History and Psychology in the World State: Chapter 3

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Date: 1990
Publisher: Gale
Series: Twayne's Masterwork Studies
Document Type: Table; Critical essay
Length: 3,636 words

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10: History and Psychology in the World State: Chapter 3

The opening chapters of Brave New World introduce the reader to a future inspired not only by “Our Ford” but by “Our Freud” as well. Huxley had always insisted that any assessment of the ideals animating western Euopean history after the First World War had to be based on “two tests, the historian’s and the psychologist’s.”127 In his social novels of the twenties Huxley made extensive use of Freudian ideas, populating his narratives with characters twisted and warped by neurosis and, occasionally, by psychotic fears and anxieties. Characters like Spandrell in Point Counter Point or Joseph Stoyte in After Many a Summer Dies the Swan were, in Huxley’s view, socially representative types that exemplified the traits of a culture in decline. In his novels he drew upon Freudian psychoanalysis and “the Freudian ’complexes’ for which family relationships are responsible.”128 In Brave New World he utilizes Freudian concepts in his characterization of John, the Savage, but in the introductory chapters the educational techniques of the World State are grounded in the behaviorist psychology of Ivan Pavlov and J. B. Watson discussed earlier.

Watson’s application of the principles of mechanistic science to psychology led to a reduction of human behavior to the laws of physics Page 89  |  Top of Articleand chemistry. Such predictable and testable laws underlay Watson’s psychology, which was premised on the belief that mind or consciousness was confined to physiological responses to external stimuli. Bertrand Russell, in The Scientific Outlook, regarded such an emphasis on the external stimulation of an essentially passive mind (i.e., conditioning) as a technique for acquiring power. Accordingly, the “menacing geniality” of the Director of Hatcheries suggests the peculiar combination of benign yet sinister coercion that informs all of the activities of the World State.

The introductory chapters describe a world in which the potentially refractory individual is socialized through behaviorist techniques of psychological conditioning. In chapter 2 the students are taken to the “Neo-Pavlovian Conditioning Rooms” where children are subjected to electric shocks and shrieking sirens in an effort to induce an “instinctive hatred of books and flowers” and in which the “reflexes” are “unalterably conditioned” (23). The final result of such “instruments of social stability” as behaviorist techniques is epitomized in the sleep teaching or “hypnopaedic” inculcation of “Elementary Class Consciousness” (30). Again, politics and science are merged as Huxley satirically conflates what in “The New Romanticism” he described as the Soviet communist’s devotion to mechanistic science with what the Marxist finds most repulsive in capitalism, the class system. At the same time, Huxley invokes the capitalist’s belief in Fordian mass production criticized in “The Outlook for American Culture” with the highly centralized bureaucracy characteristic of Soviet society. The result is a dystopian society combining what Huxley regarded as the most dangerous tendencies within the Soviet Union and the United States of the late twenties and early thirties—a combination of excessive reliance on technology and collectivist values resulting in a mechanized, rationalized society. Within such a state, Bernard’s surname can be Marx and the woman he desires can be called Lenina, while both venerate the memory of “Our Ford.”

The Central London Hatchery is not simply a symbol of a technology perverted to bad ends—the creation of a scientifically determined race of compliant automatons. Such a stifling of human possiblities as Page 90  |  Top of Articlea result of Pavlovian and Watsonian techniques is intrinsically political in that systematized behaviorist conditioning is a form of coercion set in motion by specialists in order to ensure social and political stability. The Director appeals to “high economic policy” as the ultimate justification of the World State’s manipulative practices. The need to control the consumption of “manufactured articles” through the “socializing force” of genetic engineering, Taylorization, and behaviorist conditioning is one of the principal reasons for the existence of the Director’s laboratories. His one moment of genuine excitement during his lecture occurs when, at the end, he suddenly exults, “But all these suggestions are our suggestions! . . . Suggestions from the State” (32). This assertion of the primacy of the state is an assertion about power and its sources, and leads to the appearance of “his fordship Mustapha Mond” at the beginning of the crucial third chapter.

The World State is governed by a committee. Mond is one of the ten World Controllers, and his appearance signals a shift in Huxley’s use of psychology in Brave New World .Mond, like the Director, is a technical specialist, a scientist who fully endorses the behaviorist conditioning on which the security of the World State rests. In Mond’s version of history, Freudian neurosis and destructively irrational or abnormal behavior are to be found only in what he calls the “terrible” past, before the introduction of universal conditioning techniques. In brief, Watsonian behaviorism is the stable, pacified present; Freudian psychosis was characteristic of human history before the establishment of Mond’s utopia. The Savage, introduced later, who lives outside of the World State, is neurotic and irrationally violent for this reason; he lives in a precarious state of unconditioned freedom.

Mustapha Mond uses Freudian categories of thought solely in order to condemn the past. His very first words in Brave New World compose a sweeping repudiation of the past, in particular, its inability to come to terms with human sexuality and erotic desire. Just before Mond’s appearance, the Director and his students, having completed their tour of the Hatchery, walk outside to observe the games of the children—including “erotic play.” The Director uses the occasion to Page 91  |  Top of Articlemuse on history, warning his students that “when you’re not accustomed to history, most facts about the past do sound incredible” (36). The incredible fact that he proceeds to reveal is that erotic play between children was once regarded as abnormal. As his students gape in disbelief and ask what the results were, Mustapha Mond appears for the first time and announces, “The results were terrible” (37).

Mond’s verdict on nonutopian history introduces the historical summary characteristic of the modern dystopia. In the main section of chapter 3, subdivided into 123 smaller units, Huxley contrasts the stable behaviorist present of the World State with its unstable neurotic past by means of an assortment of voices. Throughout this section the voice of the anonymous third person narrator is supplemented by the voices of major characters like Bernard Marx and Lenina Crowne, and minor figures like Henry Foster and Fanny. The result is a medley of social perspectives that collectively express the social texture of World State society. As the chapter proceeds, however, the reader becomes aware of the increasingly dominant voice of the World Controller, Mustapha Mond. When collated, Mond’s observations can be seen to compose a fragmented but sufficiently continuous record of history prior to the establishment of his scientific utopia. Equally important— and illustrative of Huxley’s belief in the close interrelationship between psychology and history—Mond’s remarks are inspired by a discussion of sexuality, erotic desire, and the nuclear family as a social institution.

Like Gibbon in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Mond views history as “little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.” He simply discards world history from the ancient Middle East (”Harappa . . . Ur of the Chaldees . . . Thebes and Babylon and Cnossos and Mycenae”) up to “the pre-moderns,” just prior to the founding of the World State. He rejects everything, including literature, music, art, and philosophy. For Mond, the World State is a state without a past, continuous with nothing beyond itself. Pre-utopian history he interprets as a turbulent record of violence, pathology, and irrational excess. “That’s why you’re taught no history,” he Page 92  |  Top of Articleinforms the students. But, like the Director, he immediately contradicts himself, adding, “but now the time has come” for a history lesson.

The Director is surprised at Mond’s willingness to raise the forbidden subject, and remembers the “strange rumours of old forbidden books hidden in a safe in the Controller’s study” (39). Like many of the inhabitants of the World State, Mond cannot completely control his fascination with time and history. He begins his lecture of fallen or pre-utopian mankind with, in his view, the quintessential Eve, “a viviparous mother” (40), that is, a symbol of natural child-bearing. The family and its basis in maternity have been rendered obsolete by World State technology. They have been banished as a source of economic as well as psychological instability. Mond defines the family as the creation of the mother, a site of aberrancy and disease “as squalid psychically as physically.” The home of pre-modern times he describes as “an understerilized prison” (42), an airless rabbit hole, “hot with the frictions of tightly packed life, reeking with emotion. What suffocating intimacies, what dangerous, insane, obscene relationships between the members of the family group” (42). At the center stands the mother, “maniacally” infecting her children with “every kind of perversion from sadism to chastity” (44). Mond’s disgust with familial relationships can be traced to the Freudian assessment of the family and what Huxley called, as noted earlier, those “Freudian ’complexes’ for which family relationships are responsible.” The reference to sadism and chastity is important because the Savage, as we shall see, suffers from a sadistic obsession with sexual chastity as a result of his mother’s influence.

Mond loathes the image of the mother, and while he inveighs against it as a source of incapacitating neurosis, the voice of Lenina Crowne appears in the text for the first time. Lenina is the new woman, sexually promiscuous, free of family responsibilities, and conditioned to feel only aversion for monogamous relationships. Her first remarks are part of a discussion with her friend Fanny on the advisability of a Pregnancy Substitute; but the conversation shifts to Lenina’s perplexing tendency to see the same man for extended periods of time. Page 93  |  Top of ArticleIn a society where undiscriminating promiscuity is a virtue, Lenina’s preference for long-drawn-out affairs with only one male is regarded as perversely immoral. While Fanny warns Lenina about her antisocial behavior, Mustapha Mond continues his attack on “mother, monogamy, [and] romance” (47), arguing that such a stress on loyalty and romantic love fostered neurosis and “endless isolating pain.” What Mond fears in monogamous love is its intensity of feeling, because such emotional energy encouraged the “instability” of individualism. This is the all-important thematic point in Mond’s diatribes against romantic love and the family; he fears the sense of individual identity fed and nurtured by subjective feelings.

Mond’s repudiation of strong or concentrated feeling is linked to the essential ideological principle on which the World State is founded. For the World Controller, history is a record of abnormal pathology, an immense case history of neurotic and psychotic behavior. Society is a patient who must be tranquilized, calmed, rendered passive and stable, hence the mass distributions of the drug soma. Mond identifies stability as “the primal and ultimate need” (44), defining it as a state of “calm well-being.” The reason he regards the family as a threat to such placid contentedness lies in his distinctly Freudian preoccupation with the violent consequences of frustrated desire and repression. The family is indicted as the scene of destabilizing impulses born of repressed desires, irrationally intense emotion, and egocentric rivalry. The resulting Freudian complexes are to be laid to rest by means of behaviorist conditioning. These two irreconcilable psychologies are brought together in Brave New World in such a way that one provides the diagnosis, the other, the cure.

In Huxley’s view Freudian depth psychology turned on the pivotal concept of covert or unconscious mental activity, especially the idea of unconscious desire that could be repressed and thus become productive of inner turmoil and irrational behavior. Within Mustapha Mond’s world of conditioned serenity and social stability, the single enemy is arrested desire, symbolized by the decanted infant howling for his bottle. What Mond and his bureaucratic technicians fear is the irrational intensity of raw desiring emotion. “Feeling lurks in that Page 94  |  Top of Articleinterval of time between desire and its consummation” (51), Mond says, and he is dedicated to obliterating the moment of unsatisfied desire. The World State is, after all, utopia. By removing the moment of unconsummated desire, Mond will eliminate intense emotion itself, because strong emotion is born of frustrated desire. By disposing of vital emotion he will have extinguished selfhood or personal identity, thus ensuring both personal and social stability.

In the interwar period the key texts for such an anxious perspective on human behavior in relation to history and society were Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents and The Future of an Illusion .Freud’s philosophy of history was a relatively somber one, stressing the irrational intensity of human desires and appetites and the resulting need for coercion, for the renunciation of instinctual desire and its sublimation in creative work. Religion he dismissed as a mass delusion, arguing that it had to be supplanted by science. The limited degree of progress open to humanity was dependent on humanity’s capacity for collective self-discipline, especially the renunciation of the more powerful and hence more destructive forms of erotic desire. Such a process of disciplined control could be achieved by means of sublimination, that is, the modification, deflection, and taming of appetitive energies by channeling them into socially acceptable and stabilizing forms of activity (i.e., art, science, technology, etc.). Accordingly, the goal of history was the establishment of scientific consciousness in the manner of H. G. Wells’s Men Like Gods. The intellectual ascendancy of the scientific state of mind would control and harness humanity’s more irrational psychological drives, and that, in turn, could lead to control of both the social and natural environment. But Freud also believed that utopia was a dream; the barbaric past and the destructive psychic impulses that energized it are always present, always a potential threat to social and individual harmony. Mustapha Mond’s World State is premised on this darker view of human potentiality in which Wells’s scientific rationalist like the Utopian Urthred is always in danger of succumbing to the “ancestral man-ape” within.

In his lecture to the Director’s students Mond employs the simple metaphor of water under pressure to illustrate his understanding of the Page 95  |  Top of Articledynamics of human desire, observing that the more holes are punched in a water pipe, the weaker the pressure of each individual leak. Mond’s answer to destructively intense desire is to let off the pressure wherever possible, in systematically controlled ways. His view of civilization is essentially permissive, especially in the sphere of sexuality. Sexual promiscuity is held up as a normal human activity; indeed, he regards it as a socially beneficial mode of behavior in a society where sensual appetite is pandered to in a scientifically coordinated way. Mond promises the reduction of the “interval of time between desire and its consummation” through the universal availability of the objects of desire. To do this on a large scale, the objects are commodified; the women of his utopia are sexual objects—as are the men—in a society “where every one belongs to every one else.” What appetites remain are neutralized by drugs and sophisticated forms of entertainment, like the Feelies. What is absent in the World State is any form of self-denial, especially the sublimation or deflection of appetitive energy into the creation of art, literature, music, or genuinely creative science. Such activities would require the deferral or renunciation of sensual desire, and Mond fears such repression as productive of neurosis and violent emotion. “Impulse arrested,” he warns the students, “spills over, and the flood is feeling, the flood is passion, the flood is even madness: it depends on the force of the current, the height and strength of the barrier. The unchecked stream flows smoothly down its appointed channels into a calm well-being” (50). The government of the World State clearly prefers the “unchecked stream” of satisfied desire and its resulting social order of hedonistic conformity.

Mond’s summary of “pre-modern history,” then, is history viewed as a case record of pathological violence born of socially uncoordinated energies. In the “new era” such anarchic impulses are not rechanneled into art or scientific research but simply damped down by means of drugs or placated by an ethic of immediate satisfaction. The past is terrible because unstable. Human civilization, informed by neurotic aims and ambitions, may have produced the paintings of Michelangelo and the plays of Shakespeare, but at too high a price. As the Fordian apologist for the “interests of industry” and the Freudian advocate of Page 96  |  Top of Articlethe pleasure principle, Mond emphasizes only the disruptive and anarchic aspects of history. He has no faith in humanity’s capacity for self-disciplined and creative labor, and this pessimism is reflected in his history of the “pre-modern” era. As in Wells’s The Sleeper Awakes or Zamiatin’s We, the period of history prior to the establishment of utopia is one of increasing civil violence and widespread social instability. Mond’s chronology can be collated as follows:

A.F.I (1908)The opening date of the new era.
The introduction of Our Ford’s first Model T (1908).
Period of liberalism and the appearance of “the first reformers.”
A.F. 141 (2049)Outbreak of “The Nine Years’ War” followed by “the great Economic Collapse.”
Period of Russian ecological warfare including the poisoning
of rivers and the anthrax bombing of Germany and France.
A.F. 150 (2058)The beginning of “World Control.”
The “conscription of consumption” followed by a period of social restiveness and instability.
The rise of “Conscientious objection and [a] back to nature movement.”
The reaction to liberal protest movements including the
Golders Green massacre of “Simple Lifers” and the British Museum Massacre.
Abandonment of force by the World Controllers.
Period of an antihistory movement and social reeducation including intensive propaganda directed against viviparous reproduction and a “campaign against the Past.”
Closing of museums.
Suppression of all books published before A.F. 150.
A.F. 178 (2086)Government drive to discover a socially useful narcotic with-out
damaging side effects.
Establishment of special programs in pharmacology and biochemistry.
A.F. 184 (2092)The discovery of soma .
A.F. 473 (2381)The Cyprus Experiment: establishment of a wholly Alpha community.
A.F. 478 (2386)Civil War in Cyprus.
Nineteen thousand Alphas killed.
Page 97  |  Top of ArticleA.F. 482 (2390)The Ireland Experiment (increased leisure time and four-hour work week).
A.F. 632 (2540)The present of Brave New World

Mond’s chronicle of the foundation of the new era highlights two aspects of World State ideology. First, it stresses the attempt to obliterate all knowledge of the past, the antihistory movement reflecting the new era’s need to seize control of the historical record, not to rewrite it, as in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, but to remove the concept of history itself from human consciousness. Second, in the references to the “back to nature movement” and the emphasis on technological experimentation, it foregrounds the typical dystopian opposition between nature and reason. Equally important, Mond’s chronicle does not suggest a progressive unfolding of human potentiality (as in Wells’s Men Like Gods). The final social experiments in Cyprus and Ireland are indicative of human limits, of boundaries beyond which humanity cannot develop. The World State is not the beginning of a new period of evolving and progressing civilization that Wells had celebrated in Men Like Gods .Rather, it is a massive socioeconomic improvisation marking the final termination of history. It is premised on the futility of history and offers in its stead what amounts to the apocalyptic ushering in of a society so authoritarian and immobile that historical progress has been halted, rather like a river frozen in its bed. This achievement of, in Mond’s words, “the stablest equilibrium in history” (272) is attributable to a paralysis of historical process that extends to the temporal experience of the individual citizen, where birth most often leads to arrested development, and where life involves a mindless dedication to the immediate present. Neither past nor future has meaning.

Mond’s chronicle, with its emphasis on the linear, sequential nature of time and the irrationality of past history, brings into sharper focus the principal anxiety of the World State: the disruptive nature of time itself. It is not just the cultural past and the study of history that is banished from Mond’s dystopia. Temporal process is regarded as a Page 98  |  Top of Articlecondition to be carefully calibrated and controlled. The hypnopaedic sentence, “Ending is better than mending,” that is whispered into the ears of sleeping children at the Hatchery is typical in this respect. The statement is an economic principle that encourages commodity consumption rather than a more frugal concern with wasteful and unnecessary expenditure. But “ending” is also a temporal concept suggesting the principal aim of World State ideology: the ending of desire in immediate satisfaction, the ending of history in the new era where future progress (”mending”) is irrelevant.

Mond’s “now” of the World State involves a complete immersion in present time. If desire is deferred then dissatisfaction persists in time with—as Mond believes—all of its attendant frustrations and unstable emotions. “Now,” he proclaims “the old men work, the old men copulate, the old men have no time, no leisure from pleasure, not a moment to sit down and think” (66–67; emphasis added). The final escape from time is the drug soma, defined by Mond as “a dark eternity,” that is, as inducing an inherently timeless state of mind. What Mond fears is the appearance of “a crevice of time,” unexpectedly yawning “in the solid substance” of World State materialism (67). He asks his audience, “Has any of you been compelled to live through a long time-interval between the consciousness of a desire and its fulfillment?” (52). Such an interval or “crevice of time” is a space in which the mind can expand and develop, in which desire can be rechanneled or sublimated. It is also a site of disruptive emotion or longing. Bernard Marx is viewed with suspicion by Fanny because “he spends most of his time by himself” (52).

The endeavor of the technocrats “to conquer old age” (65) is part of a wider, more subtle agenda that would force humanity to alter profoundly its experience of time. The World State, then, is, in a manner of speaking, a new time zone where characters remain constant throughout a whole lifetime, where the stages of birth, maturity, and aging no longer have meaning, and where historical process has simply ended. It is, accordingly, appropriate that the collage of voices composing chapter 3, including Mond’s dominant voice, should end with the novel’s presiding symbol of the World State’s technological Page 99  |  Top of Articledominance of time: “Slowly, majestically, with a faint humming of machinery, the Conveyors moved forward, thirty-three centimeters an hour” (67). This final image of the conquest of natural childbirth is also a symbol of the victory over natural time—or at least what can be called the unmanipulated temporal experience characteristic of the pre-modern age so thoroughly condemned by Mond. Bernard Marx is introduced to the reader as an error in World State calibrations, someone for whom the “interval of time between desire and its consummation” is continually widening. Out of step with his fellow citizens, he threatens to disrupt the stately movement of the Fordian production line with distinctly Freudian disturbances.

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Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX1703600022