Monday, August 19, 2013

"Oh, Brave New World!" -- Revisited

"In 1931, when Brave New World was being written, I was convinced that there was still plenty of time. The completely organized society, the scientific caste system, the abolition of free will by methodical conditioning, the servitude made acceptable by regular doses of chemically induced happiness, the orthodoxies drummed in by nightly courses of sleep-teaching -- these things were coming all right, but not in my time, not even in the time of my grandchildren." ~ Aldous Huxley

So begins Huxley's 1958 collection of essays titled Brave New World Revisited. The original story raised red flags about an engineered paradise six centuries off in the future. But less than three decades later Huxley published a book of disturbing observations, post-Hitler and Stalin, that much of what he outlined was happening more quickly than he imagined.

One of the themes in this world of tomorrow is consumerism. It is bad to mend clothes, fix broken things, or play sports that don't involve some kind of consumption of goods. Consumerism helps keep the wheels of progress turning. What an irony to hear the media drums beating this very same message during our 2008 recession economy. "Good heavens, people are not spending enough for Christmas this year!!!!" Oh, brave new world!

In Huxley's original vision of tomorrow, science had answers for all of life's unpleasantries. We wouldn't age, or ever have to be depressed, or ever have to deal with pain, physical or emotional. We are conditioned from conception to enjoy our station in life's socially engineered caste system.

Now that I just finished reading the original Brave New World this past week, I can't help but think today's genetic engineering projects, massive pharmaceutical industry and social manipulations would shock Huxley's shoelaces off and curl his toes.

What's surprising, there are many who would now propose that Huxley is a villain for scaring people away from the brave new world that awaits us as David Pearce argues here.

As we face tomorrow's tomorrows, there are real issues at stake. Central among them, what does it mean to be human? A soul, a person, a personality with mind, will, emotions... a creative force housed in a bio-system energized by a divine spark.

Another theme throughout the original novel was the end of family. No mothers and fathers. We were all twins by the score. Everyone belonged to everyone, and sexual pleasure was with all, indiscriminate. Every man and woman perfect. "Oh brave new world!"

Huxley's character John Savage came from a Southwest reservation where the old ways were still practiced. There were gods, and mothers, and yes, even pain. But this was life. Late in the book he meets and debates one of the ten world controllers, Mustapha Mond. It is a highly illuminating section of the book, as the two world views crash into one another.

Chapter SeventeenART, SCIENCE–you seem to have paid a fairly high price for your happiness," said the Savage, when they were alone. "Anything else?"

"Well, religion, of course," replied the Controller. "There used to be something called God–before the Nine Years' War. But I was forgetting; you know all about God, I suppose."

"Well …" The Savage hesitated. He would have liked to say something about solitude, about night, about the mesa lying pale under the moon, about the precipice, the plunge into shadowy darkness, about death. He would have liked to speak; but there were no words. Not even in Shakespeare.

The Controller then shared with the Savage a number of books which he kept locked up because they were dangerous. This discussion ensued.

"Call it the fault of civilization. God isn't compatible with machinery and scientific medicine and universal happiness. You must make your choice. Our civilization has chosen machinery and medicine and happiness. That's why I have to keep these books locked up in the safe. They're smut. People would be shocked it …"

The Savage interrupted him. "But isn't it natural to feel there's a God?"

"You might as well ask if it's natural to do up one's trousers with zippers," said the Controller sarcastically. "You remind me of another of those old fellows called Bradley. He defined philosophy as the finding of bad reason for what one believes by instinct. As if one believed anything by instinct! One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them. Finding bad reasons for what one believes for other bad reasons–that's philosophy. People believe in God because they've been conditioned to.

"But all the same," insisted the Savage, "it is natural to believe in God when you're alone–quite alone, in the night, thinking about death …"

"But people never are alone now," said Mustapha Mond. "We make them hate solitude; and we arrange their lives so that it's almost impossible for them ever to have it."

The Savage nodded gloomily. At Malpais he had suffered because they had shut him out from the communal activities of the pueblo, in civilized London he was suffering because he could never escape from those communal activities, never be quietly alone.

At the heart of all is a question which echoes throughout the history of philosophy, articulated by Socrates and re-evaluated with every new generation: What is a good life? Or the modern corollary thought: how can a socially engineered existence reveal virtue when making a free will choice is an abnormality?

That discussion has been going on for twenty-five centuries... so I think I will just leave off here.

1) Today's post is a re-post of my Dec 14, 2008 blog entry. 
2) If you like futuristic stories with a sci-fi theme, N&L Publishing just launched the eBook Intergalactica (which I co-produced with Kate Dupre and Patty Mahnke) last week at the Apple Store.
Don't have an iPad? Download our PDF version. BOTH VERSIONS ARE FREE.

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