Brave New World

Tonight I finished reading the book Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Originally published in 1932, it was (back then) the author’s vision of a future society, some hundred years later.

I cannot really say that I enjoyed it, for a couple of reasons. One being that I was rather unconcentrated for most of the book. Secondly, the language was somewhat archaic, making it difficult to read. But – ironically enough – the main reason was that many of the ideas of the author do not seem very strange to us today. A bit exaggerated maybe, but not far fetched. In other words: the author did a very good prediction job!

Nevertheless, there were two chapters towards the end (Ch. 16 & 17) which alone made the book worth reading. Here, a young man from the “uncivilized” world meets the president of the “civilized” world. This leads to a very interesting, and still today very current, discussion. Here is one interesting excerpt:

“The optimum population,” said Mustapha Mond, “is modelled on the iceberg – eight-ninths below the water line, one-ninth above.”

“And they’re happy below the water line?”

“Happier than above it. Happier than your friend here, for example.” He pointed.

“In spite of that awful work?”

“Awful? They don’t find it so. On the contrary, they like it. It’s light, it’s childishly simple. No strain on the mind or the muscles. Seven and a half hours of mild, unexhausting labour, and then the soma ration and games and unrestricted copulation and the feelies. What more can they ask for? True,” he added, “they might ask for shorter hours. And of course we could give them shorter hours. Technically, it would be perfectly simple to reduce all lower-caste working hours to three or four a day. But would they be any the happier for that? No, they wouldn’t. The experiment was tried, more than a century and a half ago. The whole of Ireland was put on to the four-hour day. What was the result? Unrest and a large increase in the consumption of soma; that was all. Those three and a half hours of extra leisure were so far from being a source of happiness, that people felt constrained to take a holiday from them.

(The soma mentioned in the last paragraph is a happiness drug distributed to the citizens of the civilized world, as a means of self-control. The rest of chapter 16 can be read online here, as well as the rest of the book.)

This discussion relates very well to a documentary series I have been watching lately, called The Century of the Self (which can be watched for free via Vimeo here). Incredibly disturbing, but remarkably interesting. I will most likely get back to this again, once I have watched the last two episodes.

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