Brave New World
By Aldous Huxley, 1932 (edited excerpt)
INFANT NURSERIES -CONDITIONING ROOMS, announced the notice board.
The Director opened a door. They were in a large bare room, very bright and sunny; for the whole of the southern wall was a single window. Half a dozen nurses in the regulation white viscose-linen uniform, their hair aseptically hidden under white caps, were engaged in setting out bowls of roses in a long row across the floor. Big bowls, packed tight with blossom.
The nurses stiffened to attention as the Director came in.
"Set out the books," he said curtly.
Between the rose bowls the books were duly set out–a row of nursery texts opened invitingly each at some gaily colored image of beast or fish or bird.
"Now bring in the children."
They hurried out of the room and returned in a minute or two, each pushing a kind of tall dumb-waiter laden, with eight-month-old babies, all exactly alike and all (since their caste was Delta) dressed in khaki.
"Put them down on the floor."
The infants were unloaded.
"Now turn them so that they can see the flowers and books."
Turned, the babies at once fell silent, and then began to crawl towards those clusters of sleek colors, those shapes so gay and brilliant on the white pages. From the ranks of the crawling babies came little squeals of excitement, and gurgles of pleasure.
The swiftest crawlers were already at their goal. Small hands reached out uncertainly, touched, grasped the roses, crumpling the illuminated pages of the books. The Director waited until all were happily busy. Then, "Watch carefully," he said. And, lifting his hand, he gave the signal.
The Head Nurse, who was standing by a switchboard at the other end of the room, pressed down a little lever.
There was a violent explosion. Shriller and ever shriller, a siren shrieked. Alarm bells maddeningly sounded.
The children started, screamed; their faces were distorted with terror.
"And now," the Director shouted (for the noise was deafening), "now we proceed to rub in the lesson with a mild electric shock."
He waved his hand again, and the Head Nurse pressed a second lever. The screaming of the babies suddenly changed its tone. There was something desperate, almost insane, about the sharp spasmodic yelps to which they now gave utterance. Their little bodies twitched and stiffened; their limbs moved jerkily as if to the tug of unseen wires.
"That's enough," the Director signaled to the nurse.
The explosions ceased, the bells stopped ringing, the shriek of the siren died down from tone to tone into silence. The stiffly twitching bodies relaxed, and what had become the sob and yelp of infant maniacs broadened out once more into a normal howl of ordinary terror.
"Offer them the flowers and the books again."
The nurses obeyed; but at the approach of the roses, at the mere sight of those gaily-colored images of kittens and cock-a-doodle-doo and baa-baa black sheep, the infants shrank away in horror, the volume of their howling suddenly increased.
Books and loud noises, flowers and electric shocks–already in the infant mind these couples were compromisingly linked; and after two hundred repetitions of the same or a similar lesson would be wedded indissolubly. What man has joined, nature is powerless to put asunder.
"They'll grow up with what the psychologists used to call an 'instinctive' hatred of books and flowers. Reflexes unalterably conditioned. They'll be safe from books and botany all their lives." The Director turned to his nurses. "Take them away again."
Still yelling the khaki babies were loaded on to their dumb-waiters and wheeled out, leaving behind them the smell of sour milk and a most welcome silence.
One of the students held up his hand; and though he could see quite well why you couldn't have lower-class people wasting time over books, and that there was always the risk of their reading something which might undesirably decondition one of their reflexes, yet … well, he couldn't understand about the flowers. Why go to the trouble of making it psychologically impossible for Deltas to like flowers?
Patiently the D.H.C. explained. If the children were made to scream at the sight of a rose, that was on grounds of high economic policy. Not so very long ago, Gammas, Deltas, even Epsilons, had been conditioned to like flowers–flowers in particular and wild nature in general. The idea was to make them want to be going out into the country at every available opportunity, and so compel them to consume transport.
"And didn't they consume transport?" asked the student.
"Quite a lot," the D.H.C. replied. "But nothing else."
Primroses and landscapes, he pointed out, have one grave defect: they are gratuitous. A love of nature keeps no factories busy. It was decided to abolish the love of nature, at any rate among the lower classes.
"I see," said the student, and was silent, lost in admiration.
Fifty yards of tiptoeing brought them to a door which the Director cautiously opened. They stepped over the threshold into the twilight of a shuttered dormitory. Eighty cots stood in a row against the wall. There was a sound of light regular breathing and a continuous murmur, as of very faint voices remotely whispering.
A nurse rose as they entered and came to attention before the Director.
"What's the lesson this afternoon?" he asked.
"It's switched over to Elementary Class Consciousness."
The Director walked slowly down the long line of cots. Rosy and relaxed with sleep, eighty little boys and girls lay softly breathing. There was a whisper under every pillow. The Director halted and, bending over one of the little beds, listened attentively.
At the end of the room a loud speaker projected from the wall. The Director walked up to it and pressed a switch.
"… all wear green," said a soft but very distinct voice, beginning in the middle of a sentence, "and Delta Children wear khaki. Oh no, I don't want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They're too stupid to be able to read or write. Besides they wear black, which is such a bad color. I'm so glad I'm a Beta."
There was a pause; then the voice began again.
"Alpha children wear grey .They work much harder than we do, because they're so very smart. I'm really awfully glad I'm a Beta, because I don't work so hard. And then we are much better than the Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid. They all wear green, and Delta children wear khaki. Oh no, I don't want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They're too stupid to be able …"
The Director pushed back the switch. The voice went silent. Only its thin ghost continued to mutter from beneath the eighty pillows.
"They'll have that repeated forty or fifty times more before they wake; then again on Thursday, and again on Saturday. A hundred and twenty times three times a week for thirty months.
"Till at last the child's mind is these suggestions, and the sum of the suggestions is the child's mind. And not the child's mind only. The adult's mind too–all his life long. The mind that judges and desires and decides–made up of these suggestions. But all these suggestions are our suggestions!"
The Director shouted almost in triumph.