August 2, 2016 by cathyk
While reading the novel Brave New World, a TOK thought came to my mind. In the novel, humans, at birth, are divided into castes to fulfil predestined societal roles. To assure a ‘stable’ society, children, even those in the lowest caste, are conditioned to love their roles through psychological manipulation. In one scene, children in one of the lowest castes were given books to play with but get electrocuted right when they were enjoying themselves. It is revealed that after hundreds of these shocks, these children will develop an instinctive fear and hatred towards books.
The knowledge question that came to me is: How big of an impact do early memories have on human beings?
Brave New World manifests that people’s early memories do have a significant impact in their adult life—especially when they experience a particular traumatising event hundreds of times. But why do memories linger? Perhaps, it is because they are linked with emotions. The infants feel aversion and fear when they are shocked; thus when they grow up and see books again, even if memories have faded, the emotional impact of trauma stays. For instance, if you, as an infant, almost drowned, perhaps you will have an instinctive fear towards waters and stay away from it for the rest of your life.
Collective memories also play a crucial role in Brave New World. For instance, the idea that individuals are insignificant alone and should always be around others is a collective memory inculcated into people ever since they were infants. Thus, when they grow up, they know that solitude is frowned upon. These collective memories can both reinforce culture and identity and unite people in an emotional way—and that is how the dystopia functions congruously. The society also doesn’t allow, or limits, the acquisition of personal knowledge. Personal knowledge gives people personal perspectives, which makes controlling them more difficult. Whereas shared knowledge produces a group perspective, which is conducive for uniformity.
This brings me to another question— What are the ethical debates of the psychological manipulation in Brave New World?
When I read about the psychological manipulation that prevails in Brave New World ’s deadpan society, I thought it was appallingly unethical. But to think about it in a TOK perspective, there are two ethical theories, both relying on reasoning, that one could use to appraise the situation. The first is deontology, which deems that an action itself is intrinsically right or wrong. Thus, one would agree that psychological manipulation is unethical. However, the other school of thought, utilitarianism, claims that the consequences of an act dictate whether the act is right or wrong. It also emphasises on ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’. Now if we look at the situation again, one could argue that the conditioning of infants could be apposite. It is explained in the novel that the conditioning of infants, along with hypnopaedia (sleep teaching, basically another form of manipulation), these children will grow up to be content with their roles, which will promote compatibility in the society. Otherwise, if children were left to grow naturally, they may turn out to hate the caste they’re in, and discontent is not conducive to the well-being of the society. Hence, some could say that such psychological manipulation is indeed ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’.
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