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July 19, 2005

Okay, I know I’m writing about books way too much for my own health, but they have taken up a VERY large chunk of my free time lately, and discussing them also helps me get to know the books better, which will help me this year in English.  So, without further ado, I would like to post some key parts of the thread I started on Gaia about Brave New World.  My opening post was almost word for word what my last post here was.  So here is the first response, and the subsequent ones:


Yes, but there were others who were able to escape. Like that doctor fellow, I can’t remember his name. He was able to go live on an isolated island and do whatever he please. I think what this can boil down to, at least in part, is the definition of human. If John were to become one of the faceless mass of people in society, not having any acutal feelings, would he still be a human being? It depends on your viewpoint of what makes someone who they are. I think, perhaps, that one reason Huxley would not have preferred this world was because of the almost complete lack of direction, of accomplishment. No longer are there any brilliant scientists who can make outstanding breakthroughs in their fields, etc. There were those in high places of power who knew of the past and was free of the normal chains on the society, but it seemed to me that they mainly focused on keeping the public happy. The society is able to keep itself from stagnating because everyone in the society continues to work, but there is no innovation, no progress, and so it will never really change. I personally believe that one of the points Huxley was trying to make was that our society was fast becoming the ultimate in consumer whore.  


That was Sir Beaumont.  Then I wrote:


But see, this is how John seems to me. His life had no direction or accomplishment, unless you count making that bow and arrows by hand. All he wanted to do was live there by himself, separate from everybody else, and never have any sort of effect on the world. Whereas Bernard and Helmholtz chose to leave “civilization” and go to a community where individuality was still respected. They were able to make this choice, even after they had been conditioned, and perhaps led a meaningful life at their destination that John never did. So is this society really repressing individuality? The fact that those two could live their own lives seems to mean that individuality can still coexist with society. It even supports the conditioning, because those who were conditioned were able to express their individuality in a healthy way and better understand their emotions, while the unconditioned John’s emotions were just flailing around wildly. No direction, no purpose.  


Sir Beaumont:


I see what you are saying, but Bernanrd and the doctor, even if they were finally respected as individuals were two individuals in 6 billion. I’d say the society is doing an overwhelmingly good job of squashing individuality. Ok, John did not lead a meaningful life. I’m sure that neither Bernard nor Helmholtz did either, because even if they were able to accomplish some massive scientific…something, it would not have any impact on 99% of the population. So in Huxley’s society, even those that get away from and become individuals can’t do anything meaningful. It would pretty much ruin the idea of his world if Helmholtz and Bernard teamed up to make a badass machine of science with which to make all the citizens snap to their senses, then rescue John and his girl and make a daring escape as a giant revolt took place.


Incidentally, that ending sounds pretty good to me.  Better than the real one.  But anyway, my response:


OK, so you’ve convinced me that Huxley isn’t arguing in favor of that society. I was exaggerating there anyway (sort of). But I still don’t see the purpose of John’s character, which is a big problem considering how much the story focuses on him. 


And lastly, Sir Beaumont: 


He is there to show the hopelesness of situation. He is the only person in the society who truly has feelings, he is devout in his beliefs. But in the end he too gives in. There is no hope.


 


At this point I gave up and let my thread die.  I thought I had made it clear in my posts, particularly the VERY FIRST ONE, that John’s “feelings” were worthless and therefore did not support Huxley’s supposed thesis.  Had he been listening to a word I said?  There were other stray posts from other people here and there, but they mainly did not address my main area of concern; rather, they talked about the book as a whole, comparing it to 1984, naturally, and deciding which society is scarier.  I still stand by what I wrote in an essay last year before I read the book: neither novel is scary, because they serve as speculations and commentary about life rather than accurate predictions. 


But the point is, nobody could tell me what the point of John is.


Moreover, I’m not so sure I’m so convinced that Huxley didn’t approve of his society.  Beaumont claimed that Helmholtz and Bernard could not do anything meaningful because they would not affect 99% of the population on their own little worlds.  But is meaning measured by the percentage of people it affects?  If Helmholtz, for instance, wrote a novel on his small island, and it touched the lives of just a few people, it would still give his life some meaning.  Because it isn’t the number of people you’re connected to; if that were the case, the “everybody belongs to everybody else” mentality would win out.  It’s the magnitude of the connection, the amazing force of understanding another person’s complexities so deeply and thoroughly that it is almost as if the two people can read each other’s minds.  And then disagreeing with the person all the same.  That’s what meaning is.  That’s why romantic love, though it changes nobody but the two people in the relationship, can be the most meaningful thing in a person’s life.


And John is still a crazed bag of uncontrolled emotions, firing rapidly in all directions.


Maybe what Huxley thought is this.  Maybe he thought that the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, no matter what society you’re in or where you go.  Maybe everyone invents these “Big Fish” stories so that they can have the small consolation of pretending their lives had meaning.  Maybe only a small, small percentage of the population have the capability of going on to any kind of meaningful life, while the rest just look on in wonder, then sink back into their routine.  Maybe the society we have now holds those choice few back because they will always be surrounded by ignorance and meaninglessness, and they will feel alone in the world because they are unable to find those few other people with whom a meaningful connection can be established among the oceans of conformity.  Maybe those few people still feel their individuality no matter what, even if their genes are altered, because their individuality comes from the bottom of the soul, where nothing can be altered.  Maybe they simply cannot express it because of this constant onslaught of meaninglessness in normal society.


Maybe Huxley’s society is the only one that can successfully separate the individuals from the conformists so that the individuals can live to their full potential, creating the strongest connections between people that can ever exist.


I don’t claim to be one of “the chosen.”  In fact, I don’t even believe that Huxley would be right in saying this, if this is in fact what he believes.  But that’s the beauty of it.  I don’t have to agree.  But I understand where he’s coming from, and I appreciate the boldness and ingenuity of such a statement.  And really, it’s kind of a nice thing to believe, that even after the most intensive conditioning imaginable, there is still some individuality left.  That’s the connection.  That’s what I got out of the book after the conversation on Gaia.


But if, on the other hand, Huxley really is trying to denounce this society, all understanding vanishes and I am still left in this ridiculous confusion over how John can possibly be the model character.  And I go back to thinking how terrible a book this is and how badly it represents the ideas that the author thought he had supported.  And now I’m kind of afraid to go to my English class with Mr. Carroll, where he will undoubtedly tell me, and the faceless masses will unquestioningly agree, that Huxley did not approve of his society.  Okay, maybe I am claiming to be one of the few individual thinkers, hehe.


But seriously, I hope something else comes up that will make me see the value of this book, and if anybody reading this happens to know, I’d be glad to hear it.


It’s getting very late now, and I must go to bed, but I will have far, far more to say tomorrow, as I have just finished Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince!

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3 Comments
  1. The reason why Bernard and Helmholtz were able to retain their individuality is that the Alphas didn’t get the same level of treatment as the lower castes; they were actually decanted individually, for one, and the hypnopaedic lessons given to them emphasized their individuality and their heightened intelligence, as compared to the Betas and below. Many of the Alphas are individuals, and it is possible that it is not their nature; ironically, it may be the conditioning that causes them to search for their own identity.With that said, Huxley is still denouncing the society he explicates in Brave New World, because he doesn’t believe in ignorant bliss as the end-all and be-all of humanity’s journey. John the Savage (it should be worth mentioning that Huxley labels him as such with his tongue firmly planted within his cheek) is a crazed bag of quote-unquote uncontrolled emotions, yes, but at least he is searching for the truth (and is able to do so of his own volition, without any purposeful brainwashing), whereas the conditioned masses believe that either there is no truth, or that it has already been discovered.For more insight into Huxley’s mindset, be sure to read his two essays The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell. And Brave New World Revisited, though that’s pretty obvious.ANYWAY…Hey Chris. We’ve never really talked, though we’ve had two years of classes in a row together now, but whatever. It was bound to happen, I’m sure.

  2. Okay, I think my stubbornness on this point is rooted pretty firmly in my intense dislike for John’s character… Spark Notes said I was supposed to sympathize with him.  Thanks anyway, though, and next time I want something discussed, don’t be surprised if I just come straight to you instead of wasting all this time on forums.

  3. Dude, I’m so glad I’m not taking AP English next year…. it’s like “intense” discussion right here for like, not lazy people. ughhhhhh

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