Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.
This is a classic novel in the dystopia genre that was published in the 1930s. It is one of my favourite books and was enormously influential in my philosophical and theological formation. Given that this novel is such a classic, and it is not long, you should go read it. Or you can listen in to the plot summary here:
I should also warn you, if you’re literary reading list is mostly composed of Little Women on the Prairie, the Anne Montgomery series, Pony Pals and the The Babysitters Club, this will book will be a rude and possibly confronting shock. If, you are a jaded, tired post-modern gal like me, very little in this book would surprise you, and that, is probably a worse position to be in.
What can I say about this book… I’ve mentioned it before in another musing and I still love this book. It is worth reading, purely as an exercise to see what you find shocking and what you you just skip over and go ‘oh yeah… whatevs, that sounds normal’ can be an eye-opener.
If you are a pure utilitarian in your philosophic approach to life, the universe and everything, then this is a utopian story. There is no suffering, sadness or unhappiness for most people. If you’re an Aristotelian in your thinking, then this novel will make you shudder in horror, and maybe despair a little at how we’ve inched towards Huxley’s idea of a Brave New World.
This novel, in my opinion, was much closer to the mark in predicting modern society’s trajectory into the future than Orwell’s 1984. The way that we have commodified human life at our current point, is uncomfortably closing on the horrific ways human beings are produced and raised in factories for efficiency, optimisation for social functioning and ‘happiness’ in Brave New World. Huxley has done a masterful job of taking a utilitarian social ethic with fascism to their logical conclusions in this fictional, futuristic world. He also doesn’t let the political and social comment he is trying to make, get in the way of telling the story.
Huxley feared a world where people no longer wanted to read, where people were so overwhelmed with information that they could only cope with trivia, where people used each other with impunity and got their thrills from machines and “the feelies”. This is a world that is completely inhuman. There is no suffering or sadness, but conversely, there is no real joy, passion or nobility. This is a powerful experimentation with the trendy philosophies of the day, from technological, material progressivism, to social darwinism and eugenics, from utilitarianism to the economic revolution of mass production and consumerism required to sustain it. The results of the experiment are profoundly disquieting.
I find this book fascinating every time I read it and I think it is a classic that everyone should read for themselves. Even if only to see how someone in the 1930s could create a world set 500 years into the future and still have a salient, credible futuristic story some 70 years later.