Brave New World
by Aldous Huxley
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted July 16, 2020
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The blurb for this book at both Amazon and Bookshop is from the Wall Street Journal, although I am not sure when it was written: "Now more than ever: Aldous Huxley's enduring masterwork must be read and understood by anyone concerned with preserving the human spirit. A masterpiece. One of the most prophetic dystopian works." I disagree with that, now at least. If I had written this review when I first read it I might have said the opposite. I'm not going to relate much of the plot, you can find that many other places. I'll just reference some of the core ideas presented.
It's hard to remember when I first read Brave New World, but it was probably late 60s or early 70s, and I think this was just the second time. I got it from the library that first time, and I do remember that day. I was with my best friend, the one who had introduced me to SF, the one to whom this site is dedicated. I pulled the book off the shelf and asked if he had read it. His response: "Wow! You haven't read that yet?" I replied, "I just got introduced to SF, give me time to catch up on everything." I don't recall if that book had the cover shown above, but that is the first edition. I currently have it on Kindle. Also not sure of my initial reaction, but I'm assuming it was fairly positive, since I went on to read other Huxley books; Ape and Essence, After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, Island, The Doors of Perception, all of which I still have on my shelf, thinking I'd want to re-read them eventually. Maybe one of these days (years) I'll get back around to them.
It's likely I was more impressed with it then than on this re-read. It's very dated, and the notion that Henry Ford was the model for that society isn't just jarring, it's worrisome based on his current reputation. Then again, there are several things in the book that point to the racism and classism that Ford represents to us today. Perhaps Huxley was only referencing the mass production system that Ford had implemented, which to him led to consumerism and homogeneity of products. He acknowledged he was influenced to write the book after a visit to the United States, where he saw (or at least he perceived) an over-emphasis on consumerism, and a licentiousness in sexual behavior. That would have been during the "Roaring 20s" or shortly after, so I can see how he might have come to that conclusion. For that to morph into a society in which "Everyone belongs to everyone else," in which sex is merely for recreation, is not that much of a stretch. The majority of people have multiple sexual partners throughout their life, and the majority of marriages end in divorce. If marriage and sex are no longer needed for procreation, why wouldn't promiscuity be the norm, and monogamy the aberration? I'm not advocating for either position, just relating my current reaction to the ideas presented.
I may have thought of it as a utopia at that time, but it is generally regarded as a dystopia now. But which is the more dystopian society, one in which all needs are met (even if those needs are programmed), or one in which science is rejected, leaving the populace "free" to suffer from a short life full of pain and misery? Is religion necessary for man to understand the world, the universe, himself, or does it hinder his well-being? Something I've said several times, that while the various religions of the world have meaning to many people, the initial concept of religion probably came about because of man's fear of death, his uncertainty of the meaning of life. Why not remove that fear, and instead embrace life to the fullest up until the time of death, then welcome it as just one more aspect of life? Again, I'm not advocating for either position, just recounting ideas Huxley included. A true utopia, which by definition is unattainable, would be one in which everyone is free to believe what they want, as long as it doesn't infringe on other people's desires, to be accepting of a multitude of ways to interpret life.
In that context, neither New London or the Savage Reservation could ever hope to be a utopia. Nothing can be, as long as there is such a vast disparity of opinion of right and wrong. One thing Huxley proposed that has come true…in the book's case it is people programmed to be satisfied with little knowledge, and little responsibility, beyond a simple job. The American educational system has been doing that for generations. The majority of people don't know much, don't care about their ignorance, in fact are proud of the fact. Just let me get my paycheck, buy my stuff, watch my sports, and numb myself with alcohol. That's not much different than being in a soma coma. Is ignorance bliss? Most people probably think so, while a few of us are incensed at that notion. The book presents some interesting ideas, but they are hardly original (Huxley was accused of plagiarism by several other writers), and any answers are simplistic. Everyone is free to interpret it any way they like. My take on it now is that it is lacking in depth, and the prose is weak. It has me wondering if my positive memories of those other Huxley books will be shattered if and when I read them again.
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