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Barron's Booknotes-Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
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CHAPTER TWO

This chapter takes you from the biological and chemical conditioning of embryos to the psychological conditioning of children in Huxley's world of the future. The Director shows the students how Delta infants, color-coded in khaki clothes, crawl naturally toward picture books and real flowers, only to be terrorized by the noises of explosions, bells, and sirens and then traumatized by electric shock. The babies learn to associate books and flowers with those painful experiences, and turn away from them.

NOTE:

This section of the center is named the Neo-Pavlovian Conditioning Rooms for the Russian scientist, Ivan Petrovich Pavlov (1849-1936). In a classic experiment he trained dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell that was linked to memories of food, proving the theory of the conditioned reflex. You'll see how Pavlov's theories have been used-and misused-throughout the brave new world.

The reason for making the infants dislike books is psychologicalif they read the wrong things, they might lose a bit of the conditioning that guarantees stability. The reason for making them dislike flowers is economic. If, as adults, they traveled to the country, they would "consume transport." Here Huxley makes fun of the way some economists use the word "consume." He means that when they travel to the country, people use cars, trains, or helicopters. Thus, "consuming transport" is good for an economy that sells transport services and makes vehicles. But if they only went to enjoy nature, they would "consume" nothing else. Instead, they are conditioned to dislike nature and love sports, which have been redesigned to involve elaborate mechanical and electronic equipment. They therefore "consume" transport in traveling to the country to "consume" sports equipment. This sounds as though they gobble it up, but in reality they are using it and wearing it out, thereby doubling the economic benefit.

In proceeding to the next kind of conditioning, the Director gives you your first clue to this world's religion: the phrase "Our Ford," obviously used as religious people in the real world might say "Our Lord." You learn that the calendar year is no longer A. D. (Anno Domini, the year of our Lord) but A. F., After Ford. Instead of making the sign of the cross, the Director makes the sign of the T, from the Model T Ford.


NOTE:

This is a parody of Christianity-not so much of its essential beliefs as of the way organized religion can be used to control society. In 1931 it seemed funnier and more daring than it does today, especially in England, where the Anglican church is established (linked to the state). Huxley made Ford the new Jesus because Ford became the best-known symbol of modern industry after he invented the automobile assembly line that produced cheap, basically identical cars. Watch for further elaboration of the Ford religion in later chapters.

The next conditioning technique is hypnopaedia, sleep-teaching. The Director tells the students it was discovered accidentally hundreds of years earlier by a little Polish boy who lived with his "father" and "mother," two words that hit the students' ears with much more force than obscene words hit your ears today. Would you be shocked if your high school principal, a middle-aged gentleman who spoke correct English with a proper accent, used a carefully enunciated obscene word during a school assembly? That's how the students feel when the Director utters those unmentionable words.

In the Director's story, little Reuben Rabinovitch discovered hypnopaedia by hearing in his sleep a broadcast by George Bernard Shaw, the British dramatist, and sleep-learning it by heart though he knew no English. Shaw thought himself a genius both as playwright and political thinker, as did many of his followers. Huxley makes a little joke at the expense of people who claim to recognize genius but really know no more about it than a sleeping child who can't speak the language it's expressed in.

The Director goes on to explain that hypnopaedia doesn't work for teaching facts or analysis. It works only for "moral education," which here means conditioning people's behavior by verbal suggestion when their psychological resistance is low-by repeated messages about what's good or bad, in words that require no intellectual activity but can be digested by a sleeping brain. (This is Huxley's own explanation in Brave New World Revisited, a book of essays written in 1958, a generation after the novel appeared. He also found that in the real world, sleep-teaching of both kinds shows mixed results.)

The Director gives you and the students an example of this kind of moral education, a sleep-lesson in class consciousness for Betas. They learn to love being Betas, to respect Alphas who "work much harder than we do, because they're so frightfully clever," and to be glad they're not Gammas, Deltas, or Epsilons, each more stupid than the preceding. "Oh no," the tape suggests to them, "I don't want to play with Delta children."

In other words, the Betas learn to love the system and their place in it. The lesson, repeated 120 times in each of three sessions a week for 30 months, seals them into that place. Huxley likens it to drops of liquid sealing wax, which the English upper classes used to seal envelopes, placing a drop of wax on the edge of the flap and pressing a design into it as the wax hardened. The envelope couldn't be opened without showing a break in the wax. Sealing wax is seen infrequently in the U.S. today, but if you imagine a candle dripping endlessly, you will understand the effect.

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