I just recently finished reading a book written by Aldous Huxley called Island. You may remember Huxley as the writer of The Doors of Perception and Brave New World.
Island is similar to Brave New World, in that, it addresses many of the problems that exist in our world. However, it is not a dystopian novel, as it is not presenting the reader with a stylized version of our society. Instead, Huxley shows the reader an ideal society, a utopian world where the citizen’s freedom and happiness are maximized.
I have to say that I didn’t read this book quickly. The ideas were very interesting and important, but were also overwhelming. But I guess that’s how things always break down, you either get a good story without much substance, or something substantial without any bells and whistles.
This book did get me thinking about how our society works though. Huxley emphasizes this concept of a fully functional human being throughout his novel. The goal of his fictional society is to foster the growth of a fully formed human- a emotionally mature, self-aware, productive member of the community.
This, in turn, got me thinking about our society and the human beings that we shape. I don’t think we’re very good at making people in this part of the world. I look around and I see so many who are maladjusted and angry and unhappy. So many who don’t understand their unhappiness and rage against everything around them. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t count myself outside of these numbers. After all, I was raised in the same environment.
There was one line in Island that really resonated with me:
“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 must 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 wholly different to our well-being, toward decrepitude and the certainty of death. The remaining two thirds of all sorrow is homemade and, so far as the universe is concerned, unnecessary.”
More than half of all of our problems are homemade. What a thought. It’s almost funny until you realize how true it is. But that’s just the way things are. That’s the way the world works. That’s the cosmic joke that’s being played on humanity- we have all of the tools to make ourselves happy and free, but instead we choose to make ourselves suffer by our own hand.
But how do we make things better?
Huxley prescribes meditation, compassion, and early knowledge of the facts of life. In his fictional island of Pala, the citizens combine medicine and psychology and spirituality to create a utopia. Of course there is still work and unpleasantness, the 1/3 of suffering that comes with being human, but on the whole everyone seems happier.
Yes, this is a work of fiction. But I think there’s a lot to be taken away from this book. Especially with respect to how to look at ourselves and how we raise our children. It’s not very long, under 300 pages. It is dry, but the message is important and worth hearing. Give it a read if you’re looking to think.