Social conditioning in A Brave New World (coupled with genetic and pharmacological engineering) succeeds in eliminating nearly all conflict, but it also undermines certain fundamental elements of a truly human polis. Ironically, in this highly uniform society, it is unity which is undermined most of all.
This is because social unity, understood as a communion of persons, cannot be achieved merely through shared practices, physical intimacy, or even intellectual agreement. These are each important, but more is required for a truly personal society.
Social stability is largely achieved, both by prohibiting individuals from experiencing themselves as individuals and by treating them as expendable. The individual is treated as cellular and replaceable, rather than as a member of the social body. “Everyone belongs to everyone else,” is a hypnopaedic dictum repeated throughout the novel, an indication that there is nothing important about each person as such.
But the kind of rich and complex unity which is distinctive to persons is actually dependent upon structures of difference which dignify the individual as well as the community. Difference creates the conditions under which love and friendship (unity) are possible.
Unity actually implies difference. That which is absolutely and utterly one is not a unity, but a unit. In order to be united or joined together, it is necessary to be joined to something other. In fact, the depth and richness of any unity is reflected by a capacity for difference.
Let’s begin with rocks. The unity of a sedimentary rock (particle adhesion) is weaker than that of an igneous rock. This is because static unity of an inorganic compound is rarely capable of sustaining difference. This kind of material/inorganic unity is largely dependent upon uniformity. For a rock, unity is mainly equivalent to proximity, but its unity is not very social. The society of a rock, even a conglomerate rock, is a lonely one.
With organism, unity takes on a more social nature in which difference contributes rather than injures. Social unity requires difference and is more like musical harmony than numerical proximity.
A pile of dead leaves is merely a collection, but leaves in communion with branches, themselves connected to the rest of a tree, participate in and as a single life. The plant’s life is social both in itself and with its environment. If the wind blows, it shakes and rustles, but it does not fly apart like the pile of leaves. The life of a tree displays an interdependence of parts and wholes.
The unity of a living organism is a gladder thing than that of a mere collection. It is social in a fuller and more mysterious manner. And while there are more potential threats to living things, there is also more promised in their existence. There may even be something more resilient in about life.
In A Brave New World, the individual has an outward connection to the social order, but is ultimately cellular and replaceable. The cell may die, but the body will go on unaffected. That which is merely cellular has little differential-value within a society, and is therefore not a true member. Cells may be monitored for cancerous mutation, but are not objects value, that is of friendship or love.
Human society is yet more profound because it is not dictated by biology or behavior alone. We are not only social by nature, but by consent and participation–by that which can only be given freely.
For this reason, human society bears the character of gift.
A gift can only be given by free individuals. Singular to human society is therefore the role played by freedom and self-possession.*
We transcend the mere proximity of inorganic unity (that of rocks), as well as the communal interdependence exhibited by plants. Further, our social nature is such that it can rise above the organization and interplay of animal communities.
The transcendent possibility of human society is based upon the imago dei. God created us simply out of the freedom of his good pleasure, and being formed in the image of this Trinitarian God, our personhood is realized most profoundly as freely-social creatures.
A mother who is nothing other than a mother becomes depersonalized. A worker who is but a worker has been dehumanized. But a person who willingly gives unto his other makes a precious gift of self in the context of personhood. This is only possible when the self is not wholly subsumed in society (objectified) or in individuality (isolated).
The unique bond of love, the gift of self, can only exist where social-individuals exist (people who are mature, free, and self-possessed) because one cannot give what one does not have.
It is for this reason that the unchaste cannot promise the self in spousal love; a coward cannot serve courageously; a distracted and dissipated individual cannot give himself in attention to another.
Limits of the Law
In A Brave New World individual freedom is compromised by an overreaching law and social coercion. If the purpose of human society is love, each person not only requires moral training, but the capacity for freedom.
A society which prescribes every form of behavior and thought, ultimately alienates the individual from the self, emptying all action of the aspect of gift.
There is only One who has the power and right to command love, and it is He who has power to effect such in our hearts.
A society only flourishes in the context of conscious, choosing, self-possessed individuals who join themselves freely to one another. Such a society must be open to the possibility of failure in a way that Huxley’s is not. It is only in this way that it becomes open to the possibility of love.
Human, personal society depends upon social individuals who can and do fall short. But in permitting this short fall, society remains open to the commandment (and promise) writ in every human face. Freedom of person is a difference bestowed uniquely upon mankind, bearing in it the mark of God’s peculiar, extravagant, and unnecessary love.
This gift of freedom contains in it the possibility of all human love, and it is a sign of the glory by which we are to glorify our Father in heaven.
For in love, God freely and covenantally bound Himself to us. And it is in free response to this love that we bind ourselves to Him and to our neighbor.
The harmonious beauty of human society emerges now in its true character, as the mutual self-giving of free persons who freely spend themselves upon one another.* The enforcement of uniformity is therefore a threat, not simply to the individual but to the social body as such. For where freedom and difference are lacking, so too must the reality of friendship and love be lost.
Our true unity and dignity will never be found in the enforcement of laws or rights, in freedom from suffering, or in the expression of outward uniformity. Political law serves man best in setting the bounds of social behavior without dictating its inner attitudes and outward expressions.
Our true unity, and thus our true freedom, exists only in becoming capable and willing to spend our selves upon the the welfare of one another, not merely as an outward commandment or as a social habit, but as a privilege of gratitude–that is, in our free obedience to a still small voice.
*The concepts of gift, self-possession, and freedom…the free mutual gift of self, emerge distinctively in Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, and are expressed, though not exclusively in his work Love and Responsibility.
Featured Image: “Home Delusion” by Laurie Lipton