The D.H.C. oversees a demonstration of “Neo-Pavlovian Conditioning.” Nurses expose a group of babies to books and flowers and then add a violent explosion, alarm bells, shrieking sirens, and finally an electric shock. This experience, notes the D.H.C., will “unalterably” condition the reflexes of the babies so that they will develop an “instinctive hatred” of books and nature.
According to the D.H.C., such social conditioning ultimately maximizes economic consumption among the population. To illustrate his point, he explains how a dislike of nature can be transformed into a love of country sports — and that involves the consumption of a nearly endless variety of manufactured consumer goods.
The D.H.C. also recounts an anecdote about little Reuben Rabinovitch to discuss “sleep-teaching or hypnopaedia” — the “greatest moralizing and socializing force of all time.” By way of an example, the D.H.C. and students look in on a sleep-teaching session on Elementary Class Consciousness.
In this chapter, Huxley continues his presentation of dystopian social stability with a close look at the theory and practice of early conditioning. In the explanation of hypnopaedia and infantile conditioning, Huxley makes clear that the elimination of choice increases economic and social stability but diminishes the potential for human growth.
The price of stability emerges most memorably in the scene in which Delta children — predestined for rote factory work — receive their conditioning to dislike the books and flowers. The image of happy babies crawling toward colorful books and beautiful blooms is filled with conventional sentimentality, but Huxley’s reversal with the alarms and electric shock sharpens the reader’s response. The reality of the conditioning represents its own legitimate argument against the theory of social, political, and economic stability. Note again Huxley’s use of natural imagery as the complement to technology, when the sun beams warmly on the flowers, almost as if offering aid in the conditioning.
Less violent, but nonetheless powerful, hypnopaedia emerges as the source of underlying assumptions and prejudices in the dystopia. The lesson in class consciousness gives each child a social identity but cuts off the possibility of forming friendships outside of caste or even forming opinions of one’s own. Throughout the novel, characters spout the sentiments of their hynopaedic training almost unconsciously and behave according to the precepts of the sleep-teaching. Even those — like Bernard Marx — who are conscious of the techniques of hypnopaedia cannot fully escape its power. Again, the dystopian practice supports social stability but destroys personal identity and independence.
The power of words — and responses to particular words — form an important theme in Brave New World. Hypnopaedia, Huxley makes clear, uses words at the vulnerable time during sleep to produce unquestioning loyalty or aversion in people. The World State, in effect, whispers into the ear of each of its sleeping young citizens to ensure compliance with the social order. Banned words — especially “mother” — produce a strong response of revulsion and shame, the effect of the carefully taught aversion to human reproduction.
Huxley draws the reader’s attention to this fact in a comic turn that forms a memorable part of the students’ discussion with the D.H.C. Shocked by the D.H.C.’s frank use of the words “mother” and “father,” the students blush and then grin, while Huxley expresses their reactions by substituting the offending words with “crash.” As the chapter emphasizes, then, the state’s use of language plays an important role in shaping people’s consciousness and manipulating their energies toward particular social and economic goals.
Note the change in symbols from the pre-Fordian world. The D.H.C. makes the sign of the T (as opposed to the cross), which the students repeat, in reverence to Henry Ford’s Model T automobile, the product of the assembly line. The practiced piety recalls an earlier age, but the meaning of the gesture has changed. The World State has appropriated the Christian symbol and turned it into the Fordian T — significantly by cutting off the top of the cross. Even the symbols of the dystopia make clear the diminishing possibilities for humanity.
Neo-Pavlovian Conditioning Huxley’s term for the dystopian form of infant training. The term derives from the classical conditioning system named for the Russian physiologist Ivan Petrovich Pavlov (1849-1931).
viscose a substance used in making rayon thread and fabric.
Model-T the first car produced on Henry Ford’s assembly line.
asafoetida a bad-smelling gum resin. It was formerly used to treat some illnesses, or, in folk medicine, to repel disease.
viviparous bearing or bringing forth living young, as most mammals and some other animals do.
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) British dramatist and critic. Here, one of Huxley’s most famous contemporaries, whom he sarcastically singles out for particular mention as an accepted genius of the dystopia.