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Essay: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World / George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman

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  • Published: 22 March 2022*
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Brave New World, written by Aldous Huxley, is a dystopian novel published in 1932. Huxley creates a society in which the future is based solely on scientific research and idolizes scientific and manufacturing figures. Man and Superman, written by George Bernard Shaw, is Shaw’s 1903 attempt at a quintessential Don Juan play, where Shaw also uses the Nietzschean belief of Übermensch, which is the thought that mankind is always seeking to improve and is trying to obtain the human Superman. Creating a new pathway for thought, both Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman introduce readers to the possible and somewhat dangerous futures for humanity.

The future in both Brave New World and Man and Superman contains a notable absence of the presence of a divine being or deity. According to Carol Diethe, this lack of a higher power allows for a “freedom that comes from the acknowledgment that God is dead and that therefore there is no judgmental higher being to whom a debt must be paid” (Diethe). This “freedom from God” demonstrates how the western culture of the 20th century, “so exteriorized, so engrossed in affluence… was drifting insensibly toward an oblivion of slack-souled ‘unawareness, stupidity.’” (Attarian 20). Huxley, described as an “increasingly mystical, religious man in an increasingly unmystical, irreligious world,” knew that his removal of God would cause a conversation (20). He wanted to use Brave New World as a way to warn humanity that if nothing changed, humans would “inflict ‘the most deadly of the deadly sins’: to annihilate awareness of the transcendent God and divert (them) from (their) true purpose” (Attarian 14). Shaw, however, wrote about the lack of God in the Nietzschean view, “closely related to the idea that man is something to be surpassed” (“Man is Something to be Surpassed”). The Nietzschean viewpoint of Shaw continued to state that “the death of God is not just the death of a deity; it is also the death of all the so-called higher values that we have inherited” (“Man is Something to be Surpassed”). With the death of all inherited higher values, mankind is free from all previous moral standards, and “the man who can realize the truth of this will laugh and lift his legs high in joyful dancing” (Diethe).

In the dispirited future of a brave new world, Huxley “reinforces his fear that future society may embrace certain aspects of the World State, giving up freedom for comfort” (Carbonell). Shaw also demonstrates the choice of comfort and class over freedom and happiness (Mills). Shaw’s Don Giovanni “married Elvira simply because he felt she was ‘well-conducted,’ and because he sought tranquility and leisure, not happiness” (Mills). John Attarian, along with the words of Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, provided a valid reason to agree with the future of both Huxley and Shaw that happiness and freedom should be given up for comfort. Attarian states “Suffering and death, rightly considered, give the lie to the cult of comfort.” Attarian then quoted Solzhenitsyn, saying:

‘If, as claimed by humanism, man were born only to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to death, his task on earth evidently must be more spiritual: not a total engrossment in everyday life, not the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then their carefree consumption. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one’s life journey may become above all an experience of moral growth: to leave life a better human being than one started it.’ (Attarian 16).

However, some scholars say that happiness can be attained simply by removing commodities that can possibly cause harm, and to keep this “happiness, the World Controllers throw away everything that might provoke either thought or passion” (Woodcock 99). Taking away objects that provoke passion also means diminishing the people who produce the objects of passion. This results in a total reorder of society.

Glancing into the future of a Brave New World, a book which measures its years in the Year of Ford, rather than in the Year of Christ, science appears the main focus of society (Garside). Garside states that “in the rise of science in the last hundred years our exploration has been largely confined to the physical world.” This previous confinement now allows room for the artists, such as freethinkers and poets, to bring a new aspect to science (Garside). With rapid innovations over the past years, “the philosopher has become half science” (Garside). The non-scientific side of the artist, however, “has clearly failed society” (Meckier). Throughout the reading, A Brave New World “turns up one eccentric artist after another” (Meckier). For Huxley, artists, even more than the society that they represent, “exists in a state of mind against body, is either a man of intellect or a creature of lusts” (Meckier). This empowerment of science and belittlement of artists is also visible throughout Shaw’s writings. Where the progressive worker, wanting to be in rebellion and opposition to the church, “naturally felt itself allied to science” (Chesterton). Shaw then makes the assertation that “physical science was a mystical fake like sacerdotalism,” scientists choose to speak in authority because they do not have the proofs to back it up (Chesterton). Shaw also took a strong stance on the facts of science and religion stating “that the very wonders of science were mostly lies, like the wonders of religion” (Chesterton).

Looking at the science and art of the future, Shaw and Huxley turn their thoughts not to the beating of a heart for an indication of life, but rather measuring life by the quality of it (Calder). Calder shares that Huxley “felt increasingly that the problems of the world’s immediate future would be those of overpopulation and starvation, of the environment and pollution…

But in the 1920s his worries were about the quality and the purpose of life” (Calder).

Huxley predicted that mankind would be unknowingly enslaved to science. “In fact, we would be so enthralled we would welcome our bonds” (Carbonell). Carbonell says “just as we create laws to forbid the enslavement of human bodies, we should avoid enslaving minds” (Carbonell). Huxley’s fears of subliminal messages and sleep teachings are irrelevant in the present day, “but his fear of incomplete persons harried by coercive society reducing individuals to cogs in a machine remains pertinent today” (Carbonell). Shaw, although not as stern as Huxley, also had fears about the human life force. Shaw considered romantic amorism the greatest waster of the life force (Mills).

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