Huxley was onto some notions that have only recently been developed in cognitive science and psychology. His characters have all their needs taken care of, enjoying excellent health, reasonable work schedules and lots of gadgets and entertainment. His is a wealthy society. It’s also a highly collectivist one; cloning has created large groups of identical people working side by side.
David Brooks’s book “The Social Animal” ruminates about “limerence” or harmony with another individual or a group. He writes about a soldier who felt a profound sense of well-being while doing drill and ceremony in unison with a large group, about how people in conversation quickly mimic one another’s mannerisms and even about how women living in close quarters tend to synchronize menstrual cycles. We crave belonging. The citizens of Huxley’s society look around, see people exactly like themselves, and feel comfortable and secure. There’s no need for a crushing totalitarian Big Brother at the top because at the bottom, everyone feels like siblings.
Yet “The Social Animal” also describes how bad we are at predicting what will make us happy (we think that if we struck it rich we’d relax on a desert island — did Steve Jobs do that?). When asked to imagine a formula for bliss, Brooks writes, “people vastly overvalue work, money, and real estate. They vastly undervalue intimate bonds and the importance of arduous challenges.”
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