Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

I read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley because it seems that anyone who considers himself educated should have read it. Well I’m trying (very hard!) to be educated, so on my list it went. 

It’s an interesting book and often juxtaposed with 1984 (which I HAVE read!). In fact, the book, Amusing Ourselves to Death by neil Postman, makes much of the comparison. Both portray a dystopian future, but they arrive at two different places. 1984 is an all-controlling totalitarian government full of brainwashing and doublespeak. It is full of lies which all will believe, eventually, through use of force and terror. In contrast, Brave New World is a place of supreme happiness and contentment. But freedom is similarly limited and totalitarian control is exercised to keep everyone in a drug and entertainment-induced state of bliss. Postman thinks our future is more Brave New World than 1984. I tend to think it's a combination of the two.

The fable, Brave New World, opens somewhat in media res, with a tour of a fertility factory where babies are produced in test tubes and randomly sorted in groups. These groups are then artificially incubated into exactly the type of citizen needed for this futuristic society to function in a stable manner. Stability is the key.

One of the cream of the crop men, an Alpha Plus, Bernard Marx, exhibits some oddities and a bit of free-thinking. He decides to visit a Native Reservation where people live the “old-fashioned” way. While there, he is both repulsed and fascinated by the people he finds. He decides to bring a mother and her adult son back with him. Not wanting the life she had nor being able to fit into the extremely homogenized "civilized" life offered to her, the mother decides to kill herself in a drug-induced pleasurable coma. The son, however, begins to investigate the “civilization” so interested in investigating him and his “barbarism.”

At this point, the young man, John, called Mr. Savage by the civilized inhabitants of London, takes over as the main character. He has met a woman and fallen in love with her. He wants to make himself worthy of her undying love and convince her to marry him. All of these concepts are foreign to her and she panics when he attempts to explain them to her. 

In the end, John is convinced there is no place for him in this “brave new world.” It’s a sad and hopeless ending. It seems to indicate that this is where we are heading. If we want to get rid of all that is painful in our world we must totally submit our freedom to be replaced with the narcotic of pleasure and entertainment. 

According to John, this is not acceptable. He knows there is more. There is love and failure and hurt and pain and danger and freedom and sin. These are real and make life worth living. He has no desire to be in a stupefyingly blissful state. He is horrified that people are willing to make the trade. By this point, however, it is obvious that the people are too far gone to recognize what they’ve lost. 

I suppose that is the point. Know what you are losing. Understand the trade-offs as we seek a better world. Some pain and unfairness is inevitable and efforts to end these realities for good can result in something much worse. Very interesting thesis. 

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