Why am I doing this project again? Oh, because I want to say that I’ve read everything in my home library and therefore feel less bad about buying more books. Right right right.
So I read Brave New World for this installment of Lessons From My Bookshelf, and the best way I could think of to summarize my review was: thanks, I hate it.
But I’m being just a little bit of a drama queen. Brave New World wasn’t that bad. It’s actually really good, but it’s the kind of book you revere more than love, because you understand that what it’s supposed to be doing even if you don’t particularly enjoy it. Basically, it’s very literary, and as I said in the video, it’s a book designed for English classes.
But does this mean you can’t read it and enjoy it on your own time? Of course not!
Brave New World is a book about our world, kind of
Once upon a time, dystopian novels were supposed to make you think about the future. They were a social commentary on the current age and a prediction as to what the future might look like, often with a grim or disturbing twist. As fun as it is to speculate about factions and dictatorships and good old fashioned lack of agency, a dystopian’s real value (one may argue) is what they say about the present.
Whereas in the video, I mostly just summarize and talk about what I liked and disliked (as per the concept of the series, I suppose), I feel like I’ve put enough distance between myself and the book to actually have something to say about this. Maybe.
Because inevitably when you’re reading a novel like this, you start to compare its future world to your own world and try to think, “What is this saying about society?”
Lots of things, obviously, but three in particular stand out to me.
1. Technology has as much potential to do harm as good
You know, the whole “mass-production of humans” thing that the society in Brave New World relies on reminds me quite a bit of Frankenstein, oddly enough. Maybe not oddly enough. This is a world that where science and technology has advanced so drastically that they’ve upset the natural order: humans are no longer born, they’re made.
It’s basically playing God with making humans in a very similar way that Dr. Frankenstein plays God with making life. But whereas it ended pretty badly for old Victor, it doesn’t end so badly for the society of Brave New World… because, as the World Controller tells John Savage towards the end of the book, they’ve basically gotten rid of God.
Pretty grim, eh? And perhaps the only thing scarier than playing God and losing is playing God and winning, as Brave New World does. Because it means that technology has the ability to control human beings to the point of rewriting their very nature.
And does that not, on a smaller, less menacing scale, make you think of all the ways that technology has altered our daily lives, the way people relate to each other, and society as a whole? At what point does it stop being beneficial and starts being harmful?
Food for thought.
2. Freedom vs. order
Ah yes, the age-old battle between freedom vs. order. It’s dealt with a lot in Brave New World for obvious reasons. Freedom means agency with suffering. Order means control with happiness. It’s presented as a “lesser of two evils” thing in the book, and that definitely tracks with a lot of the philosophical and sociological-type jibber-jabber that you deal with in college and beyond.
You see it in books from this era a lot, probably because communism was such a hot topic then, or about to be. Well, here in ‘Murica, I would say most of us feel a certain way about communism. And I’m not here to get political, but I will say this: Mr. Huxley definitely has something to say about it. The sacrifices necessary to achieve the kind of societal order that defines Brave New World are nothing short of unthinkable for someone who values freedom, a.k.a., someone like John Savage, who is of course the stand-in for the reader.
Well, I’ll just leave this Ben Franklin quote here, because it just about sums it up:
3. Instant gratification is the bane of society
Another them that pervades the whole of the book is the pros and cons (mostly cons) of living for your pleasures. Of course, in the book it’s all superficial because it’s designed to keep people under control and prevent them from thinking for themselves, and it’s all designed around constant stimuli and lots of drugs. But still, everything they do is pretty fun for them, or at least they’ve been conditioned to think so.
However, the one thing that stood out the most was the fact that it was all about instant gratification: because if people can fulfill their desires quickly, then they have no time to feel dissatisfied, and if they can’t feel dissatisfied, they won’t question their society.
This was probably the scariest thing to read about because we’re living in it: ours is a society of instant gratification. You want food? It’s right there. Sex? Pretty much anytime. Entertainment? Information? Clothes? Gadgets? At the touch of your fingertips. We barely have to wait for anything anymore.
One of the most satisfying (though deviously brilliant) things I’ve experienced lately is when Disney+ only released one episode of The Mandalorian at a time. It was like the good old days before streaming services: after months/years of binge-consuming shows from Netflix and Hulu (usually), having to wait a whole week before you could watch the next episode made you feel like you earned it. And feeling like you’ve earned something… that’s humbling.
The difference, of course, is that we’re not as heavily regulated as Brave New World, at least not in the sense that everyone is doing the same thing, pretty much the same way. We still have the freedom to decide to be instantly gratified, so that’s nice.
But it is something to think about: how much do we accept without question? Especially when we’re on the internet, where we’re bombarded with advertisements and subliminal messages and Terms and Conditions that we never read because we take our freedom for granted. How in control are we? And how much are we directed and corralled into certain decisions, certain purchases, certain beliefs, even?
Aw, jeez. I didn’t mean to get all dark and shit. But hey, take it with a grain of salt. Can’t say that Brave New World is a direct reflection of our society or the direction our society is heading (after all, who really knows?) but I guess if I’m thinking this much and having this many deep, depressing thoughts about the world we live in, it’s doing exactly what it’s supposed to.
One more thing, I just wanna leave this here because it’s one of my favorite scenes from anything ever and it totally ties in well to this whole thing:
Have you read Brave New World? What do you think? Should we worry about the future? Having you subscribed to my YouTube channel yet? Are you sick of all these questions? What? You’ve already unfollowed my blog? Oh… well, that checks out, actually.