Wednesday, July 26, 2017
Brave new world and radical surgery
Good friends, I have performed some radical surgery on this blog. Superfluous tissue has been excised, and only the bare bones remain. On this denuded skeleton will be a rebuilt blog with what I hope will better focus, better discipline, and better content. And here is a big irony: I promise not to make and break any more promises here.
Well, for whatever it might be worth, here is the first two-part offering in my brave new world of blogging.
This first part comes from The Writer's Almanac:
Today is the birthday of English author Aldous Huxley (books by this author), born in Godalming, Surrey, in 1894. He was born into a family of intellectuals, writers, and scientists: his father was a poet and biographer; two of his brothers became respected biologists; and his grandfather, Thomas Henry Huxley, was a famous biologist and naturalist who received the nickname "Darwin's Bulldog" for his defense of the theory of evolution. On his mother's side, Huxley was related to the novelist Mary Humphry Ward, the poet Matthew Arnold, and famous educator Thomas Arnold. Even among these luminaries, Huxley was gifted, alert, and intelligent.
Huxley lost his mother to cancer when he was 14 years old. Two years later, when he was a student at Eton, he suffered an illness that left him almost completely blind. A blind man couldn't be a scientist. A blind man couldn't be a soldier, either, so Huxley stayed home while many of his peers went off to fight in World War I. Huxley had to rethink his career aspirations. He turned instead to literature, and studied at Oxford, where he met and befriended D.H. Lawrence. In 1916, Huxley published his first book - a collection of poems.
He married Maria Nys in 1919, and the couple traveled a lot during the early years of their marriage. In his book Jesting Pilate: An Intellectual Holiday (1926), Huxley wrote about the people and cultures they encountered on their travels. He liked the vitality and energy of the Americans they met, but he thought that energy was wasted on mindless pursuits. "Nowhere, perhaps, is there so little conversation [...] It is all movement and noise, like the water gurgling out of the bath - down the waste. Yes, down the waste."
Huxley published four novels in the 1920s, including Crome Yellow (1921) and Point Counter Point (1928), as well as numerous essays, poems, plays, and six books of stories. And in 1931, he began work on a novel that he intended to be a light look at what the future might hold - a satiric response to the utopian novels of H.G. Wells. He wrote the book in four months. It was Brave New World (1932), and it ended up being a darker book than he'd planned. The book is set in London in the year 2540, a future where society functions like one of Henry Ford's assembly lines. People are genetically engineered and mass-produced in hatcheries. They're fed a steady diet of antidepressants, amusements, and sex to keep them complacent. When George Orwell's dystopia Nineteen Eighty-Four came out in 1948, people liked to compare the two and argue about which bleak future was more likely to happen. Huxley defended his vision, saying it would be easier to control people through pleasure than through fear.
This second part is a personal postscript:
Let me repeat a portion of the foregoing article. "And in 1931, he began work on a novel that he intended to be a light look at what the future might hold - a satiric response to the utopian novels of H.G. Wells. He wrote the book in four months. It was Brave New World (1932), and it ended up being a darker book than he'd planned. The book is set in London in the year 2540, a future where society functions like one of Henry Ford's assembly lines. People are genetically engineered and mass-produced in hatcheries. They're fed a steady diet of antidepressants, amusements, and sex to keep them complacent."
I sense that life for most people in 2017 is too much like Huxley's vision of life in 2540. It seems to me that we are engineered, manipulated, and medicated creatures living on steady diets of chemicals, diversions, and pleasures. And I wonder how we can save ourselves from this dystopia.
Do you have any thoughts on all of this?