Aldous Huxley‘s Brave New World is a captivating read that has new relevance in our ever-changing world.
A 1930s dystopia written in the midst of a far different time of crisis, the story follows a futuristic London in which industrialization has optimized everything and the happiness of society takes precedence over scientific progress and thought.
In what seems to some like a utopia, and to others a well-oiled machine, select people find themselves deviating from the principles programmed into the minds of citizens from birth.
Bernard Marx is one of these people, who unlike his peers, sees the droning and repetitive nature of these societal norms as unfulfilling. While everyone else attends social gatherings and consumes the drug Soma, Bernard seeks value and isolation in his activities.
This culminates in him visiting an isolated community following norms more like ours, where the principles of science and societal control collide as a native boy of the community leaves with him to tour the hyper-industrialized London.
Society in this futuristic London is built on a five-tier system, with the upper class on one end and the lower class on the other. People are classified through chemical treatment, followed by having to listen to the same propaganda-esque phrases over and over again, ensuring that everyone is happy just the way they are.
Those in the Alpha tier go on to become leaders and World Controllers, one of which shares the same understanding of this society’s flaws as Bernard. However, they offer reasoning to go with their motives:
Science and the arts, which stir change and controversy, have an impact on the stability of a society primed for organized, end-to-end happiness. Were any of these introduced, the result would be more opinions, which run contrary to the principles this modern government enforces.
Instead, science is relegated to the most remote of islands, where those interested can do so in peace without disrupting the collective peace of everyone else.
In the 1930s, when this was written, this story was upfront relevant. In a world facing the aftermath of the Great War and the prelude of WWII, the effects of these destructive wars would have been of great concern. This book touches on that, the futuristic 26th century London being a result of a societal reform following a fictional near-decade-long war.
Together with the rise of industry, echoed in this story through the fact that Henry Ford and his Model T car are worshiped as deities, they represented one potential outcome of the state of the 1930s continuing the way it did.
Rather than move toward this dystopian future, the world has remained oriented to science and arts, valuing progress and discovery (though world peace is a ways away).
In recent years, however, parts of the themes of this story seem to have resurfaced. Notably, the concept of alternative facts, where some science is dismissed and incorrect assumptions are pushed for the sake of appealing to the public and always appearing correct. In addition to sounding quite Orwellian, the waves of applause from people reacting to those making the statements echo the concept of happiness over progress.
Those who continue to promote science are often met with dismissal by those higher-up, just like the World Controllers in the story, leaving the public uninformed and assuming that things are okay when they might not actually be.
Whether or not we continue to promote science, arts, reading and knowledge is up to those inheriting the world, and hopefully we’ll be able to avert the brave new world Huxley explored.
Personally, I really enjoyed the read. It was a welcome change from the academic textbooks I had been using for the past year, and seeing the contrast between this 26th century lifestyle and ours unfold in a dramatic progression of events was quite enjoyable. If anyone is a fan of the dystopian genre and searching for more, give this a read. Its quite similar to George Orwell’s 1984, though provides an eerily more positive atmosphere.