Continuing a theme of reading dystopian future novels, I finally got around to reading this classic of the genre. Once again I realized that many of the books I should have read in high school, but didn’t, are actually quite good books (of course there are glaring and violent exceptions to this, such as The Scarlet Letter). In reading Brave New World, once again I was floored by the prophetic vision of the future, much of which we live out today. Like Farenheit 451 and 1984, the consequences of the current political, cultural, and technological paths we are on seem to be leading us to some chillingly scary times.
In Huxley’s portrait of the future, there is a world where people are genetically selected, cultivated, multiplied, nurtured, and manufactured along class lines and predestined futures, abilities, jobs, hopes, and dreams. Children do not have parents, but are developed by the State and hypnopaedically conditioned to fit the mold of their class structure – Alphas through Deltas. In the name of stability, the government conditions the people to have no unfulfilled desires. Rampant promiscuity, government mandated birth-control (sound familiar?), and constant illicit sexual encounters with a multitude of people is the standard way of living.
Though technology has progressed past books and movies, to the ‘feelies’ (like movies but you also experience all the physical ‘feelies’ of the action on the screen), cultural depth and any kind of ‘free thinking’ have been eliminated. Everything ‘old’ is done away with, both for the sake of consumerism and fear that the old arts would stir unwanted thinking and emotions which would lead to instability. “Fordism” (as in Ford, the maker of the Model T) has replaced all other ideologies and religious systems, as sort of a religion of consumerism and assimilation into the whole of civilization.
The great irony in the book occurs through a person known as ‘The Savage’. In the future, there are ‘reservations’ of people who have not been manufactured by the State, who have not been conditioned for ‘civilized’ living, and who are born through a mother (disgusting!). Through the events of the book, one savage is brought from a reservation to interact with the civilized people. However, while on the reservation, the savage was given an old dusty book by which he learned to read and think – The Collected Works of Shakespeare. When the savage encounters the base and immoral civilized society, he pleads for the people to ‘repent’ and think and feel deeply. But alas, the forces of their conditioning are too strong, the savage is mocked, and consumed as yet another form of entertainment for the masses.
Here’s a couple quotes from the savage as he tries to appeal to one of the world leaders to think about God, and pain, and depth of the human experience:
“If you allowed yourselves to think of God, you wouldn’t allow yourselves to be degraded by pleasant vices. You’d have a reason for bearing things patiently, for doing things with courage (242).”
“What you need… is something with tears for a change. Nothing costs enough here (245).”