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? 




13 comments:

  1. You're quite right, Tim, that Brave New World turned out to be a lot darker than Huxley may have imagined it would be. You offer fine 'food for thought,' too, about modern society. Certainly there are plenty of parallels, which is why it's so beneficial to read these classics. The better we understand ourselves as a society, the better off we are.

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    1. Margot, I realize any posting about BNW is doomed to sound like doom and gloom, and I wonder about coincidences in life (i.e., Huxley's world compared to here-and-now has been on my mind lately). I would contest your observation, however, by saying that understanding ourselves is insufficient without corrective actions, but I have no idea about how to correct society. What a conundrum!

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  2. It has been a while Since I read Huxley's book. Sadly, parts of society have indeed moved towards his dark vision. With that I think that there always have been flaws in society. I tend to be an optimist. In general, most people still believe in ethics, decency, art, etc. I think that for the most part, we will never get to The "Brave New World".

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  3. Brian, you're right, of course. Society has always been good, bad, and ugly. Even in the earliest literature, heroes competed with villains. In most cases, in life and in literature, the heroes usually (eventually) win. However, Huxley was on to something in his novel. This now is not such a "brave new world" except ironically. I'm now reading about the Transcendentalists in 19th America. Perhaps that will improve my outlook.

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  4. Crome Yellow was very funny.... BNW not so much; although it's probably truer... i was talking to the guy who pumped out our septic tank today and he said that he couldn't understand why people in government couldn't see what a mess they were making out of the world; and why they couldn't look down the road fifty or a hundred years... i told him i didn't know, either...

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    1. Mudpuddle, there is something profound and funny about a man cleaning septic tanks and commenting on the state of the world. Very funny stuff in there!

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  5. R.T.--I don't think we can save the world or society--that is beyond our powers unless we want to set ourselves up as cult leaders and politicians, etc.

    As for ourselves, each of us should do as much good and as little harm as possible. I know--that's general and vague, but each of us should come up with our own specifics and act on them.

    I have no prescription for the world, just a few vague and incoherent ideas for me. There's no specifics, just making choices day-by-day.

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    1. Fred, I suppose you're right. We stand in a fast moving stream, and then we walk away, leaving no trace of our standing. It ought to be something different. And I guess we should live by physicians' motto: first of all, do no harm. Damn, if only more people followed that guideline! (Forgive me. I'm in a cynical, cranky, desperate mood today.)

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    2. R.T.--the physician's motto was my first thought, but that was just don't do something, and I wanted to add something positive to it.

      It's a good rough-and-ready philosophy--do no harm.

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  6. I have still not read Brave New World. I think both Orwell and Huxley are right. Orwell, aptly described the society that is going to exist after Huxley's reaches its climax.

    I don't say this to be depressing. Simply, my hope lies beyond the great divide.

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    1. Hope. 'Tis the thing with feathers!
      http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/hope.html

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