Thursday, June 01, 2006

Beauteous humanity

Our office building has a small canteen supplied with a couple of tables and several chairs where one can eat one’s lunch. Normally I eat sandwiches at my desk, but lately I’ve been going for the hot meal option and eating downstairs. There is some reading matter available, supplied, I assume, by colleagues from their old stocks, and which consists predominantly of women-lit (as opposed to chick-lit) and three-month old copies of OK! magazine (about which more later).

However, recently I’ve been reading Island, by Aldous Huxley, a copy of which someone had kindly left behind, and finished it on Tuesday. It was very interesting to read so soon after finishing Collapse (see my previous post on the subject), as Huxley had identified many of the aspects of creating a sustainable society as Diamond does in his book. Huxley also adds in a lot of Buddhism in order to explain why the islanders have adopted their lifestyle and how they can all be so well-adjusted. The novel is told from the viewpoint of an Englishman, Will Farnaby, a reporter who is inadvertently and fortuitously shipwrecked on the relatively “closed” island paradise of Pala. At first, Will is cynical and self-serving, but gradually the outlook of the islanders comes to make much more sense to him and he is finally changed enough to take their part against the outside world.

It seems quite feasible to achieve in a relatively isolated and self-sufficient island, even if the positive social conditioning that the islanders give their children is reminiscent of the negative conditioning of the children of Brave New World (which I started reading last night). In Island, however, the malcontents are painted very unsympathetically – the Rani with her bogus spiritualism and stultifying mother-love; Colonel Dipa, who could be modelled on any one of the world’s dictators; and Murugan, the Raja to be, who is egocentric, childish (even more so than any of the real children) and easily manipulated.

Anyway, it’s recommended, and started me reading Brave New World, which I’ve had on my bookshelves for a couple of years and not before read.

On to the other reading material, then. Yesterday lunchtime, having finished Island, I sank so far as to actually pick up an issue of OK!. And glance at it with a kind of horrified fascination. Are people really interested in Jordan and Peter Andre renewing their wedding vows at Disneyworld (or wherever)? Because there were pages and pages of drivel and photographs. There were people featured that I had never heard of, and seem to have no discernible talent, and columnists who stated the bloomin’ obvious over and over again.

Perhaps OK! does provide some sort of service to those who don’t have much, and who aspire to something more, or who just like reading about the rich and occasionally well-dressed. Perhaps I’m a snob (this is possible: I rarely watch TV and my magazine subscriptions are for The Economist and Private Eye) in expecting OK! and its ilk to provide anything better. It is all so trivial and meretricious. Are we so concerned with consuming things, whether these are delusions of the importance of people who will never leave a lasting mark on the world, or that all you need to be happy is a bulging wallet and being trailed by the stalkerazzi? Will we all be sucked into mass conformation and become happy little consumers?

Or am I just taking Brave New World a little too seriously?


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