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Brave New World

06 Jul 2009

Not sure why this one is still a classic.

This one feels like a pretty basic take on futurism. Sci Fi has come a long way in talking about what it means to be human, and really this one just feels…really dated. We have a lot of books with disturbing views on what it will mean to be human when we control our biology, and this one doesn’t really go far enough.

It assumes a dystopian world of castes of humans born and bred into specific roles. Huxley did not have the advantage of seeing how computers could handle basic tasks, and thus imagines we will breed mongoloid elevator operators. Not very exciting compared to what Accelerando or Permutation City can do to the very concept of ‘self’ or ‘consciousness’. That’s aside from the much, much improved views of human evolution we have available to us: we now know that any attempt to artificially limit to restrict reproduction unassociated with a genocide of everyone not participating will eventually lose.

Meanwhile, Huxley manages to timelessly offend by assuming that particular cultural norms are going to be mourned as lost by his readers. ‘Ford’ is despairingly placed in the role of god, and Christianity is lost as an idea, purposefully destroyed by the world’s leaders for the sake of keeping the masses happy. The pivot of the book’s ‘drama’, a savage brought to the Brave New World armed only with an endless supply of Shakespeare quotes, is a traditional romantic so that we can suffer with him as he tries and fails to make his way. Meanwhile, ‘ancient’ works of turn-of-the-century progressives keep turning up so that we can mourn their passing. It comes off as a bunch of academic name-dropping.

Guess what, Huxley? You lost. I have no use for your mourning the loss of your particular religion, nor your views of what constitutes ethical sexual behavior, nor your curious teary-eyed memories of European languages lost. I suppose it makes me a crass, heartless futurist to be glad that your particular brand of self-declared cultural superiority is dying.

Honestly, to my modern eyes, the best part of this book is the example of the kind of outcome expected by turn-of-the-century progressive economics. A world populated by busyworkers in which production for its own sake provides the contented world for everyone involved, workers are conditioned to enjoy sports requiring lots of easily-breakable equipment, providing jobs for the factories that make them. This disproven field of economics manages to mis-define everything from ‘wealth’ to ‘capacity’. Indeed, its only outcome can be a world in which there is no progress, only continual production of the same goods. The book would be a hilarious historical artifact if these same jackalopes were not still in charge, ‘stimulating’ our economy to put the ‘excess capacity’ to use and make sure everyone has a job.