Medication and Social Control in Brave New World and Today
The practice of self-medication is a pertinent topic and prevailing theme in Brave New World (BNW), but is also meaningful to our society today. In BNW, citizens are encouraged to take soma, a drug that causes hallucinations that bring on a temporary state of pure elation and relaxation. Interestingly, soma is considered to be a necessary part of the life of the inhabitants of the World State. In fact, soma was such a part of their culture that it was considered unnatural to not require its use to get through the day. For example, in describing Benito Hoover, a popular member of the World State, the narrator commented, “Benito was notoriously good natured. People said of him that he could have got through life without ever touching soma.”(60) Soma was considered important, even mandatory, for many occasions.
Soma was part of their hynopaedic conditioning from the moment of their decanting and is used as a form of social control in the World State. Is this unique to this particular fictional world or has this been ongoing for years in our own world, perhaps in a different form? I want to speculate towards the latter. As long as there has been pain and suffering humans have been trying to escape from its clutches. And much of this suffering has either precipitated or followed a time of social unrest and/or war. Therefore, those in powerful positions might consider that any means of avoiding such unrest is a good thing. Hence, when viewed through this lens, soma is exactly what the political leaders and the proverbial doctor might have ordered. Can we then take this a step further and view soma as a form of medicine? Will you make the leap with me that medicine could be used as a form of social control? In the case of the World State, soma is used to calm the ensuing rioting that was going to occur in Chapter 15. Soma is used to ensure stability and the particular form of “happiness” that is encouraged, which is believed to be a necessary component of a successful society.
In relationship to this, what interests me most is how over-medicated our modern society is today. Many people will take a pill for a condition that seems to have been fabricated by the pharmaceutical industry (but that is another rant for another day). Huxley has been considered a prophet because many of the issues he portrayed in his novels became reality in the following years. Perhaps his prophecies can be extended and applied to our over-reliance on medication to make our troubles go away. Let me be clear that I am a proponent of appropriate medication and I think there is a tremendous need for modern medicine. But perhaps soma was a warning/prediction to us of future events. I say this because, while soma is used to alleviate suffering in many instances, it might have led to John’s suicide in the final chapter. Have we not seen similar things happen with other mood enhancing drugs when taken for sport or before long-term studies had found potentially fatal side effects? Is there evidence today that we overprescribe for conditions like ADHD? While I believe ADHD to be real, I also believe that it is just plain taboo to have a child that acts…well, like a child, in public. Those in power prefer their “subjects” to be in control – especially of their emotions. Emotion, while in some ways is what separates us as humans, can be very dangerous. Thus, by taking away emotion, stability is protected. This is very provocatively portrayed in Brave New World.
Other topics that I find interesting for discussion are the gender, race, and class inequalities expressed in the novel. In particular, there are no women decanted into Alpha beings and the Epsilon-Minus semi-morons notably wear black, which is called “such a beastly color.” (27) I am curious what others think of these topics.
Corey A. Kalbaugh
~ by coreykalbaugh on February 11, 2009.