while(self++) { #13 } // Brave New World (of Doctors & Lawyers)

It’s a curious thing, to be taught that we should strive to be doctors and lawyers when we grow up. It’s a sign of stability and reputation, no doubt, but not everyone wants these roles. Not everyone can become a doctor or a lawyer… or can they? It gets me thinking — what would society be like if everyone had the ability, education, opportunity, and motivation to get high-skilled jobs? Is it possible?

I always think back to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World whenever I tackle this question. In the novel, Huxley pictures a society several hundred years into the future, where an all-powerful world government strictly maintains a social hierarchy. As Wikipedia eloquently puts it:

Human embryos are raised artificially… [and t]he breeding and development of children predestine them to fit into one of five ranked castes… from Alpha (the highest) to Epsilon (the lowest) which fulfill different economic roles. Alpha and Beta [fetuses] are allowed to develop relatively naturally, but Gamma, Delta and Epsilon [fetuses] are subjected to chemical interference to stunt their intelligence and physical growth.

Children are subject to subliminal messaging, shaping their self-perception such that it matches their place in society. They are conditioned for their specific jobs. They are discouraged from critical thinking and taking personal initiative. Doing so maintains this Brave New World in Huxley’s book. At some point, a high level government official, Mustapha Mond, is asked by another character:

[Y]ou can get whatever you want out of those [fetuses]. Why don’t you make everybody an Alpha[?]

Mond responds:

We believe in happiness and stability. A society of Alphas couldn’t fail to be unstable and miserable… An Alpha-decanted, Alpha-conditioned man would go mad if he had to do Epsilon Semi-Moron work — go mad, or start smashing things up. Alphas can be completely socialized — but only on condition that you make them do Alpha work… [T]he Cyprus experiment was convincing… the island of Cyprus [was] cleared of all its existing inhabitants and re-colonized with a specially prepared batch of twenty-two thousand Alphas. All agricultural and industrial equipment was handed over to them and they were left to manage their own affairs. The result exactly fulfilled all the theoretical predictions. The land wasn’t properly worked; there were strikes in all the factories; the laws were set at naught, orders disobeyed; all the people detailed for a spell of low-grade work were perpetually intriguing for high-grade jobs, and all the people with high-grade jobs were counter-intriguing at all costs to stay where they were. Within six years they were having a first-class civil war… [N]ineteen out of the twenty-two thousand had been killed… And that was the end of the only society of Alphas that the world has ever seen.

This thought experiment (we have to consider it such; can you even imagine such a thing happening in the real world?) in Brave New World really makes me think. The World State maintains such control so that “order” is maintained. In a less controlled world, can anyone can become anything? Or more to the point, given the chance to do mentally stimulating jobs, would anyone willingly choose to do menial-task type jobs? Would we fall the way of the Cyprus experiment?

It’s difficult to even begin answering this question without acknowledging our reality, rather than Brave New World’s. People need to pay bills, focus on their health, and take care of family. People aren’t always in proximity to necessary resources and opportunities. People are put down, told they’re not good enough, and subject to ridicule for trying or going against the norm. People aren’t always taught to deal with challenges. Circumstances preempt the question, before we even try for answer. And the circumstances are infinitely varied.

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