Some Thoughts on “Brave New World”

This is my stream-of-consciousness answer to a school book club question about Brave New World (which I read a few years ago and recently revisited in audio form).

Question:

“If like in the novel, the technology of ‘test tube babies’ (in vitro fertilisation and development) is perfected someday in the future, would you agree or disagree with using this technology? What could the impact be on both the individual and society as a whole?”

Answer:

Our conception of ourselves will change. Hannah Arendt said that we are all biological creatures, meaning that we have a start (‘natality’), and an end (‘mortality’). This starting and ending is subordinated to nature (taken as everything that is not human, nor manmade). And our understanding of ourselves is predicated by this fact, mentioned above, that we ourselves are not ‘made’, in the sense of a workman crafting a piece of statue, but ‘born’ out of nature. This is exactly what will be obliterated if ‘test tube babies’ are to become commonplace. Here, nature is replaced, if not surpassed—made better, improved upon—by human ingenuity; our capacity to act upon nature that is unlike any other species will be further confirmed. It will certainly be a great triumph of science. However, science—understood as the pure pursuit of knowledge—is indifferent to humanity. It does not care whether it survives or not. This can be seen in the making of the atom bomb, which, in itself, from the standpoint of the scientists as scientists, not as citizens or parents or lovers, is neither good nor bad. 

What I am trying to say in all these words (and jargons), basically, is just the obvious fact that if ‘test tube babies’ are to be perfected, we will be separated further away from nature, to the extent that we have not already, and that its effects on individual or society will be unpredictable. It may be good, but its goodness would be limited, whereas its downside will have no floor; this is a recurrent theme in our attempts to manipulate nature unreasonably: untactful use of antibiotics, over-fishing, the use of artificial sugar and salt en masse, just to name a few. Perhaps this shows my own biases, but I wander, what is the use of test tube babies when nature herself can make babies for us, and ones with infinite variety and infinite beauty? 

I can think easily of many scenarios in which ‘test tube babies’ can go wrong if it is implemented on a large scale. These are, to a great extent, already presented in Brave New World. First, this manufacturing of babies can destroy the intrinsic diversity within humanity, and this decrease in diversity is not only one of physical attributes, but also of thought. What this leads to is vulnerability, incapacity for change, and loneliness. And this loneliness is less self-evident than the other two that I have listed. Loneliness not only can arise from the feeling that one does not belong to any group or any place, but also from a unity, a sameness in thought. In that case, when everyone comes from the test tube and is produced to be the ‘best version’ a human can be (and keep in mind that this is one of the potential result, but not an inevitable one) wherever we go, we only ‘encounter ourselves’. For the ‘other’ only exists in them being different from ‘me’. (To some extent, this is already rife in Social Media, for we only see, most of the time, contents that we wish to see—which is not necessarily a bad thing if it is limited.) 

Another would be the totalitarian scenario as presented in Brave New World. There is first a collapse of the family as the basic social unit (and as the one that protests against the controlling nature of the state), since the purpose of the family, in most cases, is the fostering of the child. Then, there is no need to rule by subordinating others, by controlling the citizenry, for the principles of control, subordination and obedience can be ingrained into the citizens of a state from their birth. (And this would also lead back to the first scenario, where there shall be no diversity of thought, no ‘other’ voice.) 

As you may have already realized, I am not an optimist regarding this technology. However, I would say, in a more positive light, that ’test tube babies’ perhaps has its place, but one, if any, like the occasional meal in Macdonalds, or the occasional hour of video games. 

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