February 2014 - Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

The place to nominate, select and discuss specific books for group reads. Warning: Thar be spoilers!

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February 2014 - Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Postby clong » Thu Jan 16, 2014 2:19 pm

I hope you will join us for our February book discussion...
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Re: February 2014 - Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Postby voralfred » Thu Jan 16, 2014 5:08 pm

I am all ready for it: this book was my favorite when I was 12 or so...
And most of what I know of Shakespeare I read there...
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Re: February 2014 - Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Postby clong » Mon Feb 03, 2014 1:37 pm

So what did everyone think? I had vaguely positive memories of this book, which I had read roughly 35 years ago.

I found the characters not particularly convincing and the story not particularly interesting (except the visit to the Reservation). But the ideas are pretty astonishing. The fall of man comes not through the actions of an evil enemy or leader (or the adherents of whatever -ism du jour with which you happen to disagree) but rather from letting the fulfillment of our desires run rampant, from worshiping pleasure at the expense of truth. If anything, I suspect that this feels more plausible today than when it was written. Does that make me an old fogey?
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Re: February 2014 - Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Postby voralfred » Mon Feb 03, 2014 2:17 pm

I cannot have now a different opinion of the book than when I first read it when I was 11 or 12. And for me it was a window opening on a world that could be. And thus an unforgettable experience.

It did nor seem such a dystopy, to my teen's eyes. I found the idea of getting rid of exceptional but troublesome people, not by killing them, but by sending them away on distant islands among their peers as a profoundly humane way. Not so many modern states act in such an intelligent way.
I pitied the Savage for his untimely death, but for me the main responsibility did NOT fall on the "Brave New World", but on the stupid ideas that were ingrained into him by the "Old World", mortiferous ideas which, despite his unusual education there, he was not able to get rid of. Had he discussed with Helhmozt instead of running away in the "wilderness" that did not exist anymore, HelImholz could have talked sense into him. And I am convinced that, in Iceland, after some (possibly difficult) time to get adjusted, Bernard will also eventually realize that all is the best in the best of all possible worlds, as Leibnitz would say. (the French title is : Le meilleur des mondes )
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Re: February 2014 - Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Postby clong » Thu Feb 06, 2014 2:45 pm

Seriously? Surely there must be some aspects of Huxley's future society that trouble you...
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Re: February 2014 - Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Postby voralfred » Sat Feb 08, 2014 2:24 pm

Seriously?
There were many aspects of the society I was living in when I was 12 or so, or the society that existed 20 years earlier, when most of my mother's family had been assassinated, that troubled me then.
And compared to today's society in quite a few areas in the world, which also troubles me, I am not sure that Huxley's future is so horrendeous........
OK, as Mustapha Mond explained, a horrible war had to happen before stability was attained. But maybe not worse than the one that my parents had just gone through. But it was the last war, which was NOT to be the case of WWII.
Food for every one, full employment, no wars, AND humane treatment of dissidents. Believe it or not, I was already at that time politically conscious and aware of the Soviet oppression, which I considered as the worst remaining one after the fall of Nazism, because a not-yet-dissident could not leave the country instead of becoming an active dissident. In Huxley's world, you are just sent off to some island, with people who think like you.
Paradise!
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Re: February 2014 - Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Postby clong » Sat Feb 08, 2014 10:01 pm

So, if you'd been able to get your daily dose of soma and hit the orgy porgy you wouldn't have cared?
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Re: February 2014 - Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Postby voralfred » Sun Feb 09, 2014 1:11 am

No,I wouldn't.
In fact I strongly identified with Bernard.
Like him I was short, and rather brilliant, so I was subject to some bullying at school. Not too much, I was not a "martyr", teachers and school attendants would not allow it. But neither was Bernard beaten up on a regular basis. It was mostly good-humored bullying, like what Bernard was subjected to, but we were both resentful. But at the end of the book I took very seriously what Mustapha Mond told Helmholz: being sent to an island was to be with like-minded people (and I did have a few friends, and I thought that if I could just be only with people like them, away from all the other bullies, life would be a paradise). So somehow the utopia for me was, having access to all the possibilities that science offered, but without the social pressure to actually use them that was the situation in the "main" centers, but the choice to think, discuss serious matters with good friends, do research in pure physics or some other science, and maybe once in a while play a game of electro-golf for a change. And maybe meet a nice girl who'd be interested in an exclusive and permanent relationship, since this would be the kind of girls sent to islands.
Of course that was a very elitist utopia, not in the sense of "just for Alpha-Plus-Plus", no well-conditioned people like Lenina's lovers, but for ill-conditioned Alphas and Betas, interesting precisely because ill-conditioned.
Of course there was no room for the Gammas, Deltas and Epsilon on those islands. But my experience was that there were quite a few very happy Gammas and even some Deltas around (OK, granted, no Epsilons), among my classmates. And I reasoned that they would have a better chance to remain happy in the future if they had a guarantee to get a job in accordance with their (mostly physical) abilities, a job well-paid enough for adequate housing, food, clothing and leisure (to say nothing about opportunities with the electro-golf partner after the game). Even at the time, right in the middle of the "Trente Glorieuses", the "Glorious Thirty Years", that was not so clearly guaranteed. And now, forty years later, this is clearly not the case anymore.

Who else votes for Huxley's world ?
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Re: February 2014 - Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Postby Algot Runeman » Thu Feb 13, 2014 8:33 am

I would not vote for Huxley's world, but I think I find myself living in it.

Soma, maybe not, but a there is a steady diet of television advertising which tells me I'll be happier if I buy brand x. The phenomenal number of different beauty products don't actually make anybody beautiful, but they sell as if they would. As an American culture, we are currently "drinking the Koolaid" thinking that an iAnything is superior and also critical to our happiness. Who would have believed that people with gushing fresh water from their own kitchen tap would purchase bottles filled at somebody else's tap instead. My supermarket has half an aisle (30 feet) four shelves high full of bottled water, including some from nearby, but also including water from Fiji in "cute" rectangular bottles. We may not have soma, but we have a heap of social engineering.

Aldous Huxley got the future right in many ways. Of course, he missed with his two-seater helicopters for routine commuting. Bottle babies are not decanted, yet. Human eggs are fertilized in vitro, however. Genetic modification is common in plants today, human mods are probably on their way.

Segregation of criminals/misfits...wasn't that actually tried in England, sending thousands to Australia?

Huxley didn't give me rich enough characters, in general. Huxley didn't succeed in getting inside his characters as well as I like.

The whole book is from the perspective of Alphas, even if the main characters of the first part of the story are flawed examples. They are misfits. I think it might have been interesting to include insights into the character of at least a Beta, if not Delta or Gamma.

The book succeeded in making me think about all the issues Huxley put forward.
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Re: February 2014 - Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Postby voralfred » Thu Feb 13, 2014 10:27 am

Well, Linda is a Beta, and we have her perspective on the "Modern World", if not directly, al least through John's memories.
And I am almost sure that Lenina is a Beta, too. And a somewhat ill-conditioned one, to boot: she is much too monogamous-inclined...
I find Bernard, Helmholtz, Mustapha Mond, and even Lenina rather rich, in fact. Personally, John is among the main characters the one I find the least interesting. I find him such a sanctimonious fool, really!

What Algot pointed out is that our world includes quite a few of Huxley's direst prediction. Though soma is probably less deleterious than many of our drugs, whether material (heroin...) or purely virtual (watching Olympic Games, for instance). But it lacks the best ones (two-seater helicopters and the like).

Sending criminals to Australia…. where after serving their sentence, they could become free settlers.... A british and Huxleyan notion that, in my opinion, beats the Spanish Inquisition, the Gulag and the Laogai.

I still vote for Huxley's world again ours....
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Re: February 2014 - Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Postby Algot Runeman » Thu Feb 13, 2014 11:17 am

We have our Alphas in the form of the rich, for whom drugs are easily available. Think John Belushi, Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger, Philip Seymour Hoffman...and who knows how many stockbrokers.

We have our Betas in diminishing numbers as the middle class gets pushed out of lifelong employment with retirement benefits.

We have the Deltas and below in the form of the minimum wage workers and the welfare supported, too, I guess. Their lot is less certain than that of the Huxley versions.

And, theoretically, the stratification is not fixed in place, though it remains easier to stay "Alpha" with the "network" surrounding the children of the Alpha-equivalents than to rise from minimum wage to high class status. Ask inner city kids and their teachers. The drugs may also be available to the poor, but they are going to get in more trouble than the Philip Seymour Hoffmans who don't overdose. The Alpha-equivalents get to check in (and out) of places like Passages rehab, which conveniently is advertised on television without mention of how much it must cost to visit there.
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Re: February 2014 - Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Postby Algot Runeman » Sun Mar 23, 2014 5:39 pm

I am now reading Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell and have been struck by the significant parallels with one thread of the novel. The character Sonmi, a fabricant, is very much like Huxley's Deltas or Gammas. I would recommend that the members of this reading group add the book to their list, even if we do not decide to discuss it here.
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