It is nearly 100 years since Aldous Huxley envisaged a dystopian world of promiscuity, consumerism and genetic engineering. How much like today is the world he built?
Fun fact: Huxley was into psychedelic drugs and Hindu philosophy.
Less fun fact: Huxley died on the same day as CS Lewis, the same day John F Kennedy was assassinated. I know right! Someone has already written a book about the three men meeting in purgatory.
The Pocket Bookclub discussed this book on a night when the rain verged on apocalyptic. The Rain Bomb caused significant flooding and kept us locked on our ring road island for over a week.
Huxley did not imagine climate change and environmental disasters in his bleak future.
But, what did envisage?
Huxley did some complex world-building. In fact, the first two chapters (45 minutes of listening) are world-building. You need to get past all that before you find the main characters interacting. It is somewhat laborious. He begins in the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre, a factory where humans are grown and conditioned. There is a human for every occupation and their intelligence and physical attributes are carefully manipulated to create distinct classes: Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons.
Solved by standard Gammas, unvarying Deltas, uniform Epsilons. Millions of identical twins. The principle of mass production at last applied to biology.Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
Enter Bernard, an Alpha whose smaller-than-average stature contributes to his inferiority complex (people gossip that when he was still bottled, someone accidentally poured alcohol in his blood surrogate). He is a sleep-learning specialist and sees through hypnopaedic phrases such as; “Never put off till tomorrow the fun you can have today.” (Sounds familiar. FOMO). He is infatuated with Lenina, a Beta who is suitably consumeristic. However, her one fault is she is getting bored with relentless promiscuity. “Everyone belongs to everyone else.” Being infatuated with anyone is frowned upon and perhaps these two will hit it off, but no, Lenina can’t understand why Bernard does not want to participate in endless distractions, such as Obstacle Golf, centrifugal bumble-puppy, escalator squash and Riemann-surface tennis.
Nevertheless, the two set off on holiday to the Savage Reservation where primitives still have actual mothers and fathers (disgusting!) and there they find Linda, a Beta who got separated from her holiday group and has been living on the Reservation with her son John.
The introduction of Linda and John serves to provide a contrast between the ‘primitive’ and ‘brave new world’ and what the populace has given up to be a stable society. John has grown up without the propaganda or conditioning of the World State and he is more interested in truth than happiness. The World State considers truth a great destabiliser.
“You can’t make tragedies without social instability. The world’s stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can’t get. They’re well off; they’re safe; they’re never ill; they’re not afraid of death; they’re blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; they’re plagued with no mothers or fathers; they’ve got no wives, or children, or lovers to feel strongly about; they’re so conditioned that they practically can’t help behaving as they ought to behave.”Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
The society engineered as the brave new world is intent on creating happy people and stability, but it is meaningless. As humans, we don’t understand the light without its companion the dark.
“Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn’t nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand.”Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
Soma, a drug eaten like lollies is one of the ways the World State controls its people. Socialist revolutionary, Karl Marx said “Religion is the opium of the people” and soma, is
Christianity without tears—that’s what soma is.Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
When I consider society today, some things in Huxley’s dystopia are familiar. The endless distractions we are drawn toward, especially social media and binge-watching, the endless endless consumerism, the attempted numbing of thought and feeling with drugs and distractions and purchases. But we are human after all, and we have not changed since Huxley wrote, or since Shakespeare wrote the plays that shaped John’s thinking. We still search for meaning in our lives, some of us harder than others.
Of course, our cunttail for this night was blue Soma. What is wrong with the word cunt? Nothing. See here why.
Overall, once we got past the laborious world-building, we liked this book and like to think we are Alpha but perhaps we are just Beta or mindless Epsilons.
The Pocket Bookclub raged against a book of literary cocktails that only included quotes from men. We embarked on a cunttail project, inventing a cunttail for every book we read in 2022. We made a literary cunttail book! What’s wrong with the word cunt? Nothing
Literary Cunttails 2022 is hand-drawn by Miriama and includes every recipe. Get a free copy.