BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley (1931)

huxleyIn his foreword, Aldous Huxley wrote that “A book about the future can interest us only of its proficies look as though they might conceivably come true”. Unfortunately for us, his nightmarish visions are increasingly coming to seem all too accurate.

Almost half a century before the birth of the world’s first ‘test tube’ baby, Huxley imagined how “newly unbottled babes” might be used to “improve on nature” by replacing the need for parents and what he provocatively defined as the “appalling dangers of family life”. In the ‘new world’ human genes are manipulated to produce docile and efficient workers and consumers.

The promise of sexual freedom and the encouragement of promiscuity serves as a compensation for the absence of political or economic liberty. Dumb movies known as ‘feelies’ have an additional sedating function while a legal drug called ‘soma’ is taken to avert any lingering gloomy thoughts.

John Watson, aka ‘the savage’, rejects a world in which humans are conditioned not to think for themselves but he is one of the few rebels and his protestations are easily silenced.

Through a process called “emotional engineering” citizens follow the principle by which everyone works for everyone else and “solitary amusements” are actively discouraged. Art and science might be good for truth but are considered to be bad for happiness. Books and nature are viewed as distractions from the efficient combination of fruitful work, increased consumption and controlled leisure that generates social stability.

In ’21 Lessons For The 21st Century’ Yuval Noah Harari notes that “Huxley’s genius consists in showing that you could control people more securely through love and pleasure than through fear and violence”.

Harari is right to point out that rapid advances in biotechnology and the sophistication of media surveillance mean that Huxley’s dystopian predictions are becoming spookily real faster that the English author could ever have imagined.