In 1932, Aldus Huxley published his most famous work Brave New World. This novel depicts a dystopian society in which pleasure and distraction, not fear and punishment, are used by those in power to maintain tight control over the populace. The following quotes by Aldus Huxley, and others, show that many of the ideas in Brave New World have alarmingly turned from fiction to reality.

“In 1931, when Brave New World was being written, I was convinced that there was still plenty of time. The completely organized society, the scientific caste system, the abolition of free will by methodical conditioning, the servitude made acceptable by regular doses of chemically induced happiness, the orthodoxies drummed in by nightly courses of sleep-teaching — these things were coming all right, but not in my time, not even in the time of my grandchildren…Twenty-seven years later, in this third quarter of the twentieth century A.D., and long before the end of the first century A.F., I feel a good deal less optimistic than I did when I was writing Brave New World. The prophecies made in 1931 are coming true much sooner than I thought they would… The nightmare of total organization…has emerged from the safe, remote future and is now awaiting us, just around the next corner.”

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited

Why Pleasure and Distraction are a More Effective Means of Control Than Fear and Punishment

“The society described in Brave New World is a world-state, in which war has been eliminated and where the first aim of the rulers is at all costs to keep their subjects from making trouble. This they achieve by (among other methods) legalizing a degree of sexual freedom (made possible by the abolition of the family) that practically guarantees the Brave New Worlders against any form of destructive (or creative) emotional tension. In 1984 the lust for power is satisfied by inflicting pain; in Brave New World, by inflicting a hardly less humiliating pleasure.”

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited

“In the light of what we have recently learned about animal behavior in general, and human behavior in particular, it has become clear that control through the punishment of undesirable behavior is less effective, in the long run, than control through the reinforcement of desirable behavior by rewards, and that government through terror works on the whole less well than government through the non-violent manipulation of the environment and of the thoughts and feelings of individual men, women and children. Punishment temporarily puts a stop to undesirable behavior, but does not permanently reduce the victim’s tendency to indulge in it.”

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited

“The future dictator’s subjects will be painlessly regimented by a corps of highly trained social engineers. “The challenge of social engineering in our time,” writes an enthusiastic advocate of this new science, “is like the challenge of technical engineering fifty years ago. If the first half of the twentieth century was the era of the technical engineers, the second half may well be the era of the social engineers” — and the twenty-first century, I suppose, will be the era of World Controllers, the scientific caste system and Brave New World.”

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited

“For conditions even remotely comparable to those now prevailing we must return to imperial Rome, where the populace was kept in good humor by frequent, gratuitous doses of many kinds of entertainment — from poetical dramas to gladiatorial fights, from recitations of Virgil to all-out boxing, from concerts to military reviews and public executions. But even in Rome there was nothing like the non-stop distraction now provided by newspapers and magazines, by radio, television and the cinema. In Brave New World non-stop distractions of the most fascinating nature (the feelies, orgy-porgy, centrifugal bumblepuppy) are deliberately used as instruments of policy, for the purpose of preventing people from paying too much attention to the realities of the social and political situation…A society, most of whose members spend a great part of their time, not on the spot, not here and now and in the calculable future, but somewhere else, in the irrelevant other worlds of sport and soap opera, of mythology and metaphysical fantasy, will find it hard to resist the encroachments of those who would manipulate and control it.”

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited

“Now that we know how positive reinforcement works, and why negative doesn’t, we can be more deliberate and hence more successful, in our cultural design. We can achieve a sort of control under which the controlled, though they are following a code much more scrupulously than was ever the case under the old system, nevertheless feel free. They are doing what they want to do, not what they are forced to do. That’s the source of the tremendous power of positive reinforcement—there’s no restraint and no revolt. By a careful design, we control not the final behavior, but the inclination to behave—the motives, the desires, the wishes. The curious thing is that in that case the question of freedom never arises.”

B.F. Skinner, Walden Two

Soma and Pharmaceuticals – Chemical Control at its Finest

“In the Brave New World of my fable there was no whisky, no tobacco, no illicit heroin, no bootlegged cocaine. People neither smoked, nor drank, nor sniffed, nor gave themselves injections. Whenever anyone felt depressed or below par, he would swallow a tablet or two of a chemical compound called soma.”

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited

“In the Brave New World the soma habit was not a private vice; it was a political institution, it was the very essence of the Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. But this most precious of the subjects’ inalienable privileges was at the same time one of the most powerful instruments of rule in the dictator’s armory. The systematic drugging of individuals for the benefit of the State (and incidentally, of course, for their own delight) was a main plank in the policy of the World Controllers. The daily soma ration was an insurance against personal maladjustment, social unrest and the spread of subversive ideas. Religion, Karl Marx declared, is the opium of the people. In the Brave New World this situation was reversed. Opium, or rather soma, was the people’s religion.”

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited

“But how, it may be asked, will the dictator get his subjects to take the pills that will make them think, feel and behave in the ways he finds desirable? In all probability it will be enough merely to make the pills available. Today alcohol and tobacco are available, and people spend considerably more on these very unsatisfactory euphorics, pseudo-stimulants and sedatives than they are ready to spend on the education of their children. Or consider the barbiturates and the tranquillizers. In the United States these drugs can be obtained only on a doctor’s prescription. But the demand of the American public for something that will make life in an urban-industrial environment a little more tolerable is so great that doctors are now writing prescriptions for the various tranquillizers at the rate of forty-eight millions a year.”

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited

A hundred doses of happiness are not enough: send to the drugstore for another bottle — and, when that is finished, for another…. There can be no doubt that, if tranquillizers could be bought as easily and cheaply as aspirin, they would be consumed, not by the billions, as they are at present, but by the scores and hundreds of billions. And a good, cheap stimulant would be almost as popular.

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited

The Possibility of Freedom – Do the Majority Desire Comfort More Than Liberty?

“In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet, and say to us, “Make us your slaves, but feed us.””

Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

If the good life of the future consists in so conditioning individuals through the control of their environment, and through the control of the rewards they receive, that they will be inexorably productive, well-behaved, happy or whatever, then I want none of it. To me this is a pseudo-form of the good life which includes everything save that which makes it good.

Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person

“Freedom is a road seldom traveled by the multitude.”

Frederick Douglass

“Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.”

Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents

“Nothing has ever been more insupportable for a man and a human society than freedom. Man is tormented by no greater anxiety than to find someone quickly to whom he can hand over that gift of freedom with which the ill-fated creature is born.”

Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Behavioral science is clearly moving forward; the increasing power for control which it gives will be held by some one or some group; such an individual or group will surely choose the purposes or goals to be achieved; and most of us will then be increasingly controlled by means so subtle we will not even be aware of them as controls. Thus whether a council of wise psychologists (if this is not a contradiction in terms) or a Stalin or a Big Brother has the power, and whether the goal is happiness, or productivity, or resolution of the Oedipus complex, or submission, or love of Big Brother, we will inevitably find ourselves moving toward the chosen goal, and probably thinking that we ourselves desire it. Thus if this line of reasoning is correct, it appears that some form of completely controlled society—a Walden Two or a 1984—is coming. The fact that it would surely arrive piecemeal rather than all at once, does not greatly change the fundamental issues. Man and his behavior would become a planned product of a scientific society.

Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person

The cry of “Give me television and hamburgers, but don’t bother me with the responsibilities of liberty,” may give place, under altered circumstances, to the cry of “Give me liberty or give me death.” If such a revolution takes place, it will be due in part to the operation of forces over which even the most powerful rulers have very little control, in part to the incompetence of those rulers, their inability to make effective use of the mind-manipulating instruments with which science and technology have supplied, and will go on supplying, the would-be tyrant.

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited
Patrick Henry - Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death

Further Readings