“And I was so ashamed. Just think of it: me, a Beta–having a baby: put yourself in my place.” (The mere suggestion made Lenina shudder.) “Though it 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 floodlighted 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. (Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, 1932)
I’ve been thinking a lot about Brave New World lately. Of course, a great part of Huxley’s almost 70-year-old novel is prescient of everything happening today. Huxley even said in 1958 that his Brave New World was coming to pass much faster than he had expected. And more now than ever before.
For those who have never read it — though I suppose there aren’t too many — or to refresh your memory if you have, Huxley’s dystopian novel takes place in 2540 (“the year of our Ford 632″) in a society under one world state, where the population is kept satisfied with promiscuous sex (“everyone belongs to everyone else”), where marriage is extinct, and the very idea of being a father or a mother is comic or obscene. Babies are fertilized in glass tubes from donated eggs and sperm, grown to maturity and “decanted” at the proper time. Children are raised in communal nurseries by doctors and nurses who “condition” them by sleep-teaching in accepting their caste (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta) and their lot in life, which is to consume and keep industry and jobs going. Religion is unknown, whatever needs and frustrations constant sex doesn’t satisfy are soothed by the recreational drug soma, which unlike alcohol or cocaine, has no bad after-effects (“A gram is as good as a damn”). So everything is cool, right?
Of course, Huxley’s point is that this society is completely horrible and inhumane and its inhabitants cut off from their full humanity, the worst part being that most of them don’t realize it. It’s as oppressive as a fanatically religious theocratic state at its worst. And society today has come to resemble it more and more (even Huxley’s description of the virtual-reality entertainment or “feelies” could almost have been written yesterday). In fact, the novel is so timely that director Ridley Scott and Leonardo DiCaprio and making a new movie version, due out in 2011, just in time for the novel’s 70th anniversary.
However, one particular insight of Huxley’s perhaps hasn’t been noticed so much, and I began thinking of it the other day when some politician assured us for the umpteenth time that “we want to reduce the need for abortion” by pushing contraception on the young (it’s all right there in the health-care bill, even if massive efforts to keep abortion out have succeeded – temporarily).
You see, in Huxley’s society, there are still a number of fertile women with intact ovaries. (Eggs have to be donated by someone). So these women must do their daily “Malthusian drill” – that is, take the state-mandated contraceptive drug (presumably pills, though rather vaguely described. Keep in mind that this is some 30 years before the Pill became an actual reality).
It’s safe to say that never has there been a society with a more contraceptive mentality, enforced by months of sleep-taught drill, and the “regulation” Malthusian belts to carry the contraceptives that every woman was required to wear. But — there is sill that “lovely pink glass tower” of the Abortion Center. You see, in spite of the government’s most strenuous contraceptive efforts, the Malthusian drill failed, probably with some regularity. Women like Linda would seem to have visited the Abortion Center, perhaps even fairly often. (She eventually had a baby far away from civilization on an Indian reservation, only because there was no abortion there).
You see, Huxley realized, 30 years before the Pill was invented, and 40 or more years before the worldwide legalization of abortion, that abortion follows contraception as closely night follows day. It was just so logical.
So tell me again how you’re going to reduce the need for abortion?