Preface to Brave New World
By Evan Miller
March 18, 2019
Brave New World is a work of political philosophy masquerading as a science fiction novel. It contains no new ideas, for the simple reason that the author had previously written several essays describing the novel’s intellectual contributions: ideas about genetic engineering, abolition of the family, and controlling society via pleasure. But interesting ideas, as a general rule, don’t sell books. Sex sells books. Brave New World is Leviathan meets My Dad Wrote A Porno.
Don’t knock the strategy: Plato’s Republic had sex and nudity aplenty, if you recall the guardians’ prescribed wife-swapping and state of undress. The core of Huxley’s thesis is that we humans are not rational creatures, and it wouldn’t be all that difficult to control society via sex.
Society, of course, is controlled through sex, at least if you believe that pervert Freud. It is perhaps not a cosmic coincidence that religion, marriage, and private property all emerged from the swamp of pre-history around the same time. Huxley simply rearranges the atoms to propose another stable macro-molecule, an orgiastic buckyball in which soma and feelies and a mysterious man behind the curtain manage to keep the global 6-billion-horny body politic humming.
Are we living in Brave New World already? A drug for every emotion, check. Burned out dopamine pathways, check. Mutually disdaining social strata, check. Societal worship of captains of industry, check. Vast, secretive organizations suppressing free speech and controlling world affairs… sorry, what was I just talking about?
In some ways the all-digital society that we’re constructing via apps and Tinder and Facebook and phones is a sadder one than the neon joy-land of Brave New World. At least the characters in the novel go on some decent dates, and are spared the silent logic of unfriending, ghosting, muting. When they go places, they enjoy it. No Instagram here.
Huxley believed that the only way out of the societal mind-trap was through classical literature: his favorites were the Bard and the Bible. You’ll catch more literary references if you’re up on your Shakespeare and familiar with the Good Book, but even without those prerequisites, it’s still an enjoyable read. Don’t expect finely crafted characters or exquisite dialogue, though; the plot of Brave New World is a slapdash vehicle, like a jury-rigged dune buggy out of a Mad Max sequel, for the ominous, chilling, and creative political philosophy of the 20th century’s most prescient Cassandra.
Brave New World: full text (Project Gutenberg)