“I think [Bernard]’s pretty harmless.”
Pretty Harmless, perhaps; but also pretty disquieting. That mania, to start with, for doing things in private. Which mean, in practice, not doing anything at all. For what was there that one could do in private. (Apart, of course, from going to bed: but one couldn’t do that all the time.) Yes, what was there? Precious little. The first afternoon they went out together was particularly fine. Lenina had suggested a swim at Toquay Country Club followed by dinner at the Oxford Union. But Bernard thought there would be too much of a crowd. Then what about a round of Electro-magnetic Golf at St. Andrew’s? But again, no: Bernard considered that Electro-magnetic Golf was a waste of time.
“Then what’s time for?” asked Lenina in some astonishment.
Apparently, for going [on] walks in the Lake district; for that was what he now proposed. Land on the top of Skiddaw and walk for a couple of hours in the heather. “Alone with you, Lenina.”
“But, Bernard, we should be alone all night.”
Bernard blushed and looked away. “I meant, alone for talking,” he mumbled.
“Talking? But what about?” Walking and talking–that seemed a very odd way of spending an afternoon.
I’m rereading through Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World for the first time since high school. I find that this work of art speaks to our culture even more so now than it did 80 years ago. But then again, society doesn’t change much, do they?
For those who are unfamiliar with the work, the setting is several hundred years into the future. Science has eliminated the need for sexual reproduction, and people are bred in test-tubes and raised in centers where they are conditioned, brain-washed, into the way they are supposed to think and feel. People are classed, Alpha through Epsilon, Alphas doing all the brain-work, and Epsilons doing all the hard-labor. It is a society of sexual liberty, with orgies and “feelies,” pornographic films with the added bonuses of aromas and physical sensations. Everyone has a daily dose of a drug called soma that keeps them from having true feelings, emotionally blinded from grief, suffering, anger, but also beauty and excitement. Outside of work, they are constantly entertained by sex, synthetic music, feelies, or ridiculous sports games.
The main character Bernard is physically isolated from society because he is about 3 inches shorter than an Alpha should be. He does not enjoy the orgies, the feelies, or any of their sports. He is quite the outsider. He wants something more. And yet, hypocritically, he wants to be just like everybody else. And later in the book, when he has a few moments of fame and is not alienated, he participates in all their activities as if he were never different.
Modern readers look at this book and laugh at the strange society it becomes. It is so strange that it can’t be possible. And yet, it is. Sure, we do not yet have test-tube babies or official classes of people, but what I’m interested in is the soma, the sex, and the games.
Lenina remarks that the only thing you can do when you’re alone is sleep. The rest of the day is spent in busyness, either at work, or at some other public event. We too spend our lives going from event to event, our schedules full of things to do. We are modern, civilized people, with so many things to do, so many things we can do, that we don’t have enough time for it all. We are too busy for our family, and for our friends. More and more restaurants offer to-go menus, and who uses a coffee mug anymore? We’re all too busy drinking it on the go.
For example, last Sabbath I had some errands to run. Personally, I allow myself to do errands on Sabbath because I usually only have one to do, and it is actually relaxing. Also, because I’m so busy with schoolwork, if I did these errands on the weekdays it would be stressful. (Sabbath is for man, not man for Sabbath, right?” But last week I had too many errands, and by the end of the day, my Sabbath was gone. I started the next week without any sense of rest. And it just drained me.
Did you know that soma is a real drug? It’s an antidepressant. The people of Brave New World are constantly consuming antidepressants to take away the reality of the world. How many of us “civilized” people are drugged up? If it’s not an antidepressant, it’s TV, the internet, movies, video games. We have any number of things to keep our mind off of the world. We zip around all day at school or work, and then we unwind by doing any of the things listed above. If we spend all day unplugged from reality, when do we ever get to experience the beauty of creation, the healing of rest, the joy of silence?
And sex, are we not moving into a world where everybody belongs to everybody? In my generation, it is slowly, but surely, becoming the new, *cool*, thing to be in an open relationship. If you are so blessed as to not know what that is, it is a dating relationship in which both parties are “together,” but are free to have sex with anyone else too.
Wake up world! Come out of her my people! Please turn off your iPhones, your iPads, your laptops and touch-screens, your TVs, our video games, and enjoy the world! Sit down and have a conversation with someone alone, for hours. Take a walk in the heather. Watch the trees change. Set aside your business and connect with someone’s heart.
Yes, I know I’m writing this on a computer, so I am the hypocritical Bernard. But I do desperately yearn for a world where I don’t feel dependent on the internet to communicate with friends, to do my homework, to do my schoolwork. But I am trying. I am. And I pray to Papa every day to help me further in this task.
Come, let’s learn to be real once again. Let’s learn to love once again. Let’s learn to feel once again.
“Most people are on the world, not in it
—have no conscious sympathy or relationship to anything about them—
undiffused, separate, and rigidly alone like marbles of polished stone, touching, but separate.” ~ John Muir