Instant Gratification in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World
In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, instant gratification is a prevalent theme. Happiness is sustained through habits and events that bring instant gratification to the population. The universal happiness in the world state is achieved through three stages: soma, promiscuous sex, and psychological conditioning. The drug soma is a symbol of the use of instant gratification to control the world state’s populace.
People are conditioned genetically and through hypnopaedia to enjoy their predetermined work. The population is becoming more and more sexually promiscuous. By keeping their citizens satisfied with the means of soma, sex, and preconditioning, Brave New World warns about a society in which people are controlled by their desire for pleasure and are conditioned to believe they are free when really they are enslaved by their passions.
Soma is a powerful opiate in the world state in which people use to eliminate anything negative in their lives. It is described as a drug that has “all the advantages of Christianity and alcohol; none of their defects” (54). It is arguably the best tool the government has to control its citizens. It calms, sedates, and most importantly distracts the citizens from realizing that they are being enslaved by the world state. According to Mustapha Mond, people are better off sacrificing the truth for happiness.
Mustapha Mond describes soma as follows: “And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there’s always soma to give you a holiday from the facts. And there’s always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past, you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training.
Now, you swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your mortality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears – that’s what soma is” (236). By comparing it to Christianity without tears, Mustapha Mond seems to argue that religion has the same effect as the drug when it comes to controlling its citizens. The drug offers comfort to the user but it comes at an expense of the user’s individuality.
Sexual relations in the world state is another way the world state uses to control its citizens. Sexual promiscuity is encouraged and celebrated. Children even play erotic games in the hatchery and conditioning centers. Sex has been dissociated with love and childbearing and it is engaged purely for pleasure and fun. People have sex purely for pleasure because emotional bonding with others is seen as destabilizing by the world controllers and they are strongly conditioned against the messy intimacy of falling in love.
Through the encouragement of promiscuous sex and the elimination of families or any long-term relationships, the government ensures that no one will face the consequences of intense and unreciprocated emotional or sexual desire. People were told what sex was like in “the old world”, “For a very long time before the time of our Ford, and even for some generations afterward, erotic play between children had been regarded as abnormal (there was a roar of laughter); and not only abnormal, actually immoral (no!): and had therefore been rigorously suppressed. A look of astonished incredulity appeared on the faces of his listeners. Poor little kids not allowed to amuse themselves? They could not believe it “ (32). This shows the transformation from a traditional society to a society that no longer values close relationships.
Extreme conditioning is administered in order to keep stability in communities. In the world state, people are born into a certain caste and are conditioned to do their predetermined job. There are five castes in the world state: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Epsilons. Through hypnopaedia which is sleep teaching, the government would teach children about morality and the caste system. “One hundred repetitions three nights a week for four years, thought Bernard Marx, who was a specialist on hypnopaedia. Sixty-two thousand four hundred repetitions make one truth”(47).
By continued repetition, children in the world state are made to believe whatever they are told by the government. Another way the world state conditions its citizens is through physical conditioning. When they are at their embryonic stage, they are injected with alcohol, given less oxygen, and incubated at higher temperatures to prepare them for their gamma, delta, and epsilon jobs.
Another form of conditioning that is essential to the stability of the world state is the Neo-Pavlovian conditioning given to the lower caste Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons. “Books and loud noises, flowers and electric shocks – already in the infant mind these couples were compromisingly linked; and after two hundred repetitions of the same or a similar lesson would be wedded indissolubly.
What man has joined, nature is powerless to put asunder. ‘They’ll grow up with what the psychologists used to call an “instinctive” hatred of books and flowers. Reflexes unalterably conditioned. They’ll be safe from books and botany all their lives’(22). If the lower castes weren’t conditioned to hate certain things, they would want everything the Alphas and Betas have which would disrupt the world state.
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World describes a society in which happiness and instant gratification is dangerous to the population’s health. On the surface, the world seems great. There is no war. Everyone is able to fulfill their desires instantly whatever that may be. They are conditioned to love their jobs and sex is widely available. Soma can bring instant relief to any concern. The satisfaction of every desire creates a superficial and infantile happiness.
With a lack of suffering the world is without love purpose or compassion. Aldous Huxley also critiques modern government institutions whose power slowly crept into the lives of ordinary people. The process is in the name of security or peace but ultimately destroys everything good in society. Huxley urges us to consider the cost of happiness and what it ultimately leads to.