Friday, April 5, 2013

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (15 down, 85 to go)

"...that’s another item in the cost of stability. It isn’t only art that’s incompatible with happiness; it’s also science. Science is dangerous; we have to keep it most carefully chained and muzzled."

Brave New World is a dystopian novel set in 632 AF (after Ford), a new epoch of human civilization. 

My rating: 3 1/2 of 5 stars

Most of the world is governed by a single world state, though there are also ungoverned, tightly restricted, savage reservations. In the civilized world, everyone is happy, healthy, and well provided for. Natural child birth and family are things of the past. Children are decanted in hatchery and conditioning centers and predestined in early development to belong to one of five castes, Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons. The higher castes, Alphas and Betas, have privileges and mentally demanding jobs, while the lower castes perform menial labor, with the Epsilon semi-morons doing the simplest. Yet, everyone is happy due to hypnotic conditioning during YEARS of sleep in early childhood. Each caste thinks it would be terrible to be any other.

Ford, presumably Henry Ford, is revered as a deity. Humans are now produced via assembly line akin to Ford’s auto plant. There are many other “advancements”. The world population is taught to value consumption, ensuring continuous and full employment. There are no families, or marriages. Everyone belongs to everyone, and they engage in recreational sex. They are all pill popping junkies, taking daily doses of “soma” a hallucinatory drug that takes them on pleasant trips, with no ill side effects. Disease is virtually wiped out, people maintain health and youthful vigor into their sixties, and are conditioned to neither fear nor mourn death.

All good little automatons. The story turns when Bernard Marx, who has access to the savage reservation because he is an Alpha, takes a girl Lenina for a sort of holiday to visit the savages. They encounter a beta woman, who was accidentally left behind in the savage lands 18 years earlier by another pair of sight seers. This beta, Linda, has a son, John. She is mortified that she experienced natural child birth, but misses the civilized world, and especially soma. Bernard arranges to bring Linda and John back to civilization where he enjoys fame and admiration for such an intriguing discovery. John experiences civilization for the first time, while his mother goes on an almost 24/7 soma holiday.

John, known as “The Savage” is excited by the brave new world, but slowly begins to loathe it. He is eventually fully repulsed by two significant events. The Savage is attracted to Lenina and yearns for her, in the way he knew men in the savage lands to desire a mate. Lenina is attracted to the Savage, but in the way she has been conditioned, as a recreational diversion. They almost come together, but the Savage is dismayed by her cavalier attitude and rejects her. The same day, he learns that his mother, is very ill and he rushes to her side. He is again repulsed, this time by the insensitivity to death he witnesses. A group of children visit the dying center on a field trip, to desensitize them to death.

These events create a dilemma for the Savage, and he is given audience with Mustapha Mond, the World Controller for Europe. Mond extols the virtues of civilization, while the Savage decries them all. Neither gives way, and shortly thereafter the Savage forsakes civilization and retreats to the unoccupied outskirts of London, where he intends to live a simple, self-sufficient life. He is pestered though, by onlookers who come to view him as a curiosity. A journalist makes a covert documentary of the Savage resulting in even more onlookers and a savage climax.

Utopian or Dystopian? At a casual glance, the brave new world seems indeed utopian, health, prosperity, peace, and happiness. But at what cost? A cost the Savage could not bear.

I think dystopian novels serve as warning of a future we might face. Of the two dystopian novels I’ve read so far, this and 1984, I found Brave New World less plausible. The warning seemed less compelling and the story more of a dark Sci-Fi, or fantasy, but not really something I fear could come to pass.


It was the sort of idea that might easily decondition the more unsettled minds among the higher castes, make them lose their faith in happiness as the Sovereign Good and take to believe, instead, that the goal was somewhere beyond, somewhere outside the present human sphere; that the purpose of life was not the maintenance of well-being, but some intensification and refining of consciousness, some enlargement of knowledge, which was, the Controller reflected, quite possibly true. But not, in the present circumstance admissible. ~ Mustapha Mond (thoughts on an academic paper he would not allow to be published)

Discussion between Mond and the Savage regarding Shakespeare: 
But why is it prohibited? Asked the Savage… 
The Controller shrugged his shoulders. Because it’s old, that's the chief reason. We haven’t any use for old things here. 
Even when they’re beautiful? 
Particularly when they’re beautiful. Beauty’s attractive, and we don’t want people to be attracted by old things. We want them to like the new ones.

The World’s stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can’t get. They’re well off; they’re safe; they’re never ill; they’re not afraid of death; they’re blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; they’re plagued with no mother or fathers; they’ve got no wives, or children, or lovers to feel strongly about; they’re so conditioned that they practically can’t help behaving as they ought to behave. And if anything should go wrong, there’s soma. ~ Mustapha Mond

Our Ford himself did a great deal to shift the emphasis from truth and beauty to comfort and happiness. Mass production demanded the shift. Universal happiness keeps the wheels steadily turning; truth and beauty can’t. And, of course, whenever the masses seized political power, then it was happiness rather than truth and beauty that mattered. ~ Mustapha Mond