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In a nutshell, this is one of the best books I have ever read (and, for me, that's saying something).
I'll elaborate. For some reason I seem to be reading a lot of utopian / dystopian fiction nowadays. Mainly because it makes you think about the direction the human race is taking. Thinking. It's such an intrinsically human capacity, right? Brave New World works on the premise (at least that's one of the premises) that human beings think what they are conditioned to think. Whether that condition comes from genetics, or culture, if you can identify the factors of influence, you can control the human race. And they won't mind, because they've been conditioned to accept it, and even like it.
I feel like whatever I write here won't come even close to what I got out from this book. The world it describes may be horrifying (though, to me, for different reasons to the ones the Savage describes), but I found it to be very believable. Controlling people, not by violence and oppression (like in Orwell's 1984) or the media (like in Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451), but by themselves, by their own happiness, and getting rid of everything that might endanger their constructed state of pure bliss.
Love hurts? Abolish love, keep only the sex, conditioning people to feel that any deeper relationship is undesirable, morally and socially repulsive, and unnecessary. Family promotes unrest? Get rid of it by making all the babies in bottles and keeping women from getting pregnant. Work is unpleasant? Condition people from childhood to think of it as a rewarding, easy and natural thing to do. Need different people for each job? Create (quite literally) a set of castes, with different conditioning to make them love their own class (even the lower ones), and each individual will know and love their place in society. Perfect social stability. And so on.
Frightful, isn't it? But then, as I was reading this book, I kept wondering. Isn't that what humans want? Isn't that what they search for, what they work towards? Usually when you ask someone what they want, they will answer they just want to be happy, or something to the effect. From that point of view, this would be the perfect society. Right?
Except that it's not. You finish this book realizing just how complicated human beings are. I'm sure that, at times, when one looks at the world in general today, one gets the feeling that most people only care about the superficial, that they are all too happy to just live their lives without caring for politics, or philosophy, or art. All too happy to care only about their next TV, their next car, their next vacation. But the notion that you can be truly happy with nothing more than that is one I find hard to accept (or maybe I just don't want to accept it). I guess it depends on the meaning of "happiness" - something that, in my opinion at least, isn't all that easy to pinpoint. It varies from each individual to the next, and the absence of pain doesn't necessarily mean happiness. Of course, in Huxley's world, there are no individuals. Those who, by whatever reason, achieve any kind of individuality, are sent to a faraway island.
I had a few problems with the characters - particularly the Savage, who seemed to behave in a way totally unexpected way (to me, anyway), mainly, by launching into deep conversations about religion and the meaning of it all (yes, we get hints that he doesn't understand some things, but still, growing up in a society like the one in the Savage Reservation, I'd be inclined to think his belief in God would be more intuitive - exactly like a conditioning). Still, the story and the society was so mesmerizing that the rest took a step back. I recommend this to anyone, it's guaranteed to make you think.