Fears and Hopes

It has always been a slow learning curve for me and  I find myself  having  a changing thought pattern  as I read omnivorously. Nothing is quite what it seems through the looking glass, if only I could keep the rose-tinted glasses on and just live within my realm of books. Books, glorious books. It can be unsettling with all that chatter  babbling on in my head and I find that there is just so much that I want to know. Since there is so much that  you do not know and cannot know, you take each day at a time. 

The takeaway about the lockdown experience  is that when you isolate yourself, you actually become more attuned to your innate needs and emotions and get to know your mind better. But you spend half of your waking hours performing most tasks online both work and everything else. Even if it saves you a trip to the shop, online shopping  also takes up time when you have to search, read the reviews and  all the fine prints. When you have a query or wish to dispute a purchase, you end up sending messages back and forth with the merchant, you are relieved when you finally get the agent to agree that the product is not what it purports to be. The online world is definitely time consuming when you have to do it virtually or via email. The  Internet gives you a faster response for things you want to know and  you are also expected to respond  instantaneously for any communications whether it is work related or not.

In her book, Alone Together, Why we expect more from technology and less from each other,

Sherry Turkle writes,

The self shaped in a world rapid response measures success by calls made, emails answered, text replied to , contacts reached. This self is calibrated on the basis of what technology proposes, by what it makes easy. But in the technology-induced pressure for volume and velocity, we confront a paradox. We insist that our world is increasingly complex, yet we have created a communications culture that has decreased the time available for us to sit and think uninterrupted. As we communicate in ways that ask for almost instantaneous responses, we don’t allow sufficient space to consider complicated problems.

As technology is advancing at a tremendous speed, I feel completely overwhelmed with increasingly more rules that are purportedly implemented for the common good and for the sake of economic and social stability. As things are, it has been disorienting in navigating life in the face of  challenges brought on by the pandemic. When we read the news and at the receiving end of all kinds of information, we need  to possess a clear mind so that we can decipher and investigate as to  whether there is any truth in the information being circulated.  With all that noise in our head and all kinds of distractions, we  can easily get swept away by loads of information and  overcome with fear whether it is FOMO or so we can move forward, live well and have a  happy life.  

In 21 lessons for the 21st century, Yuval Noah Haraah  explores and addresses the issue on how technology is advancing at such a great speed and we should think about the kind of impact technological progress, AI and bioengineering will have on the world and how they will change the world. The historian and author of Sapiens argues that humans control the world because they can cooperate better than any other animal, and they can cooperate so well because they believe in fictions. He opines that the most important  artistic genre is science fiction.

Art plays a key role in shaping people’s view of the world, and in the twenty-first century science fiction is arguably the most important genre of all , for it shapes how most people understand things like AI, bioengineering and climate change.’

              –Chapter 17 ‘Post Truth’,  21 lessons for the 21st century,  Yuval Noah Haraah

Yuval Noah Haraah thinks that Brave New World  by Aldous Huxley published in  1932 becomes more relevant with each passing year. The  fiction was written during the Great Depression with communism entrenched in Russia and Italy, Nazism  on the rise in Germany, militaristic Japan looking to conquer China.

Yet  Huxley managed to see through all those dark clouds, and envision a future consumerist society without wars, famines and plagues, enjoying uninterrupted peace, prosperity and health.

  – Chapter 18 ‘Science Fiction’,  21 lessons for the 21st century,  Yuval Noah Haraah

In Brave New World, the year is AF 632. It is New London. Everyone is happy here. Peace and stability has been achieved through the prohibition of monogamy, privacy, money, family and history itself. If anything unpleasant should somehow happen, you feel unhappy you just need to take your Soma pills. You just swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, you will be fine and virtuous. In this brave new world, the World government uses advanced biotechnology and social engineering to make sure that the populace is always content. It is not like the frightening  world described by George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty- Four where Big Brother is watching you, the Brave New World provides a world where the World Government can control people through love and pleasure. They have even got rid of all flies and mosquitoes centuries ago.  The Controller believes that there isn’t any need for a civilized man to bear anything that’s seriously unpleasant. The people are made to hate solitude and they are never left alone and cannot escape from those communal activities. In the Brave New World,mindless promiscuity and material consumption are inculcated upon the citizens by means of sleep-teaching. Great care is taken to prevent you from loving anyone too much, there is no divided allegiance, you are so conditioned that you can’t help doing what you ought to do.  But it would upset the whole social order if men started doing things on their own.  

In the Brave New World,  everyone belongs to everyone else. Your life is public knowledge.  The World State’s motto reads COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY. In this new world, the citizens are engineered through artificial wombs and standard men and women are produced in uniform batches. These babies are predestined and conditioned as socialized human beings, as Alphas or Epsilons, as future sewage works, future Directors of Hatcheries.

In  this New World , the citizens are conditioned to hate books and flowers since they are infants. The children are brought into a room where books and flowers can be seen, as they crawl towards the books and flowers showing excitement, gurgles and pleasure,  they will be startled by  a violent explosion  followed by a shrilling siren, maddening alarm bells and a mild electric shock. Children will grow up with an instinctive hatred of books and botany. Books are not allowed because they do not want to risk them reading something that might decondition one of their reflexes. As for nature, they do not want people to have affection for nature and landscape, they want the people to consume manufactured articles and transport. The citizens are therefore conditioned to hate the country.

Lenina Crowne works at the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre.  She is uncommonly pretty and popular with the men. She  decides to go to New Mexico with  Bernard Marx for a week in July. When they arrive at Santa Fé, the hotel is excellent. Bernard suggests to her that she can remain there and he goes alone to the Reservation. He cautions her that there will be no scent, no television, no hot water at the Reservation but she insists on going along with him. To go to the Reservation , they need a permit to be signed by the Warden of the Reservation who is a blond and brachycephalic Alpha-Minus, short, red, moon-faced, and broad-shouldered, with a booming voice. When the Warden speaks with his booming voice, Lenina does not know what he is saying and she has inconspicuously swallowed half a gramme of soma, with the result that she can now sit, serenely not listening, thinking of nothing, ‘but with her large blue eyes fixed on the Warden’s face in an expression of rapt attention’. As she listens to the Warden, she smiles with simulated intelligence. When Lenina arrives at the Malpais, she faces the horrors of Malpais unaided because she has left her Soma at the rest house.  There children are still being born and the sight of two young women breastfeeding their babies makes her blush and she grimaces at how aged and old man actually looks like. At the Reservation they meet John, a nice-looking boy and his mother Linda who has come from the New World originally. Linda came to the Reservation years ago and became separated from the group. She ended up remaining there and gave birth to John. Although John has grown up at the Reservation, he does not feel that he belongs. Linda has taught him to read with the two books she has in her possession, the science manual and  the Complete Works of  Shakespeare. Both mother and son return to the New World with Bernard.

Bernard is a psychologist who is  critical of the New World’s methods of keeping peace, and his boss contemplates exiling him to Iceland due to his nonconformity. His only friend is Helmholtz Watson, a gifted writer who has difficulties using his talents creatively in their pain-free society. As John’s accredited guardian, Bernard  gains importance in the society. John  finds that he cannot agree with what goes on in the New World . When John tries to incite the people of London to rebel against the system, they are apathetic to his call. The police arrests him and he goes before the World Controller.

Huxley’s philosophy is found in the dialogue between Mustapha Mond, the World Controller for western Europe , and John.  John questions the views that underlie the global order in New London, and accuses the World Government that in its pursuit of happiness, it has eliminated not just truth and beauty but all that is noble and heroic in life. The Controller tells John that his people prefer to do things comfortably, John rebuts and says he does not want comfort, he wants God, he wants poetry, he wants real danger, he wants freedom, he wants goodness, he wants sin. So the Controller tells him that he is claiming the right to be unhappy, the right to grow old and ugly and impotent along with the right to have syphilis and cancer, the right to have too little to eat and the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow, the right to catch typhoid, the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind. But John says to the Controller that he claims them all.

Brave New World written by Aldous Huxley imagines a prosperous world where people expect maximum pleasure and accept complete surveillance. It is a cautionary tale warning us against the dehumanising aspects of science and technology and how it might prevent us from exploring what reality is and finding out about the truth of life. If you think you want social stability and prosperity no matter what the cost may be, think again. Brave New World is a thought-provoking and stimulating read.

2 thoughts on “Fears and Hopes

  1. That copy of Brave New World certainly has a totally different feel on its cover than the one I used to read. Gives me modern young adult series feel now, lol. I loved your take on it, because when I read it, all I got out of it was a slow-moving story. Maybe I should try rereading it.

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  2. Hi Stuart, This is a Vintage Classics edition. It includes a foreword written by the author in 1946. When I started reading the story, I got rather lost in all that detailed description about the human cloning process in the futuristic world. Huxley has named the process Bokanovsky’s process and mentioned about Podsnap’s Technique, how the eggs bud and divide etc etc. But if you read his foreword, you definitely want to read the novel. I feel there is this collective consciousness that the author is asking us to pay attention to and that science and technology should work for us instead of us becoming ruled by it. He was far-sighted, he was concerned about how we’re evolving as humans .A very stimulating read, a lot to think about. By the way have you read the Circle by Dave Eggers? That is something so close to what is happening right now. Thanks so much for dropping by, and leaving a comment.

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