Friday, November 02, 2012

Brave New World

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Genre: Adult Fiction, Dystopian, Futurist
I listened to the audiobook on Playaway from my local library.
You might like this book if you're a fan of dystopian literature-this one is deep in the ancestry of the genre. Also consider it if you are interested in satire, sociology, the future of society, and other topics covered in this story.

Hmm, how does one describe this book? It is the story of a New World State, far in the future (the book is set in A.D. 2540), that is based on the principles of Community, Identity and Stability. Society is made up of carefully created castes of people who are influenced chemically and thermally while being bred in laboratories, then cognitively through hypnotism after "decanting." The idea of this is to create people who are so perfectly suited for their life's occupation that everyone will always be happy. Reproduction has been removed from sex. The two have nothing to do with each other, so fundamental relationships are entirely changed. It's challenging to think about, but I think there is an element of prophecy in the work. Also, that happiness idea only works because of the constant use of a powerful drug called Soma that is ubiquitous in the society and allows people to cope with the fact that they have no individual agency or ability to make choices about their lives. It is a chilling irony to consider that the thing engineered to create the happiness, ie. predestination and conditioning to create a uniform contentment, has created a society in which happiness is actually only accessible through artificial means.

In today's world, people are attempting to separate reproduction and sex, reducing sexuality to mere entertainment and shallow social interaction rather than a deep and integral part of our identity. It's fascinating to see how just this one change in society can affect so many other aspects. People are also chasing happiness and it can seem like it is in shorter and shorter supply, in spite of increased resources, information and opportunities.

The book also forces one to think about what constitutes civilization and what constitutes savagery. In the end the "Savage" or outsider becomes the means for Huxley to comment on the very idea of fiddling with humankind as much as the World State does in his book. It just wouldn't work, and I think he is warning us that we better stop flirting with it as we have been doing in the last 150 years. It was written in the time of Eugenics, which was not so much about genetic engineering as it was about selecting and conditioning for a superior society. It was also written in the embryonic days just preceding the Third Reich and the aftermath the Great War and the Bolshevik revolution. All of these influences and contextual informants were pacing around in the background for me and I could not think of this book without thinking that Huxley was warning us about more than just reproductive tinkering. He was warning us about socialism, tyranny and any state having the power to overwhelm the individual. It made me shudder. What must have gone through his mind as he watched the rise of communism, fascism and socialism in the lead-up to World War 2?  Holy Cow. I might have been a little frightened of my own powers of deduction. Those were turbulent times and it does not surprise me that such a book, with ideas to upend values and mores that most average citizenry held as self-evident, would come out of the experience of living in those days.

I listened to Michael York read the book and found it engaging and very interesting. The characters are each drawn to provide a particular lens for observing the society, and each one truly does allow for a different focus. His use of accents and acting helps to distinguish the characters and the many "scene changes."  There is no clear hero or protagonist, and the writing verges on stream-of-consciousness at times, but it works.

I am glad I read it again (last time was in high school) and that I have a lot more living under my belt to help me to realize the absurdity of the Brave New World but also to recognize the biting satire and weirdly prophetic warnings found between the lines on every page.

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