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Location: Kentucky, United States

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Miss Patterson, if your out there... Maybe you shoudn't read this.

In a conversation the boys and I were having a few weeks ago, I referenced George Orwell’s novel, 1984. Neither of the boys had read it, so I was forced to explain the book as well as the point I was using it to make. This made me think of other books they are unfamiliar with that left a lasting impression on me when I read them as a teenager. I made a list, brought up Amazon.com, and placed an order.

These are what we ordered, in no particular order

1984

Brave New World (more about this one later)

The Lord of the Flies

The Old Man and the Sea

Watership Down

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

Animal Farm

Dandelion Wine


I started our own little reading group with the intention of talking about the ideas these books present. Zack is reading The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, (this edition contains all five books so he may be reading this one for a while), and Jason quickly read The Old Man and the Sea, and has started on Animal Farm. I am reading Brave New World.

I included Brave New World on the list although I have not actually read it. I was supposed to have; I just didn’t.

I am the result of a failed educational experiment at our school during my High-School years. At that time, the English Grammar/Literature courses were divided into nine weeks segments. You picked which course you wanted to take, like in College. I ended up with only nine weeks of Grammar, but two “Courses” of Science Fiction and a Creative Writing class.

In one of the Science Fiction classes, we were supposed to read Brave New World. I got confused with the dialogue changes Huxley used near the beginning of the story, put it down and never went back. I found out too late that the format of the final review was a four-question essay test. “Oh well”, I told myself. I had been reading Plato around that time and was enthralled with the Socratic Method; (actually, it is probably the Sophists who influenced me the most, as you shall see). With the test in front of me, I turned on the Blarney and received a final grade of an A, 100%! The teacher even wrote “good paper” in red ink at the top! I honestly did not have any idea what the story was about.

I still have that paper today, just in case you do not believe me. I do not believe me either, that is why I kept it.

Therefore, I am reading Brave New World for the first time before giving it to the boys. Although I think the character development is thin, I am fascinated with the supposition the story line presents.

In what I think is the foundational statement of the book; Mustapha Mond is speaking with the Savage and says:

“But industrial civilization is only possible when there’s no self-denial. Self-indulgence up to the very limits imposed by hygiene and economics. Otherwise the wheels stop turning.”

This statement sparks so many connections in my head it is like a fireworks display. Think about the decline of morals in our society, even the lack of perception of decline goes with the idea of “Happiness” that Huxley puts forward. The ever increasing proliferation of sexual promiscuity and deviance, abortion, our fast food culture, products that are designed to fail within a set time period, that are more expensive to repair than replace, fashion that changes monthly, hip-ness, that by the time you know what it is, has already passed, drug culture, credit cards, video games, reality TV, p-rnography, pop-psychology, all of these things speak to our increasing predilection for instant, guiltless, self-gratification. These things drive our culture and economy. Without them the “wheels stop turning”.

Leon Kass says it best in this quote from his article in First Things magazine.

“Huxley’s novel is, of course, science fiction. But yesterday’s science fiction is rapidly becoming today’s fact. Prozac is not yet Huxley’s soma; cloning by nuclear transfer or splitting embryos is not exactly Bokanovskification; MTV and virtual–reality parlors are not quite the "feelies"; and our current safe–and–consequenceless sexual practices are not universally as loveless or as empty as in the novel. But the kinships are disquieting, all the more so since our technologies of bio–psycho–engineering are still in their infancy—and it is all too clear what they might look like in their full maturity. Indeed, the cultural changes technology has already wrought among us should make us even more worried than Huxley would have us be.”


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