Brave new world


Interesting look from the New York Times on the Brave New World of writer Aldous Huxley, nearly 50 years after his passing (yes, he died on 11/22/63, thus guaranteeing the news would not be on the front page). In particular, this essay by Jennifer Szalai (with hyperlinks added by me):

Just three years before this declaration, Huxley had published “Brave New World,” in which a future global government exerts control through test-tube cloning, pharmacological conditioning and frivolous entertainment. Rather than revolving around fear, Huxley’s dystopia revolves around pleasure. Recreational sex is officially encouraged. Soma pills, freely available, dispel painful thoughts. Everyone works but also has plenty of time for leisure, which is spent on games of Electro-magnetic Golf and Centrifugal Bumble-puppy. The closest thing these happy, distracted people have to art is the feelies — like the movies, but with aromatherapy (“The scent organ was playing a delightfully refreshing Herbal Capriccio”) and 4-D pornography.

The cultural critic Neil Postman, writing about the social effects of television in his 1985 book “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” deemed Huxley especially prescient. “As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think,” Postman wrote, distinguishing between the cheerful dominion of “Brave New World” and the more lugubrious tyranny in Orwell’s “1984.” Unlike Huxley, however, Postman wasn’t much bothered by the mindless fun, the “junk entertainment”; more alarming was how television “co-opts serious modes of discourse — news, politics, science, education, commerce, religion — and turns them into entertainment packages.”

Szalai went on in her essay to emphasize the ways that Huxley got it wrong, especially how our mass culture has fragmented (and certainly the "pop" music that different people listen to in the iPod era could be Exhibit A). But I'm not sure how much I agree. When I think of the "brave" new world that Huxley predicted in the 20th Century, my first thought is....nailed it!