Brave New World criticizes the industrial economic systems of the era in which it was written by imagining those systems pushed to their logical extremes. The industrial revolution that began in the second half of the 19th century and sped up through the 20th allowed for the production of massive quantities of new goods. But there's no value in producing new goods that no one wants, so the willingness of the masses to consume these new goods was crucial to economic growth and prosperity. It became an economic imperative, then, that people always want new things, because if people were satisfied with what they had, they wouldn't consume enough to keep the wheels of industrial society turning. Consequently, the World State in Brave New World has made consumption one of its centerpieces. All World State citizens are conditioned to consume. Hypnopaedic teachings condition them to throw out worn clothes instead of mending them, to prefer complicated sports with lots of mechanical parts to simple games, and to refrain from any activity, like reading, that doesn't involve the payment of money for goods. By portraying the World State economy in this way, Huxley argues that, according to the logic of industrialism, people end up serving their economy, rather than the other way around.
Industrialism and consumption are built into the very structure of the World State—in fact, it is literally how people are made. The novel opens with an elaborate narrative of how human beings are mass-produced: By the time Bokanovsky’s Process is applied, a single fertilized egg “was in a fair way to becoming anything from eight to ninety-six embryos—a prodigious improvement, you will agree, on nature.” The Director goes on to exult, “‘Ninety-six identical twins working ninety-six identical machines!’ […] The principle of mass production at last applied to biology.” Quite literally, citizens are produced in order to keep the machinery of the World State economy humming.
Once lots of human beings have been produced, the problem becomes how to make them serve the economy in their everyday lives. “The problem was to find an economically sounder reason for consuming transport than a mere affection for primroses and landscapes. […] ‘We condition the masses to hate the country,’ concluded the Director. ‘But simultaneously we condition them to love all country sports. At the same time, we see to it that all country sports shall entail the use of elaborate apparatus. So that they consume manufactured articles as well as transport.’” Elaborate steps are taken to circumvent what’s “natural,” to such a degree that those who prefer simpler pastimes are looked upon with suspicion. “Mere affection” and enjoyment of natural things do nothing to stimulate the economy. So it’s necessary to go to great lengths to make people like and pursue things that will sustain the economy instead.
Under this system, human beings become pawns of consumerism and industry—people exist to serve the economy, rather than vice versa. The Director, watching a group of children play Centrifugal Bumble-puppy, says “strange to think that even in Our Ford’s day most games were played without more apparatus than a ball or two […] Imagine the folly of allowing people to play elaborate games which do nothing whatever to increase consumption.” The Director’s bafflement shows that, under State conditioning, people are far removed from simple pleasures; enjoyment is no longer seen as an end in itself, but something that must be manipulated to serve “higher,” economic ends in order to be justified. Later, the Savage, an outsider to this industrialized society, talks with Mustapha Mond about consumerism. Mond readily admits that “Mass production demanded the shift [from truth and beauty to comfort and happiness]. Universal happiness keeps the wheels [of industry] steadily turning; truth and beauty can’t.” By conditioning people to seek happiness in the consumption of goods, the State ensures its own economic survival.
It’s relatively easy to get citizens to buy in to such a life. Mond explains that after the Nine Years’ War, “People were ready to have even their appetites controlled then. Anything for a quiet life. We’ve gone on controlling ever since. […] One can’t have something for nothing. Happiness has got to be paid for.” World State citizens have accepted the price that their “happiness” must be enjoyed on World State terms. While they’re conditioned not to be aware of it, their happiness serves the industrialized State—it doesn’t truly serve them.
Industrialism and Consumption ThemeTracker
Industrialism and Consumption Quotes in Brave New World
Ending is better than mending. The more stitches, the less riches.