Brave New World and the right to be unhappy; Island and sanity

Posted on: Wed, 09/23/2009 - 18:44 By: Tom Swiss

I've been re-reading Huxley's Brave New World. There's an exchange near the end, between Mustapha Mond, World Controller of the insane civilization that encompasses most of the world, and "the Savage", product of the lunatic barbarism outside, that rather sums it up:

"But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin."

"In fact," said Mustapha Mond, "you're claiming the right to be unhappy."

"All right then," said the Savage defiantly, "I'm claiming the right to be unhappy."

I think I shall have to spend some time rereading Huxley's Island next to balance things out. Written near the end of Huxley's life, Island is in many ways his alternative to Brave New World, his portrayal of a thoroughly sane society.

You've probably not heard of this book; its positive outlook on the use of psychedelics, and its positive portrayal of free sexuality, means that you're unlikely to see it added to any high school reading lists. The philosophy found on Pala is a blend of secular humanism and Mahayana Buddhism; its key text, quoted throughout the novel, is Notes on What's What, and What It Might be Reasonable to do about What's What.

Me as I think I am and me as I am in fact---sorrow, in other words, and the ending of sorrow. One third, more or less, of all the sorrow that the person I think I am must endure is unavoidable. it is the sorrow inherent in the human condition, the price we pay for being sentient and self-conscious organisms, aspirants to liberation, but subject to the laws of nature and under orders to keep on marching, through irreversible time, through a world entirely indifferent to our well-being, toward decrepitude and the certainty of death. The remaining two-thirds of sorrow is homemade and, so far as the universe is concerned, unnecessary.


Dualism. . . Without it there can hardly be good literature. With it, there most certainly can be no good life.

"I" affirms a separate and abiding me-substance; "am" denies the fact that all existence is relationship and change. "I am." Two tiny words, but what an enormity of untruth! The religiously-minded dualist calls homemade spirits from the vasty deep; the nondualist calls the vasty deep into his spirit or, to be more accurate, he finds that the vasty deep is already there.

We read this book in my high school class and there were no problems about the free sexuality thing.