Overcompensation

Aldous Huxley's Brave New World is fiction, but it is also a study of overcompensation. At its centre lies the conflict between a pleasure-maximising new world, and savages looking for everything which has been lost in the process. The sentiment in the new world is that general happiness requires the abolishment of all hassle and friction. World Controller Mustafa Mond has fully embraced the sentiment:

The greatest care is taken to prevent you from loving any one too much. There's no such thing as a divided allegiance; you're so conditioned that you can't help doing what you ought to do. And what you ought to do is on the whole so pleasant, so many of the natural impulses are allowed free play, that there really aren't any temptations to resist.

Here, he also speaks to what is for me the prime example of his fallacy: This world not only gave up arts, philosophy, and science, it also discourages falling in love. Although this world was designed with a happiness-maximising function, peak experiences such as when witnessing art, beauty, or desire, were wholly disregarded. Just like many atheists in our real world, it denies feelings of spirituality and settles for a steady trickle of gratification. It also appears that only short-term gratification was considered; not so feelings of gratitude, achievement, belonging, adventure, or meaning. All this is likely to be an overcompensation for the pain experienced by previous generations; not being clear about how to define a desirable future.

John the Savage falls for similar fallacies but tries to overcompensate for the supposedly desirable new world. Although some of his demands hit actual problems, such as a lack of high art, he also makes demands based on his faith in god. He believes that there is more to life than the reality we are experiencing, and he would like to act on that belief. I was disappointed to find the protagonist retort to such an easy escape, as the discussion of the brave new world's problems is profound.

All right then," said the Savage defiantly, "I'm claiming the right to be unhappy."

"Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen to-morrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind." There was a long silence. "I claim them all," said the Savage at last. Mustapha Mond shrugged his shoulders. "You're welcome," he said.

Partially, he even seems to appreciate pain for its own sake. For me, this seems absurd, and it points to his overcompensating for dumb pleasures. Unfortunately, the book ends on pain as a virtue, as is common in religion, instead of looking for a more scientific basis of a better life. The savage doesn't even try to make a cost-benefit analysis to weigh different possible lives.

I see this divide in reality as well: Both sides are overcompensating for the problems perceived on the other side, and are in this only becoming more divided. Even if I agree mostly with one side, I might still see it make the same mistake.

This makes me appreciate Sam Harris's acknowledgement of spirituality-related experiences all the more.