Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Brave New World Revisited

Brave New World Revisited
© 1958 Aldhous Huxley
144 pages

Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1931)  transported readers to a deeply creepy nightmare-vision of the future, in which man had disappeared as an independent being, instead becoming the raw materials for a new, engineered hive creature.  In Brave New World Revisited,  Huxley shares his fear that the technocratic domination of society is proceeding much more quickly than he had anticipated, and then outlines reasons for concern and the vectors by which free minds could be compromised and manipulated.

The crux of the problem, says Huxley, is overpopulation. Viewing a global population of 3 billion in horror, Huxley anticipated not only only mass starvation, but the rise of tyranny across the world.   Rising population would crowd more of humanity in cities, where disease both physical and mental would become an ever-greater threat.  The rising misery, he believed, would have the effect of  fraying civil society so much that Communist orders promosing food for all would be imposed.  Though not a libertarian, Huxley takes Lord Acton's appraisal of power and human nature to heart. Even an innocent desire for order, he argues, can carry the controlling authority away, resulting in creeping and then  quickly-hardening tyranny. Eugenics is an obvious example, and the subject of his second chapter.

The bulk of the book, after the opening essays on population crises and eugenics, examines ways in which technology might begin to subjugate human psychology.  His original novel was published in 1931, two years before Adolf Hitler took power and achieved the closest thing the world had seen to total technological command of a people;  Hitler not only grasped how mob mentalities could be manipulated, he used the latest in communications technology to constantly convey his message.  Huxley examines the tools of Hitler's trade, as well as others introduced in the decade after World War 2 that might be the stuff of future empires. These include chemical agents, sleep conditioning, emotional propaganda, and different forms of torture.  In each section, Huxley mentions precursors of them already in-use, like pervasive advertising and the  attempted creation of consequence-free feel-good drugs. 

I knew nothing about Huxley before starting this, but he proves to have  been a thoughtful and well-read man  Some of his concerns about overpulation obviously seem dated, given that the global population is presently 7.6 billion, with consistent declines in starvation rates.Overpopulation means increased demand for everything, not just food, so  it's still an issue to be concerned about -- whether your  concern is resource wars or global warming. The pressure these populations put on governments to "do something" -- about a great many things -- has resulted in declining self-determination across the board, with all levels of government.  Huxley's view of the city as a profoundly unnatural environment, one that induces mental diseases, is still argued -- see Desmond Morris' The Human Zoo

Modern readers of this will find, then, some of it dated but a great deal still relevant, as far as human psychology goes;   whatever one makes of shifts in our mores, human nature has not changed since 1958.


  1. I think I have this on a shelf somewhere... [muses].

    I re-read the original book some time ago and found that I didn't like it half as much as I did in my 20's.

    1. Huxley has more interest in eugenics than I was comfortable with, though he admits it's a morally dodgy area. That was the main reason I finally read this..it seemed like an interesting follow-up to that book on CRISPR.

      Was there a particular aspect of the book that fell short from your original experience?

    2. Hard to say really. When I originally read it I thought that the 'savage' was an idiot and the society created by Huxley to be far more Utopian than Dystopian. Of course I was probably channeling the 'Alphas' rather than any other cast. On re-reading it I felt it to be all so heavy handed and primitive. It just didn't 'work' any more.

      Eugenics was HUGE in the 20's and 30's across the world. It's easy to see the attraction - perfection - but it was the methods above all else that where deeply questionable. Of course with DNA manipulation and even profiling we're back in a eugenic age - but this time through the medium of informed personal choice rather than government decree. Both interesting and dangerous I think!

    3. Back then measures were normal which would get their proponents impeached -- enforced sterlization of the mentally disabled, proposed sterilization of populations thought to be suspect to disease..

  2. I remember reading this book back in high school. I always thought of how crazy it was to have population and societal standards be controlled to such degree. In an ideal world, population control should work, but the question is if it is morally right to control people's lives like that.

    Elle Inked @ Keep on Reading


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