Aldous Huxley’s 1931 novel Brave New World features, what were at the time, ludicrous ideas of society and reproduction. In his 1958 commentary on the original text, Brave New World Revisited, Huxley was shocked at the speed in which some of his fictional ideologies had come into existence1. This chapter aims to explore Huxley’s numerous ideas regarding reproduction technologies, from sterilisation and contraception to the caste system and child conditioning. All of these topics have seen progress of some form in modern day society. This chapter will attempt to understand the impact of these events through the use of science and social commentary.
Critics have often commented on Huxley’s background to gain a broader perspective on his writing. Huxley was always integrated within the scientific social scene, wanting to be a scientist himself he was hindered by a disease which caused near blindness2. Huxley’s brother was a scientist and through him Aldous became a respected part of the ‘Science and Society’ movement. A culmination of this and Huxley’s father being a writer gave him an interesting mixture of information and talent which enabled him to write such scientifically predictive ideas.
Huxley was associated with JBS Haldane, a visionary scientist whom predicted many events. Haldane predicted medication to control the mind, diminishing fossil fuel and the need for renewable energy and the manipulation of chemistry to create synthetic food3. He also foretold eugenics eradicating insanity, the first test tube baby by 1951, the dissolving of the family unit as sex and love separated and public regulation of reproduction4. Of course these predictions were a little more radical than reality but it seems clear they were ideas continued in the socio-political status of Brave New World. Fukuyama believes that since the Human Genome Project of 2000 there have been constant breakthroughs in biotechnology which ‘portend much more serious changes to come’5. A possibility of this will be to move to the age of posthumanity through the use of biotechnology6.
In Brave New World the religion is Fordism, the worship of Henry Ford for the invention of mass production. This leads to humans being treated as commodities in the same way cars on an assembly line would be. Fordism is the central ideology and practice within their society, with no acceptance of deviation. As an ascetic religion Huxley describes Fordism as that which demands the ‘cruellest mutilations of the human psyche’ whilst rewarding little or no ‘spiritual gain’. He concludes that ‘this dreadful religion of the machine will end by destroying the human race’7.
Through forced contraception the general public were unable to procreate. The pill which was essential for women to take is obviously what we would now widely call ‘the contraceptive pill’. This was introduced into real life society in the 1960’s but had already been conceived and tested by the time Huxley was revisiting his ideas. Although prophesised as a negative society, contraception is an element of Brave New World which Huxley finds quintessentially important in modern society. The burdens of overpopulation, to him, were far more treacherous, he commented;
We are given two choices – famine, pestilence and war on the one hand, birth control on the other. Most of us choose birth control – and immediately find ourselves confronted by a problem that is simultaneously a puzzle in physiology, pharmacology, sociology, psychology and even theology’8.
Although Huxley believed that contraception was essential, he also knew that the practicalities of it were still fragile and that many religions and nations had the right to refuse the treatment. To impose the treatment would essentially be conterminous towards the inhumanity of forced sterilisation. Between the time of Brave New World and present day there have been differing instances involving forced sterilisation. In America forced sterilisation began in 1907 but wasn’t officiated until the 1930’s when it became a common occurrence. The Americans defined it as being for ‘eugenic reasons’ as they were attempting to create a more worthy population9. Forced sterilisation continued until the early 1970’s in Virginia, sterilising at least 60,000 men and women. The grounds for their work was loosely based on Darwin’s ideas of the ‘survival of the fittest’, but adapted to a scenario in which the government makes the choice, not nature. The main targets of the Americans were ‘epileptics, manic depressives, prostitutes, alcoholics, the homeless and criminals’. The term used to group all of these people together was the ‘feeble-minded’10.
Forced sterilisation did not, however, end in America. The Nazi establishment borrowed the ideology of eugenics, resulting in the forced sterilisation of at least 400,000, and the death of a further 200,000 ‘allegedly handicapped’ citizens****. Undoubtedly this could not have been something that Haldane or Huxley envisioned in any way as they played with the ideas of eugenics and quality control within society.
Not all of Huxley’s ideas have been re-enacted with such disorder. In Brave New World In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) is mandatory and, although natural reproduction is still prevalent in modern society, the use of IVF is now an everyday phenomenon. In Brave New World females are required to donate their ova to the state. The eggs are then placed into an ‘artificial environment’ more effective than the mother’s womb. Selected sperm is withdrawn from the sperm bank and the life form begins to grow under supervision. The children are not so much born as ‘decanted’12.
Louise Brown was the first test tube baby in July 1978. Her birth caused outrage including protests from the public of ‘science gone amok’ and fears of ‘human-animal hybrids’13. There are currently 8,000 babies born through IVF annually in Britain, making up roughly one per cent of all births14. In the past thirty years since IVF was established the public reaction has been one of complete acceptance. The main concerns now are from couples who partake in IVF because it still has a relatively low success rate and can be expensive in both time and money. The ‘radical’ feminist Shulamith Firestone is a strong defender of IVF and other reproductive technologies. The IVF process seen in Brave New World shows the foetus completely encompassed within the artificial vessel, the baby is born out of this and no male or female is involved after the retrieval of reproductive cells. Firestone argues for the rapid developments in technology until this process is possible in reality. She feels that the only way in which male and female can be truly equal is when women can reject their ‘biological destiny’ to bear a child and a baby can be created as a neutral entity15. Feminists and conservative anti-feminists alike have predicted IVF and other reproductive technologies creating the Brave New World scenario in which totalitarian governments ‘control who will have children, and exactly what sorts of children they will have’16.
Within Brave New World each egg used for reproduction is multiplied to produce up to ninety six children ‘where only one grew before’ through the use of the Bokanovsky’s process17. Through this proof is shown of humans being created and used like machines. This process is only exercised upon eggs intended to become the lower castes. Alphas and Betas are produced individually. The children created through the one ovum are conditioned identically in the hope that they can all be performing a joint task throughout their lives; for instance embryos intended for a tropical environment will receive inoculations assisting their adaptation to the environment18. Although this magnitude of reproduction has yet to be reached, IVF requires medication which multiplies egg release and has a far higher rate of multiple births than natural conception does19. Emerging technologies that increase public control of childbirth support the view that society has the authority and duty to intervene in reproductive decision making20.
Like many dystopian novels Brave New World provides a society with, what could be considered, immoral totalitarian control. All of the citizens live in a caste system which could be compared to the modern day western class system, only much stricter. Before childbirth the embryos are specifically conditioned for the role they will have in society. In Brave New World the governing bodies go further than those in real life because they not only control the minds, through propaganda and influence, but also control the body as they are the ones who create it21. Because of the methods of conception in Brave New World there is no natural family unit, to the degree that the word ‘mother’ is considered vulgar and offensive22. An individual whom refused medicine and became pregnant would be ostracised and regarded as a ‘savage’23.
Lowry’s The Giver is another dystopian novel which portrays humans as commodities, but has a far longer process of conditioning than that in Brave New World. The Giver depicts natural family units but within the family the children are from an anonymous ‘birthmother’. The society is strictly regulated to a degree that adults must apply for a child, with only a hundred available each year. Although the children have names they are often referred to by their year and number code. Each year they share a unified birthday and are given a new allowance. At the age of eleven they are allocated jobs, with no freedom of choice. One of the job allocations for females is the birthmother; this job is thought of as shameful24, after three years of pampering and birthing the women are reduced to factory work. Any child which isn’t healthy enough for the ‘Ones’ release will be euthanized. This numeral control system is comparable not only to Brave New World but also to that in More’s Utopia. Two of the main differences between The Giver and Brave New World are that firstly, The Giver provides the illusion of family units although they are false, and secondly, The Giver suppresses all sexual desires with tablets; this is the opposite of Brave New World.
One of the forms of conditioning used by Huxley is hypnopedia, this is the practice of sleep teaching which is synonymous with brainwashing. After controlling the physical attributes of the child it is then their mental ones which are attended to. The castes society is split into are Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon, each with a range of plus or minus. Each caste is lead to believe that they are the most comfortable caste, as all those above have to work too hard and all those below have less intelligence25. The hypnopedia is continued until there is no definition between their mind and the states suggestion, until many of their interactions are the rebounding of maxims, such as; ‘Never put off till tomorrow the fun you can have today’26. This is something comparable to the newspeak of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Kumar suggests that the ideology of hypnopedia is Huxley’s attempt to reflect the influence of mass advertising present in society since the nineteen twenties27. Political regimes are shaped by human nature, if a technology could change human nature then in effect that will produce changes in ‘liberal democracy and the nature of politics itself’28.
It is evident that many of the ideas portrayed through satire in Brave New World have come into practice since nineteen thirty one; some blatantly and some more inconspicuously. The ideas of child conditioning are yet to be overtly practised, although within the United Kingdom there is ubiquitous conformity of taste through media influence. Unlike eugenics, the usage of IVF has been largely positive to society. Currently people can vary vastly within society and all share the ability to ‘potentially communicate with and enter into a moral relationship with every other human being on the planet’29. If human nature was to change or we were to be bred as different classes or castes that equality would be taken away and we would be left to face the consequences of humanity theoretically splitting into different breeds.