A Book Speaking to Today

Brave New World (1931)

By Aldous Huxley

If ever there was a timeless bit of speculative fiction, or science fiction, or prescient fiction, call it what you will, Brave New World fills the bill. Set aside all the whiz-bang, of which there is considerable amounts, the genetics, which will horrify most, the caste system, yet more to abhor, and you’ll see that Huxley goes to the core issue bedeviling humankind for ages, and certainly front and center this minute in this time; that is, our collective desire for unity, happiness, and, perhaps above all because it makes the first two possible, stability. Many would be willing to forfeit anything for stability to reap the rewards it seems to offer. But, friends, beware; you may find the price dearer than you ever imagined, and almost impossible to reverse or extricate yourself from. Offered as an example, Huxley’s Brave New World, where the synthetic reigns supreme.

Huxley’s Foreword written for the 1946 reissue and appearing in this, and probably other successive editions, deserves your attention. For here, the author acknowledges the single thing he might change, if he were to rewrite the book. Readers will see that he provides the Savage with only two choices, both extreme, and both bad. Either live in the insane and artificial world of lifetime happiness, stability, and voluntary submissiveness; or chose the equally insane, though for different reasons, primitive world. A rewrite might give the Savage a more moderate choice, perhaps like that given to Helmholtz Watson (gladly accepted) and Bernard Marx (greatly feared). However, you might argue and find ready agreement, drawing the starkest contrast illuminates the point more clearly and vividly. Therein lies the beauty of dystopian literature like this. Reasonable alternatives just muddy things, a point World Controller Mustapha Mond certainly would endorse.

It’s interesting to think that Huxley lived nearly half his life, including his last years (he died on November 22, 1963, a most unpropitious date, for certain) in the United States. In other words, he lived during an American period that aspired to and in some ways achieved some of the things he foresaw in Brave New World, in particular the stifling demand for conformity and something of an enforced (by manufacturing and marketing) brand of imposed happiness. You can bet many of those Fifties souls (particularly women and minorities) would have loved a daily ration of soma, which the CIA might have gladly provided in the form of LSD. But, of course, the stuff leaked into society, with folks like Huxley advocating it, not for escapism, a decidedly brave new world pursuit, but for consciousness raising. However, we digress.

Not too far afield, however, as Watson and Marx shared a problem that made it uncomfortable in what the majority felt the perfect world. They, Alpha-Pluses, discovered they were individuals. And therein you have the scariest part of Brave New World: utter conformity, crushing blandness, and a total disconnection from anything resembling real life. So, even today, more than eighty-five years after its first printing, the novel serves as a potent cautionary. w/c


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