Before we get started, I want to confess that I originally read Aldous Hulxey’s Brave New World in high school, my Catholic high school. As I read it now, 20+ years removed, I am amazed that we were allowed to read such a novel. Promiscuity, affront against religion, contraception, what were my teachers thinking???? Luckily, I am not a very good reader and most of the fun stuff went over my head (and YES, I actually read this when it was assigned.) Thinking myself a more sensible man now than when I was in my teens, I thought this book would be a breeze. Nope! I have the sense I am still missing some of the fun stuff and may be misreading other sections. Alas, that is why I am here, to walk the path to Geekdom and hopefully find guidance, gentle correction and praise when it is deserved. So, without any further ado, welcome to my review of the first three chapters of Brave New World.
Chapter 1 – The Tube Babies
The first three chapters of the book really helps to lay down the context of the world and a glimpse at the conflict at the core of it all. However, there are many things I missed out the first time a read this book as a youngster. First was the whole concept of “test tube babies.” The whole idea seemed kind of SciFi-ish, with the image of small infants in bottles or something. I wonder what people back then imagined. This book was published in 1932, well before In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) was known. It wasn’t until 1934, when it even seemed possible:
“Harvard scientist Gregory Pincus conduct(ed) IVF experiments involving rabbits that suggest similar fertilization is possible in humans. Pincus is denounced for his work, and Harvard denies him tenure.” http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/timeline/babies/
As a father of an IVF baby, I have seen how the images in Chapter 1 are not that farfetched. While going through consultation for an IVF process there are a lot of tests that can be done to determine if your future child may have certain diseases or birth defects. Granted, there is nothing that can be done if you find out your child may have a birth defect…other than terminate the pregnancy. But since fertilization happens in a lab, there has always been the question of whether parents can create “designer babies.” What if you could actually influence your child’s eye color, hair color, height and even sex? Would you do it or would you let nature take its course. In 1927, these options were not even a possibility, so I think this whole first chapter was more to lay down the fact that this world was one that was controlled and sterilized. However, in the 21st century, it can be seen more as either a warning of the power we have and whether we should yield the power at hand. One of those: just because we can do it, should we?
This chapter takes a lot of time to point out the process for creating humans and the idea of different classes of people who have specific responsibilities that they are designed to do well. The “science” behind everything was very imaginative and well done. It helped me to really buy into the whole concept that this world was created in order to run efficiently. There were times I sort of laughed because the idea of Alphas and Epsilons and mine workers conditioned for the heat, reminded me of those resource games where you need some people to gather wood and some to farm and others to be soldiers. Essentially, that was the concept here. Man, why hasn’t anyone created one of those games in the vision of Brave New World. It is tailor made for the genre. Or, I bet Huxley could have created a bad-ass resource game with this kind of imagination.
One of the issues that was clarified for me in the first chapter was the idea that some of the workers had Lupus. We are introduced to them in the Embryo Store.
“And in effect the sultry darkness into which the students now followed him was visible and crimson, like the darkness of closed eyes on a summer’s afternoon. The bulging flanks of row on receding row and tier above tier of bottles glinted with innumerable rubies, and among the rubies moved the dim reed specters of men and women with purple eyes and all the symptoms of Lupus.”
I thought that, since these people were forced to work only by the illumination of red lights that it somehow affected their health. However, as I read many reviews of the book, I was reminded that disease has been eradicated in this world, so no one would be inflicted with something like a chronic inflammatory disease. So the idea is that the people look like they have lupus only because it is a trick with the red lights. Which makes more sense to me because I read up on lupus and it has nothing to do with the lack of sunlight or other environmental conditions. However, I have worked under red light myself. As a United States Marine, I was deployed on a ship (USS WASP LHD-1) for 8 months. Part of that time I was on night shift and on a ship this means that corridors and common areas are lit up with red lights. This helps people to keep their night vision if they need to step out on deck for any reason at night time. Yet, no one looked like they had lupus under those conditions. So I call a little bit of shenanigans on that part, but I will not throw the b.s. flag because I believe it was all done for the sake of artistic imagery and a way to help exemplify Lenina’s beauty.
One last note on Chapter 1. From the beginning, I was looking for where the fortunes were held. If everyone was pre-programmed, then who had the power to change the programming? Who was the one playing God? And it was obvious that equality was not absolute, since it was still a male dominated world. I mean, all of the people we have met so far who are in some sort of authority roll is male. And when the Director pats Lenina a few times, you don’t get the sense that Lenina or any female would walk up to a male counterpart and act the same way. Yet, this is only Chapter 1. There is much more to explore.
Chapter 2 – The “Oh HELL NO” moment.
Step one, prepare babies in a tube and conduct cellular level conditioning.
Step two, begin behavioral conditioning through some messed up practices.
In Chapter 1 I was not completely disgusted with the idea of conditioning into specific castes. I mean, I wouldn’t condone it for our reality, but in their world, it seemed to make sense. Take some cells, add or restrict some stimulus in the form of oxygen or blood surrogate and the cells grow into preconditioned (or predestined) parts of society. Then comes the OH HELL NO moment of the book, where they are messing with babies. Dude, they’re blasting loud noises and electrocuting them so they’ll be scared of books and nature. No doubt this scene meant little to me as a high schooler, but now as a daddy of a 3 year old, I was a little enraged. I was taken out of the book a little bit at this point because I thought to myself “There is no way that everyone there, especially the nurses, are so insensitive that not one person would show any emotion.” But, in reality, I think that is the underlying point that is being made. Not only does it demonstrate the idea that this conditioning is making the children prepared for their lives as Deltas, but that everyone has been programmed not to have sympathy for the children. We see further explanation of this later but the subtlety of this scene helps to lay the fruit that there is a deep price to pay for Community, Identity, Stability.
That leads us to “Hypnopaedia” or the practice of teaching lessons by playing recordings while sleeping. We’ve all tried this. Getting ready for a test and playing lectures in your sleep hoping that it will embedded in your brain somehow. Or the other option, sleep with the book under your pillow hoping that you will learn through some form of osmosis.
Now, I know this is from Wiki and not a valued source, but everything listed below had a legit reference associated with it:
- In 1927 Alois Benjamin Saliger invented the Psycho-Phone for sleep learning: “It has been proven that natural sleep is identical with hypnotic sleep and that during natural sleep the unconscious mind is most receptive to suggestions.”
- Since the electroencephalography studies by Charles W. Simon and William H. Emmons in 1956, learning by sleep has not been taken seriously. The researchers concluded that learning during sleep was “impractical and probably impossible.” They reported that stimulus material presented during sleep was not recalled later when the subject awoke unless alpha wave activity occurred at the same time the stimulus material was given. Since alpha activity during sleep indicates the subject is about to awake, the researchers felt that any learning occurred in a waking state.
So, the idea of sleep learning in the future was a reasonable assumption by Huxley. But there is one other thing in this chapter that was also possible and that is of the little boy named Reuben Rabinovtich. Now, there are a lot of names in this book that can be linked to historical figures, writers, and rulers. However, Reuben Rabinovitch intrigues me. First I looked up whether there was really a Reuben and whether, as a child, this Polish boy learned to recite an English lecture by listening to it as he slept. Well, the answer is no, since we just learned that Hypnopaedia is not really possible. But Reuben Rabinovtich was a very real person. In fact, he was Dr. Reuben Rabinovitch, a prominent Jewish physician and war hero from Montreal (http://www.jta.org/1965/09/22/archive/dr-reuben-rabinovitch-physician-war-hero-dead-at-age-of-56). Here’s the thing, Dr. Rabinovitch, was born in 1909, so he was 23 when the book came out. Aldous was born in 1894, so only a 15 year difference between the two men. So is it possible that Reuben and Aldous knew each other? I looked everywhere on the net and can’t find the connection between the two. It might just be a pure coincidence.
In the end, Chapter 2 not only pushes the reader to further evaluate the idea of designing humans, but does it in ways that were actually plausible, especially in the 1930s. Pavlovian techniques and sleep training were all real things at that time. It seems like Chapter 2 leaves us with the sense of, okay, this isn’t as unrealistic as it seems…so what’s the outcome? What do you really get if you program a civilization along castes? Is it worth it? What are you giving up? Well, the answers start to be revealed in Chapter 3.
(There is one inconsistency that makes me grimace for some reason. After the scene with the babies and the books and roses, the Director starts explaining what parents where and what a mother and father were:
“In brief,” the Director summed up, “the parents were the father and the mother.” The smut that was really science fell with a crash into the boys’ eye-avoiding silence. “Mother” he repeated loudly rubbing in the science; and, leaning back in his chair…
My question, where the heck did he get the chair from? In the next chapter, it is described how the Director sat down on a bench to listen to a *spoiler* World Controller, but there is no mention of him sitting down to watch kids get electrocuted. Mind you, I make these similar observations during movies, at which point my wife rightfully rolls her eyes and tells me to just enjoy the movie. But seriously, where is the chair? Here’s another one, in the beginning of the chapter they talk about taking the elevator up but no mentioned of the elevator operator, which is described in a future chapter. Did this elevator not have an operator since it was to the NEO-PAVOLIAN NUSREY? Or this is the Director’s personal elevator and he doesn’t want any lower class citizens in his lift? I don’t know, do you? Okay, okay, I’ll stop obsessing about nonsense. Now on with the book.)
Chapter 3 – Can everyone please take a turn talking?
This chapter really brings home the idea that there is no individual identity or emotion in this world, other than instant gratification. The World Controller talks about how horrible humans used to have it, with their parents, and families and emotions. The guys and girls in the locker room discuss who is having who and how important it was to be promiscuous. And the only outlier, Bernard Marx, who is different than his peers because he likes to be alone and doesn’t like Obstacle Golf, is looked down upon, sort of like high school. In all, it sets up this precedence that, in the reality of Brave New World, after the Nine Years’ War, something had to be done and this path was taken in the best interest of mankind. So not by some sinister ruler who wanted to control the world for their own bidding, but to correct the imperfections of being a human. If you think of the world in 1931, things may seem pretty bleak as it is. The Great War ended in 1918, when Huxley was 24 years old, so he has seen an international war. In 1929 the U.S. Stock Market crashed causing the great depression and Hitler and his Nazi Party is on the rise in Germany. Born in the United Kingdom, I’m not sure where Huxley is when all of this is happening, but I have to assume it is all prevalent in his life, as well as everyone else’s in the 1930s. So the idea that another great big war, worse than the Great War, could come around and force the leaders of the world to change the concept of community was maybe not too much of a harebrained concept. Even in present day, with the possibility of worldwide conflict and terrorism, the concept of maintaining control over people is a reality. Whether it is through governance and laws or through propaganda. That’s why, even though this chapter seems a little drawn out to me, it makes sense. In a time when economies are collapsing, the world is recovering from one global war, there are internal wars in Russia, Ireland and Turkey, and the Nazi Party is on the rise, laying down a little extra coat is justified because his depiction of history in the Brave New World, may be a bit of reflection of reality for him in the 1930s.
And there are also some little slights the World Controller takes at the past, and that of religion, that I found funny. Such as explaining that people used to believe in heaven and souls, but they also used to drink a lot of alcohol and used drugs. I was tickled by this idea because in the reality of Brave New World, those who were drunkards and drug users were prone to believing in things like heaven and souls, when in reality (or at least from my point of view), religious people are the ones denouncing alcohol and drug use. I like to see it as the World Controller’s ironic misconception of history by someone who never experienced it, just read about it in books.
But what I really take away from this chapter is how eerie the messages are that the citizens learn and how they parallel with my own life. For example:
“Ending is better than mending.“
Let me explain. I own three pairs of cargo shorts. They all fit fine and are in perfect condition, except two of them have the button missing which fastens the front of the shorts together. These buttons fell off years ago. Guess what? I have struggled against the urge of throwing them out and replacing them with new shorts. All I have to do is sew the buttons back on! But for some reason it seems like I am struggling with my inner programming which says “Dude, just ditch them, hit Target and get some new ones.” That’s not the only parallel. In the beginning of the chapter they discuss the idea of more complicated games requiring more equipment:
“Nowadays the Controllers won’t approve of many new game unless it can be shown that it requires at least as much apparatus as the most complicated of existing games.”
Convince me that this doesn’t sound like video games. It’s not just the buying of new consoles, or faster computers, or different paraphernalia, but of buying things in game to plus up your character or unlock the next level faster. Unlike early video games which you just played until the cartridge stopped working, today’s games have built in markets for weapons, outfits and potions. It seems like most video games out there require you to spend more money than just the game itself.
It’s almost as if advertisers read this book and thought, “Hey, they have some great ideas in here.”
Conclusion: Let me repeat my defense that I am not a very fast or good reader, so if I wasn’t doing this blog I would probably have stopped reading this book by this point. However, the information I dug up doing research has really helped to add some substance to the material. Even researching the historical figures which Huxley used for names within the book and trying to decipher why he used them has been a fun task. I’ve read a little bit ahead and I think we are ready to pick up the pace a little bit. The promise of promiscuity, a Savage Reserve and helicopters are tantalizing.
So, until next week, go out, have some fun and don’t forget to check out the other topics on this blog, such as Monday Cinema Club.