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How new, how brave?
on 25 April 2017
That this book seems dated can hardly be denied; it was written, after all, nearly a century ago. But that its predictions are becoming more and more pressing can also not be denied.
Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World at a time of disillusionment with the prevailing order of things, a time in which people were increasingly adopting a style of life that rejected the convention, including dabbling in the drug culture of the time.
The new 'orthodoxy' depicted in the novel is one in which stable relationships like marriage are despised; sex at every oppportunity was de rigueur (accompanied by compulsory contraception). Children were not conceived, born and raised in nuclear families,but 'manufactured' in production lines according to demand, each child carefully tailored for its due place in the world by biochemical adjustments at various stages of the production line. Embryos were 'pre-destined' for a role as alphas, betas, gammas, deltas and epsilons; alphas being the most privileged class and epsilons being the least, functioning as little more than automata. Each child was 'programmed' for contentment with its pre-ordained status and life.
It is at this point that Brave New World strikes me as having an incisive relevance for our own time. The profile of skills required in the workplace is changing fast. The artisan skills which formerly gave millions a stake in society are fast being carried out on an industrial scale by computer-controlled machinery. How are we to prepare our population for the very different world that might lie ahead. This has explosive potential for political dissent. Are we to look to Huxley as a warning? or as a model?