Hacker News new | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

I realize the 'ban' is because of the Native American/savages angle, but now that the book comes up I'd like to ask: I read Brave New World expecting a dystopic society, but failed to understand why the world that is described is dystopic. Huxley seems to go out of his way to ascribe all sorts of pejorative attributes to the society in the book, to the point where the promiscuous sex lives of the inhabitants are presented so prominently that I got the feeling he did this mostly to instigate the (presumably morally much more strict) early 20th century reader against it. Still, he described a world where the vast majority of people were happy, actually happy and content with their lives, and managed to live those lives without much hardship or grief.

Now maybe if one takes the position that hardship and grief are somehow morally virtuous (a position that is surprisingly common and that I as, I think, a rational person have a very hard time understanding, especially since the reasons for it are very seldom given in coherent theories) there is merit to this argument. But even then I still fail to see why the 'savages' in the book, or the protagonist, are somehow morally better than the other people.

So if anyone has read the book and wants to explain why they feel the world described in there is bad, I'd be very interested to hear why they think so.

(I'm leaving aside some what I think are minor issues, like the apparent destructive qualities of soma addictions - that was one of those other points I felt Huxley just put in there to get his point across, the technical deficiencies of the drug are irrelevant to the moral position he's (presumably) arguing).




You don't find it dystopic because the Brave New World so frighteningly resembles ours. The people on the article actually behaves like the idiot mainstream inhabitants of the Brave New World.

That you don't even find it dystopic is probably another sign that it's actually the parody of the world we're living it; superficial, commercial, filled with porn and vulgarity, reality TV and shitty music, individualistic and thoughtless. We don't even need a Thought Police to enforce proper thinking.


You're ascribing all sorts of moral judgments to this world but don't make a case for why any of these things are bad, if they manage to make people feel (truly) content and happy. What's wrong with reality TV, Lady Gaga and advertisements if that's what people like? Do you honestly thing people would be better off if they didn't have those things and only had a Chopin record to put on at night? Maybe I'm reading your comment wrong but the pseudo-intellectual snobbery, not backed up with anything but an general contempt for anything that is mainstream, irks me. I guess in the same way the Brave New World did.

(that said, calling the society of Brave New World to be similar to ours is hyperbole, and I'd pretty sure that it's not why I feel the way I do about the book. Don't forget that the 1930's had their own 'shitty music and vulgarity', in the form of jazz and skirts that showed ankles. It's so easy to make an extremely generalized case for why Brave New World resembles any society; hell I figure that some grumpy inhabitants of Pompei would make the same argument about their city 2000 years ago.).


> You're ascribing all sorts of moral judgments to this world but don't make a case for why any of these things are bad, if they manage to make people feel (truly) content and happy.

Most probably sheep are perfectly happy in their pen. Being perfectly happy because you don't think about why you live and what you may be good for isn't in my opinion a good way to be happy. My opinion is that human being should aim higher than living an happy cattle life. These are personal values, but I think that some values are better than others, and that general relativism isn't good.

And about the intellectual snobbery : I am a proud intellectual snob. Intellectual snobs know better, that's why I chose to be one :)


"...a good way to be happy..." ... "...should aim higher than living an happy cattle life..."

I'm not sure. Some other posters also brought up a similar argument. I'm not convinced that there is a moral ordering or ways to be happy, as long as the criteria are constrained to internal ones (i.e., as long as the criteria don't affect others - a society of 9 male rapists and one woman is presumably one where 90% of the population is happy, but that doesn't make it a just or right society)

I don't agree that hardship and/or grief are required for great achievements. On the contrary, I think that most achievements are done by people who are already in the 5th layer of Maslow's hierarchy. It's subjective what 'great achievement' is, but in the trend of this site, let's take some big software companies; were Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg living in mud huts, going to sleep every night feeling hungry? I don't know the details about any of them, but it seems from a cursory Wikipedia glance that all of them grew up in environments where the 'happy cattle life' was the norm, and it was some other internal motivation that drove them to create and not a desire to get away from hardship.

Also, note that I didn't say 'intellectual snobbery', but 'pseudo-intellectual snobbery'. Being a rebel for rebellion's sake, agitating against everything that is mainstream, is not intellectualism, it's mostly a trait of wannabe students and hipsters who are still in their formative years and derive their self image from contrasting themselves with the rest of society. Now actual intellectual thought can also be contrary to mainstream thinking of course, but it needs to be backed up with solid reasoning from data, axioms etc. and not with 'most people are stupid, so what most people are thinking is wrong' (even leaving apart that by definition it's impossible for most people to be stupid, unless one sets the benchmark for stupidity at an arbitrarily high level, at which point it's just definition again).


> I'm not convinced that there is a moral ordering or ways to be happy, as long as the criteria are constrained to internal ones ...

This is an interesting and debatable matter. I'm probably not really convinced too :)

> I don't agree that hardship and/or grief are required for great achievements.

Neither do I, but I don't seem to have implied it.


http://wilderdom.com/images/IQ.gif

With one picture we can explain reality TV, crappy music, Chopin and Huxley.


The dystopia is in that it's become not so much a society as a machine. A cog is not discontented with its position in a machine, but much like the cog, it's difficult to truly consider the people in Brave New World alive.

I know it's a bit of a value judgment, but while happiness is hardly something to look down on, I find it difficult to believe that it's the only end worth pursuing.


I guess I agree partly with the last part, but then what others are? Does being unhappy make one be alive? Does being discontent? Or is there moral virtue in the 'natural' state of things, not being changed by human intervention; is it the fact the happiness is made in the book, not by the happy person him or herself, but by 'the machine', the society? If so, shouldn't we stop all state intervention that tries to improve citizen's lives?

I guess that I understand the gut feeling of uneasiness with the society presented in the book. It's that I can't find a rational explanation for it that bugs me. (one could do this one away by dismissing the value of rationality, but that I don't want to do - it's a value judgment too there, but one I hope people on here would understand and agree with).


Yeah, discontent definitely means being alive. If you're fat, dumb and happy to the extreme degree portrayed in the book, then you're going to live a worthless life from the perspective of any individual creativity or accomplishment.


I'm not sure what your intention is - are you arguing that discontent does mean being alive, and that creativity or accomplishment can only come from discontent, or are you being sarcastic?


1) and 2) -- it's hard to really feel alive if you live your life in a mundane, average state of happy-enough, and you're certainly not going to accomplish anything worthwhile.


I read Brave New World expecting a dystopic society, but failed to understand why the world that is described is dystopic.

I'll quote a passage from the Wikipedia article on it that expresses just one frightening aspect of the society described in the book.

Natural reproduction has been done away with and children are created, 'decanted' and raised in Hatcheries and Conditioning Centres, where they are divided into five castes (which are further split into 'Plus' and 'Minus' members) and designed to fulfill predetermined positions within the social and economic strata of the World State. Fetuses chosen to become members of the highest caste, 'Alpha', are allowed to develop naturally while maturing to term in "decanting bottles", while fetuses chosen to become members of the lower castes ('Beta', 'Gamma', 'Delta', 'Epsilon') are subjected to in situ chemical interference to cause arrested development in intelligence or physical growth.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brave_New_World


The book also explicitly describes that these castes are perfectly happy being who they are. They are happy and proud to be in their caste and have no desires to be in another caste. All inhabitants are happy and feel at place in life. So now where's the problem? Is there an inherent moral evil in social strata, when those people have no desire for class mobility?

I mean I'm all in favor of letting and encouraging people to develop themselves into who they want to be, but the society in the book is one where everybody is everything he/she wants to be! I fail to understand the moral wrong in that.


Everyone in BNW is effectively programmed at birth. The system seems designed to suppress innovation, which many value highly. It could be argued that unhappiness drives innovation, productivity and progress, in much the same way profit motive does.

My desire to be a productive person stems from my experiences with short term happiness. No matter how many movies, video games or hobbies I enjoy in the short term, I will eventually feel a lack of deeper fulfillment if I don't accomplish something significant.

The happiness offered by the system in BNW seems to provide only this fleeting happiness without addressing the longer term "contented" style of happiness. I think this is what people react negatively to. It is hard to imagine a "cheat" to fulfillment because so many people spend their lives searching for it unsuccessfully.

The characters in BNW have apparently been modified or conditioned to lack this drive. Or their drive has been subverted to meet the goals of society. Whether you think this type of happiness can or should be provided artificially is up to you.


Everyone is happy and proud to be in their caste because their brains have been programmed to be happy and proud about their status in life.

Does slavery become alright as long as you brainwash slaves into thinking they are content?


"Does slavery become alright as long as you brainwash slaves into thinking they are content?"

Well that's my question. It stops being "slavery" at the point that the "slave" doesn't feel like a slave anymore and is happy about their situation, doesn't it? I see on television (yeah, I know...) people in SM lifestyles who go out on the internet to find somebody who they can give complete control over their lives, much like a slave I guess. Is that OK? I see no problem with it.

I know you say 'thinking they are content', which is different from what the book says (and I'm assuming the SM slave is also truly content, and not made believe to be so, or psychologically damaged to the point they can't recognize content). The book says that they were actually content, I'm reasoning from that assumption. I guess one could say 'it's impossible to make people truly content through these means"; fine, that's a valid position, and I agree. I'm just going from abstract assumptions as they were framed in the book.


I had very similar thoughts when I read the book. It seems to me that if there is no desire for class mobility then strata are not evil.

However, humans being what they are, it seems impossible to guarantee that lack of desire. This is (kind of) demonstrated by Bernard's discontent and by John the Savage's inability to cope with the society. Both were weak cases. Bernard because he was privileged, and John because he was a total outsider that was not acclimated to the culture.


I had a similar problem at the end of the book, in that it's difficult to describe a world where poverty does not exist and where no one really suffers as a dystopia. ("a society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding.")

Why I feel it's a bad world... Stunting natural fetal growth and then torturing small children to condition them into complacent compliance with their destined roles seems morally indefensible to me.

(Incidentally, soma was repeatedly described as side-effect free. I'm curious where you read it as having destructive qualities.)


"and then torturing small children to condition them into complacent compliance with their destined roles seems morally indefensible to me."

Yeah that's a good point. Initially I classified that with the 'minor issues' I mentioned, that I felt he just introduced to scare the reader, but revisiting it it seems like it's a pretty fundamental part of the described system, if you can't engineer the fetuses into children who are already happy and OK with their place in society. Then again, it's been a while since I read it, wasn't the engineering meant to produce A or B or whatever type people, and the scene with the children not so much about conditioning their place in society but something else? Sorry I'd have to dig out the book.

(I know this sounds like I'm advocating for engineering fetuses to be complacent children but I'm not - I'm just saying that in the system in the book as a whole I don't see much of a problem with it, much like genetically engineering fetuses to correct for a birth defect, if we could do that.)

"(Incidentally, soma was repeatedly described as side-effect free. I'm curious where you read it as having destructive qualities.)"

The mother of the protagonist, the one who was 'rescued from the savages' (sorry don't remember names), got a severe soma addiction that killed her in the end, no? I don't remember reading explicit mentions of being side-effect free. I thought there were several mentions of a maximum amount that people should take.




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: