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The prehistoric life fluctuating between pain and starvation, and a satisfying, full stomach and good health; the medieval life undulating between love and honor, and ignominy and detestation; the modern life wavering erratically between affluence and social success, and disrespect and hardship; the existence of the World State citizen vacillating from popularity to loneliness - people suffered all these vastly different epochs, encountering both happiness and dejection, both pain and pleasure, both fame and infamy, yet we dare judge all by the same yardstick - that of our life.

We consider the distress caused by pain and starvation in the prehistoric human larger beyond comparison than the anguish of loneliness in a citizen of a perfectly stable society. We think thus because our perception of life is firmly fixed between known degrees of financial and social success. This society makes affluence laudable and poverty shameful; it makes the ability to entertain everyone glamorous, and failure to do so disgusting. Our mood, ranging from happiness to despair, largely depends on where we fall between the two extremes of the socioeconomic spectrum.

Let us now take the case of prehistoric humans, one that we might consider the extreme of unhappiness and instability. Their ladder of happiness was likely based on physical well-being. Measured on our yardstick, their life was probably harsh and painful, but should be less delighted when well fed and healthy than we are when our finances are abundant and we have more friends than acquaintances? Should they be more dejected when wounded or starving than we are when losing money, fame, friends, and loves? One is tempted to say yes, for most Americans take food and good health for granted, and find the opposites unimaginable. But we forget that prehistoric humans have grown up with the same life around them, they have come to take starvation and pain for granted, and thus perceive food and health as utmost happiness. Were they to encounter the American society, they would likely not comprehend how trivialities of money and pleasantries can drive us to the utmost joy or deepest despair.

The World State is the other extreme, a perfectly stable and content society. There, the scale of happiness is based solely on how well people fit into the society. Ones who simply follow the rules are near the middle of the scale, others, who are additionally popular, are at the top, and at the bottom are the misfits (such as Bernard Marx) who flagrantly violate rules. Aldous Huxley portrays this state as though the people in it can contemplate their troubles from our perspective, a perspective of a world, which, on the absolute scale is unhappier. In doing so, he makes the same mistake that prehistoric humans would make when considering the modern American society. For instance, Lenina commits a significant transgression by completely forgoing promiscuity for four months. We may view it as rather small, but it is a short way from openly violating one rule to breaking several; from there, it is one step to expulsion. Had Huxley considered that, such a transgression would have brought her more grief and shame than a mere "I hadn't been feeling very keen on promiscuity lately."

Huxley concludes that universal happiness is possible at the expense of truth and beauty, art and science, but does not seem to consider that even the wicked happiness he offers is not possible. Humans will always find themselves a source of troubles: if we have no physical problems - we create societal burdens; even if the societal burdens are miniscule, we imagine them to be enormous; and if we are alone we invent self-denial and self-punishment to avoid the most horrible torture of all - contentment and boredom.

This essay is Copyright (C) 2000 Alexey Spiridonov. All rights reserved

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