Thursday, December 10, 2015

Brave New World - Huxley

Huxley's future dystopia is notable for a number of different reasons.  He suggests a future with:
  • A class system set up by extreme behavioral conditioning of the young.  People are separated into Alpha, Beta, Gamma, etc. classes at birth and then modified so that they will be able to excel at certain tasks.  Some of them are more comfortable with heat or have exceptional balance.  The classes are also separated by negative reinforcement like being taught to hate books and plants.
  • People are strongly encouraged to not like being alone.  They are taught to be with others at all times and to cast out anyone who wants time alone.  This is true on the personal level, but they're also taught to think of themselves and everyone else as an interchangeable piece of society.  No one has personal importance to themselves or others.
  • Sex is freely available.  Kids are taught erotic games.  Exclusive couples are discouraged.  People talk very freely about 'having' each other.
  • Soma.  Soma is a wonder drug that cures depression and puts one in a mildly blissful state.  It's also widely available and encouraged.  It has been engineered to give each person all of the benefits of religion, without any downside.
  • Religion has been wiped out.  So has history.  And art.  All writing and music must now be approved for the masses.  The desire is for pop art but nothing that will truly inspire.
  • Entertainment is huge.  Everyone is encouraged to see the latest 'movie' equivalent.  Everyone is encouraged to participate in athletics.  In fact, your time is wasted if you're not doing these things.
  • Mass consumption is also encouraged.  Athletic games are allowed or not allowed based in part on how manufacturing goes into their makeup.  Consumption and manufacturing must be expanded forever.
The book is excellent and disturbing at the same time.  Where Orwell envisioned a future kept in chains with fear and hate, Huxley shows easy sex and bliss, though still in chains.  This future has worked hard to keep any division or disunity from creating conflict.  The result is a large number of very smart sheep.  No longer human, because they lack the sparks of passion.
The result is unsettling. 

My compulsion with books like this is to make a comparison to modern day.  We don't have Soma and the way people are 'encouraged' to act is not nearly as overt or pervasive.  We still value art and passion, though religion and history aren't very respected.  We also don't have class barriers that are anything like what is described in the book.  (Though we seem to have a system where those at the top, politically, are given special protections...)
'Brave New World' is something that should be read and reread every ten years or so.  I'm glad that I was able to do so again.

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