Brave New World (1932) – Aldous Huxley

This week in Wednesday’s literature piece we are taking a peak at one of the all-time great novels about the dehumanising aspects of scientific progress. We were assigned to read Brave New World in High School and I’m willing to admit there was a lot I couldn’t grasp back then. I have just revisited it again, but this time in Spanish (see image inset).

The following extract from Brave New World I found congruous to what kind of worldview the new ethics movement has in store for us if not enough people have the ‘will’ to speak up for those aspects of freedom which intellectuals have outlined in my previous posts.

At a speech given in 1961 at the California Medical School in San Francisco, the author of Brave New World Aldous Huxley said: “There will be in the next generation or so a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them but will rather enjoy it.”

Could Huxley’s forewarning be analogous to the affects social media platforms, big tech and AI (including those wretched algorithms), The Great Reset initiative by The World Economic Forum and Eugenics development have had on shaping our society’s destiny?

To set up today’s book excerpt from Chapter 16, I will give you a brief character description and some background so you can follow along:

John (The Savage) is the only major character to have grown up outside of the World State. The consummate outsider, he has spent his life alienated from his village on the New Mexico Savage Reservation, and he finds himself similarly unable to fit in to World State society. His entire world-view is based on his knowledge of Shakespeare’s plays, which he can quote with great facility.
So Mond arrives at his office and says to John, “So you don’t much like civilization, Mr. Savage.” John concedes, but admits that he does like some things, such as the constant sound of music. Mond responds with a quote from Shakespeare’s The Tempest: “Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments will hum about my ears and sometimes voices.” John is pleasantly surprised to find that Mond has read Shakespeare’s Othello.

So Ladies and gentlemen, without further or do I present to you this illuminating snippet from Brave New World:

The Savage’s face lit up with a sudden pleasure. “Have you read it too?” he asked. “I thought nobody knew about that book here, in England.”

“Almost nobody. I’m one of the very few. It’s prohibited, you see. But as I make the laws here, I can also break them. With impunity, Mr. Marx,” he added, turning to Bernard.“Which I’m afraid you can’t do.”

Bernard sank into a yet more hopeless misery.

“But why is it prohibited?” asked the Savage. In the excitement of meeting a man who had read Shakespeare he had momentarily forgotten everything else.

The Controller shrugged his shoulders. “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.”

“But the new ones are so stupid and horrible. Those plays, where there’s nothing but helicopters flying about and you feel the people kissing.” He made a grimace. “Goats and monkeys!” Only in Othello’s word could he find an adequate vehicle for his contempt and hatred.

“Nice tame animals, anyhow,” the Controller murmured parenthetically.

“Why don’t you let them see Othello instead?”

“I’ve told you; it’s old. Besides, they couldn’t understand it.”

Yes, that was true. He remembered how Helmholtz had laughed at Romeo and Juliet. “Well then,” he said, after a pause, “something new that’s like Othello, and that they could understand.”

“That’s what we’ve all been wanting to write,” said Helmholtz, breaking a long silence.

“And it’s what you never will write,” said the Controller. “Because, if it were really like Othello nobody could understand it, however new it might be. And if were new, it couldn’t possibly be like Othello.”

“Why not?”

“Yes, why not?” Helmholtz repeated. He too was forgetting the unpleasant realities of the situation. Green with anxiety and apprehension, only Bernard remembered them; the others ignored him.“Why not?”

“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!”

The Savage was silent for a little. “All the same,” he insisted obstinately, “Othello’s good, Othello’s better than those feelies.”

“Of course it is,” the Controller agreed. “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.”

“But they don’t mean anything.”

“They mean themselves; they mean a lot of agreeable sensations to the audience.”

“But they’re … they’re told by an idiot.”

The Controller laughed. “You’re not being very polite to your friend, Mr. Watson. One of our most distinguished Emotional Engineers …”

“But he’s right,” said Helmholtz gloomily. “Because it idiotic. Writing when there’s nothing to say …”

“Precisely. But that require the most enormous ingenuity. You’re making fiivvers out of the absolute minimum of steelworks of art out of practically nothing but pure sensation.”

The Savage shook his head. “It all seems to me quite horrible.”

“Of course it does. Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the over-compensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn’t nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand.¨

“The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize, the less I know.”- Michel Legrand

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14 comments on “Brave New World (1932) – Aldous Huxley
  1. Excellent presentation, Matthew. I read it years ago, and must do so again.

    • What a delight to receive your message Bruce! Thanks you so much for your encouraging words.
      I do hope you read it again. It’s fairly sterile compared to its fleshed-out distopian second cousin – 1984. But I have found it illuminating despite the language difficulties. Cheers Bruce.

  2. ashok says:

    Excellent my friend. I too read the book ages back.

    Great to read about his talk of 1961! Seems so true for India just now. Most of our liberties are being taken away and most of us are loving it. Sad but true 😌

    • In fact I’m nearing the closing of the book and I found at least another excerpt which I’ll probably showcase next week about the future of ‘God’.
      I’m sorry to read your liberties are being taking away. It seems to be happening across the globe under the guise of COVID. As Peterson said ‘Lack of Freedom is more probable than Freedom….(Freedom) is always under threat’.
      As always thank you very much for chiming in. It’s a real pleasure.

  3. So much foretold in that novel, coming about.

    • It is remarkable how close it is to where it appears we are likely headed. Tough times ahead. Thanks for commenting Michael.

      • I note the title translation on the book cover does not capture the flavor of the original, English, title.

      • The English title relates to John the Savage’s quote of Shakespeare in Tempest ‘Oh, Brave New World’. John was being ironic of course when he was referring the World State to ‘Oh Brave New World’ .
        The Spanish title “A Happy World” relates to Mustafa Mond’s repeated comments in the extract here about their meagre pursuit of ‘conditioned’ happiness and stability. So the Spanish title is ironic also.
        I agree. The Spanish title doesn’t capture the flavor of the original given the Shakespeare reference and its significance to the new world. Often titles of English books and particularly movies when translated into Spanish are dummed down a bit to be understood more plainly – if that makes sense.

      • Andrew Mylko says:

        Spark notes has this to say about the title:” “The novel takes its title from the line in The Tempest where Miranda, who has been sheltered from other humans, says, “O brave new world, that has such people in it!” Huxley modeled Brave New World on The Tempest, and quotes the play throughout the book, as well as Macbeth, Hamlet, and Othello.” I haven’t studied the Tempest. It would be interesting to see what themes are similar in Brave New World and the Tempest.

      • Thanks for the clarification about the title! I have studied very little of Shakespeare, but you’re right. It would indeed be interesting to compare the both.

  4. Andrew Mylko says:

    Does anyone feel like most people in this world are similar to the people in Brave New World – in that they are superficial, driven largely by consumption/pleasure, and willfully ignorant of deeper thought or emotion… almost like zombies or robots or something? I’m less interested in discussing the power-plays of institutions, corporations and governments, and more interested in joining a community of people who don’t want to live like zombies… people who want to discuss ideas and connect in more genuine, intelligent, and human ways. Does anyone have any suggestions for where to find such communities? Thanks!

  5. I couldn’t agree more about your insightful message. Community is very important it seems, but to find ones not ideologically possessed is another matter.

    • Andrew Mylko says:

      Yeah. I have some experience with “intentional communities” and my opinion there is that they fall into the same traps as conventional communities with formations of power hierarchies including the dominance of one or another ideologies.

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