Sunday, February 07, 2016
As with Fahrenheit 451 and its plasma TVs, Brave New World gets points for prescience. The genetic engineering seems more likely than ever, we are nearly there now in fact, but the elements of mass production that so rightly worried him seem less likely as applied here. At the same time, I'm really not sure it's all such a bad idea: human beings mass produced to specification, and defects destroyed as soon as they are discovered. The destruction of the biological family unit as a foundation of society. Schools that steer students to foreordained roles and positions. Conditioning for adjustment. I did not find any of it extremely discomfiting, though certainly the potential for abuse is obvious, attempting to take natural selection as we understand it now out of the equation. The cliché of the Stephen Hawking example remains useful: would Hawking's value have been recognized in this novel's society, or would he have been discarded and destroyed early? Would humans even continue to entertain aspirational visions, such as exploring space and understanding the universe? There's little doubt that the world of mass production and Skinnerian-style conditioning envisioned by Huxley would flatten out the highs with the lows, which could lead to mere pleasure-seeking and survival, the mediocrity of a society in stagnation. But I have to admit that the stability of Huxley's world appeals to me. Instead of war, people go on empty vacation jaunts and have sex with one another, before returning to work again. That sounds like an improvement to me. And I don't know why aspiration would be necessarily taken out of the picture, unless someone with access to the production process nefariously and deliberately programmed it out—clearly one of the abuses that would have to be risked, and may indeed have occurred in Huxley's novel. But does it really have to be that way? The problem, as always, is the one of getting from here to there. The devil is in the details, and all that. But again, for a dystopic novel, I think Brave New World often paints a surprisingly pretty picture, caste system and all. Viewed from certain angles, it is as if humanity has purged itself of the seven deadly sins, addressing their sources and providing adequately for the human needs they represent. Tweak it a little more and you might have something.
In case it's not at the library.