Brave New World – Book Review

It took me about a month, but I finally finished reading Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, completing my journey through a dystopian future set in London in the year 2540 A.D. BraveNewWorld_FirstEdition

‘The greater a man’s talents, the greater his power to lead astray’

This quote sets the tone for Huxley’s novel, written in 1931, and published a year later in 1932. In the context of the history of the 20th century, the novel served as a unique, and menacing vision of the future during the interwar period between the end of the First World War (1914-1918), and the beginning of the Second World War (1939-1945).

Through his skillful prose, Huxley provides a prescient view of a future where he anticipates the development of various scientific ideas such as reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation, and classical conditioning. Human lives are controlled by a variety of forces including genetic engineering, indoctrination, and drugs. In fact, the concept of the individual is mired, and ultimately lost in the foundation of an “ideal” society where “everyone belongs to everyone else.”

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“…a bokanovskified egg will bud, will proliferate, will divide…making ninety-six human beings grow where only one grew before. Progress.”

Spontaneous human desires, and emotions are nullified by the anesthetizing public mantras, the messengers of the societal indoctrination that pervades Huxley’s world, but it doesn’t matter as “everybody’s happy nowadays.” The reader is provided entry into this bleak, but brave new world, through the daily lives, and attitudes of the major characters in the novel. Through their eyes, the reader is able to identify his/her critical opinions of a biased world where skepticism is in itself a crime, feared as an unnatural, and tainting element of the supposed balance expressed in the societal hierarchy.

Throughout the novel, Huxley borrows heavily from the works of his predecessors. In particular, he draws inspiration from much of Shakespeare’s works, providing several quotations from The Tempest, Troilus and Cressida, Romeo and Juliet, and Macbeth to name a few. The title of the novel is in fact from Miranda’s speech in The Tempest,

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“O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t.”

– William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act V, Scene I, ll.

While Huxley himself speaks of his work’s inspiration from the utopian novels of H.G. Wells, including A Modern Utopia (1905) and Men Like Gods (1923), he disavows Wells’ hopeful vision of the future in place of the darker presentation he provides in his novel. Huxley’s novel also serves as a counterpart to the George Orwell’s 1984. The two novels differentiate themselves in the prescient views they prescribe to the future. While Orwell’s fears are borne of a world that rejects knowledge, Huxley’s fears are beset upon a world that finds knowledge redundant, or rather irrelevant.

drawing on paper by Laurie Lipton
“…most men and women will grow up to love their servitude and will never dream of revolution.”

In conclusion, I believe Huxley feared the loss of the complexities that make human culture unique in exchange for triviality. He expresses this fears through the cyclical, and largely indifferent activities that his characters engage in their daily lives. By reading the book, and finding the various allusions it provides to modern-day society, I was left exhilarated at the daunting responsibility for the future that the current generation faces amidst a rapidly changing world. The triviality that Huxley frequently alludes to in his work is evident in today’s society, dominated by social media, leaving us blind to an extent, and in much need of a reassessment of what may constitute the necessary discussions, decisions, and actions we must partake in, for the greater security of our world, and the human species as a whole.

Multiracial Hands Around the Earth Globe
“Again the greatest use of a human was to be useful. Not to consume, not to watch, but to do something for someone else that improved their life, even for a few minutes.”
― Dave Eggers, A Hologram for the King 

While Huxley may have realized his vision of such a brave new world several years ago, his work remains today as a warning, and as a reminder of the social responsibility every individual shares in the maintenance, and regulation of the world we live in.

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Seeking Perspective…

Curiosity is a defining characteristic of human nature. More often than not, our curiosity leads us to be engrossed in the minor details of our daily lives. This is particularly evident in this modern day and age where social media has become a prevalent source of knowledge, and entertainment. It is in our nature to ask questions, and seek answers. From an evolutionary perspective, we associate such traits as attributive of the “survival-of-the-fittest,” helping our species to provide and support for its survival, and reproduction.

The more we learn about our world, the greater do we struggle to define our existence.  Who am I? What is my purpose? These are questions we all ask at some point in our lives. We strive to find answers to said questions through the scope of our experiences. This allows us to examine and interpret our lives relative to those of others, such as our friends and family. By doing so, we gain perspective. Life is filled with dichotomies but it is within the structure of these relative measures of “compare-and-contrast” that we enrich our thoughts, and find a means to define our identities as unique individuals.

Returning to India, my homeland, was an experience that provided much needed perspective. It was a journey that had long been overdue since my arrival in Canada, eight years earlier (2009), for post-secondary studies. Up to that point, my life was a collage of the experiences I had at Egypt (where I completed my elementary education), and Sudan (where I completed my secondary education); experiences that now serve as the foundation of my identity. My life in Canada supplemented this foundation, further motivating my future dreams and aspirations.

While in India, I was frequently asked to express my opinions and observations on the state of things, under political and social contexts, in the country. Initially, I was inclined to believe that such inquiries were an inevitable motion of my status as an “outsider”, but this was a naive conclusion. In retrospect, I identified that such queries were simply another means to an end, in this case, an aggregation of knowledge via perspective. It is a facet of the curious case of cultural diffusion in India, a concept I am largely familiar with, in an identity crisis amid the divisive cultural and social experiences of my past and imminent future. Apart from enjoying my time with friends and family, my journey home allowed me to put this problem to rest.

Differences shouldn’t be a cause for silence or division but an incentive for discussion. Such an idea is applicable to the personal dynamics of a family, and other hierarchical structures as that of a government or a society. In observing my country and its culture, I had openly stated my surprise for the lack of active change and progress within the society.  I was motivated to blame the established bureaucracy which I felt had embezzled the citizens from what they deserved. Though civil services and liberties provided for the general run-of-the-mill needs and requirements of the common man and woman, the citizen’s willingness to call for active progress and change had been woefully bargained away by the existing political atmosphere, and the natural course of life. At the same time, in light of my statements, I felt a hypocrite. Though I was voicing my opinions, I hadn’t necessarily acted upon them. Vainly, I had reaped judgment, and deferred the call for action.

This prompted an awakening. The keyword was change, and thankfully enough, I built the courage to enact upon the differences that had once set me apart from my family. By openly communicating my thoughts, and feelings I paved the way for understanding and reconciliation. In this manner, I could voice my opinions, and prove them in action.  Now, back in my fortress of solitude in Edmonton, I can’t help but look forward to a brighter future where I intend to act upon the answers I’ve gained in my personal journey.  Having struggled to balance my past, and my future, I have come to realize that both these states of time are largely a measure of the present that I interpret. My trip to India offered a unique, and worldly view into these very dichotomies that now define the person I am. I hope to take this lesson, and apply it fruitfully in my aspirations to change the world for the better.

While the actions of our past may have implications for the future, we may find balance by being attentive to the present. This is a notion that is applicable to the individual as well as to the collective society, for rather than defer to alternatives in response to a problem it is imperative that we seek solutions through open communication, in the spirit of the inherent curiosity that makes all us different individuals, and yet one human species.