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Brave New World--Aldous Huxley

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Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this book is how very bad it is as a novel and how very good it is as cautionary tale.

As a novel it starts with a long lecture about the production of embryos in bottles and the process of Bokanovskificaiton (a kind of cloning) and hypnopaedic education. This occupies a large portion of the first part of the book. Toward the end of the novel is a long disquisition by the current controller of the region in which all of the main characters live about why he chose to abandon pursuit of pure science to become controller. Not promising material for the apprentice novelist.

And yet, Huxley manages to take these two lectures, sandwich in some unlikely incidents related to a vacation in New Mexico and create a future dystopia that we seem to approach asymptotically and unconsciously.

A couple of year back Peter Kreeft argued that Huxley's future was far more probable than Orwell's (not in every particularly, nor should I impute to him the idea that we proceeding directly along the lines of Huxley--he never implies that). I would say that neither is more probable than the other but that both Huxley and Orwell observed trends of dehumanizing that some parts of society are doing their very best to effect. For example, all of the talk about strengthening "hate crime" legislation is a parallel of Orwell's "thought police." How is a crime any worse as a result of the thought behind it? Is it more terrible to beat up a person because you don't like the way he walks than it is because you don't like his skin color? Neither is rational, nor is either in any way permissible. But we will censor thought. And let's not even go into the concept of the memory hole, given that the entire polity seems to have convenient and large gaps in its collective memory that permit some people to do exactly the same things they condemned in others and yet be praised.

On the Huxley front, we have convenient abortuaries to stop unauthorized gestation. We have the progressive desensitization of the population on matters sexual so that the whole society becomes hypersexual to the point where group sex is a religious ritual. We have the deliberate manipulation of genetic material to produce the kind of people we want (we're not far off). And we have of course the "malthusian belt" and the protocols associated with divorcing sexual activity and procreation. There are probably countless other examples of the dystopian vision being realized, but these suffice to make the point.

Huxley's novel is not particularly good by the standards of a novel. The characters aren't particularly compelling, the narrative isn't particularly well thought-out, the intruding even if momentary lectures, while fascinating, don't really progress the story along. Despite its flaws, the novel remains a compelling read and a compelling cautionary tale of what happens when we seek temporal happiness first and foremost and arrange society to arrive at that end. We wind up with a society in which old is necessarily bad--from Shakespeare to Bach, and one in which when you lose your looks you may as well welcome death as you have been trained to all your life.

Fascinating and still powerful reading for anyone who is paying attention to what goes on in the world today.

(I should also note that this was a Kindle read.)

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