Beyond a Brave New World: Huxleyian Skepticism of Identity Politics

by R.C. Roberts

There is a quote attributed to Aldous Huxley, the well known author of A Brave New World, among other works, in where he is reputed to have said,

“It is possible to make people contented with their servitude. You can provide them with endless amounts of distractions and propaganda.”

In similar fashion to the late Christopher Hitchens, I have attached myself to an author of fictional totalitarianism, although as a matter of difference I have become fond of Aldous Huxley. I would argue that history seems to, for the time being, have bent itself towards being a Brave New World rather than a world of 1984. We are not an oppressed people, aware of the pressures of tyranny and thus told what the “truth” is. Much to the bloated Michael Moore’s disappointment, the books are not being rewritten, and history is still a hotly contested subject, as always. Trump’s face is not on big screens, asking for our obedience, merely on a small marker in the top right hand corner of the tweets he sends out. Truth is not remade, but denied entirely.

We do, however, have more pills than we know what do with. We have constant ads for products, and we are commanded, as the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek notes in his movie, A Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, to “enjoy ourselves.” As he says,:

“In our postmodern, however you want to call it, society, we are obliged to enjoy. Enjoyment becomes a kind of weird, perverted duty. The paradox of Coke is that, you are thirsty, you drink it but, as everyone knows, the more you drink it, the more thirsty you get.”

This weird, perverted duty is all throughout our society, constantly interrupting the critical thinking process, demanding our attention. It can be seen in our social obsession with nihilism, in which all we want is to “not deal with” the inadequacies of reality. We want to be rich, not to do anything, but so we can have others do it, while we do nothing. We are merely consumers in this world, looking for the easiest way to fulfill our desires without having to think about it too much. Since the 1970’s, we have avoided being part of the political system, which we just scoff at as broken. We are told our freedom is an illusion, we have no self, and that we are just biological automaton that live so we can die. Sex means nothing but the possible inconvenience of pregnancy. Love means nothing but obligation to someone who will eventually look ugly or want us to do something we do not want to do. All of this leads to the almost willing, almost desirous impulse to accept this duty to enjoy ourselves. Drink a Coke, forget the world. What is it to you?

However, in the last few years, we have seen the rise of identity politics. From gender pronouns to white privilege to Islamophobia, we have all become, sometimes involuntary, students of sociology, digitally brought to us by the disciples of this subject. The Modern Man, as Nietzsche calls us, is the most apathetic socially aware individual in the world. We tweet problems away, forgetting them after the hashtag fades out. We seem to live in our own reality show, where we fight over just how you put these words together to form a word that to someone, somewhere, has given a specific meaning to them, calling on us to remedy them.

Social justice is the term we give this phenomenon, interestingly enough. A word used even during the time of the Civil Rights Movement, this word now forms a stage where men, women, and every pronoun in between come to fight about anything. We sharpen our words, and check our Wikipedia pages before jumping into the fray. Rights are discussed, oppression is assigned, and we appeal to others for support.

But what for? Many might say, “to fight for the rights of [insert group here], who are being oppressed and need our help.” When you question them about what rights, exactly, they often resort to some form of a vagueness that is hard to discuss, let alone argue for or against, like “the right to live.” The hard thing about considering social justice is that sometimes, there are real issues that are attached to identity, such as police brutality in relation to the African American community, or the horrors of sexual harassment in Hollywood.

However, in general, the issues brought before you about social justice are, at best, exaggerated parts of someone else’s drama, where they have taken offense in a subjective way that cannot be helped. Or, on the right, someone sees a form of identity association which they like that is being disregarded, in which offense is taken over very natural social changes. Both sides are products of this stupidity. It has become, for us, our form of entertainment. It is our Brave New World.

The reason for the rise of social justice, I would argue, is due to something deeper: the slow disenfranchising of individuals in the United States who want to have say in their government, or some form of influence. When the poor go to vote, it doesn’t matter. Even if the rich do not vote, what they want matters. Best case scenario, what you want is often come upon on accident. We are powerless, a great majority of the time, to pick our own candidates, to push forward our issues, to bend a congressman’s ear. We get the best candidate money can afford, and the illusion that somehow, this candidate cares about you even as they advocate for an agenda we consider “the lesser of two evils.” Nothing is fought for, anymore, and instead of believing our effort could get a compromise, we go “all or nothing” and if we do not get what some person wants that we are told is good, we pledge to burn the place to the ground. We protest and destroy objects, we harass our fellow citizens, we nitpick our intellectuals, because the people in power have the power we want while having convinced us that this is the way it should be. Now, we are “followers,” liking people who believe as we do, or who we have submitted to those with power and thus we want to things from them, without knowing whether we really want these things. When it is not accomplished, we find our neighbors and blame them for the injustice.

We do not want to see that we are powerless, in the current system. We do not want to admit that even our protests do not work. When someone is voted in for president, we can predict that they will, barring the extraordinary, be there for eight years. And with the rise of Trump, even the extraordinary seems to not be enough to derail someone in power. We do not want to admit that muttering to ourselves that [insert politician’s name here] is going to fight for us is the comforting lie we tell ourselves.

After all the hard work of the 60s and 70s, where we expanded voting to all Americans and worked to snuff out discrimination that came in the form of state law, we feel those rights being subverted by those with money and influence. Many who argue against seeing disenfranchisement of the American voter and citizen often point out the division between the public by the legislative branch, which is elected to represent us, thus making it so the citizen does not have some sort of absolute power that, say, a democracy might give an individual (which would be limited by mob rule, however), but the division of the public and the government is not a division of relevance anymore. It is like the Great Wall of China. It hasn’t helped or stopped anyone. When voters have individuals run for office, we often have direct choice taken from us because the candidates that make it always has to have money, or the most backers who have money. Our choices in the primaries are whittled down not so much by voters, but by who the big time donors (often, but not always, businessmen) get behind.

I leave you with this: what is easier to handle, do you think? The fact a whole system has left the citizens at large unable to influence the political class that dictate to them, through a variety of ways from PACs to buying votes to media-syncronation, or criticizing someone for using the wrong pronoun, and getting people together to discuss what kind of bigot they are? Is it easier to handle the massive poverty that makes voting for many more of a luxury than a right, or talking about just how much that white guy across the room probably has privilege compared to your current position?

The real fight should be focused on the relation of the citizen to their government and how well our voices are heard, but that would require solutions that are beyond the world of sociological study. It is a problem that would require a real fight. It would be a fight in which we engage with the darkest of all political truths and try, as best we can, to change it. Don’t take the pill, don’t watch another video, don’t be angry about the latest Buzzfeed article you saw about some guy not understanding the newest pronouns while taking a test to see what kind of toenail you are. Don’t accept the nihilism of the age. Fight. Fight. Fight. Fight for the power you deserve, for the imperfect world we can still improve.