Last week I read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. OK, I’m exaggerating a bit. Last Wednesday, between 3:37 and 6:58 a.m., I read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. I couldn’t sleep. And since doing laundry at this time would probably have incurred the wrath of my fellow tenants (rightly so), I chose instead to make myself some tea (Crème Caramel de David), and hunker down with Hux.
On second thought, maybe it wasn’t actually this serene and cozy. Upon reflection, it was actually more akin to a contemporary (and slightly feminine) version of Jekyll and Hyde. It went something like this:
11:06 – good job Laurenne, you’re in bed before midnight. You’re being so proactive about improving your sleep habits. Well done; you’re awesome; gold star.
11:44 – OK, why aren’t you asleep yet?
11:56 – does my dresser really have those weird grooves in it? What an odd pattern. I could design furniture. No you couldn’t, shut up.
12:08 – hmm, I am definitely not tired. It’s really raining hard outside. Did I leave my umbrella on campus again? I should get a spare. I wonder who invented the umbrella. Who cares, go to sleep.
1:02 – you’ve been actively staring at your dresser for over an hour now. Just put a movie on and roll over.
1:10 – Daniel Craig is so hot. I hate Rachel Weisz.
1:36 – I am so awake. Hmm, I wonder why? Does MI6 really exist? I could be a spy. I wonder if rooftop motorcycle skills are a prerequisite. I’d be awesome at driving on a roof. You’re an idiot.
2:07 – I want to go to Istanbul. I wonder if there are any Turkish NHL players. Do the Canucks play tomorrow? Where did Salo end up? I miss him. They should bring him back. Adrian Aucoin too. And Trent Klatt.
2:11 – well, five hours would still be decent. Don’t think about it; count sheep instead. Sheep are boring. Dolphins? Too interesting. Butterflies? Too small…Cats? Yes. Predatory cats…
2:13 – …82, 83, 84…is a liger a lion male and a tiger female or is it the other way around? Why do bees have stripes? How many people are killed every year by killer bees? I bet it’s a lot.
2:22 – oooh, make a wish! You are officially pathetic.
2:37 – I could do some thesis stuff. Yes, at least that’s productive. No, wait. First I’ll check Wikipedia to see who invented the umbrella. Hmm, Egyptians… Greeks… Chinese… Aztecs… Oooh—”Tenochtitlan”, what’s this?…
2:38 to 3:20 – Enlightenment phase.
3:20 – holy shit, it’s 3:20. Maybe I should go do laundry? What the hell is wrong with you?
3:28 – I think I’ll check my email. Why don’t you make some tea? And grab a book while you’re at it.
3:36 – hmm, still don’t know why I borrowed this one– it looks kinda weird. Who cares, you’ll be asleep in four pages.
3:37 to 6:58 – Reading the book. (I’ll get back to this in a bit.)
I subsequently did fall asleep after that: likely around 6:59. My alarm went off half an hour later but I presume I turned it off. Ultimately I got up at about 9:45, relatively alert considering the circumstances. And although I had to be on campus for a meeting at noon, I wasn’t worried. I got all my stuff together and checked the time—10:09. I texted the Translink code: the next bus was at 10:14. Perfect. Naturally I assumed my day was going to go smoothly from here on out.
The bus stop is literally 50 metres from my front door, and normally I’m on campus within 15 minutes of leaving my house. But because I’ve learned that Translink has a tendency to lie, I like to give myself a couple extra minutes. So, I made sure I was out by 10:11. At 10:12, I realized I’d left my U-Pass in my other coat and, at 10:13, I saw the bus coming toward me as I was crossing the street to go back to get it. Upon collecting my stupid U-Pass, and observing that the next bus wasn’t for another 15 minutes, I chose to walk to the grocery store to grab an apple. The eight minute walk, combined with four minutes in the store put me right on schedule to be ready for a SORRY, BUS FULL (blatant lie) to drive past at 10:29. I tried to remain positive and consulted with my phone. It told me that the next one wasn’t until 10:48. Understandably, it saw this as the final straw and proceeded to die of pure frustration shortly thereafter.
Although abandoned by technology, I understand that these things sometimes happen. So I chose not to wallow in self-pity for 20 minutes and instead walked over to Broadway and McDonald to catch the 99. For anyone who is not from Vancouver, I’ll just say that this clusterfuck on wheels is pretty much the last place anyone ever wants to be, yet somehow where everyone in the whole city ends up. Luckily, on a good day, rush hour on the 99 only lasts from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thus, despite the madness, at 10:46, I was feeling pretty great. I’d beaten the system by two whole minutes and I didn’t even care that my face was uncomfortably squished against a cold metal pole, in beside some chick holding a large white bucket (presumably containing exotic live specimens). Having dealt with such things myself, I strongly empathized with her. Until she whacked me in the elbow with it, causing me to jump, smack my jaw on the pole, and drop my oblivious phone.
Now, anyone who has ever had cause to bend over to retrieve something off the floor of the 99 will know that it is fundamentally impossible to do so without shoving one’s ass into the textbooks and travel mugs of at least seven different people simultaneously. Usually at least six of these are Psych students. And God forbid if you miscalculate the whereabouts of your fallen treasure. In fact, being prepared for such situations is the sole reason I do squats. At any rate, retrieving my phone incurred only a few minor death stares– although by this point, the Eye of Sauron could have been blazing down on me for all I cared. Luckily I made it to campus with no further transit trouble.
Although I wasn’t too sure of my arrival time, I knew I still had at least forty-five minutes before my meeting. I had some library books to return and a prescription to drop off, and, given what I had been through, I felt that buying a coffee was more than justifiable. The first two tasks were completed without incident, but there was a huge line when I got to Starbucks. The excitement of my impending java treat was further reduced when I, 1) saw a clock showing 11:55 (how?); and, 2) was told by the cashier at that they were out of soy milk. By this point, I didn’t even care. In fact, fuck caffeine— just give me a full carton of whipping cream*.
As far as Brave New World goes: I absolutely loved it. My first impression was that it was the illegitimate love child of V for Vendetta and Never Let Me Go. But given that it’s about seventy years older, I guess it’s more like their grandfather. And Nineteen Eighty-Four‘s big brother. Anyway, while I could go on for several thousand more words about all the aspects on this book that I found interesting and enjoyed, I will try to keep it to one main idea. And not spoil it either.
Although Brave deals heavily in paralleling the political and social themes from the time in which it was written, more than anything, this book made me think about science. (Surprise, surprise.) In reading the opening chapter of Brave, I felt similar to how I felt when I started Never Let Me Go, as both books present fairly realistic hypothetical scenarios of how science is being used to alter (or, perceivably, enhance) the health of a society.
I feel a bit silly for saying this, but I think there’s a bit of a misconception that science is scary. Science isn’t scary. Science is beautiful. At its very core, science is for people who want to know anything and everything about the world. It is the quest to understand something a little bit better than you did yesterday. However, simply because we gain knowledge through research and have the ability to enhance some aspect of our world, doesn’t automatically give us the right to do so. (No shit, Capt. Obvious.) Technology is different from science, and I think this is where some people have trouble differentiating the two. Technological advancements deal in morality, whereas science (when done properly) is objective. OK, so that sounds a little pretentious. It’s not meant to. I know there are a lot of problems with what research actually gets funded and published, but essentially I’m trying to say that properly conducted science is meant to be unbiased and pure. As far as its relationship with technology goes, it’s kind of like the gas in a car. Having a full tank of gas doesn’t make you a bad driver. Ignoring the laws of the road and endangering others, does.
OK, so that was probably really intuitive and obvious. And you don’t have to be a scientist to understand that genetically modifying a population of humans such that they no longer have free thought or actions is fundamentally wrong. While the government in Brave knew that its success and control was inextricably based in scientific outputs, it also needed to prevent its citizens from asking questions and seeking the truth (i.e., doing their own science). And in this, I saw a pretty nice parallel to our present world. Although we are not directly modifying the genetic make-up of people to the extreme portrayed in the book, we have altered the mentality of our world to a fairly substantial degree. It goes without saying that over the last hundred years, people have gradually become less independent, more materialistic, and shortsighted. We didn’t need elaborate shock systems to teach babies to hate flowers, we learned that a steady diet of lazy parenting and video games could do the trick well enough. And, despite all the talk and promises, governments have yet to exhibit the willpower required to protect our Earth’s environments; natural resources that— in addition to their innate value— sustain our life on Earth. But, slowly, things are changing again. Why? Because some people started to see that all this was wrong. And so they began to ask questions. And do research. And other people caught on. The question now is not whether we understand the science or have the technology required to fix this mess, but whether we can apply focused, committed interdisciplinary action to do so.
Congratulations, you have now spent twelve full hours in my mind and body.
*Sidenote: the novelty has worn off for me (and I’ve realized that it’s also kind of cruel), but if you want to have a little fun, try ordering a soy-based beverage with extra whipping cream. Confuses the hell out of baristas. Especially before 8 a.m.