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July 2, 2008

Brave New World

Filed under: Book Reviews — Robert John Ed @ 5:22 pm

Last night in an attempt to complete the book prior to my Alexandria excursion, I spent a few hours finishing up Aldous Huxley‘s Brave New World. It was a book that opened up a can of worms on many levels for me.

The story is a dystopian novel. It runs many parallels to Orwell’s 1984, and I’m unsure which work I actually enjoyed more. They are quite distinct, but both very good.

Taking place 632 AF (which stands for after-Ford) years in the future, evidently the industrial revolution was the catalyst in altering the landscape. Henry Ford is revered as a god. People say “Ford help us!” and “Oh Ford!” It works because of the similar sound structure as “Lord.” This future is in England, a society that is built completely around industrialization and repetition. Human cloning is process by which everyone is produced. The terms mother and father are disdained and deemed laughable. Everyone is a test tube baby. And the evolution of their production is so advanced that the classes are produced specifically with tasks in mind. Alpha members of society are the most gifted; physically and mentally. The class structure declines all the way down to Epsilons, the lowest rung of the genomic ladder. This group is borderline moronic, and meant to do their expected tasks.

In order to maintain a society as such, conditioning treatments are conducted after the fetuses are fully developed. The young (and old) are given hypnomaedic repetitions during their sleep that reinforce the status quo such as “One is nothing without everyone.” They are given a drug that induces temporary euphoria called soma which escapes from all reality, and is a safety net to any of life’s problems. Everyone uses all these things their entire lives.

And the really odd part: everyone is completely happy. No one, or almost no one, complains about their status, respective duties or has any real problems. They are specifically conditioned to want only what they may attain and live within the conditional situations they are given. The people have no curiosity or eagerness to learn, to experience new things or develop intellect. Books aren’t necessarily outlawed, there are simply no people who would ever want to read them. This is very different from 1984 where people were ruled with an iron fist and monitored consistently. Deviation from standard protocol meant a trip to Room 101 where your love for Big Brother was sure to be confirmed.

So this book raises some questions about the way we are moving. Written in the 1930’s it was highly speculative fiction; today it’s something more altogether. Cloning is on the horizon. Mapping out the human genome is happening as we speak. Is it possible that these things could happen? Well, anything is possible.

One extremely interesting point that came across in the last few chapters is that people expect that nothing can or will stop science, and that was a naive outlook. What is society thinking in terms of science? Should we learn how to manipulate life? Is it moral? Is it justified in the face of tragedies such as plague or currently incurable disease? Will we decide when to curb our enthusiastic search for the operations of nature or could we let it spiral out of control? Are we preconditioned even today? I think it’s pretty certain that our ways of thinking and philosophical outlook are altered greatly due to our upbringing.

Dystopian novels are intriguing to me; incredibly relevant to potential missteps as well as new perspectives on today. Huxley’s prose is engrossing and dense. The character development and understanding is a subtle and slow moving train, but breeds great momentum and eventually understanding, even of oneself. Huxley himself deserves more acknowledgment and description, but this is already too long.

Good read. Deep Thoughts, with Jack Handy.

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