A Brave New World Of Affluenza
Through conditioning the psyche from infancy onward, the societies presented by Aldous Huxley and John De Graaf enforce constrictions onto the mind, but the imposition of restrictions is a questionable feature for both. The populace is capable of ascending into philosophical enlightenment, but this feat does not necessarily readily present itself to all. Both Huxley and De Graaf provide examples of ways to expose the mind to the false consciousness sculpted by society, but these examples lead to distinctly different conclusions on how to cope with the false consciousness. De Graaf believes a re-modeling as to the means of living is in order following exposure to the false consciousness, however, Huxley proposes an acknowledgement coupled with a necessary acceptance to the man-crafted world. Huxley hints at the class structure being a determinant behind the likelihood of an individual reaching enlightenment, as De Graaf does indicate there is separation amongst classes that may blind individuals to the proverbial light. While the general public is deemed unenlightened by both, through proper exposure to the falsities in society, De Graaf believes the populace can expand beyond the presumed role given to them by society and then decipher what their true desires are. This exposure is the variable by which two authors discuss the means of attaining the freedom of enlightenment.
According to Huxley, people are conditioned from youth to enjoy and dislike certain amenities of living by society, and their role in society is determined from their initial social standing (which is rather aristocratic in nature). Bernard Marx comments on being “free –not enslaved by his conditioning” (Brave New World, pg 78). To this extent, people are manipulated to conform to an idea propagated by the society, and one must abide by the idea or be shunned by the society. In no place is the punishment for misalignment in society more evident than in the case of John the Savage. John does not wish to conform; he wishes for “the right to be unhappy” (Brave New World, pg 192). John’s anxiety from the structure of the society stems from his past in which he lived outside of the World State, and this exempted him from the corruption of society. His inability to conform leads him to attempt to forcibly alter the world, but this goes over poorly and reveals the dependence that the lower classes, or in this specific case the Deltas, have for soma as he “[makes the Deltas free], whether [they] want it or not” (Brave New World, pg 171). Mustapha Mond recognizes the importance of soma to society, and Mustapha declares soma to be “Christianity without tears” (Brave New World, pg 191). As a means of escapism, soma is offered in Huxley’s world as the viable option for the lower class to remain docile; soma allows for a means to exercise the dissatisfaction of the system without inflicting any damage to the system. Exposing the mind to the false consciousness is the initial step; the acceptance of this knowledge comes down to an individual. The position of an individual in the social stratum certainly plays a variable as to the chance of exposure to the false consciousness perpetuated by society. Huxley’s philosopher king Mustapha Mond notices this division in societal understanding and comments, "’The optimum population,’ said Mustapha Mond, ‘is modeled on the iceberg – eight-ninths below the water line, one-ninth above’" (Brave New World, pg 180). This comment implies the old adage that ignorance is bliss, and to be enlightened is intended for a few to be burdened with. Huxley presents a generalized public with a few protagonists, all of whom are from the upper echelon of society that free themselves from the restrictions placed on their mind. This distinction between classes is made further evident as Huxley writes on about people out of the zenith of society: “The liftman was a small simian creature, dressed in the black tunic of an Epsilon-Minus Semi-Moron” (Brave New World, pg 54). The liftman is not only called a semi-moron, but he is described as less than human, a “simian creature”. Our protagonists bring with them virility for knowledge, which is essential in metamorphosing a human being into more than a meager mammal. This virility is exclusive to only a lucky, or unlucky in face of the stark truth of society, few.
The world, as seen by De Graaf, is a place of deception in which the citizens of the state sign a social contract implicitly; this social contract is the bolstering factor in keeping Affluenza affluent and consumerism abundant, but there are means by which individual’s may relinquish themselves of the burden of consumerism to an extent. This removal of needless consumerism leads to a reevaluation of what is important to an individual. De Graaf references Irwin Yalom for the rationale behind the reevaluation of importance; “Not to take possession of your life plan is to let your existence be an accident” (Affluenza, pg 287). In terms of De Graaf’s philosophy by interpreting what is important to one’s self, a richer life can be held. In order to achieve this meaningful life, one must hurdle over the obstacle of consumerism bred out of the American society. Once amongst the top 20 of industrial nations with income equality, the U.S. has sunk down to dead last (Affluenza, pg 119). This hierarchical society prevents the focus from realizing the meaninglessness of frivolous purchases as the citizens within this society are focused with “keeping up with the Joneses” (Affluenza, pg 197). By dissemination of advertisements to target audiences, there is a progressive advancement in motivation that generates this endless race to have the best, let alone more, products. The higher along the societal stratum, the more intense is this compulsion to have a means of expressing one’s social status. Alternatively, someone relatively unhampered and uncorrupted by society’s stranglehold on the psyche may stand to achieve this freedom of enlightenment inherently. By enlightenment in this term, it should be understood to be the capacity by which one is able to determine a meaningful way with which to live their life. Without third parties (i.e. marketing companies) interfering in the decision-making process, there is a fair probability that one, while having a number of luxuries, would not over-consume to the standard indicative of Americans currently. Exposure theory plays an integral part into how one is primed for interacting in society, and thusly, how to salvage the mind from this mental trap is to in turn expose the mind to the trap (Affluenza, pg 221). By recognizing the trap, one may find a means of coping with the disease. The disease feeds on the emptiness and low-self esteem festering inside individuals, but the disease is never satiated. There is no specific cure, but there is a method to treat the disease. One must escape from society, live in simplicity, or one must learn to appreciate the beauty intrinsic to their environment (i.e. community relationships, nature, etc.)
Despite agreeing upon the undeniable conditioning generated by the society, Aldous Huxley and John de Graaf meander in different directions with their solutions and general belief in who is capable of attaining these solutions. De Graaf cites Buddha for a means of attaining enlightenment: he thought through “reducing desires, which he thought to be the cause of suffering,” enlightenment could be possible (Affluenza, pg 173). Huxley believes once achieving enlightenment there to be a necessary placid keeping with the system in order to avoid an upheaval caused by change. With these beliefs in place, the demographic that is meant to execute the two philosophies is in fact based largely on a hierarchical structure. What Huxley proposes is that enlightenment is unique to the Alphas for several reasons, one of which is that the lower classes are content with their lives due to conditioning, and if they are not, then they have soma to compensate for the dissonance in their life. This may act as a deterrent to some portion of the masses from further questioning the system, but the same exposure theory that facilitated in constructing the views of the people can be used to shed light onto the shadows on the wall (this is a reference to Plato’s Cave). At very least, this is how De Graaf would interpret the societal structure provided by Huxley. De Graaf is an informant to society on the shadows that are running across the wall; the ability by which one can readily acknowledge these falsities of society is more based upon wisdom than one’s place in the network of society (which position does heighten the chance of exposure, but is only one variable amongst a world of possibilities). From De Graaf’s perspective, the further one is from the pinnacle of society the better off one is, and with this Huxley can agree (this is referring to the ignorance is bliss adage noted earlier). However, De Graaf does not limit the possibility of enlightenment to the Alphas of society; rather, De Graaf perceives the difficulty by which one can treat Affluenza as variable to one’s order in society (the higher up in society, the more likely the inclination for material goods to be used to express one’s wealth and, by association, further the severity of Affluenza).