The Telegraph 25 November 2013
1) The tyranny of “happiness”
2) Drugging the populace
The people of Brave New World are kept chilled with a drug called soma. Described as having “all of the advantages of Christianity and alcohol [and] none of their defects”, it’s a psychoactive drug that induces feelings of calm, thus negating any need to discover and potentially tackle the true source of one’s sorrow. Soma subdues all “malice and bad tempers”. Modern society uses antidepressants in a disturbingly similar way. This week a report discovered that prescriptions for antidepressants have “surged across the rich world”. A British psychiatrist is worried that antidepressants are being dished out not to combat serious depression but merely to “get rid of unhappiness”. Ritalin use among children has “soared” in Britain, as parents and doctors take to drugging kids who seem overly pesky. As in Brave New World, we prefer to supress “malice and bad tempers” with drugs rather than ask what travails might lie behind such emotions and how they might be addressed.
3) The fashion for euthanasia
In Brave New World, death is celebrated. Most of those who reach 60, and become economically useless, are euthanised. Hearses are “gaily coloured”. People are sent to die in comfortable, primrose-coloured apartment blocks, which are “alive with gay synthetic melodies” and where there’s a TV at the foot of every bed. Today, people aren’t euthanised en masse, of course, but there is a fashion for euthanasia, or what we must now bizarrely call “the right to die”, particularly in liberal-leaning circles. The bright, gay death centres of Brave New World find their equivalent in the euthanasia clinics of modern Europe, where one can request a “good death” in comfortable surroundings if one is suffering from a terminal illness or, in the case of Belgium, simply from depression. Baroness Warnock has said elderly people should ask themselves if they have a “duty to die”, because “if you are demented… you are wasting the resources of the NHS”. A Times columnist recently said we should legalise voluntary euthanasia in order to address society’s “unaffordable explosion in dementia and age-related illness”. That isn’t a million miles from Brave New World’s use of euthanasia to limit the number of resource-sucking sick people and keep the economy healthy.
4) Malthusian miserabilism
5) Bashing the family
In Brave New World, promiscuity is encouraged and family life is frowned upon. The family is viewed as a drain on people’s creativity. Having a family demands “a narrow channelling of impulse and energy”, officials insist, as they mock “the frictions of tightly packed [family] life, reeking with emotion”. Today, too, the family is sneered at. Feminists depict it as a site of abuse, especially of women and children; bookshop shelves creak with misery memoirs about wicked mothers and violent fathers; Cameron complains of Britain’s thousands of “chaotic families”, who apparently need state guidance. The number of people across the globe who live alone rather than as part of a family unit has “skyrocketed”, rising from 153 million in 1996 to 280 million today. As in Brave New World, today not only are we surrounded by misanthropy, authoritarianism and emotion-modifying drugs in public life, but even that once quiet, private sphere of family life, that old heart in a heartless world, is being thoroughly undermined.