Up@dawn 2.0

Thursday, February 25, 2016

“One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them.”
― Aldous HuxleyBrave New World

Like many others, when I think of eugenics I can't help but think of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. In this dystopian realm of Huxley's making, dehumanization is common practice. People have become products, not necessarily for each other's consumption--though that is certainly at play--but for society. Yet unlike Hitler's Nazi Germany or Orwell's totalitarian government, we observe a society at peace. There is no weeping and gnashing of teeth. The members of this society ubiquitously classify themselves as happy.

How this universal happiness is achieved, though, is relatively simple: drugs, sex, and eugenics.

The people are bred, bottled, and birthed:

"For of course," said Mr. Foster, "in the vast majority of cases, fertility is merely a nuisance. One fertile ovary in twelve hundred— that would really be quite sufficient for our purposes. But we want to have a good choice. And of course one must always have an enormous margin of safety. So we allow as many as thirty per cent of the female embryos to develop normally. The others get a dose of male sex-hormone every twenty-four metres for the rest of the course. Result: they're decanted as freemartins—structurally quite normal (except," he had to admit, "that they do have the slightest tendency to grow beards), but sterile. Guaranteed sterile. Which brings us at last," continued Mr. Foster, "out of the realm of mere slavish imitation of nature into the much more interesting world of human invention."

People are brainwashed into happiness: 

"Alpha children wear grey They work much harder than we do, because they're so frightfully clever. I'm really awfully glad I'm a Beta, because I don't work so hard. And then we are much better than the Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid. They all wear green, and Delta children wear khaki. Oh no, I don't want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They're too stupid to be able…" 

And then they aren't people anymore:

"The lower the caste," said Mr. Foster, "the shorter the oxygen." The first organ affected was the brain. After that the skeleton. At seventy per cent of normal oxygen you got dwarfs. At less than seventy eyeless monsters." 

Ultimately, in their search to manufacture happiness, a sense of human-ness is lost. Eugenics and sterilization may free us from the "slavish imitation of nature," but Nature makes room for all manner of human, whereas we are bound to hold to our arbitrary standards. We may gain a "more interesting world," but we lose ourselves and our uniqueness in the process. Worst of all, this fabricated homogeneity becomes normal--we condition ourselves to a hive mindset in the name of peace. But what Huxley demonstrates that it's not peace but compromise. Humans sacrifice their struggles, their ideals, and their identities in the name of peace, but, really, it's mere contentment:

“Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn't nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand.” 

Samuel Scheffler, author of Death and the Afterlife, maintains that "an immortal human life" could not be, in actuality, a human life, because death is an integral part of the human identity. In the same way, the ugliness of our nature and bitterness of our struggles are the methods by which we undergo the human condition. When we remove them, we remove the humanity as well. 

Huxley's world had a commonality in its reaction to "the savage" John: an inability to empathize. Make the whole world stable and content, deprive everyone of pain, and they have no context with which to aid the outcast. And there will always be outcasts. 

This is not to say that this is the definite trajectory of human discovery. Nor are our current biological manipulations out to rob us of our goodness. But Huxley gave us Brave New World as a warning. That's why we look through John's eyes and see the horror of illusory happiness. We see ourselves as not ourselves and that frightens us while it still can. Hopefully it will serve as a reminder to tread carefully and remember what is common to the human identity, what is sacred, what we cannot bear to sacrifice.

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