Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

Brave New World
My progress through Modern Library's 100 Best Novels list marches on. Though I am not reading the books in any strict order, I am loosely working from the top down. Today, I bring you number five.

In a timely, though unplanned, move, I finished Aldous Huxley's Brave New World earlier this month. If you did not know, the 50th anniversary of Huxley's death was last Friday. Yes, that's the same day as JFK and C.S. Lewis. What a day of intellectual loss.

Huxley published his famous work in 1932. Keeping that date in mind while reading really adds perspective. Huxley wrote from a world that had yet to see Hitler or the mass consumption of visual media (the television did not begin to gain traction until later that decade).

Huxley gave us one of the original dystopian novels. There is a strong chance you read this in high school.  If, however, your education mirrored mine and it was somehow sidelined, let me offer a quick recap.

Based in London, Huxley writes about a "utopian" world. Humans are all produced in a factory, rather than through human intercourse. While in their faux utero state, the babies are conditioned for their future. The government literally is creating classes of humans from their genes up. Humans are produced en masse and only the elite few are destined for the highest caste, "Alpha."

Free love takes on a new meaning as traditional partnerships are eschewed for sexual exploration. The majority of the population self-medicates with a drug called soma. It's calming effects are also used to control the people and keep them happy. Happiness is the ultimate goal. No one deals with reality. The whole society is based on an extrapolation of Henry Ford's invention of the assembly line.  Mass production and homogeneity are valued above all else.  

A few outlying areas remain on the globe in which the world government has not overtaken. This areas apparently proved less than profitable to settle and therefore have been left alone.  The real adventure begins when a "savage" from the reservation is brought back to London.

This man, John, simply cannot reconcile what he sees there with his life experience thus far. He had an extremely limited education on the reservation. The only literature or education he had available to him was a copy of Shakespeare's work.  I loved how Huxley tied this in and gave John Shakespearean lines to speak throughout the book. 

John ultimately fights back against the system. He sees the damage that the "happiness" causes and realizes that a world with balance is a better world.  He says, "But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin."

The book has a long history of being banned.  The negative behavior of the "civilized" throughout the book can be graphic and offense.  Some have complained that the book promotes agendas that are negative toward religion or family. While I understand this thought process, I think the book actually accomplishes the opposite.  Huxley shows how a society without these things is more evil than good and how decadence leads to moral degradation.

The presence of religion in the book surprised me. Huxley actually includes a fairly lengthy discussion between John and one of the government officials about the place of God in this new world.  The government official that "'You can only be independent of God while you've got youth and prosperity; independence won't take you safely to the end.'" In his society, everyone has youth and prosperity until the end, so they don't need God.  John argues against this.

My favorite quote from the book actually came from the very first page. Huxley began his work with these words from Russian philosopher, Nikolai Bergyaev:
"Utopias seem to be much more attainable than one would have believed in other times. And we currently find ourselves faced with a different kind of agonizing question: How can one avoid their definitive attainment?...Utopias are attainable. Life leads us toward utopias. Perhaps a new century will begin, a century in which the intellectuals and the cultivated classes will dream again of ways to avoid utopias and to return to a non-utopian society, one less 'perfect' and more free." 
I cannot think of better words to drive home Huxley's point.  "Perfection" does not bring happiness and is, in reality, unattainable.  It certainly does not exist in a world from which God has been evicted.  

Pages: 268
Date Completed: November 16, 2013

Have you read Brave New World? What were your thoughts? Do you think it should be banned from education? Do you think we are closer or farther from "utopia" than when the book was published in 1932?

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