Brave New World Audiobook Summary
Originally published in 1932, this outstanding work of literature is more crucial and relevant today than ever before. Cloning, feel-good drugs, antiaging programs, and total social control through politics, programming, and media-has Aldous Huxley accurately predicted our future? With a storyteller’s genius, he weaves these ethical controversies in a compelling narrative that dawns in the year 632 AF (After Ford, the deity). When Lenina and Bernard visit a savage reservation, we experience how Utopia can destroy humanity.
A powerful work of speculative fiction that has enthralled and terrified readers for generations, Brave New World is both a warning to be heeded and thought-provoking yet satisfying entertainment.
Brave New World Audiobook Reviews
Before there was ‘The Matrix’ and ‘Bladerunner’, before there was even ‘1984’, there was ‘Brave New World’. It is astonishing that Aldous Huxley wrote this tale of technological dystopia in 1932. The social elements from the story are similar to those in Orwell and Kafka and others, namely a society of obedient sheep run by the state and benevolent dictators through brainwashing and groupthink. But what’s striking about the novel is how it so astutely anticipates a society taken over by benevolent technocrats rather than politicians, a scenario that appears increasingly likely in the age of AI and genetic engineering.
Huxley came from an illustrious scientific family with social connections. His grandfather was Thomas Henry Huxley, Darwin’s close friend, publicist and “bulldog”, whose famous smackdown of Bishop Samuel Wilberforce has been relished by rationalists fighting against religious faith ever since. His brother was Julian Huxley, a famous biologist who among other accomplishments wrote a marvelous tome on everything that was then known about biology with H. G. Wells. Steeped in scientific as well as social discourse, possessing a deep knowledge of medical and other scientific research, Aldous was in an ideal position to write a far-reaching novel.
This he duly did. The basic premise of the novel sounds eerily prescient. Sometime in the near future, society has been regimented into a caste system where people are genetically engineered by the state in large state-run reproductive farms. Anticipating ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, only a select few women and men are capable of providing fertile eggs and sperm for this careful social engineering. The higher castes are strong, intelligent and charismatic. The lower castes are turgid, obedient and physically weak. They don’t begrudge those from the upper castes because their genetic engineering has largely removed their propensity toward jealousy and violence. Most notably, because reproduction is now the responsibility of the state, there is no longer a concept of a family, of a father or mother. There is knowledge of these concepts, but it’s regarded as archaic history from a past era and is met with revulsion.
How is this population kept under control? Not shockingly at all, through sex, drugs and rock and roll. Promiscuity is encouraged from childhood onwards and is simply a way of life, and everyone sleeps with everyone else, again without feeling jealousy or resentment (it was this depiction of promiscuity that led the book to be banned in India in the 60s). They flood their bodies with a drug called soma whenever they feel any kind of negative emotion welling up inside and party like there’s no end. They are brainwashed into believing the virtues of these and other interventions by the state through subliminal messages played when they are sleeping; such unconscious brainwashing goes all the way back to their birth. People do die, but out of sight, and when they are still looking young and attractive. Death is little more than a nuisance, a slight distraction from youth, beauty and fun.
Like Neo from ‘The Matrix’, one particular citizen of this society named Bernard Marx starts feeling that there is more to the world than would be apparent from this state of induced bliss. On a tryst with a particularly attractive member of his caste in an Indian reservation in New Mexico, he comes across a man referred to as the savage. The savage is the product of an illegitimate encounter (back when there were parents) between a member of a lower caste and the Director of Hatcheries who oversees all the controlled reproduction. He has grown up without any of the enlightened instruments of the New World, but his mother has kept a copy of Shakespeare with her so he knows all of Shakespeare by heart and frequently quotes it. Marx brings the savage back to his society. The rest of the book describes the savage’s reaction to this supposed utopia and its ultimately tragic consequences. Ultimately he concludes that it’s better to have free will and feel occasionally unhappy, resentful and angry than live in a society where free will is squelched and the population is kept bathed in an induced state of artificial happiness.
The vision of technological control in the novel is sweeping and frighteningly prescient. There is the brainwashing and complacent submission to the status quo that everyone undergoes which is similar to the messages provided in modern times by TV, social media and the 24-hour news cycle. There are the chemical and genetic interventions made by the state right in the embryonic stage to make sure that the embryos grow up with desired physical or mental advantages or deficiencies. These kinds of interventions are the exact kind feared by those wary of CRISPR and other genetic editing technologies. Finally, keeping the population preoccupied, entertained and away from critical thinking through sex and promiscuity is a particularly potent form of societal control that has been appreciated well by Victoria’s Secret, and that will not end with developments in virtual reality.
In some sense, Huxley completely anticipates the social problems engendered by the technological takeover of human jobs by robots and AI. Once human beings are left with nothing to do, how does the state ensure that they are prevented from becoming bored and restless and causing all kinds of trouble? In his book “Homo Deus”, Yuval Harari asks the same questions and concludes that a technocratic society will come up with distractions like virtual reality video games, new psychoactive drugs and novel forms of sexual entertainment that will keep the vast majority of unemployed from becoming bored and potentially hostile. I do not know whether Harari read Huxley, but I do feel more frightened by Huxley than by Harari. One reason I feel more frightened is because of what he leaves out; the book was published in 1932, so it omits any discussion of nuclear weapons which were invented ten years later. The combination of nuclear weapons with limitless societal control through technology makes for a particularly combustible mix.
The biggest prediction of Huxley’s dystopia, and one distinctly different from that made by Orwell or Kafka, is that instead of a socialist state, people’s minds are much more likely to be controlled in the near future by the leaders of technology companies like Google and Facebook who have formed an unholy nexus with the government. With their social media alerts and Fitbits and maps, the tech companies are increasingly telling us how to live our lives and distracting us from free thinking. Instead of communist regimes like the Soviet Union forcibly trampling on individual choice and liberty, we are already gently but willingly ceding our choices, privacy and liberties to machines and algorithms developed by these companies. And just like the state in Huxley and Orwell’s works, the leaders of these corporations will tell us why it’s in our best interests to let technology control our lives and freedom, when all the while it would really be in their best interests to tell us this. Our capitulation to their inventions will look helpful and voluntary and will feel pleasurable and even noble, but it will be no less complete than the capitulation of every individual in “Brave New World” or “1984”. The only question is, will there be any savages left among us to tell us how foolishly we are behaving?
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