Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
August 14, 2022

Island: Huxley’s optimistic Brave New World

By WILL ANDERSON | September 15, 2016


The complex networks of each community rely on mutual dependence, a form of structured anarchism. I was spellbound as speech after speech flowed implausibly from the mouths of the Palanese, from spirited young girls to spry old men.

Huxley adopts a thoroughly Buddhist lens which he peppers throughout his characters’ constant pontifications. He takes a courageous stand against the creation of “Otherness” on which Western society thrives. Over pages of exposition and inquiry, Huxley lays out a worldview that refuses to buy into unfettered competition: Good and evil are part of life and should be cherished.

Compassion and bliss, pain and joy are all necessary, for only when one experiences true sorrow can one know bliss. Death is just as necessary as life. The ecosystem only works because of the endless cycle of birth, life and death. Getting caught up in religious, political or economic dogmatism only leads to strife and jealousy, endless war and unfettered consumerism. State communism and capitalism are corrupt and incompatible with true happiness.

Respectful free love is encouraged and taught to young children as a way to sow joy and compassion in their minds. The stigmatization that comes with sex in the West is actively destroyed in Pala, and the family is a significantly more loosely defined concept.

Each child is part of a Mutual Adoption Club (MAC), where they have several parents, siblings, cousins and grandparents, all of whom help out each other. Have a problem with your biological mom? Spend a few nights with your MAC mom down the road, and when everyone has cooled down, come back with a clear head.

The idea of non-biological kinship networks fascinates me. As an only child, I never wanted a sibling, but always wished that my family was closer to our neighbors. Huxley is right when he maligns that the nuclear family in the West is sometimes a small prison.

As we all know, escape from the family is just as important as quality time with mom and pop. As the sole kid, it was hard to escape the ever-watchful eye and judgment of my doting parents. Having an MAC, the true expression of  “vivre ensemble,” or living together in harmony, would have been a godsend.

Equally as important for the Palanese is the balance of mind and body, the physical and the spiritual. From a young age, children are expected to perform community duties. Boys and girls are taught to let go of their anger by stamping on the ground and yelling, forgiving rather than begrudging.

The protagonist, Will, often makes sarcastic comments that the Palanese find distasteful. Bliss, beauty, and wonder are used sincerely, something that would never slide in the West. We thrive on irony and sarcasm to an unbearable extent. Sincerity should not be poisonous.

Huxley’s descriptions of moksha-medicine, the hallucinogen that the Palanese use to tune their spiritual lives, are the polar opposite of his descriptions of drug use in Brave New World. Moksha creates both beauty and pain and leads Will to recognize the infinite multiplicity of every rock, tree, cloud and person.

Soma, the state-distributed drug used in BNW, creates only positive experiences, which is why the drug is so morally and intellectually deadly. Huxley’s point in BNW is expanded in Island, where only by using moksha autonomously can one finally understand the oneness of things.

While Island portrays Pala in an overwhelmingly positive light, the specter of invasion by the neighboring authoritarian state of Rendang is inevitable. No one should be surprised by the book’s conclusion after reading the first 50 pages, but it still existentially disturbed me.

Even in Huxley’s most positive moments, inevitable destruction looms. Is it worth trying to create a better, pacifist society knowing the invasion inevitably comes? Huxley cries “Yes!” As the Palanese say again and again, you must pay attention and savor, striving for a better life, even in the face of assured devastation.

Island is completely worth reading for its ideological wealth, even if it’s sometimes a slog to get through. Pala seems like a fine place to me.

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