This literary analysis concentrates on how Brave New World continues to cast a cautionary light on twenty-first-century bioethical questions on genetic engineering, especially with technology far outpacing regulation. Concerns are, how far should we go to fix what is wrong with us, and should this even include cloning a new and better species that is smarter, more beautiful, and more talented? In Huxley's World State, a technocratic government and its scientific elite make decisions for the good of the entire population, sacrificing individuality. Its motto is Community, Identity, Stability. In the previous era, anthrax bombs had threatened the war-torn economy during the Nine Years'
War. The government's response to anthrax threats, which relates to our own twenty-first-century fears of bioterrorism in the United States, was to create a one-world state and to fortify the economy by controlling the population. In order to maintain a stable community, individual identity was forsaken. The most interesting aspect of the plot is that, rather than exercising military control, biotechnologies took over. Humans were mass-produced, then physically and psychologically conditioned into a specific class, each with its own destiny. Although less time is spent on character analysis here than on bioeth-ical issues, the five classes or castes—Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons—all were fixed into their predestined tasks to keep the economy running. Likewise, the American education system once tracked children into specific slots throughout their school years. And in countries like China, where the birth rate is strictly controlled, students' high school scores either afford them additional educational opportunities or place them into trade occupations for life.
Huxley's imagined ectostatic (outside of the womb) method of creating human life by placing fertilized eggs into bottles eerily comes close to the now-common practice of in vitro fertilization and the artificial womb created in 1997. Moralists fear Huxley's imagined world in which two parents are no longer required to make a baby and the word family is vulgar. Huxley's idea that one fertilized egg would be cloned into 96 identical lower-class Epsilons to lock in conformity highlights the hot contemporary debate in cloning. Geneticists argue that cloned humans have 100 percent identical DNA but that transfer of genetic material is not the transfer of consciousness. In fact, it would be no different from naturally conceived identical twins who maintain unique personalities. But psychologists now theorize that as much as 50 percent of a clone's psychological traits, such as shyness and fearlessness, are influenced by genes. The half-mile-long assembly line Huxley called the Bokanovsky Process modifies embryos into life-forms to serve in specific roles. The related idea of cloning perfected humans or of creating cloned tissues that promise a myriad of therapeutic cures is receiving both loud criticism and stalwart support. Every country is evoking the Huxleyan dystopia in debates over the far-ranging bioethical issues relating to human cloning.
With some changes in terminology, the human condition in Huxley's futuristic brave new world does not sound very different from our twenty-first century. Instead of the pleasure-inducing drug soma to control thoughts and feelings, we have Prozac and Ritalin. The Internal and External Trust extracts hormones to keep people young and happy; we have hormone replacement therapy and Viagra. Instead of the neo-Pavlovian conditioning and hypnopaedia, some say our subliminal governmental and commercial messages cause conformity in what we want to have and to be. Huxley's human babies are manufactured, and a medical procedure called a pregnancy substitute gives women the psychological experience of having babies without actually having childbirth. His Podsnap's Technique artificially speeds up the ripening of embryos for extraction (we have follicle-stimulating drugs to extract ova). Instead of Malthusian belts to discourage unsterilized women from having sex and getting pregnant, we have the birth control pill, fallopian tube-tying, and male sterilization. In Huxley's World State, imperfectly cloned humans are discarded; we routinely screen for genetic faults, aborting within the limits of the law. Both manipulate reproduction. Huxley's Liners and Matriculators work in the Bottling Room, placing artificially inseminated embryos into sow-peritoneum-lined bottles for maturation, at which point they are decanted (born); we artificially inseminate ova with sperm in a glass dish (in vitro fertilization) and implant them in a surrogate human womb or artificial womb. Underscoring Huxley's one-world utopia is the Malthusian philosophy of achieving a reproduction-consumption balance in a world without disease and fear of death. Our contemporary view is more a matter of the desire for human perfection by eliminating disease and all the while consuming however much we want, while in the end creating a painless morphine-induced death.
Hence, much of what is going on in biotechnology today is reflected in Huxley's cautionary theme, and, in particular, that we must control the rapid advances in biotechnology before they control us and our individuality. His Brave New World, in which economic stability supersedes art, science, and religion, was written in the early 1930s before the beginning of the totalitarian Nazi state, the communist Soviet regime, and World War II. Incredibly, however, the criticism of Huxley's World State parallels that which fell on eugenics when the Nazi government sanctioned Dr. Josef Mengele's World War II medical research atrocities. In his 1976 novel Boys From Brazil, Ira Levin imagined how Mengele planned to clone a new generation of Hitlers. Levin used the twentieth-century technology to turn skin cells salvaged from Hitler into his clones who are then placed into preselected homes to mimic Hitler's youthful environment. That is, the cloned babies are environmentally nurtured to become a new race of Hitlers who will then take over the world, fulfilling a destiny that World War II cut short. Using today's technology, which is not too far afield from Hux ley's 1930s theories, stored cells collected even from the dead could be cloned into a Mozart, an Einstein, and a Hitler.
The memory is still fresh in Germany, which in 2001 banned creating embryos for research. Germans learned a hard lesson from Nazi eugenic experiments on Jews. In their wartime genetic determinism, they tried to control who had the right to be born and live. Indescribable human experiments horrified the world, even though some of the research still benefits us today, such as connecting smoking to lung cancer. The underlying lesson, perhaps, is that science, even when regulated by its own government, can run amok. In Jurassic Park (1990), another fictional account about cloning, Michael Crichton envisions a world in which prehistoric dinosaurs have been cloned and brought back to live in a twentieth-century theme park where they terrorize the very scientists who created them. Even within the sterilized adult dinosaur population, the unexpected happens and life finds a way. James Gleick's Chaos: Making a New Science (1987), applied to Jurassic Park, further theorizes that in our nonlinear world random, unpredictable and chaotic events often override whatever type of order we try to impose. Both the novels of Levin and of Crichton replay the Frankenstein theme describing what can go terribly wrong when biotechnical scientists are left to their own devices.
In essence, Brave New Worlds reproductive methods derive from the Malthusian idea that anything not contributing to the economy, for the greater good, should be forbidden. In Huxley's dystopian vision, the family unit is obsolete because reproductive sexual intercourse would be too genetically risky and would relinquish the government's control. Instead, eggs are harvested from women taking Hormone Stimulate Surrogate, which releases their eggs and diminishes any maternal impulse. To continue a comparison of Huxley's future world and ours today, his reproductive process equates with the willing surrogate (paid or not), her womb available to host the fertilized egg of two donor parents. The World State requires conformity. Subliminal propaganda called hypnopaedia inculcates early prejudices. Soma drugs, a chemical called Violent Passion Surrogate, and multisensory movies called feelies promote sexual promiscuity and a sense of well-being. The Controllers have decided what is best for all.
In Brave New World the World State seeks to perfect human life without disease and discontent, replacing individual identity. It has created conditions it believes are good for the community as a whole. Unfortunately, Huxley's imagined social engineering, taking drugs to numb a harsh existence and having few family bonds, is not foreign to today's reality. Furthermore, the Controllers use neo-Pavlovian stimulus-response to condition their people to relate death to something pleasant. Critics say today's American way of isolating and drugging dying people tends to sanitize or "to domesticate" death. In a like manner, the World State conditions its people to not fear death, and, when faced with it, they are repulsed. The contrast between Huxley's imagined future world and ours today shows what might go wrong when the government controls art, science, and religion. The World State discourages literature because it might cause discontent in people thinking about the old ways. Science not contributing directly to the overall plan is outlawed, and religion has no place in a world without disease and fear of death.
In his plotline, Huxley contrasts his main characters, the nonconformist upper-class Bernard with the highly conditioned lower-class Lenina conformed to her lot in life; and the woman Linda, raised in World State values but relegated to a Reservation life, with her savage son John, who is caught between worlds and cannot be happy where there is no hope and love. Huxley's characters set into the contrasting worlds, the World Society and the Savage Reservation, show how class discontent begins to unravel the society. Bernard and Helmholtz, independent thinkers and misfits, are joined by John, a romantic savage, to destabilize society. Passages from Shakespeare run throughout the book, signaling notions of romantic love. But achieving stability through conformity and induced states of happiness, not individual romances, are key ingredients in the brave new world. The Savage John can never be happy there because its civilization has poisoned him. He wants to join the banished Bernard and Helmholtz but is denied doing so because he is still the object of an experiment to amalgamate him into the culture. In Huxley's 1946 foreword to Brave New World, the author states that he erred in not giving the Savage a third choice in addition to either a primitive Reservation life or insanity in utopia. He could choose to live in sanity on the borders of the Reservation within a "society composed of freely cooperating individuals devoted to the pursuit of sanity," where the lofty question posed is, "How will this thought or action contribute to, or interfere with, the achievement, by me and the greatest possible number of other individuals, of man's Final End?"
Related to today, Huxley's brave new world of genetically engineered humans shows us what might happen when measures are taken to control and to condition us. The family unit is obsolete; chemicals keep people happy. While appearing as a utopia without disease and warfare, free will is lacking. Consumption of goods that boost the economy, promiscuous sexual interplay that keeps emotional attachments from forming, and the redefinition of religion and the banning of history and art are all elements that keep the totalitarian society intact. Huxley's novel predicts the eugenics issues we currently face, first with test-tube babies and now with human cloning. Fears center around the possibility of cloning worker and controller types as well as stagnating gene pools. In summary, Huxley's caste system includes manufactured, conditioned, and conformed human beings.
Dr. Lee Silver, a molecular biologist at Princeton University and author of Remaking Eden: How Genetic Engineering and Cloning Will Transform the American Family, argued in a 2002 PBS special, "Eighteen Ways to Make a Baby," that we should not fear human cloning. He suggests we look closely at genetic engineering, which has been perfected in some animals, eliminating cancer and augmenting memory. The primary purpose of human cloning, he says, would be to help infertile couples whose babies could have health advantages as well as improved personalities and better cognitive traits. In a cloned human, the process of dividing DNA in half is eliminated, so fewer chromosomal problems are expected and certain physical attributes are controlled, including the predisposition to certain diseases. Of course, environment and consciousness modify genetic endowment. In Huxley's dystopia, genetic and environmental engineering preset human personality, identity, and social structure.
Dr. Silver, nonetheless, cautions that ethical dilemmas may arise when human cloning creates a permanent gap between the affluent society boosting its children's advantages and the poor countries that cannot. And the problem with widespread genetic engineering is that it might eliminate the type of genetic diversity seen in randomly dispersed genes. The beauty in genetic diversity is that it allows any child to succeed. In addition, we must ask ourselves if manipulated genes could create a permanent divide in society between the upper and lower socioeconomic classes. When people no longer interbreed, would this divide us into two or more separate species? Many questions arise, noticeably beginning with could, would, and should. One consideration of so-called brute-force evolution—dropping manufactured traits into an organism and hoping for its genetic best—is that there may still be many failures and surprises. It is unlike Darwin's natural selection, tinkering with genes and selecting the variants over a long period of time. In the end, we must all wonder how direct biotechnological intervention in the genetic process, such as human cloning, will interfere with evolution itself and affect the human race.
Given the legal, ethical, and social backdrop of Huxley's cautionary Brave New World, we should ask ourselves these major questions about genetic engineering:
• Because scientists and the biotech industry have vested interests in research, will our legislatures pass effective laws to prevent genetic determinism (physical and psychological) and genetic discrimination? (Huxley's Alphas are the genetically engineered, advantaged few.)
• What would happen if our world's gene pool became controlled by the scientific elite (Huxley's Controllers)?
• The President's Council on Bioethics in 2004 approved of therapeutic research on existing stem cells but disapproved of reproductive cloning. How much does "the conscience of the country" influence the views of Congress, the scientific community, and society at large?
In our brave new world, which is a phrase spoken by Miranda in Shakespeare's The Tempest, we must all decide—not just the scientists, philosophers, lawyers, and clergy—where we want biotechnology to lead us as a human race.
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