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The ubiquitous proverb, ‘ignorance is bliss,’ would be a perfect slogan for the

citizens of Brave New World (BNW). Just add the rhyme ‘…and now let’s kiss’ and you

have a great hypnopeadic mantra for Huxley’s dystopic paradise. The excerpt given puts

this specious and persistent claim to the test. The World Controller clearly has his own

doubts about the supremacy of happiness, but observes that sometimes the obfuscation of

knowledge – suppressing knowledge to increase happiness; creating a ‘noble lie’; trading

freedom for security – is a necessary function of a happy and stable society. Herein lies

the problem; finding the balance point between happiness and truth. In the excerpt,

Huxley reveals how society unwittingly conspires against itself to incline towards a

civilization where pseudo-happiness is the highest ideal, at the expense of truth.

Before I begin my exposition I would like to quickly address the problematic

definition of happiness. It can be different things to one person, as well as different things

to many people. It is highly subjective, contextual, and most importantly, relative. But in

BNW, it has been localized and redefined to have new meaning; yet it is meaningless.

Thus, for the purposes of this essay happiness is meant in the simple sense of bliss or

ecstasy.

The first aspect of Mond’s speech to focus on is the ancient belief that progress

would go on indefinitely. The fact that it didn’t is suggestive of knowledge reaching

some critical mass, but that never happened in the history of ‘Our Ford,’ nor is it on the

horizon in our world. Instead, unimpeded scientific progress was terminated by the

catalyzing “Nine Years’ War.”1 While keeping the details mysterious, Huxley is emphatic

that that was what made people demand happiness before truth, rather than the conscious

subordination of truth. It is of particular importance to note here that these events can also
1
Huxley, Brave New World, p. 201

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be (and sometimes are) conceived from within the state itself, in order to bring about

change. This was a premise in the 1984-style future fascist Britain dystopia portrayed in

the comic/movie V for Vendetta. There are also many real world examples, but naturally

they are accompanied by controversy since, as Henry Ford says, “history is bunk.”2

Either way, such an event is instrumental in creating a state of fear for advancing

unquestioning obedience. Such was the case with the 9/11 terrorist attacks; most people

were scared into accepting a new political agenda. Then, it becomes less a question of

whether people value happiness over truth, but survival over truth.

The second point made by Mustapha Mond is about the economic motivation to

choose bliss over reality. Truth and beauty did not drive economic growth; rather it was

happiness that kept the machine running. Mass production, thanks to Henry Ford, helped

people embrace this new paradigm of surreal happiness. When Huxley writes mass

production prompted the shift, he also means mass consumption. People began to find

happiness in their self-gratification and insatiable appetite for consumer products.

However, this shift was not brought about by the collective will alone. Titans of industry

like Henry Ford prospered from the manipulation of the public will. To this effect I cite

the enormous contributions by the likes of Edward Bernays and Walter Lippman to the

fields of advertising and propaganda, around the time of BNW‘s writing. Thus, in this

sense, it is not happiness that ‘keeps the wheels turning,’ but the perception of happiness

brought about by the economic utility of providing it, while hiding the cost – the truth.

The third part of the excerpt is the crux of the statement. When Mond credits ‘the

masses’ with seizing political power and shaping the new paradigm, he is insinuating that

they made a free, albeit not informed, choice. The only difference between the masses
2
Huxley, p. xxi

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and Mond, the Savage, and Watson, is that the latter group questioned society enough to

be able to make an informed choice. John the Savage and Watson chose exodus from the

Brave New World, to their respective places, because they wanted truth and beauty over

happiness and contentment. Mond, on the other hand, believes in happiness, and he is

able to talk of the masses with a degree of derision since he has chosen to serve their

oblivious joy. Moreover, Mond uses this perspective to justify his assertion that since he

makes the laws, he can break them.3 Meanwhile, ‘the masses’ are oblivious to this news.

Thus, we have been defeated, existentialist thinkers would say, by the

condemnation of free will. That is to say, instead of accepting the responsibility that

comes with a free society, we proceed to eliminate responsibility by creating a more

structured and conditioned society. Freedom and individuality are existentialist notions

that are strictly forbidden in this sublime future. Our acquiescence of this type of society

symbolizes the denial of our fallibility because we presuppose that happiness is the

absolute measure of things, without even knowing what the alternatives are. Yet, as it is

no secret in BNW, everyone is conditioned to act this way, and conditioned not to

question it, so even the World Controller can’t be sure his thoughts are his own. We

become slaves to happiness, and that is not true happiness. Ergo, the civilization

proposed in BNW seems to offer the elimination of existential angst by the elimination of

existentialism altogether.

So is this an accurate description of (most) humans – do (most) people really

value happiness and comfort over truth, knowledge, and beauty? For most people, being

blissfully ignorant is agreeable; what you don’t know can’t hurt you, they say. But for

others, a minority, questions burn inside of us and erode our happiness until nothing else
3
Huxley, p. 192

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matters but the truth. The trouble with trying to categorize ‘most humans,’ is that people

change. Humans are dynamic and depending on the unique circumstance may or may not

choose knowledge. But for simplicity sake, it is clearly observable the most people do

live and die in a mental prison of sorts, and some break free. As Mond puts it, these rare

individuals seek the “right to be unhappy.”4 The Savage welcomes this sentence, but in

his choice is neglecting that his own social conditioning in the reservation influences his

choice; he is not choosing sanity, but at least returning to the truth of his individuality. As

Huxley adds in his foreword, the Savage has not, nor have any of them, been educated in

any social philosophy, 5 so they are not really qualified to make any value judgments on

knowledge. For the Savage, Watson, and the like, the only thing they know is that they

would rather risk their happiness by embracing humanity, than deny truth and beauty.

The return to the question, it seems to be a false dilemma – people really want

happiness and truth, not one or the other. In BNW, they have completely destroyed any

means by which to reconcile the two. You are either part of the collective, or exiled to an

island. I think it is safe to say that everyone wants happiness, but it’s the price we can’t

agree on. When a person is forced to decide, they choose ignorance because they do not

know what’s at stake. What’s at stake, according to Huxley, is our sanity.6 For all in this

story except maybe Helmholtz Watson seem to be out of their mind. When Bernard Marx

expresses his torment over the inescapability of their predetermined lives, all Lenina can

do to hedge the pain of reception of these claims is reflexively invoke her mantras and hit

the soma. She has been conditioned to hate independent thought. Later, Marx relishes his

new popularity and forgets his troubles when he brings back the Savage. And in the end,

4
Huxley, p. 212
5
Ibid, p. xx
6
Ibid, p. xviii

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the prospect of being cast away horrifies Marx7 so much that we get the sense that all he

ever really wanted was to be happy in this life, and was less interested in truth.

Thus, the question would be better phrased, how much pain can one withstand

before forfeiting the truth for happiness? The threshold for Lenina was small since she

had no reservations about indulging in soma. For John the Savage, the release was none,

and his terminus was suicide. The pain they experience is caused by the cognitive

dissonance of their conflicting beliefs. They both seek happiness, but their social

conditioning denied them what they desired most; each other. Challenging the status-quo

was never easy, and the possibility is all but eliminated in Lenina’s world where personal

love is replaced with sex-on-demand and group solidarity conditioning. Conversely, John

does not want his happiness given to him, he wants to earn it. So, they have to settle for

what makes them happy in their personal cognition of truth.

What are the social implications of making happiness the supreme objective?

The most glaring one is that society has to be homogenized so the same things make

everyone happy. Although in varying degrees, among all castes life’s fulfillment is found

in pure recreation intermixed with drug-induced holidays. To achieve this

unquestioningly, life needs to be orderly and predictable. It rationally follows for the

World Controllers that they would focus the entire system around stability. In a

libertarian society the goal of the collective is the individual. But in BNW - where

happiness is traded for knowledge - the purpose of the individual becomes the collective,

and the purpose of the collective is stability.

7
Huxley, p. 199

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Stability in BNW is achieved through various draconian measures including strict

aversion to change,8 suppression of knowledge/science,9 silencing history,10 and of

course, indoctrination. These are the common methods used in all totalitarian societies.

However in dystopias like Orwell’s classic 1984 there is a large difference; stability is

enforced by the constant threat of painful death. In BNW, since happiness is equated with

stability, it is maintained by the will (again, albeit not informed) of the masses. This is

exactly what John Stuart Mill referred to as the ‘tyranny of the majority,’ where the

majority tends to impose its norms and penalties on the minority.11 In this case, the

minority happens to be philosophers, and society is deprived of the fruits of their labour.

And in Huxley’s future, it has been taken to the extreme since there was no defense

against it. The superficial will of the masses dictated their doom.

While deviants like Marx and Watson can derive a modicum of illicit happiness

from cogitating about their ‘perfect’ society, the masses choose to ignore them and their

own dissident voice within. The result is a closed system where the ‘anomalies’ are

expunged from society and humanity does not grow or progress. In the analogous film

The Matrix, those who reject the system are condemned to the awful truth of human

existence that is the city of Zion. Worse still, in 1984, nonconformists are summarily

condemned to death (although in the end Winston Smith is reintroduced into society).

Nevertheless, this is evidence that some willingly choose truth over happiness.

Unfortunately, in these totalitarian societies instead of being recycled back into the

system, the undesirables – those who challenge the system – are amputated; a disparaging

fate for those who only wish to have happiness with truth.
8
Huxley, p.198
9
Ibid, p.154
10
Ibid, p. 196
11
Mill, On Liberty, p.1

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What about the philosophical implications for humanity? One is that we may

never know freedom, if it is the destiny of humanity to serve the collective. Evidently,

most humans choose enslavement to happiness and stability in order to overcome

uncomfortable existential truths. Perhaps Huxley’s iceberg metaphor is applicable here

too; 8/9ths of people value happiness over truth, leaving the remaining 1/9th who value

knowledge more engendered with the responsibility of making sure humanity doesn’t

destroy itself (or consume itself). The enduring tyranny of the majority makes sure that

we never achieve a libertarian utopia, in which everyone achieves harmony and

happiness via truth, knowledge, and beauty.

In part, BNW is a warning to heed John Stuart Mill’s maxim: “better to be

Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.”12 For if we were all intelligent and informed,

he argues, we shall agree on this. But sometimes the truth is very disconcerting,

especially when you have been brainwashed to think so far from it, and we yield to a

‘fool’s paradise.’ It is critical to note here that Mill’s utilitarianism did in fact promote

collective happiness as highest goal of the individual. Our happiness did not have to be at

odds with knowledge. The fundamental difference is Mill’s emphasis on qualitative

happiness, which includes free intellectual pursuits.13 He was careful to stress the

importance of qualitative happiness over quantitative. Clearly, most people are only

considering quantitative happiness and they convince themselves that this is true

happiness.

To return to the excerpt, according to Mustapha Mond’s theory of history, the

way things are is the natural course of humanity. The masses demanded more and more

12
Bramann, p.1
13
Ibid.

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stability and happiness, and now they are saturated in it, thanks to the benevolent World

Controllers. This brings us to the finality of the aforementioned implications: A society,

fanatical about such lofty ideals, can only end in the totalistic enslavement of humanity.

Indeed it is ironic and counterintuitive to think that a pleasurable policy of stability is in

fact precarious, but it’s true. The more controlled society is, the less free we are, and

consequently the less adaptive we are to unknown variables, like the introduction of John

the Savage. With the freethinkers of society quietly paid off with island life (not that they

have a choice), there is no critical evaluation of society; it’s just taken for granted that the

moral ends (collective happiness) justify the means (suppression of truth, knowledge, and

beauty). Through neglect of these checks, civilization is prone to decay to a state that

outright denies the base needs of the individual.

In the foreword to the book, Huxley himself warns his prognostications may be

inevitable if we do not learn to decentralize our power base and emphasize human

individuality and freedom.14 To guard against a potential self-induced totalitarian society

we must acknowledge our own fallibility and find solace in the openness of our destiny.

Happiness can remain the goal of society as long as it’s qualitative and not at the expense

of the truth. Perhaps a first step in understanding how people victimize themselves for the

sake of simulated happiness, would be simple acknowledgment that perhaps ignorance

can be bliss, but it is a far cry from true happiness. Then again, isn’t it all too easy to just

take the easy way out? Yes… for 8/9ths of us.

14
Huxley, p. xxvi