I just finished the book, Brave New World. All in all, it was a very interesting read. To give a basic summary of all of the relevant details, the story is about a “utopian” future, where community and stability are held at the utmost importance. Natural birth has been abolished. In place of it, humans are now bred out of test tubes, where they are genetically altered to conform to whatever caste the state designates to them. Because it is no longer necessary, the family structure has been abolished, as well. Now, all of these test tube grown children are raised by the state, where they are conditioned through hypnopedic processes and punishment to conform to society and do what the state desires. Hypnopedic processes are where messages or ideas are repeated to people on a loop as they sleep, so it becomes engrained in their thoughts. Punishment is self-explanatory, but to give an example, some babies are taught to hate certain things, by punishing them with loud sounds, whenever they go near them. People are taught to abhor individuality, and to desire community above all else. And to suppress any kind of displeasure with the world around them, the state distributes a drug called soma, which is an escape from all pain and suffering. The people in the world don’t know what actual suffering is, because they simply ignore the concept. Art and science are dead, because they both go against the state. It is established that good art is acquired through pain and suffering, so it is all but non-existent, at this point (people are writing about nothing); science is limited, so that new discoveries are only beneficial to the state.
This book is an excellent example of collectivism taken too far. Collectivism, putting the good of the community above the good of the individual, is something that I am incredibly skeptical about. Especially today, individual rights are curbed for the sake of communal good for a particular community. An excellent example of this would be quotas. Discrimination against individuals (white/male individuals, usually) is justified because various minority groups are not properly represented. Care for representation comes from a collectivist perspective, while care for an individual being discriminated against comes from an individualist perspective. Of course, this book is far more extreme than anything we are dealing with today, but it does an excellent job demonstrating why you cannot have both. You cannot fight for common good without curbing the individual; you cannot fight for the individual without curbing the common good.
I also am interested in the focus on pain as something that is humanizing. This is seen in two ways. First, the relationships between the characters are stronger when they share their problems with one another, while their relationships fall apart instantly in the superficial world they achieve with the drug, soma. Bonds form in the face of adversity. These bonds are virtually nonexistent in Brave New World, with it even going so far as to establish emotional loss after someone’s death as alien to their culture. They don’t understand what it is like to mourn the loss of a loved one. Second, as I briefly touched upon in the beginning, great art is achieved through suffering. Writings, like Shakespeare, are abolished because they are no longer consistent with the new world. The people in the new world are no longer conscious of the concepts of pain and longing for love, so they can never understand plays like Othello and Romeo and Juliet. I completely agree with this stance. As someone who likes to write stories myself, I know that I would have nothing packing my stories if I had no knowledge of pain or displeasure. My stories in particular are steeped in despair and horror, so my work requires this more than the average writer. Brave New World ends with John (the Savage) choosing pain over pleasure because of this fact. I agree (though he does take it a bit far).
There is also the idea of religion and god being discussed. The book has a pro-religious message, tying religion in with art, like Shakespeare. It is established that people turn to religion in times of adversity, and since people in that world do not know of pain, they no longer have need for religion. But it is also true that religion brings people together. So, to exploit this fact, there are meetings where people essentially tap into their spiritual side using drugs, but instead of becoming one with god, they become one with one another. It is almost like what hippies do.
Another interesting thing discussed in the book is the difference of cultures. The culture described above is considered civilized, while others are considered savage. Since families and natural birth have been abolished, the idea that everyone belongs to everyone is pushed around. As a result, sexual promiscuity is not only the norm, but it is encouraged. Attachment to one person or another is bad. So when a woman who grew up conditioned into this culture finds herself in another civilization, one considered savage, she hardly fits in. She sleeps with all sorts of men, and is physically punished for it, because these men belong to other women. She is called a whore, etc. and she is ostracized from their society. This is an interesting turn of perspective. Today, in America, things are changing, so that promiscuity is more accepted, but social conformity for us has always been chastity, not the other way around. It is also interesting that the book hints at the fact that chastity is what humans are inclined to do. The only way the “civilized” culture could hold this norm is by conditioning people into holding it up.
All in all, the book was enjoyable. There was this one part near the beginning, where it deliberately jumped around between perspectives, sometimes sentences at a time, and it was very confusing and poorly communicated. There were also parts where Huxley didn’t bother making new paragraphs, instead, letting them carry on for more than two pages, and that always strains my attention span. But, the rest of the story was very good. I liked the prose and the diction. It was much better than most of the garbage I have to read regularly, so it was rather refreshing.