Monday, September 5, 2011

Thoughts on the Introduction: Take a Tour of a Brave New World

I went to California, I read Brave New World, and now I'm ready to share my thoughts.

I had this secret fear that I would read the book and have nothing to say, but luckily that's not the case. I'm going to break it apart, so consider my posts for Brave New World as a pilot of sorts.

In the introduction, we're taken on a lovely tour of a factory in which human beings are mass produced.

This is one of the best introductions I've ever read. It's so clever. Darn clever. If anything, the book deserves to be on the canon just because Aldous Huxley decided to explain a world by giving us a tour. Because it's not actually a tour of the factory we're getting. It's a tour of a different society.

Many authors make an effort to indirectly explain a new world to readers through subtle detail and strategic planning, and Huxley audaciously ignores that technique. Totally doesn't care. He says, "the hell with it!" and gives us a tour. A tour. A tour. Brilliant.

By the way, I'm not going to provide summaries on this blog - I'll either assume you've read it at one time (or read the SparkNotes for it at one time) or are reading it with me. These posts are more about the things I think about, in the back of my head, while I'm reading - not about repeating what occurs on the page.

Right. So back to the factory.

During one scene that stands out vividly in my memory, the Director takes the boys to a garden in which several hundred children are running around naked, participating in 'erotic play.' This 'play' is entirely acceptable. In fact, it's expected. When one boy is uncomfortable with it, he's taken off to receive psychiatric care. This scene disturbed me. The repulsion was instinctive, reflexive. And this reaction made me think of a scene that occurs prior to the garden scene, in which the boys on the tour witness some babies who experience World State conditioning.

In that scene, the babies are holding books and flowers until they are shocked. It's intended that they will grow up to associate books (and reading) and flowers (and nature) with pain, and have a "natural" dislike for both. So as I read about the children's erotic play, horribly disgusted, I had to wonder: Is this a result of my conditioning?

Is associating children and sex actually wrong? If so, why? There's a difference between "wrong" and "immoral" in this case, as Brave New World illustrates that morals tend to be decided by figures of authority; while authoritative, they're also arbitrary, making the whole concept of morals manmade and essentially meaningless.

This scene was immoral by my era's standards. But is it wrong? By this I mean to say, is there something unnatural about it, is it damaging to the children, is there some higher, less arbitrary power that declares it wrong?

I'm not going to answer those questions. I have no answers; I seek no answers. is interesting to think that perhaps, just perhaps, my intense disgust was motivated only by the collective disgust of those around me. My society perceives children and sexuality as being nearly antonymous, and consequently so do I.

How much of myself do I have? Where does the "real me" end, and the "environmentally-conditioned me" start? Is there even such a thing as the "real me," or is radical environmentalism all that we have?

Jeez, Huxley. You make me feel like I'm not even me. Like there isn't a "me."

Oh, that's right. Every one belongs to every one else.

But I don't really believe that. I bet you don't, either. Huxley probably wrote it because he disagreed with it so much. Because he wanted to embrace individualism.

That's when I remember that I'm an individual because I wasn't produced in a factory and shoved into a caste system. I was born in a specific place with a specific family and a specific set of genes, and no one else in the world shares exactly what I was born with. As I grew, I went on to experience things that no one else will experience quite as I did, and I was presented with ideas that may be very similar to the ideas you've been presented with, but my experiences and innate personality have forced me to view those ideas in a different way. And etc. So that's why I am me and not you, and why Brave New World is fiction and not real. Moving on.

I read a brief bio on Huxley before starting the book, and he lived during a time when technology was making rapid advances. This made him distraught, and Brave New World became his hyperbolic reflection of the worries he harbored for the future of mankind. In a way, this book is like his prolonged complaint of the place he lived in, made into a story and vastly exaggerated to get people to listen (or read). But it feels like the opposite of a complaint.

As I read about the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning explaining to the boys that their roles in life were predetermined, and our current concept of reproduction (I mean sex) no longer exists in the grand year of 632 After Ford, I shivered. And I felt really, really glad for my parents, and the world I live in, and that the written horrors before me were written. Fiction. Harmless.

In many ways, the book is simultaneously a critique and celebration of modern life.

And it's interesting that the book has stayed so relevant, as consumerism is still expanding and evolving, just as it was in Huxley's days. But then again, so many people point this out that it's not that interesting.

So there. Some of my thoughts on the first 56 pages or so (depending on your edition) of Brave New World. Care to comment? Discussion is welcome.

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