Why no Brave New World?

If you’re anything like me, you haven’t read Aldous Huxley’s 1932 classic A Brave New World since you were awaiting a slightly overdue deployment in a piss-yellow barracks during the rainy spring of 1995. Twenty years and change hence, most of what I recall from the novel are impressions of its themes. One thing I remember clearly is a certain irritation at being betrayed. I was promised a dystopia, and received instead a glorious paean to a frankly enticing possible future. 

Huxley meant to mock the sorts of perfect worlds dreamt by Wells, but went round the bend in his farce and inadvertently created a world in which inhabitants dwelt in one of two pretty good options: a gleaming, artificial, drug-fueled cityscape of soaring steel, plastic, and concrete; or a filthy, poor, dismal, yet authentic residence in the hinterlands. Recall that the story is told from the perspective of Bernard, one of the high(ish)-status members of the genetically-engineered castes. When elite Bernard takes a vacation to the dusty barrens of the American Southwest, he is appalled by the squalor.

Of course, he’s an insular coastal snooty-snoot. One might even say he’s analogous to a Manhattanite who, even in 1932, never ventured above Washington Heights. Of course he’s going to find New Mexico revolting. Even without the genetic engineering, modern Manhattanites Detroiters find New Mexico revolting.

The Utopian dreaming of BNW is that the soma-soaked Alphas-through-Epsilons had the good taste to allow the savage reservation natives their own sovereignty. Bernard looked upon the reservations with pity and horror (at least at first), but not with an eye at dominion. Imagine this story told from the perspective of the reservation residents: fancy outsider comes to gawk, mostly leaves us unmolested. Imagine this story retold in [current year]. It would be a hopeless political romance.

If I squint my eyes hard enough, I sort of see the Brexits and the Arab Springs and the Trumps and whatnots as the New Mexicans flexing the last of their muscles in an effort to encourage the Bernards of the world to back off from meddling in their affairs.

Among the stable outcomes of this particular game is the Huxley polity: divest political control from the flyover territories, develop and implement agricultural self-sufficiency (viva la soyscraper), shake hands, and part ways amicably.

Obviously, this suggestion is as naively Utopian as anything ever concocted by Wells or Huxley. No stable coalition exists–or is likely to soon arise–that would support a Balkanized North America. Any crisis severe enough to trigger the dissolution of political bonds between states is likely to be potent enough to trigger civil war. National Guard units (which I remind you are under the command of state governors) are routinely mobilized for far less serious episodes of civil unrest than the imminent revolt of citizens against Federal authority. Nor is it even particularly clear that the state lines drawn during westward expansion remain especially useful geographical boundaries for clustering citizens sharing common values.

Alexis de Tocqueville famously observed in Americans an old yeoman’s streak inherited from the Scots-Irish migrants below the Mason-Dixon line, as well as a stubborn, bullheaded English temperament among Yankees. The advent of driverless transport, capable AI, machine-assisted commerce, and the like could well contribute to a great deal more frustration and resentment between rival groups as one curses the community- and livelihood-killing developments foisted upon them by condescending outsiders, just as the other curses the backwardness ignorance of the benighted hicks.

I maintain that the themes of the alt-fic I occasionally write here contain a seed of insight: political bonds are maintained by the three theological virtues. Faith in the nation’s heritage allows a beleaguered people to weather adversity. Hope for the future lends the drive to succeed. Love cements solidarity. Organizations can temporarily survive without one, even very briefly without two. But when all three vanish, few political forces will long maintain defunct affiliations.

For my part, let me assure you that regardless of your political peccadilloes, I love you no less for your ballot box habits this year than any other. I believe, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that you have the best interests of the nation and her people at heart, and that on average, you wish nothing but the best for me and mine. I have all the faith it is in my power to muster in your interest in preserving the republic, and I fairly burn with the hope that you join me in setting aside the consternation, spite, and resentment plaguing the rarefied chatter. I know that the affection we have for the communities we share and the republic we have inherited is more enduring than the flatus that periodically erupts from the halls of power. This space intentionally left blank to insert your own heartwarming, inspirational holiday-themed homilies.

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