Artifact Paper 3: Levinas and A Brave New World

The Brave New World – media presentation Brave_New_World.jpg
The 19th century French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas writes about his views on how humans see the world and how their interactions with each other shape the world, in the chapter titled “Substitutions” in his book Otherwise Than Being, or, Beyond Essence. The first section of “Substitutions”, Levinas states that humans cannot see anything objectively “Consciousness is therefore always the grasping of a being through an ideality. Even an empirical, individual being appears through the ideality of the logos” (Levinas, 1). People are not capable of fully understanding others, and everything we do is already in a response to someone else. This can also be said for what people feel after certain experiences “What arrives of the unknown is already disclosed, open, manifest, cast in the mold of the known, and can never come as a complete surprise” (1). The feelings that people universally feel after certain experiences, such as happiness are just preconceived feelings that have always been affiliated with those experiences. Levinas later talks about how all of our actions effect other people “It is the summoning of myself by the other, it is a responsibility toward those whom we do not even know” (2). Therefore we are actually responsible for others through our actions. We do not choose to be responsible for others, but we are still inherently responsible for people we have not and never will meet. To Levinas, the way one acts truly matters to everyone. This can be connected to Immanuel Kants Categorical Imperative, where he says act as if all your actions were to be universal law, the better one person acts correlates to other people acting the same way without even knowing it.
Levinas’s teachings can be applied with Aldous Huxley’s book A Brave New World. One excerpt Levinas coincides with very well is when John the Savage is brought to London to meet Mustapha Mond, the World Controller. Jon has spent his entire life on an Indian reserve and has been shielded from the new world, where all the citizens are made in labs and their life and class are predetermined for them. Many of the citizens do not know very basic things such as what liberty is. In this society citizens don’t make decisions for themselves, rather the government already has everything planned out for them. This goes against what Levinas teaches. Levinas has said that each and every person is responsible for making up the world around them, but in this society that is not the case. The government in A Brave New World is taking on the responsibility for all of its citizens, while Levinas believes that that would be our responsibility as mortal creatures “to be a ‘self’ is always to have one degree of responsibility more” (7). It is hard to really even say that anyone in this society is “living”, the controller is quoted saying “In a properly organized society like ours, nobody has any opportunities for being noble or heroic. Conditions have got to be thoroughly unstable before the occasion can arise” (Huxley, 559). There is no opportunities for these citizens to even make choices that are moral or immoral, they are just being used as puppets for the controller. The controller is implying that in an ideal perfect society people would not have to make decisions for themselves, but Levinas will argue that the decisions that people make are what forms and molds societies, and a society where people do not make their own opinions is impossible. While arguing with the Controller John the Savage says “But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin” (560). What John the savage wants is choice, but that is not what this new world provides. Levinas would believe that all of our prior actions are what leads the world to a state like the one in A Brave New World, but he would not blame the people who live in this world, because they have been brought up without the ability to think on their own and to understand that they can change the world with their actions. Levinas would stand with John the Savage and help prove that a world where people have the ability to think for themselves would grow and develop more than a world where all the citizens are controlled.

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