Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
First published in 1932
Do you know that feeling? You enter a shop. The sales-woman, who actually should be helping you, has better things to do. She stares out of the window, dreaming of her career in show business, and clearly conveys the message that she was born for something better than standing in a shop.
And maybe she is right. Nevertheless, our society is built upon the fact that not everybody can do the job they like to do. Nobody wants to be a garbage man. And yet there are men who work as garbage collectors. People do unattractive things. Out of idealism, because they have no choice, or for an attractive remuneration.
In the brave new world described in Aldous Huxley’s novel, no external incentive is needed for that. No matter what kind of job, people love it! Responsible for that is the World State government. Every future worker is, while still in the womb, optimized both physically and psychologically. The toddlers’ genetic material is then further improved through conditioning in separate castes. Alpha Plus, Epsilon Minus – everybody believes their own job to be the best. Deep feelings? Superfluous. Real life is substituted by the Feelies and sexual desires are satisfied with organized mass orgies.
Labor is all that matters. Henry Ford is revered by the entire society, the letter T worshipped as symbol of his Model T. The first automobile produced in the assembly line becomes the emblem of capitalism. The capitalism which in the brave new world becomes a totalitarian regime, enforced by cutting-edge science instead of sheer force.
Does that remind you of modern Human Resources Management? Where nudging and positive thinking are supposed to create intrinsic incentives, pushing the employee’s self-exploitation, for the financial benefit of the company, all the way to a burnout? In its essence – though obviously exaggerated – it is precisely this world of externally-controlled self-optimization that Aldous Huxley describes.
And of course, there is a troublemaker who throws a wrench into the works: “The Savage” grew up in primitive surroundings, but he has experienced a mother’s love. He is fascinated by the possibilities of progress and shocked by the insensitivity with which the people fulfill their tasks like robots. He loves a woman who represents that society, and despises her because she can only give him her body, not her heart. Not for lack of will. She just doesn’t know what he means when he talks about love.
The novel climaxes in a discussion between “the Savage” and the “Resident World Controller for Western Europe”. Is the society’s safety, general happiness and stability worth eliminating all individuality and personal freedom of will? The “Savage” says it is not and is banned by the World State to a deserted area.
“Brave New World” takes up the era’s communist and fascist phantasies of raising children to be uncritical citizens. It is therefore no surprise that the book appeared on the German Nazis’ first list of banned books not long after being published. For Huxley had seen through the system all too well. And he was aware, as he wrote in a letter to George Orwell in 1949, that manipulations of this kind would become ever more common: “Within the next generation I believe that the world's rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience.”
There is nothing to add to that.