Book Review – Brave New World

Brave New World by Alduous Huxley

The above link is to an edition that includes Brave New World Revisited, which I’ll mention here.  It’s basically a set of essays written by Huxley 25 years or so after Brave New World was published, commenting on elements of the book and offering warnings about the direction of Western culture that could lead – much sooner than he had ever anticipated – to a world similar to his novel’s dystopian setting.

It was only mildly ironic that I read the majority of Brave New World while on a cruise ship.  Perhaps it is the perfect setting to see some of the concepts Huxley foresaw played out.  Soma is replaced by the ubiquitous encouragement to drink alcohol.  The emphasis is very much on the right now, and creating memories for a future completely detached from the present, which of course has no relationship at all to the past.  The descriptive blurb for a daily meet up for singles 40 and older suggested Looking for a soul mate, or just a ship mate?  What happens on the cruise ship stays on the cruise ship, right?  We’re all supposed to be very pneumatic, right?  Whatever that means.

As Neil Postman observed in his fantastic book Amusing Ourselves to Death, we’re much closer to Huxley’s dystopian dictatorship than we are to George Orwell’s 1984 version.  Most of us were force-fed 1984 as a form of vaccine against the wiles of communism and socialism, while Brave New World was relegated to the optional reading list.  Something good and certainly college-oriented, but nothing to stress about.  I read both in high school, and we certainly have slipped dangerously down the road to Huxley’s future.

Rereading it now, it’s not a great book.  Stylistically or even from a story standpoint.  Characters are rather flat, and Huxley is obviously more interested in playing with ideas rather than characters or plot.  The back-and-forth movement between scenes and characters early in the book is a good foreshadowing of Pulp Fiction and other modern efforts to shake up the linear narrative.

It’s not a great book to read, but it’s a necessary book to help us think about our current society and culture.  There are a lot of ways of dissecting where we are and how we might change course, such as this curious piece (warning, some unpleasant language there).  And I would of course argue that our predicament is far more theological than anything else.  But Huxley helps us to see that what we take for granted is dangerous simply in that we take it for granted.  That we are increasingly ill-equipped to think critically about ourselves or the things we are asked to do or buy, and that this is to the very real benefit of a select group of people capable of doing these things.  The fact that our newspapers don’t see it of great value to inform us – every single day – of the political doings in our state and national capital is a good indicator that a free press is not necessarily a helpful one.

Huxley’s reviews of his own work in a set of topical essays bundled together as Brave New World Revisited is obviously dated, but offers a few good reminders that we haven’t arrived at our current situation completely unawares.  There have been keen minds all along the way warning us of the consequences of media, advertising, eugenics, and other areas of inquiry and exploration and application.  Whether we can change direction or not on a societal scale remains to be seen, but it’s important and necessary first of all that individuals be equipped to do so in their own lives and families.  Towards that end, Brave New World should be just as mandatory reading as 1984.  It’s a lot closer than we think.

 

 

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