I recently finished listening to the Brave New World. In it, Huxley paints the picture of a world in which comfort and happiness are guaranteed. Everything is perfectly taken care of. When everyone is happy all the time, there is nothing more that anyone wants. Order is maintained at all times and there is never any unrest.
The question is: is this a utopia? Do we want to live in a world which guarantees perfect happiness (= perfect pleasure). And what do we lose without sadness, grief and discomfort? Huxley thinks we lose meaning and truth.
Brave New World was written in 1931, in the times of Hitler and Stalin. It is startling to think how close we are to Huxley’s imagination today in 2021. We do largely prioritise happiness as society’s main goal today. Sugar, alcohol, and even facebook could be thought of as the present day somas (the ‘pills’ you take to avoid discomfort). Comfort is at our fingertips.
Huxley also describes a “savage” and “uncivilised” world. Contrary to his “Brave New World”, this uncivilised world has pain, illness, and disease. There are no quick fixes or quick pills. But what they have is meaning. Individual freedom in this uncivilised world is not thwarted in favour of order, pleasure, and comfort.
Which world would I want to live in? I believe the good news is that meaning and pleasure are not exclusive. In fact, they both are essential for happiness. But as a society, can we prevent succumbing to the lure of pleasure and pursue meaning even when it’s uncomfortable? A few isolated individuals might, but will we lose the pursuit of meaning as life gets easier and easier? Have we already lost it, in fact? I think there’s still room for reflection and course correction.
Which world do you think we’re headed? Where would you want to live?