Is suffering necessary? (Review of Brave New World by Aldous Huxley)

Chris Lovejoy

This book considers a society designed to provide maximal happiness through stability, as achieved by applications of science and new discoveries. The idea is explored through the narrative of a few individuals who “don’t fit” into the system that has been established – their viewpoint acts as a lens for the reader to view the world from.


Stability is maintained within the society by the mass production of humans into different classes, through artificial nutrition (different predetermined classes receive different qualities during development) as well as continuous conditioning, each of which have a designated role to pursue. The creators of this society justify it on grounds of creating sustained happiness for all; people are not dissatisfied as they never question things, there is no suffering as fear of death and disease has been eliminated. People’s lives are predominantly experiences of sensory stimulation; sensory cinematic experiences, drug-induced bliss and frequent unattached sex. This prevents them from considering existential issues.

 

John, referred to as ‘The Savage’ throughout, is introduced from an ‘uncivilised’ area which is essentially a small corner of this ‘brave new world’ where our current society exists. This is analogous to indigenous tribes that live in certain parts of our world today. John’s introduction to this ‘brave new world’ occurs as an experiment, and acts to exemplify for the reader how we may fare. John rejects the focus on sensory happiness as not being ‘human’ and considers suffering a fundamental aspect of human existence. After the death of his mother, and the subsequent emotional suffering that he experiences, he retreats to a life of solitude. He grows increasingly frustrated by his inability to focus solely on his deceased mother, with distracted thoughts of lust and frustration entering his mind, and punishes himself for this by whipping himself. Ultimately, after he realises he will not be allowed his solitude due frequent unsolicited visits from the conditioned masses, his frustrations climax and he takes his own life. This sequence of events is completely incomprehensible to the people living in that world, who do not understand reasons for inflicting suffering upon them selves.

 

The main question that John’s experiences in this ‘brave new world’ pose is: ‘Is suffering a defining aspect of humanity?’ The ‘brave new world’ proposes that it isn’t, and that a society in which everyone is fundamentally satisfied (and do not consider existential issues) can be created by selective utilisation of science. But is this a ‘human’ society?