyes…Faint almost to imperceptibly, but appalling, she suddenly heard the grinding of his teeth. ‘What is it?’ she almost screamed…’Whore!’ he shouted” (Huxley 194). I thought this song related well to the theme of expectations in Brave New World. In the beginning, John expected a lot from the World State because of his mother, thinking that it would be wonderful and fascinating. However, he quickly realizes that the World State is twisted and unnatural with all their Bokavnosky processed humans, nonchalance towards death, and most importantly the corruption of the people, like Lenina, into living immoral lives. Because John comes to realize that the World State society disgusts him, he goes off to seek solitude, leaving behind Lenina and saying “au revior” to the society she lives in.
Allusion to Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet
GMPs are Beyond Our Scope
Somethings are best left untouched, and that includes human genetics. Genetic engineering first started in 1973 by American biochemists Stanley Cohen and Herbert Boyer, who took DNA, cut it into fragments, rejoined different fragments, and inserted the new genes into E. coli bacteria. Genetic modifications have now grown from using it in E.coli to using it in foods, animals, and even people. Genetically modified persons (GMPs) have sparked huge debates in the scientific community, with many scientists condemning the practice because of the unknown consequences that the GMPs might have in the future. Genetically modifying people into having "pre-selected" traits would change how people reproduce. If a person could choose to have the smartest, healthiest baby through genetic modification, then eventually people would start to prefer genetic modifications over natural conception. But beyond changing the genetics of a person, GMPs would also "change the natural parent-child relationships...What’s more, GMPs would be very expensive and the "upgrades" would accrue to the children of the well-off families. Opponents, even advocates, acknowledge that GMPs could lead to the rise of 'genetic castes'" (Sterker). Instead of monetary/educational castes that exist today, a GMP society would start to have castes based on one’s genetically given capabilities.
Advocates of GMPs state that it would allow people to live healthier, longer lives because GMPs will possess qualities that make them less susceptible to death and disease. However, the finality of GMPs is something to seriously consider. “After genetic engineering starts being used, our society will not simply be able to ‘put it back’, ‘turn it off’, or otherwise remove it. Once it becomes reality, it will always be with us” (McPhersson). At this point, our society does not truly know the effects that genetic engineering will have upon society, and “once an altered gene is placed in an organism (human), the process cannot be reversed” (McPhersson). It’s also important to consider how people will use GMPs. With all new inventions, there is a chance that someone will come along and use it for a sinister purpose. The popular “Agent Orange” used during the Vietnam War was first created by Arthur Galtson in 1943 for the purpose of altering “the growing season of soybeans, using triiodobenzoic acid as a plant growth hormone. Soon afterwards, the US Army, working with the University of Chicago, learned that this compound could destroy the crops of enemies and went on to be used in the Vietnam War, among other places. The side effects however killed an estimated 400,000 people” ("Inventions That Were Worst for the World"). If GMPs were to become more developed and understood, certain terrorist groups or armies could use GMPs as biological weapons. GMPs created as biological weapons might possess qualities that make them dangerous and to reproduce faster, causing wars that would be devastating to all life.
The bottom line is that there is too little known about the effects of GMPs to venture any further. Some things are best left to nature, and messing with reproduction that can manipulate certain physical and genetic characteristics is something I consider beyond the scope of human interference.
John Savage Today
Friday, April 25th, 10am to Saturday, April 26th, 10pm
Stratford-upon-Avon, United Kingdom
"ACLU." American Civil Liberties Union. American Civil Liberties Union, n.d. Web. 06 Mar. 2014.
Bindley, Katherine. "Religion Among Americans Hits Low Point, As More People Say They Have No Religious Affiliation: Report." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 13 Mar. 2013. Web. 05 Mar. 2014.
Huxley, Aldous. "9-13." Brave New World. New York: Harper & Bros., 1946. 144-94. Print.
"In Vitro Fertilization." American Pregnancy Association. American Pregnancy Association, n.d. Web. 06 Mar. 2014.
"Inventions That Were Worst for the World." Ranker. Complex Media, 14 Nov. 2013. Web. 04 Mar. 2014.
McPhersson, Jerry. "Effects of Genetic Engineering." Disabled World. N.p., 24 Aug. 2008. Web. 04 Mar. 2014.
Sterker, Ann. "Pros and Cons of Inheritable Genetic Modification." Gmorg RSS. Gm.org, 18 Jan. 2009. Web. 04 Mar. 2014.