My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the over-compensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn’t nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptations, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand.”
Brave New World still qualifies as a brave new book, now more than eighty years after its publication. Brave because it dares to undermine cherished assumptions on the part of the reader.
If what we are all seeking is some earthly happiness that turns out to be anti-human, then where does that leave us? The residents of the London of 500 years in the future have achieved happiness, or at least contentment. It’s a contentedness that’s been purchased at the cost of what we’d consider humanity. Even science has been sacrificed on the altar of the pleasant. The civilized Londoners of the year of our Ford 632 resemble nothing so much as cattle — ones minded in a way that provides the greatest stability for their culture. And stability is a necessary precondition for contentedness.
What should still shock us about Brave New World isn’t in how humanity has been degraded in the new world, but in how much it seems to have been done at its own request. The people didn’t have this humiliation forced upon them. The new, ideal civilization is the outcome of the pleasure principle turned up to max. Mustapha Mond is a benevolent and knowing ruler of people who would otherwise tear themselves apart, as they had for eons before.
But, in a way that somehow drives the point home further, Huxley does the unexpected in laying out his argument. Brave New World brims with dark comedy and cheeky innuendo. There are images that qualify as hilarious. Delight comes through each page.
In the end, we’re shown that nothing can be spared in the march towards new contentment and away from old misery, not even the desire of one man to stand as an individual before God. These are the new people. The old must go. And there’s nothing so old as God:
“But if you know about God, why don’t you tell them?” asked the Savage indignantly. “Why don’t you give them these books about God?”
“For the same reason we don’t give them Othello: They’re old; they’re about God hundreds of years ago. Not about God now.”
“But God doesn’t change.”
“Men do, though.”
“What difference does that make?”
“All the difference in the world,” said Mustapha Mond.
So, Brave New World is more relevant than ever. Man, and God, die in the din of a million small distractions–each of them telling us that we are enough in ourselves, and whatever is present to us is all there is.