So-called conservatives out of their minds — still, but moreso: 3 reasons not to fear ‘Brave New World’

April 11, 2013

You can’t make up this kind of crazy.  This guy’s been Tweeting this to everyone he can find on Twitter:

Seriously?  Hatcheries for children?

Isaac Asimov‘s great off-the-cuff essay one why 1984 wouldn’t be like 1984 is sort of a prototype of the sort of take-down of dystopias one finds in literary and historical circles.  (Once I had a link to a version of the essay, but it’s buried in the bowels of the internet now.)

First edition cover

Is this where we are going, so rapidly in this handbasket? First edition cover, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World – Wikipedia image

But it never makes the true crazies see the light.  They can’t see contrary evidence.

Asimov’s essay noted Orwell’s lack of foresight in simple things, and human things.  In Orwell’s Big Brother dystopia, Winston Smith couldn’t get razor blades or shoe laces, indicators of the economic failures of Big Brother.  Asimov wrote that, in reality,  he used an electric razor, and wore slip-on shoes.  Blades and laces were foreign to his world, too, but not evidence of dystopia; instead, they were evidence of changing fashion and innovation. Orwell thought Big Brother would watch everyone with electronics.  We learned that people as a mass, who use phones, especially cell phones, and the internet, put out too much information in total for a Big Brother to make sense of it, absent other indicators — and that even when hints of wrong-doing turn up, the bureaucracies tend to prevent quick action, or any action at all.  (See the report of the 9/11 Commission.)

One wishes Asimov were alive to do a take-down of the Brave New World fears.  One also suspects those living in fear of Huxley wouldn’t understand the takedown.

Huxley himself gave it away.  Nothing in scientific discoveries has altered Huxley’s errors of prediction (if he was “predicting” and not simply fantasizing).

So, here are three reasons a rational human should not fear we are on the verge of Brave New World, as Huxley scared us all:

  1. Huxley’s dead, and out of date.  Huxley died 50 years ago (on November 22, 1963, coincidentally enough — Sam Theissen with find some omen in that; superstition can’t be stamped out of those who refuse to learn).  Huxley’s premises, his assumptions about society, don’t work in a modern world.  Huxley’s imaginings were almost pre-modern science.  His story doesn’t imagine electricity on the Navaho or Hopi or Apache reservations.  He didn’t foresee Interstate Highways, nor even Route 66, and America’s love affair with travel and the automobile.  He didn’t see the rise of broadcast television and radio, nor rock ‘n roll, nor especially did he see the cultural effects of popular radio on U.S., British or world politics.  Huxley assumes a Soviet-style dictatorship can work.  We know better.  We have Solzhenitsyn.  We had Sakharov protesting in the Soviet Union, and Oppenheimer protesting in the U.S.  That should also remind us that Huxley missed nuclear power.  Huxley simply missed most of the technology and especially culturally-affective technology that makes a Brave New World impossible.
  2. Human hatcheries don’t work.  Hatcheries work for fish; we’ve been unable to make them work for most birds.  Critically, they don’t work for humans, nor for any other complex mammalian — nor chordate, in the ways Huxley describes the embryoes being programmed for certain kinds of intelligence and physical traits.  Oddly, that seems to be the focus of Thiessen’s fears — but the technology simply doesn’t work.
  3. Sex is fun. Huxley’s story required that sex and procreation be done away with.  Oh, there was some sex — but procreative sex is presented as a shameful character flaw, like patricide, embezzling or drug dealing.  Brave New World is frustrated, in the 20th century, by the backseats of cars and the simple fact that sex is so much fun.  Raising kids is fun, too, and valued by adults the world over, a value that got much more expression after World War II.

It’s difficult to imagine kids in high school reading Brave New World without giggling, and without noting the difficulties of the story now (try to get a high school kid to believe Superman used phone booths . . .).

Sam Thiessen is convinced civilization will collapse — he’s written books about it.  I wonder about people who miss the ultimately fatal flaw of Huxley’s story, that humans love one another, and humans like to have sex.  Those who fear Huxley’s book is a forecast, I think, either don’t get enough sex, or don’t know how.

The things are going with current witch hunts, Texas teachers who use Huxley’s book should look out — Thiessen and his fellow travelers will soon accuse them of indoctrinating students in the stuff, instead of warning them against it.  After all, Thiessen seems to have missed the warnings himself.

I’d wager that in other rants, self-titled conservatives and libertarians like Thiessen rail at the usual-suspect decline in morals, including a lot of actions shocking to them, caused by the fact that most people find sex really fun.  Does it not make sense that they’d take a step back, and see that the behavior they claim disgusts them, also makes possible the broken future they fear?

Oblivious to this odd balance of freedoms, they then campaign to end the immorality they see, never thinking that by doing so they advance the dystopia they claim to fear.  What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to misperceive.

More:

A note about the title of the book:

O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t.

  ♦ William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act V, Scene I; spoken by Miranda


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