Aldous Huxley: the prophet of our brave new digital dystopia

John Naughton in The Guardian:

Aldous-Huxley-008Huxley was a child of England's intellectual aristocracy. His grandfather was Thomas Henry Huxley, the Victorian biologist who was the most effective evangelist for Darwin's theory of evolution. (He was colloquially known as “Darwin's Bulldog”.) His mother was Matthew Arnold's niece. His brother, Julian and half-brother Andrew both became distinguished biologists. In the circumstances it's not surprising that Aldous turned out to be a writer who ranged far beyond the usual preoccupations of literary folk – into history, philosophy, science, politics, mysticism and psychic exploration. His biographer wrote: “He offered as his personal motto the legend hung around the neck of a ragged scarecrow of a man in a painting by Goya: Aún aprendo. I am still learning.” He was, in that sense, a modern Voltaire.

Brave New World was published in 1932. The title comes from Miranda's speech in Shakespeare's The Tempest: “Oh, wonder! / How many goodly creatures are there here! / How beauteous mankind is! Oh brave new world, / That has such people in't.” It is set in the London of the distant future – AD 2540 – and describes a fictional society inspired by two things: Huxley's imaginative extrapolation of scientific and social trends; and his first visit to the US, in which he was struck by how a population could apparently be rendered docile by advertising and retail therapy. As an intellectual who was fascinated by science, he guessed (correctly, as it turned out) that scientific advances would eventually give humans powers that had hitherto been regarded as the exclusive preserve of the gods. And his encounters with industrialists like Alfred Mond led him to think that societies would eventually be run on lines inspired by the managerial rationalism of mass production (“Fordism”) – which is why the year 2540 AD in the novel is “the Year of Our Ford 632”.

More here.