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Review: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Brave New WorldBrave New World by Aldous Huxley
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This dystopian novel shows the value of freedom, art, science, and religion to society. I had high hopes for this book because of its reputation and listing as #9 out of 100 on NPR’s Top 100 Science-Fiction, Fantasy Books, but it let me down. I simply didn’t care about any of the characters, and found it boring until chapter 16, which records an extensive philosophical debate.

It’s set in a future where the world government engineers and clones humans, organizes them into castes from birth, provides perpetual youth, and gives rations of soma, a hallucinogen that removes stress and discomfort. The government promotes “self-indulgence up to the very limits imposed by hygiene and economics.” The civilization has given up art, science, and religion in exchange for happiness.

The mindless entertainment of the populace reminded me of Fahrenheit 451 (my review). The totalitarian government and ignorant sheeple reminded me of 1984 (my review). I liked both those books significantly more than this one.

My favorite part was the conversation between John the Savage and Mustapha Mond, Resident World Controller for Western Europe, in chapters 16 and 17. Their conversation gets to the heart of what this book is about. Mond tells how the civilization has done away with art, science, and religion. I’ll start excerpting where Mond is explaining why Shakespeare is prohibited.
"Because it's old; that's the chief reason. We haven't any use for old things here."
"Even when they're beautiful?"
"Particularly when they're beautiful. Beauty's attractive, and we don't want people to be attracted by old things. We want them to like the new ones."

"Because our world is not the same as Othello's world. You can't make flivvers without steel–and 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. And if anything should go wrong, there's soma. Which you go and chuck out of the window in the name of liberty, Mr. Savage. Liberty!" He laughed. "Expecting Deltas to know what liberty is! And now expecting them to understand Othello! My good boy!"

"But that's the price we have to pay for stability. You've got to choose between happiness and what people used to call high art. We've sacrificed the high art. We have the feelies and the scent organ instead."

"We don't want to change. Every change is a menace to stability. That's another reason why we're so chary of applying new inventions. Every discovery in pure science is potentially subversive."

"What's the point of truth or beauty or knowledge when the anthrax bombs are popping all around you? That was when science first began to be controlled–after the Nine Years' War. People were ready to have even their appetites controlled then. Anything for a quiet life. We've gone on controlling ever since. It hasn't been very good for truth, of course. But it's been very good for happiness."

"You can only be independent of God while you've got youth and prosperity; independence won't take you safely to the end.' Well, we've now got youth and prosperity right up to the end. What follows? Evidently, that we can be independent of God. 'The religious sentiment will compensate us for all our losses.' But there aren't any losses for us to compensate; religious sentiment is superfluous. And why should we go hunting for a substitute for youthful desires, when youthful desires never fail? A substitute for distractions, when we go on enjoying all the old fooleries to the very last? What need have we of repose when our minds and bodies continue to delight in activity? of consolation, when we have soma? of something immovable, when there is the social order?"




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