Agora Road Book Club: Brave New World Edition

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BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley.


A dystopian novel that examines a futuristic society: The World State, which revolves around science and efficiency, where emotions are conditioned out of the individual at a young age, where social hierarchy is based only on intelligence, where everyone belongs to everyone else...

About Aldous Huxley (Taken from Encyclopedia Britannica):

Born on July 26, 1894, Godalming, Surrey, England, Aldous Leonard Huxley was an English novelist and critic gifted with an acute and far-ranging intelligence whose works are notable for their wit and pessimistic satire. He remains best known for one, Brave New World (1932), a model for much dystopian science fiction that followed.

Aldous Huxley was a grandson of the prominent biologist Thomas Henry Huxley and was the third child of the biographer and man of letters Leonard Huxley; his brothers included physiologist Andrew Fielding Huxley and biologist Julian Huxley. He was educated at Eton, during which time he became partially blind because of keratitis. He retained enough eyesight to read with difficulty, and he graduated from Balliol College, Oxford, in 1916. He published his first book in 1916 and worked on the periodical Athenaeum from 1919 to 1921. Thereafter he devoted himself largely to his own writing and spent much of his time in Italy until the late 1930s, when he settled in California.

Huxley established himself as a major author with his first two published novels, Crome Yellow (1921) and Antic Hay (1923); these are witty satires on the pretensions of the English literary and intellectual coteries of his day.

Brave New World (1932) marked a turning point in Huxley's career: like his earlier work, it is a fundamentally satiric novel, but it also vividly expresses Huxley's distrust of 20th-century trends in both politics and technology. The novel presents a nightmarish vision of a future society in which psychological conditioning forms the basis for a scientifically determined and immutable caste system that, in turn, obliterates the individual and grants all control to the World State.

The novel Eyeless in Gaza (1936) continues to shoot barbs at the emptiness and aimlessness experienced in contemporary society, but it also shows Huxley's growing interest in Hindu philosophy and mysticism as a viable alternative. Many of his subsequent works reflect this preoccupation, notably The Perennial Philosophy (1946).

Huxley's most important later works are The Devils of Loudun (1952), a detailed psychological study of a historical incident in which a group of 17th-century French nuns were allegedly the victims of demonic possession, and The Doors of Perception(1954), a book about Huxley's experiences with the hallucinogenic drug mescaline. His last novel, Island (1962), is a utopian vision of a Pacific Ocean society.

The author's lifelong preoccupation with the negative and positive impacts of science and technology on 20th-century life, expressed most forcefully in Brave New World make him one of the representative writers and intellectuals of that century.

On his deathbed (November the 22nd 1963) , unable to speak owing to advanced laryngeal cancer, Huxley made a written request to his wife Laura for "LSD, 100 µg, intramuscular." According to her account of his death, in This Timeless Moment, she obliged with an injection at 11:20 a.m. and a second dose an hour later; Huxley died aged 69 (
So he literally tripped out of existence). Media coverage of Huxley's death, along with that of fellow British author C. S. Lewis, was overshadowed by the assassination of John F. Kennedy on the same day, less than seven hours before Huxley's death. Damn, that day was cursed.

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Huxley and Hollywood.

Yeah, Huxley involved himself with several Hollywood projects, including Walt Disney himself. Perhaps all of this is a bit ironic... Taken from Wikipedia:

In March 1938, Huxley's friend Anita Loos, a novelist and screenwriter, put him in touch with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), which hired him for Madame Curie which was originally to star Greta Garbo and be directed by George Cukor. (Eventually, the film was completed by MGM in 1943 with a different director and cast.) Huxley received screen credit for Pride and Prejudice (1940) and was paid for his work on a number of other films, including Jane Eyre (1944). He was commissioned by Walt Disney in 1945 to write a script based on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and the biography of the story's author, Lewis Carroll. The script was not used, however.

Huxley on 1984:

On 21 October 1949, Huxley wrote to George Orwell, author of Nineteen Eighty-Four, congratulating him on "how fine and how profoundly important the book is". In his letter, he predicted:

"Within the next generation I believe that the world's leaders will discover that infant conditioning and narcohypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging them and kicking them into obedience."

Huxley and Eastern Religions/Mysticism:

Huxley's thought that Eastern wisdom traditions was entirely compatible with a strong appreciation of modern science. Biographer Milton Birnbaum wrote that Huxley "ended by embracing both science and Eastern religion".In his last book, Literature and Science, Huxley wrote that "The ethical and philosophical implications of modern science are more Buddhist than Christian...." In "A Philosopher's Visionary Prediction," published one month before he died, Huxley endorsed training in general semantics and "the nonverbal world of culturally uncontaminated consciousness," writing that "We must learn how to be mentally silent, we must cultivate the art of pure receptivity.... [T]he individual must learn to decondition himself, must be able to cut holes in the fence of verbalized symbols that hems him in."

He was also highly involved with the Vedanta Society of Southern California. From 1941 until 1960, he contributed 48 articles to Vedanta and the West, published by the society. He also occasionally lectured at the Hollywood and Santa Barbara Vedanta temples.

And about his psychedelic experiences...

In early 1953, Huxley had his first experience with the psychedelic drug mescaline. Huxley had initiated a correspondence with Doctor Humphry Osmond, a British psychiatrist then employed in a Canadian institution, and eventually asked him to supply a dose of mescaline; Osmond obliged and supervised Huxley's session in southern California. After the publication of The Doors of Perception, in which he recounted this experience, Huxley and Swami Prabhavananda disagreed about the meaning and importance of the psychedelic drug experience, which may have caused the relationship to cool, but Huxley continued to write articles for the society's journal, lecture at the temple, and attend social functions. Huxley later had an experience on mescaline that he considered more profound than those detailed in The Doors of Perception.

Huxley wrote that "The mystical experience is doubly valuable; it is valuable because it gives the experiencer a better understanding of himself and the world and because it may help him to lead a less self-centered and more creative life."

Though Huxley scholars consider him an agnostic.

Vote for your favorite cover! (You can vote up to 3 choices)

Harper Perennial Modern Classics Edition (2006)

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Original Edition:

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Vintage Classics Edition (2007)

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Persian Edition:

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1974 Penguin Edition

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Muza (Polish) Edition

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Arabic Edition:

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Vintage Classics Edition (2018)

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Vintage (2016) edition

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Kindle 2021 Edition (lmao this cover)

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Of course I wouldn't forget the >redditcostanzayeahrightsmirk PLACES WHERE THIS BOOK HAS BEEN BANNED list... (From Wikipedia)

The following include specific instances of when the book has been censored, banned, or challenged:

  • In 1932, the book was banned in Ireland for its language, and for supposedly being anti-family and anti-religion.
  • In 1965, a Maryland English teacher alleged that he was fired for assigning Brave New World to students. The teacher sued for violation of First Amendment rights but lost both his case and the appeal.
  • The book was banned in India in 1967, with Huxley accused of being a "pornographer".
  • In 1980, it was removed from classrooms in Miller, Missouri among other challenges.
  • The version of Brave New World Revisited published in China lacks explicit mentions of China itself.

Study Guides:

Spark Notes: https://www.sparknotes.com/lit/bravenew/

Litcharts: https://www.litcharts.com/lit/brave-new-world

Shmoop: https://www.shmoop.com/study-guides/literature/brave-new-world

Course Hero: https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Brave-New-World/

Further Reading:

Brave New World at 75: https://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/brave-new-world-at-75

Between Heaven and Hell: Novel about Huxley, Lewis and Kennedy arguing in purgatory lol Amazon product ASIN 0877843899View: https://www.amazon.com/Between-Heaven-Hell-Somewhere-Kennedy/dp/0877843899


Aldous Huxley's Americanization of the "Brave New World" Typescript https://www.jstor.org/stable/3176042

Barfoot, C. C., ed. Aldous Huxley between East and West. New York/Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2001.

De Koster, Katie, ed. Readings on Brave New World. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1999.

Perrenial Philosophy. Huxle's book about comparative mysticism. Amazon product ASIN 0061724947View: https://www.amazon.com/Perennial-Philosophy-Aldous-Huxley/dp/0061724947


The Doors of Perception. Huxley's essay about, uh, drugs. Amazon product ASIN 0061729078View: https://www.amazon.com/-/es/Aldous-Huxley/dp/0061729078/ref=sr_1_1?__mk_es_US=ÅMÅŽÕÑ&crid=1BC5I7F3ZPJA7&keywords=the+door+of+perception&qid=1670381890&s=books&sprefix=the+door+of+perception%2Cstripbooks%2C135&sr=1-1


D.A.R.E website https://dare.org/

The Abolition of Man by CS Lewis. (Apparently people like to compared the ideas of Lewis essay and Huxley's novel...)

Happy Reading:

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remember_summer_days

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Book Club Rules and Schedule.

The only rule is to not discuss anything past the chapters we're on without using the spoiler tag!

Week 1. Tuesday December the 6th to December the 16th. Chapters 1 to 6

Week 2. December the 16th to December the 23th. Chapters 6 to 12

Week 3. December the 23th to January 2nd 2023. Chapters 12 to 18

What happens if I don't meet the reading deadlines?

Nothing really. You can just read up and catch up and add to the discussion anytime you see fit! Even if you don't feel like catching up by reading the missing pages, you can just hop into sparknotes or something and read the chapter summary in there.

Also just because we are on one part of the book doesn't mean you can't comment of previous chapters, or previous book club threads.
 
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remember_summer_days

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Apparently Vintage has a special collection where they pack 1984, Brave New World and handmaid's tale... together... Like, that doesn't make any sense, Handmaid's Tale is clearly an utopic novel :tou5:

One a more serious note, I've never read Handmaid's Tale, and I'm not the biggest fan of 1984, but the obsession academia has with HT seems really weird, really reddit. Maybe we should read that novel one day, after all we've already tasted normiecore with F451. I wonder if there's any merit to HT beyond feminist polemics. Like, I've even heard rumors Atwood might get the Nobel at some point. Imagine if we live in a timeline where Atwood get's a Nobel but not Pynchon or Mccarthy...

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I am shocked that BNW was never ragged on for depicting sexual games between children. I'm glad there's finally a book club thread I can participate in, as I've already read the book. I'll surely be watching and participating in this thread. Starting with the first chapter, I'm curious if anyone else found it interesting but difficult to get through?
 
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remember_summer_days

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Ok. I finished reading up to chapter 6.

Out of the 'dystopian trilogy' books (F451, BNW, 1984) this has been the best one so far. Though I'm only about 80 pages in. Deeper than F451 and more interesting than 1984.

I was really pleased to find out how based the novel seems so far, I definitely wasn't expecting this novel to attack c00merism and progressive ideas. I think, at least compared to F451 and 1984, this is the one that gets closer to nailing down what the problem is or what will be the problems that will most likely arise with the advance of technology. I think Huxley was on point when he foresaw that desire for progress, for pleasure, and fleeting pleasure often contradicts what's good for the human being, was what's most at danger of destroying us.

The end goal of all the dystopic measures is, after all, for the sake of what the World Goverment interprets as hapiness. The individuals are predestined and atomized because it's what bring them the most comfort, and comfort makes human happy, and a happy community of humans brings about an orderly society, which in turn makes the wider society happier...

The descriptions about babies being decanted was hard to read, as it was the sexual play children engage in. But again, all of this that we see as disgusting, in the novel is presented as a good thing for the sake of individual happiness. And the point that family or limiting sexual exploration in children is oppressive and/or a construction is not only a parody... Paulo Freire argued that innocence on children and their belonging within a family was oppressive socialization. There is also that infamous letter where almost every popular french posmo wanted to abolish the age of consent...

And at the same time, perhaps because the novel presents a society that's so casual about engaging in sexual acts, the adults who are not predestined to be great seem to be really infantile. Think about the orgy-porgy... Perhaps that was the 1930s equivalent of loli hentai

Huxley was right that our desire for liberation from limiting societal structures, and these wishes are made possible by technology, often leads to an even greater and blinder slavery.

Despite how much I agree with the message of the novel, at least so far, I don't judge literature by how much I like the themes or message.

Huxley's prose is really bland. Whereas Bradburry was afraid to get dusty, Huxley's prose is almost all dull dust. Though it does have some shinning moments, which ultimately make his narration better than that of 1984 or F451. But still not great.

Another issue I have with, well, all of the novel so far, is how brash it is with its exposition. The first few chapters feel like a pamphlet or a wikia article about how this dystopian society is supposed to work. And I've already said that I think these ideals are cool, and futhermore, there is depth to them. But these ideas are not presented in a very interesting or human way, it feels like a machine narrating a point by point list of what the author needed us to know before delving into the story of the protagonist. Though certainly this could be worse, the first few chapters take the POV of a group of students who are learning how their society works, so that helps the audience feel grounded. And I've been told that this sort of chapter-long exposition sessions is an accepted trope for the science fiction genre... But if that's the case, then it would imply the genre is more concerned with science than humanity, and if so, it would be better for those authors just to write an essay.

But yeah, way better than F451. I think that novel is going to come up a lot in this discussion lol....
 
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remember_summer_days

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I am shocked that BNW was never ragged on for depicting sexual games between children. I'm glad there's finally a book club thread I can participate in, as I've already read the book. I'll surely be watching and participating in this thread. Starting with the first chapter, I'm curious if anyone else found it interesting but difficult to get through?
Yeah, the first few chapters in general made for some uncomfortable reading. Especially in regards to the babies and children, the novel does dare to ask some very uncomfortable questions, though it's not hard to gauge where Huxley's sympathies lie. Still, the shock is still very effective.
 
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Also. How could've I have forgotten about the idea of breeding a society that's based on intelligence...

Eugenics was a very popular idea in the early 20th century, which seemingly stemmed from the popularity of utilitarianism and the idea of perfecting society. I feel that with the rise of IQ studies, that's an idea that will become prominent again, heck the only reason why it isn't as popular is because of political contingencies like the Nazis being really pro-eugenics... Though building a society based around IQ seems to be a popular idea on far right circles, at least online.

I remember when Roe v Wade was repealed, there were many prominent figures on the alt right that were against the decision because it would lead to less black abortions, and supposedly, blacks have a lower IQ so less abortion will lead to a society that, on average, has lower IQ, and that was a bad thing because the higher the IQ the more prosperity you are predicted to have...

These issues are complicated, and I'm not smart enough to comment on the controversies of intelligence research. What interests me the most are the conceptual consequences of race realism being true. The fact that we as a society find the idea (Wherever it has good evidence or not) of 'race realism' scary and/or disgusting points me to the issue that we seem to have a very weird pathology when it comes to intelligence. Like as far as I'm aware nobody cares that there are some genetics that favor certain populations to be better at running. Because measuring human worth by raw strength or resilience would be silly, but presumably there is a a hidden premise within society that intelligence does in fact, in some ways, measure human worth. So to call a race of people to be on average less intelligent is implying they are a lesser kind of human... At least I think that's the issue. (And again, the issue is not if race realism is true, but I think us holding intelligence to such a high standard)

However, the fact remains that intelligence does predict, at least, higher economic prosperity. And a more prosperous economic society is a more stable, and therefore happy society. If utilitarianism were true, then we ought to ensure society is composed only of 'intelligent enough' individuals. Now I just take this to be another reductio ad absurdum of utilitarian ethics, and so does the novel seem to do, but the complicated part of our current lifestyle is that it's predicated on maximizing individual pleasure. For instance, a phrase that's thrown out a lot: 'Casual sex isn't wrong because it doesn't hurt anybody', whatever you think of the validity of that statement, it's assuming utilitarian considerations above all else (Casual sex doesn't have any negative consequences...) If only not causing pain is what matters, then is it wrong to breed out low IQ or mentally deficient people out of existence?

Of course a common objection to this is the issue that force sterilization causes a lot of pain. Well, wouldn't future pleasure outweigh the current pain? But even if you wanted to hold to some idea of intrinsic rights, which would be queer on consequentialist ethics, isn't it theoretically possible we could get everyone to agree that the extinction of less-than-bright people is a good thing? Of course this is only a thought experiment, but I think this is in part why the novel is focused on the topic of sex. People flip flop a lot on wherever they are utilitarian or deontological on the issues of sex, but the degradation of sex is behind many of the horrors we see in the novel, it speaks of a human race detached from the purposes of its own humanity, because the idea of purpose is alien to them...
 
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When I said it was difficult to read, I actually meant how dry it was to read, not the topics at hand. Yes I agree, Huxley did not have fantastic prose. Personally I'm quite fine with that because that was not the focus anyway.
I've been told that this sort of chapter-long exposition sessions is an accepted trope for the science fiction genre... But if that's the case, then it would imply the genre is more concerned with science than humanity, and if so, it would be better for those authors just to write an essay.
Is it necessarily more concerned with science just because it's called science-fiction? I think that science-fiction is the convenient name we have for this genre, but it might not be the best way to describe it. It's like how Intelligent Dance Music is the worst name for such a great genre, because it cannot be 'intelligent', and it's not usually for dancing. But IDM is the name it was given, and that's just what we stick to.
I think narratives are a fantastic way of exploring your thoughts and ideas, if only for aesthetic reasons, and I don't see why an essay would be better. If Huxley wrote an essay instead of showing us these people, it would probably be far less interesting and powerful.
Also I don't remember what is in which chapter, so I will tread very carefully. Not gonna reread BNW because I'm reading Foundation And Earth at the moment.
 
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When I said it was difficult to read, I actually meant how dry it was to read, not the topics at hand. Yes I agree, Huxley did not have fantastic prose. Personally I'm quite fine with that because that was not the focus anyway.

Is it necessarily more concerned with science just because it's called science-fiction? I think that science-fiction is the convenient name we have for this genre, but it might not be the best way to describe it. It's like how Intelligent Dance Music is the worst name for such a great genre, because it cannot be 'intelligent', and it's not usually for dancing. But IDM is the name it was given, and that's just what we stick to.
I think narratives are a fantastic way of exploring your thoughts and ideas, if only for aesthetic reasons, and I don't see why an essay would be better. If Huxley wrote an essay instead of showing us these people, it would probably be far less interesting and powerful.
Also I don't remember what is in which chapter, so I will tread very carefully. Not gonna reread BNW because I'm reading Foundation And Earth at the moment.
Yeah! My point sort of was that, because of the poor prose and abundant exposition, sometimes these sci-fic novels read more like an essay than literature, and that's an issue, at least for me. Perhaps I worded my point poorly in the original reply.
 
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Yeah! My point sort of was that, because of the poor prose and abundant exposition, sometimes these sci-fic novels read more like an essay than literature, and that's an issue, at least for me. Perhaps I worded my point poorly in the original reply.
Right, I get you. Then it's just a personal difference in taste I guess. I don't mind the style, but I'm also not as avid of a reader as you.
I look forward to see what other people think of the book so far. I might skim it so I can play along in this thread.
 
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The World State's motto:
Community, Identity, and Stability

Not too far from a motto one might put on a high school in modern America.

I recently watched a film adaptation of BNW on archive.org. My favorite part in the movie version was a group of gamma's singing "Gamma life is so much fun, not too smart and not too dumb". It made me think about how there is comfort in the simplicity of doing dumb but important work. Also, how much easier it is to log off work that is dependent on you being physically present and in which you can easily be replaced by someone with equivalent training. This goes back to the director's line from chapter 1:
"That is the secret of happiness and virtue -- liking what you've got to do. All conditioning aims at that: making people like their inescapable social destiny"
Resonates with me, who just drove home from a long day of blue collar labor, while listening to country music that tells me I'm special and my struggle is glorious as a blue collar laborer. If doing my job is so good, then why aren't there rich folks lined up to do it? Oh yeah, they are drinking champagne and riding around on jet skis. But they managed to convince the plebs their blue collar labor that keeps society functioning is important and commendable despite it actually being painful and traumatic.
 
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I recently watched a film adaptation of BNW on archive.org
Was it the 1980 version by any chance? That was honestly a great adaptation. People slander it for being 'low-budget' but that's a meaningless criticism. That aside, it's quite good. I love the sound in it. The guy from Space Odyssey was an actor in it. Very close to the book except in a particular scene right before the ending, but they didn't outright butcher the ending thankfully.
 
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@LostintheCycle it was the 1980 version. I found it quite entertaining.
@Remember_Summer_Days I kind of like the low effort prose of sci fi. Its like potato chips -- not nutritious, but tasty and filling none the less. And sometimes you do need the salt!
@zalaz alaza I am looking forward to hearing your interpretation of this book in particular as it deals with the endpoint of the intersection of technology and society, which is a topic you have a good intuition for.
 
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While the topic matter may be difficult for some, coming right off of Blood Meridian --perhaps the most difficult thing I've had to read through, so far, in terms of both content and writing style-- I'm finding this book to be a breeze. Aside from some parts of chapter 3, it has yet to give me much I've struggled to comprehend. I might end up reading it twice during the timespan of this club if I keep up this pace. As for the subject matter itself, I'm a bit more at a loss. While F451 had a sort of so-bad-its-good quality to it which gave me some things to talk about, I'm finding a lot less here. It's not that it's not deep, but rather it's moving further into a subject of inquiry which I struggle at conceptualizing. I'm not sure if I'm really able to discuss much that isn't more-or-less directly stated by the book in some way. Might end up having to take the back seat this time around.
 
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There are no incels in Brave New World, but at the same time sex is completely meaningless and just a recreational past time. I thought the moment of solidarity ritual was amusing, especially the dancing in a circle patting each other on the ass before descending into orgy porgy. I bet there were cults in the 60's and 70's that used this ritual stolen whole cloth. There must be some significance to the names, perhaps Huxley uses the people he sees as architects of this way of life? Ford, Engels, Rothschild were immediately obvious. I looked up Reuben Rabinovitch, the founder of hypnopedia in the novel, and it seems he was fictional.
 
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Jade

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I agree with @Remember_Summer_Days in that out of all the classic dystopia novels BNW is the one closest to the reality of the present-day dystopia. I had a big paragraph about the
savages
typed out but then I remembered that comes in the next part of the book so I'll have to save that for later. To put it short, I think the infantalization of adults in BNW and the worship of physical and moral comforts is spot-on. That famous copypasta which reads "DUDE I just LOVE the hustle and bustle of the big city", etc. mirrors BNW society perfectly. In essence, BNW society is a world in which the lives of the overwhelming majority of people are miserable and purposeless, where they're exploited endlessly and thrown away like trash once they become useless to the ever-shrinking, ever-wealthier minority of financial elites, but the extreme pain that exists as a consequence of this lifestyle is dulled through constant comforts. People don't just have these comforts as an option, they're FORCED to enjoy them, because only that way can the elite be certain that the populace won't be a bother to them. It is the equivalent of a parent who refuses to let their kid play with toys or go outside, and instead sticks them in front of a TV or ipad all day, even if they'd rather be playing naturally. The kids are FORCED to consume this sort of fake enjoyment and overstimulation of their senses, because if they were playing with their toys or outside with friends, there's a chance they could hurt themselves or get into trouble or start learning things that would make them ask questions, and thereby cause irritation to the adult. By forcing them to consume mindless entertainment on the internet, the adult is assured their own comforts and "me time" won't be affected or interrupted by the pressures and responsibilities of raising a kid, but they still get all the social benefits that come with raising a kid. The result is the infantalization and brain rot of both child and adult.
 
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