AI: Brave New Mindset


So this last week, a good friend of mine flooded my timeline with tweets on Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley, growing more and more excited as he read it. His reaction was very similar to mine when I first read it (except for the “tweeting about it” part), which was, to sum it all up, bewilderment.

The book, published in 1932, depicts what Huxley referred to as a “negative utopia”, in which the biggest frightening factor is the loss or unimportance of personal identity, since humans no longer breed naturally and children are created in Hatcheries and Conditioning Centers and divided up into castes with predetermined social positions. Still, it portrays a world in which recreational sex and the inexistence of religions are natural and widely accepted (although heterosexual sex only, and the believers then are treated quite poorly). It’s way ahead of its time (some would argue it’s ahead of our time as well), amazingly well written (though there are reservations regarding the author’s willingness to shock without any reservations), and it brings up incredible social critique while deconstructing cultural pillars and reconstructing humanity in the most surprising ways (and all the way my favorite character is the Savage).

Brave New World is probably my favorite book, and my first read of it was, if not life changing, mindset changing, somehow. I was sixteen, atheist and queer in a deeply catholic family, and embracing my skepticism wasn’t something I thought I could deal with. This book was one of the catalysts that moved me through accepting I could not conform to what was expected of me. And while I sometimes still struggle with it (not too much time has passed, really), it’s a book and an idea I hold really close to my heart.

Did you ever read a book that changed your life or the way you see the world somehow? Is there a book you think has particular value for the skeptic and queer community?

The Afternoon Inqueery (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Queereka community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays at 3pm ET.

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  1. Overall, my first big “change my worldview” books were Richard Dawkins’s SELFISH GENE and Daniel Quinn’s THE STORY OF B. They opened my eyes to two key facts: we could have gotten to where we are without god, and my cultures way of life was not the only one. Both of these put me on the road to being a full fledge skeptic.

    More recently, I just read Margaret Atwood’s THE HANDMAID’S TALE. It’s a cautionary tale of a future in which much of the “family valves” and “traditional living” espoused by today’s political and religious leaders are made real. The world becomes one of passive terror, a subservient blandness punctuated by patriarchal violence. Frightening both for its evilness, and for the closeness to our own reality. As the saying goes, “but for the grace of god, go we.”

    • It took me a while to start reading Dawkins, so when I finally did it was less of a change in worldview than it was a level-up in my argumentative power. But boy, had I gotten my hands on Selfish Gene a couple of years earlier…

  2. Brave New World was definitely one of those life-changing books for me, too, and for very similar reasons that you listed. Lord of the Flies also changed my worldview. I read both of them in high school. Lord of the Flies really kind of opened my eyes to the darkness that people are capable of, and came at a time when I was experiencing a lot of bullying. I really deeply identified with Piggy when I read it back then.

    I think a book that has particular value to the skeptic community is The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan. It’s brilliant.

  3. Ernest Becker’s book “The Denial of Death” had a profund influence on how I think about Human existance and one of several reason whi I now stuggle psychology.

  4. Shadows of the Mind, by Roger Penrose, idiosyncratically: I don’t believe the argument he presents, but it inspired me with an interest in math, and led me to read:

    Godel, Escher, Bach, by Douglas Hofstadter.

    Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, by Daniel Dennett.

    Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano. (Most queer-relevant book on my list.)

    The Robot’s Rebellion, by Keith Stanovich.

    The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins.

  5. My reaction, when I first read the book, was disappointment. I read it just after reading 1984 for the first time, and the change in tone just really didn’t jive with me. 😛

    My opinion changed when I reread Brave New World a bit later.

    1984 is of course one of the books that completely changed my view on the world. As are the many SF classics I’ve read during my teen years; I can’t even begin to list them all.

  6. Believe it or not, it was the bible.

    This is one of those books you have to read, because everyone else seems to know what it says. Now, I am just not convinced that everyone who says they read the bible really read the bible, because…have you READ that thing?

    I went from believing the same thing most people BELIEVE about what the bible says, to KNOWING (as much as one can from King James translation) that it really isn’t the book they said it was. It’s like a hundred episodes of Dexter, without the moral soul-searching and rationalizations Dexter makes. Why bother? God says so. And if you think I’m talking just about the Old Testament, think again. That New Testament, with its Hell and Revelation is just as bad.

    Biggest game changer was Jesus. I looked really hard to find all the various Jesuses people believe in, and He wasn’t there. I just found a really frustrated cult leader with some strange beliefs about race and bloodlines–beliefs he obviously shared with everyone else, but beliefs a perfect sinless human could never have.

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