19 May 2017

Book Review: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

I've had this book in my reading list for a while now, but only recently have I gotten the chance to read it. And I must say it was a very powerful book. I would even go as far as saying that it is one of the books that contribute to shaping my constantly evolving world view. I will definitely expand on what I mean by that later, but first, a synopsis.

Brave New World is a futuristic dystopian novel published in 1932. The story is set in 2540 AD (in the book the year is 632 AF or After Ford), and depicts a world where there is just one State, and humans are classified into five major castes. The humans are basically artificially engineered, using a process called Bokanovskification. While the embryo is developing, the eggs are subdivided such that multiples of twins are produced, with identical physical properties. So if you are engineering a set of lower caste workers, then they are all the same, and all designed to do the same menial boring work that the caste is engineered to do.

The world the book portrays is depicted through the actions of a select few Alphas, or high caste individuals. I am not going to narrate the events, but crucially, there is a reservation where humans are not engineered, but rather left on their own, to reproduce. After all, in the current civilization, people do not reproduce anymore, and through contraception, they can have sexual relations all they want. Thus, concepts like "mother" or "father" are more or less taboo words, as the people do not have any idea now how humans reproduced back then.

There is a character, the Savage, who was conceived naturally, but grew up in a reservation. He read Shakespeare, who happens to be a banned book in the current civilization. The Bible and other religious books are also banned. There are many other things that are discouraged, such as solitude, and unhappiness. In short, the new world order is orchestrated such that all the positive things life can offer is presented to society, minus all the negative effects. Death, for example, is treated as a matter-of-fact event, and humans from early on, are conditioned to actually like it. Negative emotions surrounding death and other life events are thus suppressed through various means.

This is a complex book, and like Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, is a book that for me strikes a very important chord. It strengthens my conviction that dogma, and not religion per se, is the negative factor in human society. It is the lack of free will that creates a dystopian and negative environment. See, in the novel's world, religion was banned altogether, and humans fully embraced science and technology. However, they only embraced the science and technology that they thought was "sustainable" and needed to run a society. Science and technology that was creative and that lead to discoveries are banned, and people who have these tendencies are sent to islands away from the main society, which runs like clockwork. In short, anyone who questions the dogma of the society was effectively erased.

I also see this novel through the lens of high control cults, and especially in light of the cult that I escaped from. I can see several parallels in the society the novel portrays, with how Jehovah's Witnesses go about in their own social circles. For Jehovah's Witnesses, their children are conditioned from early on to believe everything that the Governing Body believes, and questioning authority is definitely discouraged. Anyone who decides they want to exercise free will and think and question the Witness teachings and policies are branded as an apostate and shunned by the group.

I also saw parallels when it comes to cognitive dissonance. In the novel's world, whenever there was something the savage did, but the other people didn't understand, because they didn't have the background for it, it's as if their brains just went blank. It's as if they didn't have the mental mechanisms to process what was happening. The same goes for the Witnesses. There are plenty of things that are happening to the Witness world, but they fail to see the irony of it. Take for example the Russian ban on the Witnesses. The Witnesses are saying that their activities should not be banned in Russia because that is a suppression of human rights, the human right to worship. Sure, I can see that. But of course the Witnesses do not see that some of their teachings and policies also violate human rights, like when they deny lifesaving medical procedures to their children, or when they persecute family members by ostracizing them simply because the family member decides that this religion is not for them.

In any case, I read the book thinking that I was already very familiar with the human landscape, as all the markings of a cult society was there, just in a different arrangement.

And yes, as much as I am against religion, this work illustrates that religion is not the culprit per se, but the dogma behind religion. Questioning things typically do not go very well with religion. Critical thought is the thing that is essential, and the lack of it results in dangerous scenarios, whether it is in the context of religion as we know it, as in the case when science and technology become substitutes for Gods.

Overall, I liked this book, and I definitely recommend it to anyone who wants a thought-provoking work. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars.

See my other book reviews here.

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