Sunday, September 2, 2012

Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

Whenever I finish a book I usually want to talk to my dad about it. He reads a lot of the same things I do and always has something interesting to say about them. I was in the middle of marveling at how insightful Huxley was when my father looked at me and said, “I know how Huxley knew all those things.” I blinked back at him and smiled a little. I was curious. He simply said, “He’s an alien.”

If I had to choose one person who was most likely to be an alien it would definitely be Aldous Huxley. How else would he predict the horrors of genetic engineering in 1931 when DNA’s role in heredity wasn’t confirmed until 1952? How else would he have guessed that alcohol stunted fetal growth when Fetal Alcohol Syndrome wasn’t named until 1973 and was just beginning to be recognized in 1968? To put it bluntly, the man must be an alien.

But now down to business. Brave New World is work of speculative fiction set in a “utopian” society that is, in reality, more of a nightmare than a dream. It is often compared to Orwell’s 1984. However, to compare 1984 and Brave New World is like comparing a sailboat to a submarine. One floats on water and one dives below it, so they are both boats, but in reality they do opposite things. Orwell’s 1984 is terrifying because it shows how dark society can be, Brave New World is scary because it shows how damaging blissful happiness can be.

The biggest thing I took away from Brave New World is that what someone wants and what someone needs are two very different things. As an individual I want to be happy, but I need to be mentally stimulated in order to feel fulfilled. In Brave New World everyone takes soma to make them happy. This drug creates an “imbecilic happiness” that pacifies society. While soma does make people happy it also “bottles their minds.” John points out that soma makes everyone very childlike. The gratification is instantaneous and therefore meaningless. People don’t need to strive towards something bigger than themselves and so they become childlike, spoiled and ignorant.

In chapter 17, the Controller Mustapha Mond, said that nobility, heroism, war and passion were products of political instability. If you are passionate it means you have a divided allegiance to a person or thing, if you are noble it means that there is a cause you must stand up for, if you are heroic there must be something that needs rescuing. The idea is that in a perfectly balanced society human emotion is unnecessary. Everything is taken care of for you, so there is no need for your life to be interrupted or your peace to be bothered. Extreme passion can only exist if there is sadness too, so if you eliminate sadness you also eliminate the most reverent feelings as well.

I was so struck with Brave New World because it so accurately and tactfully presented a society where everyone was truly a slave to uninterrupted happiness. This was particularly meaningful to me because I consider myself a resilient and unusually happy person. I never before considered the consequences of going too far. I have always thought that the world would be a much better place if everyone could be counted on to be happy. Now I am wondering if that is really the case. The slightly disturbing truth is that out of tragedy come moments of true greatness. 

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