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Brave New World - A society where everyone is happy is a bad thing?

  1. Mar 26, 2005 #1

    learningphysics

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    I have not finished this book. But I find myself nauseated by it so far. I'm not nauseated by the world he describes. Huxley describes a world where everyone is happy except for a very small minority. And even that minority don't seem to have it so bad. I think that's a fantastic society to live in. I'm nauseated by Huxley's message... that such a world is a bad thing. "Everybody's happy. We can't have that going on!" :rofl:

    My question is why? Why is it bad?

    Huxley seems to be relying on an instinctive reaction from his readers, not an intellectual one. "They all use drugs, they're all genetically engineered... that's just creepy" etc... I read reviews on amazon.com, and it is generally presumed that this world is a bad thing.
     
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  3. Mar 26, 2005 #2

    GeD

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    I won't delve into his proposed definition of happiness, or of my view that happiness is impossible by itself (ie. without sorrow, suffering, pain, etc), and that happiness usually means stagnation and even degradation because of contentment.

    But based on a purely theoretical/ideal world model - what is wrong with a world full of constantly happy people? Notice that he calls into account moral/ethical considerations, because it 'feels' bad - jeez, I wonder when people like will stop being a slave-whore to 'guilt' & 'conscience'.

    Why does he feel the need to criticise it? I see no reason to feel queasy about it, as long as we all have the choice to be happy or not. Seems to me like he just hates being the minority of miserable guys around a possible majority of happy people.
     
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2005
  4. Mar 26, 2005 #3

    learningphysics

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    Hi GED. Yes, I don't understand why he does feel the need to criticize it. But I'm surprised the popularity of the book, and the general positive response. It seems like a world where everyone is happy scares people off more than the real world. Presented with the possibility of entering a heaven, I think most people would run for their life in the opposite direction.
     
  5. Mar 26, 2005 #4
    I never had the feeling for even a second, that everyone was happy in Brave New World. It seemed more to me to be a piece about a lobotomised society, and "happiness" that was not chosen, but was an enforced norm. If a society were created where everyone had to be beautiful, after the last surgery was performed, or the last genetic manipulation completed; would there be any beauty? Is not every value a contrast to some other?
     
  6. Mar 26, 2005 #5

    russ_watters

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    Its been a while since I read it, but that was my impression as well. Question: if happiness is enforced, is it even real?
     
  7. Mar 26, 2005 #6

    arildno

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    From what I remember, it was no more enforced than through "peer pressure".
    Of course one might for example say that cheer leaders "forces" other girls to follow their example in order not to be socially ostracized, but I am a bit hesitant to use the "forcing" concept for such situations.

    I recall that I found Huxley's basic attitude overly prim; he didn't really offer any good arguments for why a life in sexual abandon and drug use is such a bad thing.
     
  8. Mar 26, 2005 #7

    learningphysics

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    Can you explain why? This seemed like the very premise of the novel.

    I must agree with arildno. They were no more forced than people are "forced" in our society. Of course there is childhood conditioning, but how is this different from schools, being raised by parents, television... everything is conditioning. Given that we are going to be conditioned no matter what, isn't it better to be conditioned so that you'll be happy?

    People took soma, and did what they did because they wished to feel good. They weren't being forced. The people in this book seemed more free to me than in our society. They had the ways and means to satisfy their desires and achieve their goals. They did not want anything they could not have. They could have everything they wanted. Perfect freedom.

    The response to Brave New World reveals more to me than the novel itself. Humans seem either conditioned, or genetically predisposed, to valuing their pain and suffering.
     
  9. Mar 26, 2005 #8

    hypnagogue

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    I haven't read the novel, so I only have a pretty superficial understanding of its theme. However, I still think I have an idea of what Huxley was trying to get at, and even if I'm completely wrong, this can still contribute meaningfully to the question of why Huxley's Brave New World is a 'bad' one. The following is an excerpt from an article written by Martin Seligman, a psychologist who is trying to introduce into the psychology community an emphasis on promoting positive emotional states, rather than merely alleviating negative ones. The full article can be found here. In this excerpt, Seligman talks about his conception of the word 'happiness.'

    So, basically, the kind of happiness that is ubiquitous in Brave New World is merely the 'vulgar,' 'giggly' kind of pleasure. It comes at the expense of realizing Seligman's other forms of happiness: eudaemonia and meaning. It's the equivalent of gorging yourself on junk food. Perhaps the junk food is enough to satisfy your hunger, give you the taste equivalent of cheap thrills, and ultimately keep you alive; but what you miss out on are the more sophisticated pleasures of an exquisitely cooked dinner or a sublte and complex wine, as well as the quality kind of nutrients you need for optimal health.
     
  10. Mar 26, 2005 #9

    arildno

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    True enough, hypnagogue, but it is patently untrue that, say, recreational sex is vulgar or without intrinsic value, i.e. being "cheap thrills".
    It all depends on the attitude you engage in it with.
    It has gone at least a decade since I read BNW, but I had the distinct impression that Huxley meant that only marital sex under the bed-cover was "right".
     
  11. Mar 26, 2005 #10

    selfAdjoint

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    Well, I suppose Huxley would have said giggly happiness is all most people are up for.

    But it does raise the issue, if everyone were happy, or even sad, all the time, wouldn't that be a kind of social "heat death"? Without differences of affect from person to person, or from time to time, how could any social change at all ever happen?
     
  12. Mar 26, 2005 #11

    hypnagogue

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    Well, I don't know if any of those forms of raw pleasures really deserves the term 'vulgar.' They have their value, but the idea is that they are not the only or 'best' form of happiness.

    Leaving that point aside, I agree with your point about attitude. Depending on how one approaches it, recreational sex could be in the spirit of eudaemonia, or it could just be a cheap thrill kind of thing. The context in which the act is done is important. I imagine that the kind of happiness seeking acts in BNW were more in the spirit of the latter than the former, though again, I can't say for sure since I haven't read it.

    Well, I wouldn't find any merit in that, if it were true. Maybe he wants to place more emphasis on a lasting or at least meaningful relationship than on marriage per se?
     
  13. Mar 26, 2005 #12

    arildno

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    The "happiness leads to stagnation"-argument (from GeD) is another argument I have issues with.
    Having personal experience with rather severe depression, I know that one of the first mental faculties to be damaged is the ability to learn, and curiosity is suddenly no longer any sufficient motivator. Rather, a dull, brooding mood oozes forth in your mind which is extremely difficult to drag yourself out of.

    I know also that those periods in which I have been personally happy, have also been among my most productive periods in which curiosity and creativity has been high.

    So, I simply cannot accept the "happiness/stagnation"-argument.
     
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2005
  14. Mar 26, 2005 #13

    hypnagogue

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    Your story about poor productivity during depression vs. heightened productivity with happiness is exactly the kind of situation selfAdjoint was talking about, though, so it doesn't seem to be a counterexample. A counterexample would be someone who's in a positive mood all the time, but still doesn't suffer from stagnation or diminishing returns or whatever.

    For my part, I agree with you-- I don't think that happiness is only defined in contrast with sadness, or that being happy for a long period of time will necessarily lead to stagnation or complacency, etc. The way I see it, we could define two very general types of happiness: type P, which is a productive happiness, and type U, which is an unproductive one. Types P and U are probably subserved by distinct patterns of neural activity, Np and Nu.

    Now, it may very well be the case that experiencing relatively more depression will make one's happy episodes more likely to be type P, that is, will make one's brain more likely to engage in Np-type patterns. It also may be that being in Np for an extended period of time generally leads to neural patterns of type Nu. But this does not mean that the connections between these states are necessary. For instance, if someone is genetically predisposed to have Np neural activity most of the time (or, if we could genetically or otherwise engineer brains that could sustain Np activity indefinitely), then by definition, we'll have an enduring, productive happiness, even in the absence of periods of depression or sadness. I find it unlikely that Np patterns necessitate the previous existence of neural activity subserving negative mentality; I think they could be generated more or less completely without regard to past history of mental states, given the proper neural mechanisms/architecture.
     
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2005
  15. Mar 26, 2005 #14

    arildno

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    selfAdjoint:
    You raise a really important issue, and basically, I found his portrayal of dull uniformity to be one of the main strengths in Huxley's book, even though I think he all too easily used sex&drugs as those practices which would lead to that uniformity.

    When everyone think alike, or do alike, even if it is only "peer pressure" which effects it, then something vital in human societes has died.
    To be generous with Huxley, I think I would agree with him on the following:
    "If universal happiness requires uniformity of humans, then I won't have it, even if that uniformity can be achieved through peaceful means".
     
  16. Mar 26, 2005 #15

    hypnagogue

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    Although, I do agree with the idea that uniformity of human temperament would lead to stagnation (maybe this is more of what selfAdjoint wanted to emphasize). This situation would elude my previous argument, since it would crucially change the types of environments, and hence sensory inputs, that human brains would receive. All the reprogramming of a given brain in the world could not make up for a lack of richness or diversity of environment.
     
  17. Mar 26, 2005 #16

    arildno

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    hypnagogue:
    I think your distinction in different happinesses very important.
    To add a bit, as I see it, a productive happiness generally builds upon the sense of mastery, in that because you are proud of an earlier accomplishment: you have the self-confidence that you can tackle some new task, and your curiosity starts sniffing about like a puppy to find something interesting and new to do.

    One rather insidious feature of depression is how you systematically belittle what you have already accomplished; essentially the depression attacks your own (well-deserved) pride by ridiculing yourself of: "having "achieved" what any idiot could have done better", and equally poisonous stratagems.
     
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2005
  18. Mar 26, 2005 #17
    There is a long ongoing debate in regards to nature and nurture, the winner has not yet been declared. So the concept of either happily conforming, or genetic predisposition to unhappiness doesn't really stand.

    Happily being programmed by fellow humans, or human expectation, is at best a poor copy of the entire environment that is available to us, to which we make adaptive adjustments to our basic natures. Many of us are like fish out of water, the displacement of entire cultures and natural means of survival is a feature of the last three centuries. The dwellers of newly huge cities, and high rise dwellers, have to depend largely on every device created by humans to live. Every view, is filled with human architecture, every moment is filled with the sounds generated by the industry of our existence, every empty wavelength that used to be the silent sound of natures potential, the gap between breaths so to speak; is filled with an impossible scramble of signal. Whales and dolphins beach themselves, out of the tinnitus horrors of the deep, we create with our Happy Guaranteeing Navies. People are depressed, in high numbers, should we change their minds, or change our ways? Are they really happy, chemically happified, or are they just numbed to the impossible violation of self that our mechanized world perpetuates?

    I know I that I am not an Atheist, for one thing, Atheism with out some sort of altruism, leaves only sensation, and gratification. Then one can say, oh yes it is a great civilization, where everyone is guaranteed chemical happiness. Any impulse can be followed if it results in no harm to any other. Where would the great things come from, if there is a chemical uniformity? Is there a need for variation?

    In nature, there are these moments that are guaranteed chemical happiness, they are generally attendant to the survival of our species. However they subside because there are a lot of other survival moves that have to be made, which do not take place under high endorphin intoxication. Our consciousness is not a flat playing field, different activities require differing levels of engagement. It has often been postulated that the hunters mind is very different than the gatherers mind. One shoe doesn't fit all.

    I think that the description of the ideal world would vary tremendously from one age to another, one gender to another, one culture to another, one religion to another.

    Sometime, take some time, and have a daydream, regarding what your ideal would be. Lie back, take some time with this one, and don't hold back. After it is all formed, or forming if you can dream and dissect, then look at this dream. Then delight in seeing what the effect would be on the whole world, if your dreams could come true.
     
  19. Mar 26, 2005 #18

    learningphysics

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    There is a prejudice against this type of pleasure, as if it is somehow inferior to the other types, hence the word 'vulgar'. I see no intellectual reason or justification for this. Human beings just seemed conditioned into believing this. Or more likely it is just human vanity, the belief that our works of art, have some intrinsic value.

    Pleasure comes from satisfaction of desires whether that desire is to have sex or construct a work of art. There is nothing intrinsically superior to the second type of desire. A work of art has zero intrinsic value. It's the pleasure that it brings that gives it any value.

    I'd go as far as saying the pleasure is the same. It is just that the desires are so different, that we take the step towards saying that the quality of pleasure is somehow different.

    There has been mention of "productivity" and "social change", as if these things have some value in themselves. Productivity just for the sake of productivity?? Productivity has no intrinsic value. It is the means of achieving goals.

    What is the goal of a society? If it isn't the happiness of all its members, what is it?

    If a drug brings about exactly the same feelings that a piece of music brings, is there any reason to value the music over the drug?
     
  20. Mar 26, 2005 #19

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    What is the intrinsic value of being "unique" or "special"?

    Again, we just happen to have the desire to be "unique" and "special", and hence satisfaction of that desire to be "unique" gives pleasure.

    If the desire to be "unique" didn't exist, then there would be no value to being "unique".
     
  21. Mar 27, 2005 #20
    There is a value difference between the drug, and the music, the drug, and the endorphans from a healthy relationship with self, or another. That is if you want our species to survive.

    In monkeys given free access to cocaine, they will no longer eat, hold or feed their young, and will take the cocaine until they die. There is a big difference between this and living.

    It is possible with chemical stimulants to trump the highs of existence to such an extent that it is meaningless to participate in reality, however you would like to define that. So a milder dose, seems to be to be not fractionally better. Our species lives variably to the extreme, in the current scenario. In the Brave New World scenario, would we all be fed, before we were fed the drugs?
     
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