There is No Brave New World Without Abortion
Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World in 1931. His onetime pupil George Orwell published 1984in 1949. Three quarters of a century later, their chilling visions of the future retain tremendous cultural cachet—and rightly so. They offer warnings that grow more relevant with each passing decade, but how many people have actually read them (or even know they exist)? It's much easier, after all, to describe something as "Orwellian" than it is to sit down with Nineteen Eighty-Four—and much simpler to stream a cinematic adaptation than it is to turn the pages of a 90-year-old book. These tendencies, of course, are two of the very things each classic warns against—if only we'd take the time to read them. Those in the know have a vague sense that both works warn of oppressive authoritarian futures, but what good is such knowledge if we can't recognize the specific threats? Not much, so I'm going to I.D. one of those threats for you.A big one. It's called abortion.
Brave New World and 1984 both present futures run by bloated totalitarian governments that have sacrificed freedom for stability. Neither regime makes any allowance for privacy or dissent, but that's where the similarities mostly end. Government control in 1984 is built on surveillance and fear. In Brave New World, it's built on preconditioning and promiscuity—along with a heavy infusion of psychedelics. Orwell's populace is too scared to rebel. Huxley's is too satiated. Orwell's is subdued by pain; Huxley's by pleasure. Residents of Orwell's Oceania live in misery and want; residents of Huxley's World State live in a sort of perennial stupor. Neil Postman sums up the differences well:
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What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.
Based on Postman's ledger, it seems the fears of both authors were justified since the threats to freedom are now coming from both fronts. We live in a world where it's commonplace for the ruling class to censor dissent, and yet huge swaths of the population seem not to notice or care. In post-COVID America, the government has bribed us with "free" money, "free" health care, and "free" college while simultaneously threatening us with the loss of job, the loss of travel, and the loss of medical treatment. It's the carrot and the stick. Pleasure and pain.
The subversion of sex and family are at the heart of both dystopias, but the approach is radically different. In Brave New World, natural births have been entirely done away with. Nobody has babies anymore. Instead, embryos are grown in the lab, cloned en masse, and genetically-altered for specific utilitarian purposes. Children are raised and programmed entirely by the state. In 1984, children are born "naturally," but all marriages must be approved by the Party—and it was understood that "permission was always refused if the couple concerned gave the impression of being physically attracted to one another." Once children were born, they were systematically turned against their parents through Party propaganda. "It was almost normal," Orwell wrote, "for people over thirty to be frightened of their own children. This was because "hardly a week passed in which the Times did not carry a paragraph describing how some eavesdropping little sneak—‘child hero' was the phrase generally used—had overheard some compromising remark and denounced his parents to the Thought Police."
Sex in 1984 is a necessary evil. It's looked at as "a slightly disgusting minor operation, like having an enema." Its only purpose is "to bear children for the service of the Party." The Party boasted, in fact, that it would "soon abolish the orgasm." But sex in Brave New World is all orgasm. Sex happens everywhere and with anyone—because everyone belongs to everyone else. In Oceania, sex is purely utilitarian. In the World State, it is purely hedonistic. The only taboos are monogamy and restraint.
Dystopian futures, it seems, can be built on twisting sex in either direction. It makes little difference to those pulling the strings. So long as it's not one man and one woman, with genuine love and affection, sex can be as prudish or profligate as you'd like. Either distortion works. It's the deconstruction that matters, not the direction. That part is immaterial. The celibate can wreak just as much havoc as the libertine—with one exception. Celibacy can yield plenty of damage, but it cannot yield abortion.
If you've been wondering where abortion fits into Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, it doesn't. Abortion doesn't fit into this brave new world. Abortion is what makes this brave new world. It's what keeps the gears of Huxley's dystopian nightmare turning. Abortion is the reason there aren't any children born in the World State—despite a populace that's getting it on nearly every night. Abortion is what separates sex from childbirth, parents from children, and age from maturity. Abortion is what ensures that World State residents remain in a perpetual state of adolescence. As children, they're mandated to participate in a steady barrage of erotic sex games so that sex loses all of its sacred mystery. As adults, they're mandated to play complicated and expensive sports so that they never have the time to grow up. One of the few World State residents to see through the unholy scheme makes the following confession to the woman he desperately loves but cannot admire:
"It suddenly struck me the other day," continued Bernard, "that it might be possible to be an adult all the time."
"I don't understand." Lenina's tone was firm.
"I know you don't. And that's why we went to bed together yesterday—like infants—instead of being adults and waiting."
"But it was fun," Lenina insisted. "Wasn't it?"
"Oh, the greatest fun," he answered, but in a voice so mournful, with an expression so profoundly miserable, that Lenina felt all her triumph suddenly evaporate. Perhaps he had found her too plump, after all.
Bernard wanted to have sex with Lenina, but he didn't want it to be so easy. He wanted to work for it; he wanted to be worthy of it. And he couldn't handle the fact that it meant nothing to her or that she'd be climbing into someone else's bed the next day. Unlike Party adherents in 1984, most World State residents are blind to their oppression. They're happy, but it's an empty happiness, a drug-induced happiness. Their lives are devoid of problems, but they're also devoid of responsibility. They enjoy the kind of happiness that is only available to those with no children and no spouse. The kind of happiness that can only be maintained with a steady diet of sex and stimulants. They have everything they want but nothing they need—namely, the things that give life purpose. And as Jordan Peterson so faithfully reminds us, it's not happiness that people want. It's meaning—which is almost impossible to find in the absence of intimate family relationships. The kind of relationships that make life infinitely harder and infinitely better.
Now back to abortion. The defining crisis in Brave New World stems from a crisis pregnancy. A pregnancy and birth that wasn't supposed to happen. Years before the story's central action, one of the World State directors traveled from London to the wilds of New Mexico—to observe the savages who still had babies and lived in family units. As per usual, he brought along someone to have sex with, but she went missing during a violent storm. The noble director shrugged his shoulders and left her there. What did he care about one particular woman, especially if she was injured? When life is an endless carousel of strumpets, the next one is just as good as the last. But it turned out the woman he left behind was pregnant with his son, and suddenly without access to those "lovely" killing centers that were so integral to the operation of the World State. When she and her grown son were finally brought back to "civilized" society, this is how she described her ordeal:
"[The pregnancy] wasn't my fault, I swear; because I still don't know how it happened, seeing that I did all the Malthusian drill you know, by numbers, One, two, three, four, always, I swear it; but all the same it happened; and of course there wasn't anything like an Abortion Centre here. Is it still down in Chelsea, by the way?" she asked. Lenina nodded. "And still flood-lighted on Tuesdays and Fridays?" Lenina nodded again. "That lovely pink glass tower!" Poor Linda lifted her face and with closed eyes ecstatically contemplated the bright remembered image.
When Brave New World was published, legal abortion was still 35 years away in Great Britain and more than 40 years away in America. Planned Parenthood's perversely-pristine flagships were even further out. And yet Huxley was able to imagine a future in which big, beautiful abortion centers ensured that no unwanted babies would sneak through the cracks. Even more remarkable, he was able to anticipate the intrinsic shortcomings of contraception. Aldous Huxley was no Bible thumper—not by a long shot, but he saw with remarkable clarity that the universal embrace of contraception would increase the demand for abortion, not diminish it.
It's hard to imagine that anyone could read Brave New World and conclude that the future it portrays is a good or healthy one. And yet virtually all of its individual parts are things we increasingly celebrate in our world today. It begins with the utter and absolute prioritization of self. Love thyself seems to be our new mantra. Next comes the marginalization of marriage and children. Check and check. Some neglect the bearing of children altogether. Others neglect the hard work of parenting—raising up generations of spoiled sociopaths who never encounter that beautiful little word, "NO!"
Then there's the abandonment of propriety and shame. Have you noticed any of that, say, everywhere? The flouting of all things traditional—including gender roles. The only reason so many women in Brave New World behave like narcissistic young men is because they've literally been reprogrammed to act against their natures. Don't call it women's liberation. Call it child abuse. They've been genetically altered and subconsciously brainwashed to value career over children, sex over relationship, and sport over domesticity. Here's a glimpse into the process:
"For of course," said Mr Foster, "in the vast majority of cases, fertility is merely a nuisance. One fertile ovary in twelve hundred that would really be quite sufficient for our purposes. But we want to have a good choice. And of course one must always leave an enormous margin of safety. So we allow as many as thirty per cent of the female embryos to develop normally. The others get a dose of male sex-hormone every twenty-four metres for the rest of the course. Result: they're decanted as freemartins structurally quite normal (except,' he had to admit, 'that they do have just the slightest tendency to grow beards), but sterile. Guaranteed sterile."
Imagine a society so depraved that it surgically and psychologically alters the gender of young children. Unthinkable, right? Or a society so obsessed with all things new that nothing is repaired—physically or relationally. It's simply replaced. Sound familiar? "[The] industrial civilization is only possible," the World State Controller explains, "when there's no self-denial." If self-indulgence stops anywhere short of "the very limits imposed by hygiene and economics," the wheels of industry grind to a halt. When the transplanted "Savage"—whose only comfort in adolescence was a tattered volume of Shakespeare—asks the Controller why Shakespeare is prohibited in the World State—along with the Bible, this was his nonchalant response:
"Because it's old; that's the chief reason. We haven't any use for old things here. Particularly when they're beautiful. Beauty's attractive, and we don't want people to be attracted by old things. We want them to like the new ones... (And) It isn't only art that's incompatible with happiness; it's also science. Science is dangerous; we have to keep it most carefully chained and muzzled."
Imagine a government manipulating "art" and "science" to control the thinking and behavior of the populace. Imagine an endless drum beat of voices telling you the highest good is to love yourself. Imagine a society that explicitly sexualizes young children and makes a virtue out of yielding to every sexual impulse. Imagine a society that makes fun of monogamy and then kills the innocent and helpless progeny of its polyamorous affairs. That's the world Aldous Huxley foresaw nearly a century ago, and it's a world that's never been less fictitious than it is today.
If that's not the brave new world you want to live in, I would suggest some small acts of rebellion. Get married. Have children. Be faithful. Don't be a tool of the Party. Be a tool of righteousness. Recognize the goodness of bearing children in monogamous marriages—by considering what happens when you don't. Understand that social and sexual difference is what make men and women compatible. It's a feature, not a bug. Trying to mitigate those differences makes things worse, not better. Finally, understand that societies which sacrifice their children to personal autonomy are not societies that can survive. Period—and that, of course, is the greatest threat of all.
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