Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What Makes This Brave New World of Ours Happy?

Point Reyes Beaches

                I was standing on a cliff in Point Reyes, overlooking the beach and an endless blue. There were people around me, but not many. Sea lions below me. For a moment – just a single, precious moment – everything was perfect in its tranquility. I felt my mind stretching over the undulating hills in the distance, and I knew that the smile I was wearing could have never left my face, if I just stood on that same cliff for years and allowed myself to be eroded with the stones and sand.

                It’s a memory I’ll keep forever, and it’s already so romanticized in its original state that I don’t have to worry about time distorting it into a hyperbolic depiction of flawlessness. It really was perfect. I felt a wholesome contentment I don’t care to thoroughly explain. And it made me think of Brave New World. 
                One of the fascinating facets of stories is how one’s perspective of them can change due to the environment one read them in. I read Brave New World while in California, so my memories of the book are now intertwined with my memories from that trip. The pristine beauty of Point Reyes is on every page of Brave New World, its splendor at constant battle with the discontentment in the novel.
                Throughout the book, Lenina must assure the depressed Bernard that she’s happy. The entire world is happy, she says. Why is he dissatisfied? Because of Ford, Bernard can spend the rest of his life playing outdoor sports and consuming soma and being so. darn. happy.

                It’s common knowledge that if one must assure oneself of one’s happiness, then such happiness doesn’t exist.
        Happiness comes from several elements*: Producing beautiful things, experiencing beautiful things others have produced, and experiencing beautiful things that exist without human intervention. These three elements are broad. The first – the act of producing – could mean anything from stringing beads on a bracelet, playing tennis, making a Youtube video, going to a satisfying job, inducing another’s smile with your joke, etc. The second probably doesn’t need explaining. The third is being connected to nature – whether that means going to Point Reyes or looking at the clouds in the morning and breathing in the air and thinking such things are grand.
**(Psst! These astericks mark a footnote!)

                Interestingly, dystopias almost always lack all three elements. In Brave New World, humans are artificially made and mass produced in order to mass produce other stuff. Talk about unsatisfying! No one creates anything, and many of the people in the caste systems have been brainwashed to hate nature.
                You have to pity fictional dystopias, because the people in them lack the means to be productive. And as much as people resist using energy nowadays, using energy is what makes us smile.
                I think Huxley realized that. He saw the technology being produced around him and was concerned by his society’s need for constant convenience. With the Internet, that need for convenience has expanded into a need for brevity.
                I wonder if dystopias are possible outside of the bounds of fiction. When you strip a population of its right to produce, surely revolts will occur. Surely there would be such outrageous objection that the dystopia would never form in the first place. 
                In this way it’s difficult to take books like Brave New World or 1984 seriously. In real life, people will refuse to be destroyed and they will insistently create. And yet…
                And yet…
                As long as humans remain confused about what makes them happy, Brave New World will have a place on our bookshelves.
   Here’s more of my thoughts on Brave New World. This brings us to the middle of the novel. Don’t forget about the giveaway – it ends September 14th! Until then, happy reading!   

*At least my happiness. I've assumed this is universal, though, as most things are. Note that I could be wrong and you may get angry and say, "But Hannah, only GRAVY makes me happy! The rest doesn't matter!" and in that case you're right, completely right, and I'm just going to stand here awkwardly in this imaginary corner, and I want you to know that you're free to be made happy by gravy, and only gravy, although I have no idea what you're doing with that gravy and why it makes you so happy and I really don't want to know, although I do want you to know that while I may present certain ideas of mine as facts on this blog I do this only because it helps make my sloppy writing somewhat less sloppy, and not because I don't believe gravy doesn't make you happy. Please don't be offended.

** Note that all of these Point Reyes pics were found online, and do not belong to me, because I didn't take any pictures while in CA. I'm a firm believer in "you'd do better living more and commemorating less***," which is also a group of words that don't belong to me, but rather to the band the World/Inferno Friendship Society. It appears nothing much belongs to me today. That's okay. I'm not feeling possessive anyway.

***From the song Tattoos Fade.

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