I’m rereading Aldus Huxley’s "Brave New World." It was published the year I was born and is considered to be one of the best novels of the 20th century.
The brave new world of which Huxley wrote is more than 500 years in the future when children are no longer born, but are decanted from test tubes. There are no families, no marriages, no striving, no frustration and, above all, no unhappiness. The children are conditioned by the state to fill specific rolls in life, and nobody has any reason to be anything less than gloriously happy.
There is no poverty in the ordinary sense because the lower classes want nothing more than to serve and take soma, a drug that provides happy oblivion with no hangover. The society is therefore stable.
Although a sense of darkness and dread hangs over the story from the beginning, it is hard to say why all this is wrong. There are no robberies, murder, jealousies or guilt, and while there is a privileged class — the Alphas and Betas — there is no resentment from below because the Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons are artificially stunted clones with no concept of individual or intellectual life.
Huxley was one of the pre-eminent thinkers of his time. He warned against people’s “... infinite appetite for distraction,” and complained that culture was becoming “trivialized.” Remember Huxley wrote this more than 80 years ago. What ever would he think of us today?
Futuristic fiction aside, I am interested in how any society raises its children. Americans believe democracy means everyone has an equal opportunity to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but this doesn’t seem to apply to our children. The opportunities a child enjoys depends to a large extent on the family into which he or she is born.
The state mandates a certain things like education, and the state has the right to intercede when there is gross negligence or abuse, but that’s about it. It is the culture that shapes the child — first the culture in the home and then the larger culture, the day-to-day experiences the child has, what he sees in the streets or in the media.
America, no matter what we say, is not a classless society. The cultural education — by this I mean the value system — a child receives in a well-off home is not the same as the cultural education a child gets when parents are barely getting by.
Poverty is not contusive to social stability, which brings us back to Huxley’s "Brave New World."
In Huxley’s world there is no poverty as we understand it. Everyone has a job, everyone works. Everyone’s needs were met. The real poverty, the only poverty, is intellectual. The people have been conditioned to a point where they are unable to think and act for themselves.
How close are we to this today?
It’s the government’s job to promote stability. It’s the people’s job to see that stability is not bought at the cost of individual opportunity. My concern here is the level of opportunity available to poor children. To support children, we must support the family; and in today’s depressed economic state, taxpayers are reluctant to fund “poor” families. They call it “welfare.”
Having worked with some of these families, I know a little bit about what happens when they are stressed beyond their ability to cope. The children suffer, and the state is often forced to intervene. However, instead of increasing funding to helping agencies, Georgia has gone in the other direction. It recently cut funding for the Department of Family and Children Services.
This is a false economy. These children are not Gamma, Delta and Epsilon clones who will serve happily at the bottom of the social ladder. Before anyone yells, “class warfare,” read "Brave New World" and think about what Americans can do to ensure opportunity and stability for the next generation.
Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly on Tuesdays and atgainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.