A Brave New World in the Semiosphere

Peirce’s idea of the unlimited semiosis between the meaning-making between sign, signifier, and signified has been vitl for semiotics because it emphasizes the interconnectedness of signs and the importance of interpretation. This idea underpins all theory, that aims to characterize the dynamism of the most diverse signifying systems within a system, i.e. a sphere. Lotman further conceptualizes this idea by asserting that the interpretation of a sign “becomes in turn a sign, and so ad infinitum…”. He argues that if the two sides of a semiotic structure, e.g. between a listener and a song, were perfectly mutually translatable, e.g. the listener decodes the intended message of the musician’s encoding, then no new information would be created. In other words, there exists what he deems a “Bipolar Asymmetry” in meaning-making in which the lack of fit, between texts, languages, and cultures, is conducive to semantic enrichment i.e. the creation of new meaning.

And so meaning-making not only itself becomes a sign, but in our attempts at interpretation, which is a constant endeavor, we create new meaning and thus add to the semiosphere. Therefore creation of signs is as ubiquitous as it is constant. I can use any mundane example but I chose to use a cultural artifact that I have recently been re-reading: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Not only has the title in and of itself become part of the English lexicon, but there are numerous interpretations of it in many different forms:

A movie:

A song:

A TV program:

And of course, even by the author himself:

These are just a few of the example artifacts that, in interpreting Brave New World have become cultural artifacts, i.e. signs to be interpreted in and of themselves, themselves. So in the name of this meaning making, I make my own sign: Because I have been reading another political utopian fiction at the same time as I have been reading Brave New World, I use this other artifact almost as a framework that I use to bridge Huxley’s work with wider utopian/dystopian literature, and of course with my own experiences and personality. The book in question is called One Dimensional Man by Herbert Marcuse. In my reading of BNW, I therefore create my own signs, that here I will divide thematically:


Marcuse argues that we no longer desire freedom because our welfare governments have given us happiness in the form of relative affluence. On ODM, he argues that people’s reasons for political dissent are removed when their needs are satisfied. These needs however are “false needs,” or needs that society superimposes on the individual i.e. barrage of advertisements and facts tells us what we need. In BNW conditioning tells individuals what they need- not only are disease, old age, illness, or even the fear of death completely obliterated from BNW, but every conditioned desire is fulfilled. Hypnopaedia’s ingrained false needs with mantras such as “everyone belongs to everyone else,” “orgy-porgy gives release,” and “one cubic centimeter cures ten gloomy sentiments” are fulfilled via promiscuity, organized orgies, and soma. They therefore have all needs provided for them and therefore no need for dissent and remain passive to a system that not only provided for the needs but defined them


Marcuse argues that in order for the successful production of commodities to be precise, calculable, and efficient, regimentation, specialization, and standardization must be held. Removed are individual initiatives and personal discretion from the process of production. This removal enhances production’s predictability but limits human capacity to objective measurements; individual thought transforms into reflex and habit. This one-dimensional labor apparatus creates one-dimensional thought as the mind is dominated by functions of production. In BNW individuality is eradicated because of the Fordian assembly line, the laborer does the task repeatedly. For example, this occurs via hypnopaedia- pillow microphones condition Betas to believe their own caste better than those above and below them and those who repair the undersides of space vehicles are conditioned to be happy only when standing on their heads.

Freedom vs. Happiness:

Happiness is a technique of power. The society of AF 632 makes its inhabitants happy rather than allowing them to choose to be so which orientates them towards the status quo and prevents instability. The World Controllers obliterate everything that can provoke passion or thought, in order to preserve happiness. Alphas, Betas, Deltas, and Epsilons, the different castes, are all prevented from experiencing unhappiness by being prevented from experiencing any kind of real emotion. Mustapha Mond, the Controller of Europe, says that Epsilons, the lowest caste who do menial work remain happy in their conditions because they are conditioned to. For example, the Director of Hatcheries says, “the secret of happiness is…liking what you’ve got to do. All conditioning aims at that: making people like their inescapable social destiny” and therefore, happiness is at the necessary expense of freedom. To me, this harks back to what the Frankfurt School was so preoccupied with. They had a Domination Theory which posits that external exploitation plus internal self-disciplining are tools of subordination and we find this in BNW as external conditioning and biological manipulation of Brave New Worldians. Marcuse even asks: ‘how can slaves who do not even know they are slaves free themselves?’ This is very evident in BNW through John the Savage’s debate in Chapter Seventeen, where Huxley presents an open case of alternatives: ignorant freedom or insufferable knowledge?


As Huxley witnessed the rapid advance of science and technology, the concept of Utopia became a less impossible abstraction for him: Utopia may not be realized with man as he is but science can change that. The Frankfurt School, which Marcuse was a part of, developed critical theory by reconstructing Marxist method and logic in order to make it relevant to modern capitalism. According to them, Modern capitalism has developed coping mechanisms that effectively allowed it to forestall the socialist revolution. Critical theory asserts that technology is one of these mechanisms because it is used as a tool for social control. In Huxley’s world, the future is scientific in every sense and works as a description of a society run by scientists, blind to any values that cannot be proved by laboratory experiment, would produce; satirizes the positivists who rejected religion, ethics, and aesthetics. For example is Bokanovsky’s Process, by which just one ovary can yield sixteen thousand people, constitutes a new society of man; Neo-Pavlovian infant-conditioning methods help condition khaki clad Delta babies to abhor flowers and books associating them with unpleasant shocks; a process of sleep-teaching ingrains infants with things like elementary class-consciousness or the encouragement of erotic play; each individual is conditioned to do and like the same task repeatedly thus, they are one-sided from birth; Religion is scientized: Solidarity Services, Christian Cross becomes T after the Model T Ford, the office of Archbishop of Canterbury dwindles to Arch-Community-Songster, and a conventional expression is “Our Ford,” an automobile manufacturer. Frankfurt School thinkers are afraid of this. Their critical theory argues that domination is the psychological subordination of the masses by science’s usurpation of everything. They are afraid of that positivism is capitalism’s new form of domination because it argues that only scientific, empirical knowledge reflects reality. This makes the individual uncritically experience the world as necessary and rational.


In my point of view, and here is where I make the major sign, positivism’s obsession with facts is a symptom of a one-dimensional society as per my reading of Brave New World through my own schema and One Dimensional Man. To me, hegemony of the economy is reaffirmed by a mode of positivist common sense which teaches us that in order to be a good citizen and human being, we must first accept the facts. We are just like the fact-ridden citizens of BNW when we do not question these facts and in order to overcome this domination, one must first critique positivism.