Essay: Braver Newer World

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Published on 1 February 2024 by Andrew Owen (8 minutes)

Year one of the calendar in Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” is 1908, the year Henry Ford introduced the Model-T. As expected, the media duly noted the one hundredth anniversary of the event in October 2008. But they missed out on the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of “Brave New World Revisited”. In this non-fiction work, Huxley concluded that far from being some 600 years away in the future, his dystopian society based on ‘Fordian’ principles of mass production, commercialization and consumerism, was just over the horizon.

“It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.” —Henry Ford

My attempt at a fiftieth anniversary retracing of Che Guevara’s “The Motorcycle Diaries” ended with me being beaten to the punch by an American who did it two years early. I should have learned my lesson about trying to sell time-critical articles. This time round I was beaten by Margaret Atwood owing to the seventy-fifth anniversary of the original novel having taken place in 2007.

“How close have we come, in real life, to the society of vapid consumers, idle pleasure-seekers, inner-space trippers and programmed conformists that it presents?” asked Atwood. Assuming for a moment that this is what we have become, though she believes there is hope for us yet, might the more challenging question be: “what has enabled us to become so?” The answer is technology. And technology affects everyone, even those who can’t afford to own it. So let’s look at the areas of prediction identified by Huxley.


It took most of human history for the population to reach one billion around the year 1800. It took a little over 100 years for it to double to 2 billion and a further 50 years to doubled again to 4 billion. But growth seems to have peaked. We didn’t hit 8 billion until 2022. Which means that the growth rate actually fell slightly over the last century. In practice, the world could sustain much larger populations than this, if it wasn’t for the fact that 1% of the population is consuming 99% of the resources.

Quantity, Quality, Morality

In 1958 technology hadn’t yet caught up with Huxley’s predictions, but by 2008 selective human breeding was common place. The first baby to be conceived by in vitro fertilization was born in 1978 and the practice is now well established. Access to legal abortion has had a profound effect on women’s lives, but the ability to determine the gender of a child at the early stages of development using ultrasound has led to sex-selective abortion. The desire of parents to choose has also led to techniques being developed to pre-select the sex of their child. These could account for there being around 50 million more males than females on the planet. People are still arguing over the morality of it all.


Huxley wrote: “As the machinery of mass production became more efficient, it tends to become more complex and more expensive—and so less available to the enterpriser of limited means. Moreover, mass production cannot work without mass distribution; but mass distribution raises problems which only the largest producers can satisfactorily solve.” On the one hand, technological advances have democratized access to book publishing, music production and the arts in general. And the internet has provided a distribution platform where individual and collective makers can reach a market. But, the value of the work thus created has gone down, and with it the ability for it to provide an adequate income. On the other hand, giant mega-corporations continue to absorb smaller companies and new disruptors in established markets tend to rely on government backing.

Propaganda in a Democratic Society

As American academic and eschewer of digital technology Neil Postman wrote: “Huxley feared those who would give us so much [information] that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.” This has in fact happened. A study published in Science in 2018 found that false news traveled “farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth” online (six times as fast). And it’s worse for political news. Falsehoods were 70% more likely to be retweeted. Huxley warned: “Only the vigilant can maintain their liberties, and only those who are constantly and intelligently on the spot can hope to govern themselves effectively by democratic procedures.”

Propaganda Under a Dictatorship

Huxley wrote: “In their propaganda today’s dictators rely for the most part on repetition, suppression, and rationalization—the repetition of catchwords which they wish to be accepted as true, the suppression of facts which they wish to be ignored, the arousal and rationalization of passions which may be used in the interests of the Party or the State.” But he put it in the chapter on democracies with a warning that the techniques would be combined with distractions to the detriment of individual liberty and the survival of democratic institutions.

The Arts of Selling

In some respects, we have left behind the world of physical items. Most of the content we consume is now leased from streaming services, and we don’t own any of it. But we still have to buy some physical objects like smartphones and computers (to consume all the leased content). Capitalism relies on built-in obsolescence. In the past this was achieved through lower build quality, but that could result in early failure and associated bad publicity. The solution was to convince people that they must have the latest, greatest thing. In truth, a computer made a decade ago is perfectly adequate for the tasks most people perform on a daily basis. But the marketing people have got us in their thrall.


Huxley thought that the violent methods of brainwashing in the tradition of George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” would eventually be replaced with universal infant conditioning. There are now adults who have never known a world without reality television shows and YouTube. We are only a decade away from a generation of adults who have never known a world without TikTok.

Chemical Persuasion

Here Huxley was both right and wrong. In much of the world, vaping has replaced tobacco, opioid painkillers have replaced heroin and crystal meth has replaced cocaine in popularity. Alcohol may be less popular with young people, but nicotine, opiates and stimulants remain popular. In “Brave New World”, “whenever anyone felt depressed or below par, he would swallow a tablet or two of a chemical compound called soma.” This could be seen as a prediction of Prozac and other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). But Huxley went on to predict the medical use of cannabis and LSD. After decades of prohibition, even LSD is making a comeback.

Subconscious Persuasion

Huxley wrote that if he were writing over, he would have included subliminal projection. Subliminal advertising does not work, but product placement does. But he misses the use of the political dog whistle.


While hypnotism may have cured the odd case of hiccups, the practice of playing audio to terror suspects while they are trying to sleep is well documented, although its effectiveness is not. However, doomscrolling before bed is probably best avoided.

Education for Freedom

In Britain, education about freedom may now be at a historic low. Tony Blair’s government removed the right to protection from double jeopardy, habeas corpus, trial by jury and the remaining parts of Magna Carta including the right to due process. There was barely any public response. Some people even signed up for computer chip ID cards.

What Can be Done?

Huxley concludes: “Under a scientific dictator, education will really work—with the result that most men and women will grow up to love their servitude and will never dream of revolution.” Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varofakis has written extensively on his view that techno-feudalism has replaced capitalism. He argues that Amazon doesn’t produce capital, it charges rent (although he’s probably not talking about AWS). And that our use of social platforms is unpaid work that creates value, making us “cloud serfs” (if you don’t pay for a service, you are the product). If there is a conclusion, it’s that Huxley was a lot nearer the mark than Orwell.

Bonus Ford Model T facts for car bores*

  • The Model T was the first low-priced, mass-produced automobile with standard, interchangeable parts.
  • The Model T was equipped with a 20-horsepower, four-cylinder engine with a top speed of about 45 miles per hour (ca. 72 km/h), weighed 1,200 pounds (0.54 t), and achieved 13 to 21 miles per gallon.
  • The moving assembly line for the Model T revolutionized manufacturing in 1913.
  • More than 15 million Model Ts had been sold by May 26, 1927, when a ceremony marked the formal end of Model T production.
  • Henry Ford called the Model T “the universal car,” a low-cost, reliable vehicle that could be maintained easily and could successfully travel the poor roads of the era.
  • On Dec. 18, 1999, the Ford Model T was named “Car of the Century” by a panel of 133 automotive journalists and experts who began with a list of 700 candidates in 1996 and sequentially narrowed the nominees through seven rounds of balloting over three years.