Shortly before the end of 2014 I finished listening to “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley. This was unabridged version of classic piece of British literature in audio book format narrated by Michael York.
I first discover this book some time ago when listening to recordings of “Science-Fiction and Politics” class by Courtney Brown which he did at Emory University, which is available in iTunes Podcasts if you interested to listen it too. This is amazing class where they took a list of some good science fiction books as a reading assignments for a class and during the classes trying to look at these books from the angle of politics, changes in society and how those may be relevant to real world politics and changes. At the end of the day most of good science-fiction books depict very different societies, where world either changed by technology or globally changed in some other way and this gives a lot of space for questions such as how big changes are brought about and executed, how people react and adapt to them etc. Very interesting approach. Another book from that class which made it to my “To read list” is a 1977 post-apocalyptic science fiction novel by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle “Lucifer’s Hammer”, though it was just briefly mentioned in this course if I’m not mistaken.
Anyway I just wanted to write a few words about Brave New World, not in support of “need to share culture” (one which replaced “need to know culture” these days), but rather in support of habit to reflect on what you consume (read, watch, listened to) 🙂 To my non professional view this book written in 1931 very acutely reflects on fear of two things: consumerism and prosperity brought about by technological revolution plus dictatorship/total control, probably loss of soul and awareness that technology only will never solve humanity problems also. These two things (consumerism plus total control over society) paired together in this book to present us scary picture of society which offers perfect stability at expense of such things as art, freedom and even true science, by conditioning people into perfect crank of consumer society. Non consumption and everything non generating new demand are enemies of the new society. Sex and Soma (drug which keeps people happy) are built in into depicted society as things to be consumed massively and in an unrestrained way and necessary to maintain stability of the system. By the way the drug’s name soma is an allusion to a ritualistic drink of the same name consumed by ancient Indo-Aryans which is described as being prepared by extracting juice from the stalks of a certain plant. In both Hindu and Zoroastrian tradition, the name of the drink and the plant are the same, and also personified as a divinity, the three forming a religious or mythological unity.
This is a strong book about somewhat scary things, but as it presents us with very big picture (edifice of new system/society), this somewhat offset scariness of the picture. In a way books about real, commonplace bad things of everyday life produce stronger feeling of fear/gloom as they don’t hide this “everyday/commonplace dark side of our lives” behind any grand things or ideas showing that bad things just there without any particular reason and justification. It seems that we live in a world much closer to one depicted by this book, but do not think that it is scary. Author who lived in a moment of transition and early days of consumerism culture, in the presence of some totalitarian regimes was capable to draw a more vivid picture of these two things paired together and went wrong. As we somewhat moving in the similar direction embracing consumerism and giving up on religion, search of meaning and some other things as a society, we, at the same time, became less aware about dangers of this direction. The questions such as: “How bad the deceiving shine and prosperity may be upon a closer look? Do we really need just stability and prosperity no matter the price? How much of personal freedom could be sacrificed for prosperity and stability?” are still relevant anyway, since the time of Hobbes “Leviathan” we still trying to figure out how the state and society should be arranged and how the way we organize things on a large scale may be reconciled with the way individual man wants or tries to organize his life.
Anyway “Brave New World” is a book which most likely make you think about interesting questions which written masterfully, and it means that it meet main criteria of a good book.