Brave New Lit: Using Stories To Counter the Abortion Crisis

“This [essay]  is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.”

The Center for Medical Progress’ investigative footage on Planned Parenthood has led to 12 states currently investigating the organization. Many in Congress have begun plans to reallocate Planned Parenthood’s funding to other healthcare organizations that don’t engage in abortions. The atrocities documented more than justify these actions, but defunding one organization alone simply won’t be enough to solve the moral epidemic.

Scott Loyd at The Federalist points out how research shows that contraceptive use counterintuitively parallels the rate of abortion in the United States according to data collected by the Guttmacher Institute. The reason may not be all that complicated as “contraception enables sexual encounters and relationships that would not have happened without it.”

Eliminating contraceptives will by no means solve the problem either. The irrational NARAL response last fall to Cory Gardner supporting over-the-counter availability of “routine use” contraceptives offers proof enough that such an effort could never succeed. In order to change the tide of the abortion issue, we need to see a deep-rooted change in the way Americans understand the nature and purpose of sex. And that only comes through education, more specifically, stories.

Conservatives often cite George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four to illustrate the way progressives use deceitful language to cover atrocities like harvesting fetal organs. It takes a lot of doublethink to maintain their position, but in the book Orwell himself depicts a more progressive view of sex as an act of independence and defiance. The protagonist, Winston Smith, interprets a woman tearing off her clothes as an act that “seemed to annihilate a whole culture, a whole system of thought” with its disdain. Winston’s views are unfortunately not far enough from the politicizing tactic that Planned Parenthood and feminists use in trying to turn mutilating unborn children into an advancement of “women’s rights.” The beauty or atrocity of a thing should be in itself, not its political gain.

Dystopian literature has great potential for addressing the root of the abortion crisis, just not Orwell’s vision necessarily. The genre typically amplifies some social defect or ideological fault to its extreme in a futuristic setting. Orwell targeted the brutal enforcement of ideology and the mixing of everything with “fear and hatred” in a Nazi or Soviet style regime. His concern regarding “Big Brother” surveillance is still incredibly relevant today, but that’s simply not the driving factor behind millions of unwanted pregnancies in America. A lack of stable relationships and unchecked physical desires are to blame for that.

To address the source of this crisis, readers must turn to Orwell’s mentor, Aldous Huxley. 1980s media critic Neil Postman observed that for Huxley, pleasure and desire—not fear and pain—lead to our ruin. Brave New World illustrates the need for virtue and shows the personal harm that takes place when pleasure comes too easily. It only takes a few pages to see that Huxley’s fear involves a world that is hypersexualized. Amidst a backdrop of artificially produced embryos, psychological conditioning, and children playing naked on the grass, a “world controller” in this futuristic regime explains some of the ideology as he leads a group of boys on a tour of the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre.

In order to achieve the “COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY” engraved on the front of the building, these factories help create world order by eliminating any individual or emotional instability in human beings. Their main tactic: removing or reducing the space between “the consciousness of a desire and its fulfillment.” One of the youngsters describes a time he had to wait four weeks before a girl would let him “have” her. “Horrible,” the boy concludes, and the Controller agrees. Every desire has its convenient fulfillment, no one is unhappy, and “everyone belongs to everyone” as characters often repeat.

This social machine is terribly efficient, but not without its flaws or dissenters. It soon begins to break down from causes both internal and external. Bernard Marx and Helmholtz Watson, both products and members of the system, find themselves lacking or missing some depth not satisfied by their world. Bernard distinguishes himself by wanting to discuss intimate things in private rather than a crowded elevator (heretical by social standards) and wondering what life would be without behavioral conditioning, while Helmholtz feels that there should be more for him to tap into as a writer: “It’s not enough for the phrases to be good; what you make with them ought to be good too,” he tells Bernard.

The desire for a meaningful life becomes even more potent when Bernard visits a “Savage Reservation” in New Mexico and returns with John, one of the savages. John is the sone of two new-world residents and grew up a culture of mixed Native American, Christian, and Western literary traditions. Despite a disreputable upbringing (by both cultures’ standards), he possesses a strong moral foundation through reading Shakespeare. Through his education, he quickly sees how everything is “too easy” or “not expensive enough” in the new world.

John’s virtue extends beyond dry moralizing or even the defiant speech in which he proclaims: “I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.” His rejection of Lenina’s advances illustrate a deep-seated desire for purity and goodness. He explains how he hoped to win her affection and do something to prove himself not “absolutely un-worthy.” The disappointment and rage he experiences at her promiscuity should be counted as one of the most important scenes in 20th century literature, and its exactly the sort of character our culture needs to see now.

The Savage is not lacking or somehow above the desires that all the other characters readily indulge, but he possesses the understanding that some joys and pleasures are made stronger when tempered by the will and the passage of time. Through literature and the reservation women’s reproach to his mother that “those men are their men,” John learns the value of commitment and investment in relationships. Despite his rare moral bearings, he is quite smitten by Lenina, but seeks to govern his passions. When no one else even comprehends this ambition, let alone encourages it, it drives him from society and makes him a quaint source of amusement. The need to be virtuous ultimately destroys him.

Young adults need to see the damage that takes place when society attempts to insulate individuals from consequences or pain—damage on a personal level as well as the enormous cost for the unborn. Vanity Fair’s piece on Tinder in New York City offers powerful (though very crass) insight into just how disappointing the sexual revolution can be. “It’s a contest to see who cares less,” as one young woman puts it. To counter the emptiness of hookup culture, young adults need examples of love, commitment, and the noble struggle to be human. Brave New World shows both extremes with its wary vision of the future and its reference to the Great Books for artistic and moral guidance. It’s a novel that warrants far more attention than it has received in recent years. And it’s one that could help solve the abortion crisis in America.


Banner Image: “Skyscrapers” (cropped) from Artur. Creative Commons License, 2015.

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