Thursday, March 31, 2016

Classic #9

I read this book for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016.

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

On the surface, this dystopic world doesn’t look all that bad. Daily working hours are short enough to allow leisure time for golf, movies, and other fun distractions. Social mores are such that promiscuity is encouraged to the point that monogamy is in bad taste. Society also encourages the frequent use of a tranquilizer called soma so people can lead a stress-free life. The world is also free of economic and social instability or hardship. Not much work, lots of sex and fun, and getting high – crikey, where do I sign up?

The downside, Huxley hints, is that everybody expects to die at about 60 of galloping senility, probably brought on by use of soma. Another disadvantage is that the world is run by dictatorship of World Controllers that are aided by technocratic minions. They maintain a five-tiered caste system through physiological manipulation of test-tube babies and psychological conditioning – aka brainwashing – throughout childhood.

The Orwellian despotism of 1984 was based on the cynical manipulation of fear of enemies both within and without society. The dictatorship in BNW reduces people to juvenile social and emotional lives. People are obsessed with sex, sports, and entertainment. People crave to be endlessly distracted by looking at screens and self-medication. Life is so pleasant that nobody reads, everybody pursues pleasure impulsively. Sure, the smarter people feel like misfits, but there are plenty of places to send them to when they make trouble, like Iceland and the Falkland Islands.

I highly recommend this novel of ideas.  True, the education of the Savage seems unlikely and the last part is rather talky. This is easily balanced by Huxley’s insight into how human beings tick, no matter the technology and social mores they are raised in. Huxley is also funny, especially when the comic relief Bernard Marx is in the scene. Huxley’s humor is sharp and acerbic but it’s never cruel. 

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