Do you ever wish you were someone else? Do you ever fantasize and escape your daily thoughts to try to imagine what life as Tom Brady must feel like or what it’s like to be Tom Cruise? Are you willing to forfeit what you have and do a full life swap? I don’t think so.
Someone once put it perfectly in frame for me. If you want to be someone else, you can’t pick and choose traits and attributes; you have to take not only the splendid and wonderful things from their life but also their pains, sufferings and challenges. So I ask it again, do you want to be someone else and swap your problems for someone else’s problems? I don’t know about you, but I’ve grown accustomed to handling my own downfalls and relishing in my life’s joys - so adopting someone else’s doesn’t sound like a fun time.
In the dystopian future of Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre is the place where humans are genetically modified and pre-ordained for life. All the wonderful traits and attributes are scripted into the human delivery and they are set on a path of preconditioning to like, disdain and lust for certain things. For example the lower caste system is trained to fear books and nature so that they can continue working endlessly to serve the other caste systems without question. Every human born in this Brave New World has a well defined, prescript plan for their life and is born into a caste system that dictates what life the person will live. It got me, and one of the protagonists of the book, thinking about whether or not this removal of free will stifles awareness and empathy toward others. One interaction in the book I think puts it well when Henry is explaining to Lenina that the crematorium turns human remains of the deceased into fertilizer for the plants and trees in the world.
Lenina turns to Henry inquisitively “But queer that Alphas and Betas won’t make any more plants grow than those nasty little Gammas and Deltas and Epsilons down there.”
Lenina is perplexed and astonished that the idea that we are all bodies of flesh after all tend to be equal in the end. This goes completely counter to her pre-conditioning that Alphas and Betas (upper caste) should be superior in all things to Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons (lower caste).
Lenina goes on to try to further empathize with the the psyche of others’ in the various castes.
“I suppose Epsilons don’t really mind being Epsilons”
“Of course they don’t. How can they? they don’t know what it’s like being anything else. We’d mind of course. But then we’ve been differently conditioned. Besides, we start with a different heredity.”
With that explanation Henry believes that Alphas & Betas have a deeper understanding of awareness than the lower caste. Lenina then says with conviction,
“I’m glad I’m not an Epsilon.”
“And if you were an Epsilon, your conditioning would have made you no less thankful that you weren’t a Beta or an Alpha.”
Henry’s belief is that Alphas and Betas have a deeper understanding of the human condition. He intuits that awareness is something of the elite and that others’ don’t have the same level of understanding of where they fit in society. After all, the lower caste is very much aware that there is a higher class in the pecking order. The question is whether or not they are pained by this or if they live contently in acceptance of this.
In the real world, there are what we would effectively call caste systems, albeit much less defined and effectively politically abolished. As many who read this blog know, they were born on the lucky side of the coin toss. The fact that we’re not all tad poles but rather well functioning, conscious humans is lucky in and of itself. The fact that we all have food, water, shelter and many more luxuries furthermore puts us in a level unto itself. There are those that have first world luxuries and there are those that are sadly still living in squalor - absent the basics of human needs. Why though is it that many of the most content and happiest people in the world are those that have nothing? Have they not been tainted by the blindness of material possession? Do they understand something deeper about life than those that have been given so much in the form of distraction? These are the questions that arise when I read this novel. Does knowing too much or having too much sometimes play to a disadvantage of contentment. It certain seems to be that way even in the Brave New World where even Lenina is questioning everything, despite having it all handed to her as an Alpha.
Disclaimer: I’m not finished with the book and I hope my questions will be answered over the course of the next 100 pages. Regardless, this book is heralded as a fantastic thought-provoking novel that was ahead of its time for dystopian future states.