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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Making A Difference

I’m fortunate enough to have been given the opportunities that I have had in my life. Thanks to my father’s employment in a prominent non-governmental organization (NGO) called PLAN International (a child rights organization that works with communities in many countries to alleviate child poverty), I, along with my family, have traveled to several countries around the world. We were modern-day nomads, traveling wherever my father’s work beckoned. Whenever possible, I joined my father on his daily adventures, allowing myself the opportunity to understand and learn the multifaceted nature of humanitarian service and development. It also helped that my father often brought his work home, leading to long-winded conversations on his day-to-day exploits.

Growing up, I tried to emulate my father. But as my future beckoned, I learned to find my own unique path, and destiny in life. Still, to this day, I carry the lessons I have learned in the presence of my father, most notably his compassion to his fellow human beings as well as his perseverance and commitment to his work. My father found great satisfaction in the simple act of helping others, and even more, in the happiness of his family. His efforts were largely directed to these objective. Thus, he made a big difference in my life, and of countless others. So it is not at all surprising that I too feel a strong calling toward contributing to the society and making a difference in the world.

Our world is riddled with doubt and confusion. The toils of war, civil unrest, corruption, racial and ethnic differences, climate change (along with an assortment of environmental issues), to name a few, are the great uncertainties of our time. These issues afflict our daily lives, standing as we are, mute and in the shadow of a persistent struggle to communicate and unite, as a species, toward a better and brighter future. At the crux of it all, we have allowed our fear and anger to dictate our choices and actions, leading the greater part of the world to be divided.

Take racism for instance, it manifests in many aspects of our social lives. It pervades modern-day societies and political systems; the basis of its strength is a volatile expression of pride, prejudice or aversion to others via discriminatory practices. Humanity has a deep history with racism, and its various forms including segregation, supremacism, xenophobia, nativism, hierarchical ranking, and other related social phenomena. Reaching back to the ancient societies of the past: Greeks, Romans, Indians, Arabs, and even further, to their predecessors, I find that racism was a by-product of our own vanity. Natural circumstances subscribed to humanity our beliefs in an expression of individuality, dividing and classifying us, into specific races. Racism is an institution, not an ideology, founded in capitalism and slave trade.

To me, racism is nothing more than a word that describes the highly- convoluted story that is human cooperation and communication. Is there a solution to this? I admit that many of the issues that plague modern society have great histories behind them, making it difficult to distinguish a unique solution in any case. Nevertheless, I believe we owe it to ourselves to iterate the necessity for action, particularly in recognition of alternatives that may provide the foundation for future solutions.

At one point in my life, I told my father that I would love to build a university. Finding inspiration in the Akademia of Plato, I modeled my university to be an institution that pioneered free thought. People could come and go, study what they must, openly discussing their thoughts with their peers, without fear or discrimination; a platform for reason and rational conversation. I still harbor this dream, though it is a work in progress (there remains more room for thought in the realization of such an institution, especially with regards to its structures and inner workings, but what matters to me is the message of such a concept). In knowledge, and in education, I found what I believed to be a solution towards the fractured communication of the human species. By educating ourselves, and our children in proactive and collaborative thinking we may slowly shear away towards a solution. By addressing our differences, openly and without fear, we may find unity. Of course, at this point, it becomes a question of how are we to do that? I find my answer again in what I proposed earlier. All of us are unique in our own ways, but it is in the same pride with which we define our individuality that we can also define our humanity. The hierarchical structures of knowledge and government weren’t constructed as a means to enslave our species, but as a medium to liberate ourselves in collective thought and action.

This will be the challenge of our time. Communication without fear, government without bias, education without limitations…While it may require an acceptance of short-term losses for the sake of long-term benefits, we must learn to recognize the importance of our world. While anger and fear may have allowed us to survive and evolve over the millennia, those very emotions can also fuel our motivation towards building a better world, not just for those who are alive now, but more importantly for those who follow us, our children, our legacy. Therein lies what may be a small part of the bigger picture, to learn to see ourselves as a global family rather than as select individuals.

My father had a bigger picture that motivated his own actions. It was his family. He found his strength in the happiness of his family, an emotion that he channeled into his work and in the lives of others whom he met and helped. Simply put, he made a difference. Just as much as ignorance can be bliss and can forestall change, anger can be proactive and enforce our will to action. I too want to make a difference, and though I have a long way to go, by expressing my anger, not to separate myself from others, but as a tool to define and communicate my knowledge, to help shape the world, I could one day just like everyone else, if they are willing to, be the difference that will become a brighter future.

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.