Mental Models

Soma in a Brave New World

When one of your favorite authors mentions a book that influenced his / her thinking, you have to pick it up to understand the root source behind the books that impacted you. A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is one of the books that influenced Yuval Noah Harrari, bestselling author of Sapiens and Homo Deus.

Even though I finished reading this 1930’s dystopian novel about a month ago and have been mulling over in my thoughts about the book, I haven’t quite been sure of how to express them in writing. But here is an attempt at it.

One particular word from the book stuck with me; it’s called Soma.

The book describes a New World into the future where almost everyone is happy. There are no blood relationships, only sex. People just work the amount they have to based on the “status” they were assigned at the time of birth. Babies are conditioned in test-tubes at the time of birth and that defines their lives. There is no concept of the American Dream. Everyone lives a happy and content life. And if for some reason, something upsets you, there is an easy fix and that is Soma. Soma is a happy drug. It’s a pill that you just pop in and you become satisfied again.

“Now – such is progress – no leisure from pleasure, not a moment to sit down and think.” And if ever by some unlucky chance your happy state of mind is distracted, “there is always soma, delicious soma, half a gramme for a half-holiday, a gramme for a weekend, two grammes for a trip to the gorgeous East…”

The concept of Soma really disturbed me, and I immediately started thinking about analogies to Soma in today’s world. Does alcohol serve the purpose of Soma for many of us? Is juul the new Soma? And, what’s the next quick-fix drug we are going to use because we can’t confront our unhappy / confused state of mind? Have a lot of us also forgotten how to think because we are constantly distracted by social media, the next great vacation to plan and long hours at work?

I tried to argue with myself that Soma could also be the simple pleasures of life such as enjoying a good meal with a loved one, exercising, reading, or even some good wine and beer with old friends. Aren’t those happiness pills too? If so, there may be nothing wrong with Soma.

But then I realized that Aldous Huxley is referring to Soma as a drug that intentionally blocks our ability to think clearly and gives us a false sense of happiness when we are under the influence of that drug. The point being that a lot of us are afraid to confront our discontented state of mind and so we look towards Soma to make us feel “happy” and forget our worries. But it’s unlikely that you will find true happiness unless you are willing to confront your struggles. It’s not about finding quick and easy solutions. It’s about facing those challenges and coming out stronger. It’s about enjoying the roller-coaster ride (ups and downs) of life.

Are we presently living in this Brave New World that Aldous Huxley conceived of more than 80 years ago? Pick up the book. It will make you think.

Recommended Book: A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley


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