Brave new world revisited, by Aldous Huxley (1958)
Score: Painfully anachronistic.
Brave new world is an absolute classic. If you haven’t read it, go pick it up and don’t come back until you’re done. Read it? Good. I picked this up expecting to find some more of the genius displayed on the novel, and even I had heard that it was quite an interesting essay. I was crushingly disappointed.
Brave new world revisited seems to stem from an ad-hoc approach: that the world is not only heading to the state depicted in the novel, but terrifyingly close to it. And it just doesn’t work. It might have been good when it came out, but virtually all of the scientific papers he uses to support his arguments have been long debunked. Not to say he quotes papers and scientists and doesn’t bother to insert suitable footnotes with the author, paper, edition and page, as any serious essay should.
Huxley’s vision is heavily biased by terror of communism and and totalitarian dictatorship. This is very easy to say from this side of the fall of the Berlin Wall but it’s not less true for that. For starters, he denies the social nature of human beings, which is indisputable for any contemporary anthropologist or neurologist, with the sole purpose of positioning himself against communitarian views. Huxley insists that human beings are not social by nature, but some humans are social and some others are not, while pretending that every human being is social is imposing an insectile nature to them (probably the most hackneyed and mediocre metaphor against socialism), which is simply not true. Some human beings will adjust to a communitarian lifestyle better than others, but our social nature is ingrained in our biology and was one major reason Cro Magnon prevailed over Neanderthal.
Huxley cherishes as well the delusion of uniqueness, which the evil industrial society denies to individuals, trying to make them fit into molds that are not for them. Uniqueness, specialness, is something we all tend to cherish, due to our culture or not, I don’t know. But it’s just a delusion: not any one of us is special, we are all human beings and the same, with all our glory and faults. It catches my eye that he quotes Erich Fromm in this passage, claiming that our society is sickly and being misadjusted is a symptom of health, not of insanity. Says who? The mediatic psychologist who’s going to sell you a self-help book so you know how to regain your uniqueness in this grey, mean and traumatised world? Let’s be serious.
While he is painfully right about the dangers of overpopulation, about which we are doing next to nothing today, the rest of his arguments look like the ramblings of a paranoid: he reproduces the results of very dubitable papers about subliminal conditioning, propaganda, hypnosis, chemical brainwashing and conditioning during sleep… and once he’s used them to illustrate his point he admits they don’t pass a peer review because they didn’t use double-blind or control groups. Sadly, there is no elaboration or mention of the most interesting philosophical idea in the original book, that is, how people will prefer to be slaves in order to avoid any moral conflict or any distress coming from, well, being a live human being. Banality was a very important theme in the book, showing how people will cling to frivolity and meaningless pastimes in order to be away from conflict, suffering or even existential responsibility (the same reason books were burnt in Fahrenheit 451). That was a very deep and relevant piece of social criticism, mostly because I believe it is a universal and timeless tendency. Humans are such cowards. I’m guessing this issue wasn’t addressed in this essay because there was no easy way to blame it on the Commies.
All in all, this has aged incredibly badly. If you want a piece of dated and biased social criticism, this is your book, though.