What About Me?

I mentioned in one of my very early blogs that at one point while I was teaching we had a required Freshman course in which the students were required to read Huxley’s Brave New World. I also mentioned one of the comments made by one of those students in the evaluations we asked them to write at the end of the semester. He said, in a comment echoed by a number of other students, “What does this have to do with me?” In a nutshell he told us a great deal abut what is wrong with his generation. For anyone who has half a brain and has read the book (which may exclude that student on both counts), the answer is obvious. Huxley’s world is one in which pleasure is the only recognizable value, much as it is in our world.

Toward the end of the novel John the savage has a remarkable dialogue with the Director about the strengths and weaknesses of Brave New World. The director, who goes by the name of Mustapha Mond, defends his world against the criticisms of the savage. After all, in Mond’s world everyone does what he wants to do and no one suffers needlessly. What’s not to like? As Mond says in a rather lengthy speech:

“. . .The greatest care is taken to prevent you from loving any one too much. There’s no such thing as a divided allegiance; you’re so conditioned that you can’t help doing what [we think] you ought to do. And what you ought to do is on the whole so pleasant, so many of the natural impulses are allowed free play, that there really aren’t any temptations to resist. And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there’s soma to give you a holiday from the facts. And there’s always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now, you swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry your morality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears — that’s what soma is.”

In response to this and other similar comments, the savage retorts: “Nothing costs enough here.” And that says it all.

Bearing in mind that soma is the Brave New World’s all-purpose tranquilizer and that while the parallel is not exact it is striking, since we have pills now for every malady — even some we merely imagine; the goal of constant pleasure is found both in Huxley’s and in our world, along with a type of Christianity that is designed (counter to its Founder’s intentions as I read the New Testament) to make things as delightful as possible and guarantee that everyone feels good about himself or herself no matter how low on the human scale they stand or crawl.

In a word, the book was written in the 1930s and still has the ring of truth which while loud and clear apparently falls on many a deaf ear. What does the book have to do with us? In both worlds, nothing costs enough. We seem to have traded a human world of struggle and suffering compensated by unexpected love, pleasure and delight for a world of satisfied ants in an ant-hill where there is no suffering or struggle — and no real love or delight in the world around us. “What does this have to do with me?” Everything.

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8 thoughts on “What About Me?

  1. Hugh, this brings back memories. This is one of those books that I enjoyed as a reading assignment, as it was different from others in theme and style. I am with you, how could you read this and ask the question that was asked of you? Books that stand the test of time often make you think or mask the underlying subject. That is why they are so much fun to dig into.

    To your broader point, where our society celebrates the superficial (think Good Morning America or ET), issues with multiple facets or people of substance are shortchanged. If it cannot be explained in 140 characters or less or with a picture then many do not want to take the time to learn about it.

    As for your comment on religion, I saw a bumper sticker that spoke volumes in its brevity as it made me think – “Jesus wants his religion back.”

    Great post. BTG

    • Great comment! Many thanks. It is an amazing book.And Huxley’s Brave New World Revisited is worth reading as well. He predicted years ago that America would eventually elect an actor as President!

      • That is prescient of him. Did he also guess we would have a former wrestler as Governor of Minnesota and body builder/ actor as Governor of California, as well. I need to check out Revisited.

  2. this makes me think of an encounter from yesterday; my friend and i went to the mall on the way to the bus stop. we were watching the world cup on a huge screen in the food court, and it was almost time to leave for the terminal. a short ‘overweight’ woman about our age walked up to us and asked if we were for south africa, her country… yes, we thought it would be nice if they advanced…. she was nervous, and i knew something else was coming…

    she finally ‘got around’ to her story.. that she had been robbed at gunpoint by her taxi driver in another city, and she was without passport, credit cards, cash, clothing – nada – he had taken it-driven away with it all. my friend and i kept exchanging glances – (is she telling the truth, or is this a con?)…. she said that south africa did not have an embassy in ecuador, and she was trying to find enough money for bus fare for peru, where there was an embassy.

    her husband had been killed in south africa four months ago. her mother was very old and not well. she had no one /no way to help with funds…

    i never carry much cash – only what i think i need for my time away from home; i reached into my purse and gave her twenty dollars and said that i believed her.. she presented a folder with police reports –

    my friend looked over the papers… she also gave her twenty dollars… the woman said, ‘you are the first people who have helped. one man gave me-‘ (she reached into her pocket and held it) ‘…one penny…’

    she kept looking at our food… i sensed an animal’s hunger and i said, ‘i am finished, and i am sorry that it’s not very appetizing, but you’re welcome to finish this…’ she declined and said that she didn’t have much time before the bus left for peru…

    how can one NOT have compassion for a fellow human in times of need.. even if it was a con, i would rather part with twenty in hopes that it helped instead of dropping twenty wasted dollars in a casino’s purse.

    i thought of her as i traveled the 8-or so hours back to my hometown. i bought peanuts at one stop and kept rolling, but i was comforted that at least our money had helped buy her food and a place to stay while trying to recover from her dilemma.

    the world often has a calloused attitude when it comes to helping fellow man.

    thanks for listening, my friend.

    • Beautiful story by a beautiful person about a truly generous act. I would there were more like you in this world! Thanks, Z — and I agree with BTG: it’s good to hear your voice again.

      • thanks.. it was great to read this post after the ‘encounter’ with the lady… i wondered if there are shelters in most countries for moments like this.. and if not – por-que no? why not…

        goodness i wish i had reliable internet – there are so many posts to write!

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