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Brave New World vs. Island (Huxley books report)

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posted on Dec, 17 2010 @ 05:48 AM

"History is the record of what human beings have been impelled to do by their ignorance and the enormous bumptiousness that makes them canonize their ignorance as a political or religious dogma." - Aldous Huxley

We are most of us familiar with Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, even without reading it we understand the dystopian connotations of the term itself. It is what we consider to be a “classic” today. So when I came across it while meandering around the public library, it caught my attention. Next to Brave New World was another of Huxley's novels, this one entitled “Island”.

Inside the cover of Island was a short summary... It said "On the island of Pala--as in the brave new world--science has helped advance the founders' plans. But, in sharp contrast, those plans have the goal of freeing each person, not enslaving him." I read that and wondered why we've all heard so much about Brave New World, but nothing about Island, which seemed to be Huxley's answer to it.

I checked them both out, because I wanted an answer to this question. I spent that weekend reading, both books were very easy to get into and quick to read. I want to offer this comparison, with the help of Wikipedia and online resources since I've already returned the books to the library.

Brave New World

Huxley wrote this book in 1931, as satire of other “futurist” books recently published. The story takes place in the year 2540, “the year of our Ford 632”... they refer to “Ford” instead of “Lord” or “God” throughout the book, and he also mentions “Freud” being another name for “our Ford”. This is the sort of icon/idol of the age.

The population is stabilized and limited to 2 billion people worldwide, under The World State. Children are produced in “hatcheries” and raised in “conditioning centers”. There are several different castes of people. The lower castes (Deltas, Gammas, Epsilons) are created in batches of thousands of identical twins, while the higher castes (Alphas, Betas) are made unique. Their castes determine their entire lives; the lower castes are made and psychologically programmed for labor of different kinds, while the higher castes are trained for roles with more responsibility and authority.

The children are indoctrinated from birth (if you can even call it birth!) with subliminal messages (mostly in their sleep) appropriate for their caste. Some of the messages are universal, such as the necessity of consumption (“ending is better than mending”) to support the economy, and that recreational sex is a social responsibility because “everyone belongs to everyone else”.

Everyone takes “soma” at even the slightest sign of discontent. Often in the book, one character who enjoys solitude and contemplation is advised to take his soma. This is some sort of hallucinogenic created by the World State as a substitute for religion and philosophy (basically). Soma is used during “Solidarity Services”, where a dozen citizens of different castes sing hymns together and commune with “our Ford” in a sort of group hypnosis that ends with an orgy.

Without going too much into the specifics of the plot... two of the “Alpha” characters are discontent (for different reasons) and they share their complaints with one another. Later in the book, they are both suspected of not being trustworthy in their positions of authority/responsibility and are brought before the “World Controller” for their local region. (There are 10 World Controllers, each controls one region.)

He tells them they can choose to be exiled on an island of their choice. This, he says, is not a punishment for disobedience, rather it would allow them some degree of freedom because they would not be able to influence others and disrupt the stability of the World State.

The “Controller” confesses that he was once threatened with exile for scientific research he'd done, but he chose to continue working for the World State and was trained to be a World Controller. In his position, he censors scientific work, exiles scientists like he once was, and is allowed access to literature forbidden to the rest of society.

Also, (without going too much into the plot) there is a “Savage Reservation” in New Mexico. On the reservation, the people are protected from the World State. The culture of the “savages” is a strange mix of native cultures and Christianity. The higher castes of citizens of the World State are sometimes granted permission to visit the Savage Reservation, I assume to make them thankful for the progress of society.

A young man (the Savage) is brought from the reservation to London and remains there as a sort of experiment to see if he could be assimilated and what influence (if any) he would have on the people of the World State.

In 1946, Huxley wrote:

If I were now to rewrite the book, I would offer the Savage a third alternative. Between the Utopian and primitive horns of his dilemma would lie the possibility of sanity... In this community economics would be decentralist and Henry-Georgian, politics Kropotkinesque co-operative. Science and technology would be used as though, like the Sabbath, they had been made for man, not (as at present and still more so in the Brave New World) as though man were to be adapted and enslaved to them. Religion would be the conscious and intelligent pursuit of man's Final End, the unitive knowledge of immanent Tao or Logos, the transcendent Godhead or Brahman. And the prevailing philosophy of life would be a kind of Higher Utilitarianism, in which the Greatest Happiness principle would be secondary to the Final End principle – the first question to be asked and answered in every contingency of life being: "How will this thought or action contribute to, or interfere with, the achievement, by me and the greatest possible number of other individuals, of man's Final End?"

Which brings me to...


There is much less about Island on Wikipedia to guide me, so I'll have to skim over the PDF version for talking points. The novel was published in 1962, and it was Huxley's last.

It seems to take place in the mid-20th century, the same era the book was published. A journalist finds himself on the island of Pala after being shipwrecked while sailing alone. He serves as the reader's eyes, so to speak; as he learns about the island and its people, so do you.

In addition to being a writer, he is often employed by a wealthy industrialist (whom he is related to by marriage, if I remember correctly) to meet important people and negotiate with them about various business matters. He had been dispatched to meet with the military-dictator of the nearest 'mainland' country to Pala, while visiting for journalistic reasons.

On the island, the writer (Will) discovers a very interesting balance of Western and Eastern cultures. Their civilization evolved when a Scottish doctor came to save the life of the island's Raja and settled there. The doctor and the Raja then worked together to modernize Pala's civilization while retaining the society's spiritual foundation.

The people learned and valued various religions and philosophies; they mostly combined Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist ideas. They learned much about modern science and used technology moderately, so the people could do fulfilling work and also have time for leisure and contemplation. The parrots on the island are trained to periodically squawk “Attention!” and “Here and now, boys!” and “Karuna!” (Compassion), reminding the people to focus on the present, seize opportunity, and be compassionate to others and to self.

The island is rich in natural resources (such as oil), but the people of Pala won't sell it and hardly use it. The island has a monarch, but it is mostly ruled in a democratic way by The Cabinet, The House of Representatives, and The Privy Council (representing the Raja).

In the book, the Raja is dead and his heir is about to come of age to take the throne. His widow, the Rani, was a princess from the nearest mainland country. She does not like Pala and does not approve of the ways of the Palanese, so she practically raised her son elsewhere (Switzerland, for a while). Her spiritual beliefs are different, she talks of Theosophy a bit.

Will learns the Rani and her son intend to form an alliance with the military-dictator of her neighboring home, to sell Pala's oil and build the island's military, which was then completely non-existent.

Will asks to stay on the island for a month, partly because he is genuinely curious about their society, but also because he can make a lot of money if he secures Pala's oil for his industrialist boss. Throughout the book, he has to grapple with guilt about his self-serving aims.

I don't want to get much into the details of the plot, but the comparison with Brave New World...

Reproductive technology is used in both books. In Island, assisted reproduction is available in the form of artificial insemination. One couple gave birth to two of their own children and then decided to have another whose father would be a deceased Palanese artist, by artificial insemination. Having children this way was not compulsory, but if a couple were concerned about a genetic disorder in their families, they would often choose artificial insemination.

Unlike BNW, where 'family' was completely eradicated, families are very important on Pala; so important that every child has 15-20 of them. They call it a Mutual Adoption Club. If a child is unhappy with a parent or sibling and their home becomes intolerable, they are allowed and encouraged to choose another family from among their adoption group.

Sexual relationships seem fairly exclusive and monogamous on the island, in stark contrast to the sexual 'responsibilities' of the World State citizens. In BNW, children are instructed to engage in sexual play with one another even as toddlers. On Pala, they practice tantric sex (“the yoga of love”) and it seems like the teenagers are not discouraged from sex, but taught to understand it as a 'spiritual' activity.

The Palanese have “moksha medicine”, which is a hallucinogen derived from mushrooms on the island. It is not used habitually as a drug, but moderately as a sort of 'enlightenment facilitator'. They call it “the reality revealer”.

Economically, the island claims to be neither capitalist nor socialist, but rather co-operative. They have a gold-backed currency that enables them to purchase what they can't produce internally, but they try to use their resources wisely and don't tend to over-consume. Their communal freezer stores their surplus of perishable food and materials, so little goes to waste.

The system and philosophy of the island is very detailed in the novel, and is transmitted through dialogue between the various characters and Will, the outsider journalist. I think Huxley must have taken his time (his lifetime) discovering and developing his ideas for this book. It's very well worth the time it takes to read it.

Which brings me back to contemplate the question I asked myself in the library: “Why do we hear so much about Brave New World and so little (or nothing) about Island?” I think Huxley would be disappointed.

Brave New World wiki
Island wiki

Brave New World full text
Island full PDF

Thank you for reading.

posted on Dec, 17 2010 @ 06:44 AM
Thank you for that very interesting read, in fact I was just thinking before I came across this thread how the world seems to have taken George Orwell's book his " 1984 "novel and literally manifested it out into reality. A book that was wrote in 1949...and of all the books to recreate into reality ..why oh! why.. did it have to be that horrendous, futuristic reality.... an ...Orwellian society...

why did the collective consciousness not re-create something better such as you say ... "The Island" by Huxley
(personally I prefer the Island if I had to make a choice )

seems that the saying ..."what you fear most, you make real in your life ....the news media and news papers such a big roll in teaching the mass consciousness what to focus on and what to fear

and yet it is so simple to change the greater focus ..maybe there needs to be a new script written for our future instead of all this doom and gloom which is being spoon feed to us through the media day in day out .

posted on Dec, 17 2010 @ 06:54 AM
Congratulations on discovering one of the finest books of the last century, written by one of the finest writers of the last century. Ever since I first read Island about 20 years ago, I've made a habit of re-reading it about once a year, it's a great way to give yourself a bit of hope for a possible future where everything is done in a truly fair and exciting way. It's also a book I regularly give to friends as birthday/christmas presents, and so far everyone I've given it to has absolutely loved it.

In answer to your question, I suppose you don't hear as much about it as Brave New World for 2 reasons: One, because Brave New World is often (or at least used to be) included on school reading curriculum along with Orwell's 1984, whereas Island is not (though it really should be, but I imagine the governments probably think it's too much like communism, even though it's not), and two, because people seem to really prefer reading/watching/listening to tales of despair/destruction/woe rather than those of hope and solutions. A quick glance at the weekend's cinema/TV listings makes this blindingly obvious. Maybe one day this will change, for now you can do what I do and share the book with as many people as possible (this thread's a great start by the way).

I further recommend you read his book "After many a summer dies the Swan", it's another brilliant and frequently overlooked classic, dealing with Hollywood and man's vain folly of trying to live forever, and is also full of great insights into a better way of living your life through the mouth of the character Mr Propter, who is obviously meant to be Huxley himself.

Anyway, great post and do keep reading, there's at least another 20 Huxley books waiting for you!



posted on Dec, 17 2010 @ 07:14 AM

Originally posted by eMachine

Which brings me back to contemplate the question I asked myself in the library: “Why do we hear so much about Brave New World and so little (or nothing) about Island?” I think Huxley would be disappointed.

I think actually Huxley would not be the least bit surprised....

posted on Dec, 17 2010 @ 09:31 AM

Originally posted by internationalcriminal

Originally posted by eMachine

Which brings me back to contemplate the question I asked myself in the library: “Why do we hear so much about Brave New World and so little (or nothing) about Island?” I think Huxley would be disappointed.

I think actually Huxley would not be the least bit surprised....

You're probably right about that, internationalcriminal!

xsheep (lol aren't we all?) makes a great point about how being focused on what we fear can make it a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy and how deeply this fear gets embedded in our collective consciousness.

I know "1984" and "Brave New World" have been recommended reading for students, and these books are a good warning about totalitarian dystopia, but it should maybe be balanced with other works which offer possible solutions. Perhaps solutions like those offered by Huxley in "Island" are left out to give the impression that our system IS the solution.

internationalcriminal, I certainly look forward to reading more Huxley and I intend to include much of it in my kids' homeschool 'curriculum' in the future. I'm making a note of the one you suggested specifically and I'm sure I can find others.

Thank you both for contributing your insight to the thread. I really appreciate it!

posted on Dec, 17 2010 @ 01:27 PM
reply to post by eMachine

Thank-you very much..

It looks like I have a couple of books on my next to read list. Very good summary by the way.

posted on Dec, 19 2010 @ 02:09 AM
I've read BNW and The Doors of Perception, but have never even heard of this one.
Thanks for the heads up! I'll be adding this to my "to-be-read" list.

posted on Dec, 19 2010 @ 03:48 AM
Great summaries! I don't know why I haven't read these books yet, especially Brave New World.

posted on Dec, 19 2010 @ 01:30 PM
Thanks for the comments/bumps, folks!

If you decide to read (or have read) either of these books, please feel free to bring up any significant points for discussion.

One thing I am kind of curious about, and have been inwardly speculating about, is: why was Huxley compelled to portray the 'Rani' the way he did? In general, she is rather 'new-agey' but also has a sort of christian 'puritanical' bent that causes her to be over-protective and controlling of her son... I guess she could be called 'self-righteous', she seems to believe she's psychic, and she's on a 'crusade' that reminds me of roman and christian imperialism.

He mentions that she was brought up in Europe and that her female care-giver sort of initiated her into Theosophic mystical philosophy. This is odd to me, because (atleast at a glance) Theosophy seems to be somewhat similar to the Palanese philosophy of integrating various spiritual belief systems. I guess basically, what seems like it should be only a slight and inconsequential variation appears to cause a huge rift between the Rani and her husband's people. I wonder if this is just to point out the danger of being dogmatic about ANY belief system, or if Huxley was directly relating the Rani's weird 'new-age imperialism' to Theosophy itself.

internationalcriminal, if you're still checking this thread, I suspect you may have some insight to share. If you do, it would be greatly appreciated.

posted on Dec, 19 2010 @ 02:00 PM
reply to post by eMachine

Great thread

Originally posted by eMachine
Which brings me back to contemplate the question I asked myself in the library: “Why do we hear so much about Brave New World and so little (or nothing) about Island?” I think Huxley would be disappointed.

I've always thought that Island is to Brave New World what Animal Farm is to 1984. A much underrated and (almost) forgotten twin.

Someone else who was obsessed with the idea of a utopian/dystopian society was H.G Wells, although his works aren't quoted anywhere near as much as Huxley and Orwell. Some of them include:

- A Modern Utopia
- The World Set Free
- Men Like Gods
- The Shape of Things to Come
- New Worlds for Old
- The Way the World is Going
- The Open Conspiracy
- The New World Order (this one wasn't even a work of fiction)

I can't profess to have read them all, but I have read enough to know they all concern themselves with the creation of a utopian society under a one world government.

So, I wonder why so many of his books are ignored?

Thanks for the thread, it was a great read

posted on Dec, 19 2010 @ 02:24 PM
reply to post by LiveForever8

Thanks LF8. I definitely need to check out some H.G. Wells too!

Wikipedia says:

Brave New World was inspired by the H. G. Wells's utopian novel Men Like Gods. Wells' optimistic vision of the future gave Huxley the idea to begin writing a parody of the novel, which became Brave New World.

Our education system seems so inadequate. I didn't finish highschool, but even if I had, I think I would still have to educate myself. And it's a bit of a bummer that with all the demands of day-to-day life most of us don't really have time to read and contemplate.

Another thing you don't often find in the education system is actual discussion of the material you're learning. I'm thankful that ATS is a great place for discussion of all sorts of topics.

Perhaps I will have to do more 'book report' threads in the future.

posted on Dec, 19 2010 @ 02:59 PM
reply to post by eMachine

Yeah, Wells was obsessed with the idea of a utopian society! I'm just so surprised his works haven't been pounced upon by certain conspiracy theorists, well, they have been mentioned, but nowhere near as much as Huxley and Orwell.

Another interesting thing that ties Huxley and Wells was their connections to the eugenics movement that was at it's height in the late 19th century and early 20th century - Wells was an advocate of eugenics and Huxleys brother, Julain Huxley, was a prominent member of the British Eugenics Society, and its President from 1959–1962. This puts a completely different slant on their ideas about a future utopia.

Oh, and don't get me started on the education system!

You're right though, ATS can be a great place for discussion, and I look forward to more of your book reports

posted on Aug, 5 2011 @ 01:14 PM
very well wrtittin my friend, a good read

We need more threads like this.....

edit on 013131p://pm3146 by Spike Spiegle because: (no reason given)

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