Teaching children about death – Brave New World

How is Aldous Huxley’s vision of the future relevant to the present world pandemic?

Huxley published Brave New World in 1932. It’s considered one of the great 20th century dystopian novels, along with George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 completes the triad.

The clip above is from a 1980 television production. It’s short enough that we can view it multiple times — take in all the contrasts and unfamiliar elements. A vital link of relevance is the song the children sing:

When there’s no one left,
Sing a song of death;
Four and twenty corpses
Baking in a stew,
Making pretty chemicals
Just for me and you.

The song is sung cheerfully, innocently, vapidly by the children; but the character known as the Savage is horrified and responds by passionately quoting lines from Shakespeare about death. So, we’re immediately confronted by two very different attitudes toward death.

It may be trite to say that Huxley was concerned with the ways in which people might misuse science. Perhaps (more accurately), he saw that people have surprisingly little control over how technical innovations reshape human society and human psychology. Much of what he predicted was eerily prescient, not necessarily in the exact forms things would take, but in the cheapening of human life and human death — the reduction of the human being to its chemical components only. Continue reading