Until I started reading Brave New World I had no idea there was a difference between insanity and lunacy. I'm still puzzled what the difference is.
The distinction is in Aldous Huxley's introduction to the 1946 edition of Brave New World, where he criticises his former self (writing in 1931) for only giving a choice between the insane "civilised" society or the lunatic "savage" society, when there was a viable middle ground.
Still, definitions aside, Brave New World is an amazing book. First of all, it creates a future that still rings possibly true, even today.
Secondly, it plays with your thinking. Instinctively I know that this is an upside-down world, a crazy place with no soul. But when I look at the big problems that have been solved in this world: unhappiness, war, unemployment, overemployment, discontent, boredom... it's a perfect world, if happiness is the greatest goal of mankind.
But it's not, is it, and that's one of the big cans of worms that Brave New World opens in a knock-down lay-down philosophical dialogue worthy of Plato or Aristotle. I'm talking about the chapter where the Shakespeare-quoting savage puts his questions to Mustapha Mond, the controller for Western Europe and representative of this "Brave" new world.
Huxley admits that he made the savage far too intelligent for someone of his upbringing, but it shows just how good a platform fiction - and particularly fantasy or science fiction - can be to explore the real issues of here and now.
Other observations about the story:
- I read that Huxley was an advertising copywriter, and he shows the uncomfortable familiarity with manipulative words that we wordsmiths wield. To whom much is given, much is expected.
- The characters in classic literature seem to be much more flawed than in popular literature. Just when I started to like Bernard, he does something completely unsympathetic. Just when I think Mustapha Mond shows potential for good, he shows how cynical he really is. There's no archetypical hero in this story; just a bunch of tragic anti-heroes.
- Unlike 1984 where people lived in conscious fear, much like the totalitarian regimes of today, the regime portrayed here is even more chilling - one where everyone is genuinely, superficially happy, and the world is so well-ordered that no real constraints are needed on behaviour or thinking - the pre-birth process has done it all. What hope would there be for such a world?
- Why would an ad agency call themselves Brave New World? Is it naivete or irony?